Friday, October 13, 2006
"If I had the wings of a dove, I would fly away and be at rest." from the Office of St. Bruno.
Pictured, St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai.
I love the desert fathers. If they only had showers. My VP at Dayton's (eventually Marshall-Fields, now Macy's.) was Greek and once in a conversation I spoke glowingly of the monks on Mt. Athos - hoping as an Orthodox Catholic he'd have some great tales about the holy mountain. He sneered - "I hate those monks - they never bathe!" He was very "The Devil Wears Prada." yet, for all his high and mightiness, he enjoyed conversing with me.
When testing my vocation in monastic life, very few monasteries appeared to me to be observant enough for my ideals. Few seemed poor enough, or if I found a community that was poor, there seemed to be a lack of stability. While some 'new' orders seemed a tad pretentious and ambitious as well as lacking any spiritual maturity. Of course I found, in my opinion, the Carthusians to be the best, but I wasn't suited to their life.
My experiences in good monasteries left me with a prejudice regarding other forms of religious life, and an imperious attitude towards new communities as well as hermits, not to mention neo-gyrovagues. Gradually, I learned never to judge whether a person or community was living a fervent life or not, that there are many instances in the spiritual life of persons seeking the will of God that do not conform to our prejudices.
There is a story from the desert fathers wherein a monk went to see another, renowned for his wisdom and holiness. The monk was scandalized that the father lived in relative luxury compared to what he had been used to in his scete. The father drank wine, slept on a bed of straw, bathed, and ate rather well, although he fasted and was faithful to the rule of psalmody and other exercises peculiar to the eremitical state.
The young monk left the father to return to his skete. The father knowing he had been scandalized called him back and questioned him as to his life. It turned out the monk had been a shepherd, sleeping in the fields and eating a very meager diet, without any comforts, no bathing, except in the river, and so on. In the skete, he had regular meals, a mat to sleep upon, in a hut for shelter.
The father then told him of his past. He had lived like a prince in Rome, with many attendants and great luxury, dining sumptuosly every day. Upon his conversion he renounced all of that and went into the desert to live the ascetic life as the young monk could see.
Filled with compunction, the young monk recognised his presumption and asked the father's forgiveness, often returning to him for spiritual instruction.
The story taught me as well. If a sister lives in an apartment and drives a car, she may no longer have had a convent to live in. If a friar lives in a nice friary, or a monk has a beautiful monastery to live in wherein every need is met, that does not mean he is not a fervent religious.
If a lay person dresses well, lives in a nice house, watches TV, or listens to rock music, or does anything else worldly, while striving to live a devout life, albeit hidden - that does not mean that person is living in sin. No more than two men or two women sharing the same house, or a man and a woman sharing the same house, are living in sin.
"Judge not and you will not be judged." I think Jesus said that.