Monastic: October 2012 Archives

The Grace of Things Unplanned

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Recently, I was led to think about the significance of surprises or, if you will, the grace of things unplanned and unforeseen. Having persevered this far in monastic life, I can, I think, begin to identify some of the pitfalls inherent to it. One of these is the compulsion to want to control every detail, to leave nothing unplanned, and to strive to tidy up what is a messy business, that is, life with others here below.

The desire for the tranquility of order is virtuous and praiseworthy. But, like all virtuous and praiseworthy things, it becomes unbalanced and vicious when carried to an extreme. The conventual routine of monastic observance is made for monks, not monks for the conventual routine of monastic observance.

Surprises as Intrusions

With the passing years, one becomes more aware of one's weakness, one begins to feel in one's bones the increased fatigue that is the price of fidelity. Patience and good humour seem to be in shorter supply than when one was young and adventurous. One begins to view surprises as intrusions. One begins to resent the unexpected, and to fear the unknown. One's capacity for delight in things spontaneous and unplanned gives way to a dour refusal to adapt, to change, and to bend.

The Trellis

A certain stiffness sets in, not only in one's joints and bones, but also in one's thinking and in a kind of desperate clinging to the pathetic security of little rules and customs. The very things that were designed to serve as a light trellis to support the wild vine of life and keep its fruits from rotting on the ground become more important than the vine and its fruit.

Holy Abandonment

It is helpful, I think, to consider that God allows surprises, that He sends us things unplanned and unforeseen as graces to keep us flexible and supple in His hands. Father de Caussade's abandonment to Divine Providence extends to all of those things that catch us by surprise, that oblige us to revise our plans, and release our grip on the rails we have created for our own security.

And All Shall Be Well

There is a fine line between the preservation of order and peace and the petrification of routine and the paralysis of fear. Without falling into an unreasonable cult of spontaneity and the culture of indiscipline and disorder in the name of openness and creativity, one must be humble enough to allow God to be God, always and everywhere. Surprises are salutary. Things unforeseen put us in our rightful place. And, in the end, as Dame Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well."

God's Own Gaze, Full of Love

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The Face of Christ or, if you will, the Gaze of Christ, is a motif that recurs frequently in the preaching of Pope Benedict XVI, as well as in his writings. In today's Angelus Address, the Holy Father alludes to that mysterious exchange of gazes, by which a particular vocation -- and often one to the priesthood or monastic life -- is both offered and received. That exchange of gazes is, of course, but the beginning. A priestly or monastic (or religious) vocation cannot be sustained except by growing into an exchange of gazes that becomes habitual. And this habitual exchange of gazes is, in fact, the gift of contemplation.

There may be readers of Vultus Christi who have, at one time or another, recognized the gaze of Christ resting upon with with an unspeakable tenderness. This sometimes happens when one is lingering in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. It may also happen when one is bent over the Word of God, or praying the Psalms. Meet the gaze of Christ with your own gaze. Look at Him. Begin to live, as Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity says, with "your eyes in His eyes." And should He call you to monastic life, communicate with us at Silverstream Priory. Do not go away sad. Say "yes" to the joy of having nought but Christ, and of preferring nothing whatsoever to His love.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus Address:

Dear brothers and sisters!

When God Conquers a Heart

Wealth is the principal topic of this Sunday's Gospel (Mark 10:17-30). Jesus teaches that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, but not impossible; in fact, God can conquer the heart of a person who has many possessions and move him to solidarity and sharing with the needy, with the poor, to enter into the logic of the gift. This is how wealth presents itself in the life of Jesus Christ, who - as the Apostle Paul writes - "rich though he was, he became poor for us so that we might become rich though his poverty" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

After Life in Its Fullness

As often happens in the Gospels, everything begins from an encounter. In this case Jesus' meeting with a man who "had many possessions" (Mark 10:22). He was a person who from his youth had faithfully observed the commandments of God's Law, but he had not yet found true happiness; this is why he asks Jesus what he must do to "inherit eternal life" (10:17). On the one hand, like everyone else, he is after life in its fullness. On the other hand, being used to depending on his wealth, he thinks that he might be able to "buy" eternal life in some way, perhaps by observing some special commandment.

He Went Away Sad

Jesus welcomes the profound desire that is in him and, the evangelist notes, casts a gaze full of love upon him, God's own gaze (cf. 10:21). But Jesus also understands what the man's weakness is: it is precisely his attachment to his many possessions, and this is why he invites him to give everything to the poor, so that his treasure - and thus his heart - will no longer be on earth but in heaven, and adds: "Come! Follow me!" (10:22). That man, instead of accepting Jesus' invitation, goes away sad (10:23) since he is unable to give up his wealth, which can never give him happiness and eternal life.

Not Impossible for God

It is at this point that Jesus offers his teaching to the disciples, and to us today: "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (10:23). The disciples are puzzled, and even more so when Jesus adds: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." But seeing that the disciples are astonished he says: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.

Saints Poor and Rich

All things are possible for God" (10:24-27). St. Clement comments on the episode in this way: "The story teaches the rich that they must not neglect their salvation as if they were already condemned. They need not throw their wealth into the sea or condemn it as insidious and hostile to life, but they must learn how to use their wealth and obtain life" ("What rich person will be saved?" 27, 1-2). The Church's history is full of examples of rich people who used their possessions in an evangelical way, achieving sanctity. We need only think of St. Francis, St. Elizabeth or St. Charles Borromeo. May the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help us to welcome Jesus' invitation with joy so that we might enter into the fullness of life.

Dom Tarisse.jpg

Image: Dom Tarisse, Superior General of the Congregation of Saint-Maur

I have given Dom Benedict my blessing to pursue his study of the 17th century Monastic Breviary of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur. The Maurist Breviary is a treasury of scriptural and patristic texts, artfully woven together so as to express luminously the mysteries of the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year. The Maurist Breviary is as suitable for lectio divina as it is for choral prayer. Dom Benedict will be sharing his discoveries, as time permits, on a new blog entitled, Pax Inter Spinas, A Modern Monk Discovers the Liturgical Riches of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur (1621-1790). Do visit Pax Inter Spinas today.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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