MONASTICISM“True Christianity and true monasticism consists in the practice of the commandments of the Gospel. Where this practice is absent, there is neither Christianity nor monasticism, whatever the outward appearance may be.” (Bp. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, p. 10)
Monasticism is not specifically Christian, yet Christian monasticism has existed since the beginnings of Christianity. Christian monasticism is an ancient tradition dating back to the first century, established in the undivided Church, and belonging to the Christian East and West alike.
Christian monasticism, since its development, has been considered a microcosm of the Church (“church in miniature”), a “symbolic synthesis of Christianity” and “a reference point for all the baptized.” (Cf. Bl. Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, 9) “Monasticism can constitute a remembrance of what is essential and has primacy in the life of every baptized person: to seek Christ and put nothing before his love.” (Pope Benedict XVI, “Monasteries: Oasis of Ascetic Life”, 20 November 2008)
It is sometimes said that monasticism is built into humanity. A nature that has been torn from the intimate communion with its Creator – the communion for which it was fashioned – naturally longs to return to that better state. The outward expressions of monasticism – a life set apart, the rigorous asceticism – are manifestations of that deep inward desire of the human soul to unite itself to God through Jesus Christ. That life has continued throughout the whole of Christian history, giving rise to great saints – both men and women – who modeled a life of devotion to God and in union with the Blessed Trinity, where the life of Christ becomes, day by day, the life of man. (Cf. Monachos.net * adapted)
THE LIFE OF MONKS“The Holy Scriptures do not know any distinctions.
They enjoin that all lead the life of monks.” (St. John Chrysostom)
The “life of monks” does not consist of many things but of a few things done well. To be a saint – to save and sanctify one’s soul – only one thing is necessary (Cf. Lk. 10:42): to rest at the feet of Jesus and to “follow in his footsteps” (1 Pt. 2:21; cf. 1 Jn. 2:3-6), to receive the Word of God (Cf. Jn. 14:23-24; 8:31-32) and to “do whatever he tells you.” (Jn. 2:5)
Monks are those who choose to follow with singular devotion and obedience the call of Christ, those who live the life of the Church in a direct and immediate manner. They are thus the models in which the Church sees her perfect icon: a communion of souls wholly living the life in Christ. (Cf. Monachos.net * adapted) They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ as his beloved spouse. (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 921)
Though their conversation and communion with God may be hidden from the eyes of men, the life of a monk – whether through private intercession or public witness – is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because Christ is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the wilderness, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One.” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 921) “The monastic life, indeed, even in our times of feeble faith, is still above all the love of Christ, the Christian life par excellence, experienced with many patient sufferings and much pain.” (Hieromonk Seraphim Rose)
The life of monks is primarily and essentially contemplative (theoria), and therefore includes the obligation of an ordered and balanced life of daily prayer, study and work (Ora, Lectio et Labora), which overflows into apostolic service and preaching (kerygma): to renew the Church through holiness and communion with God, and to evangelize the world through the sharing of truth and love. For the life of monks is simply the study of the Interior Life (the hidden life of one’s soul with God), the practice of it (praxis), and the sharing of its fruits.
“Monasticism is a disposition and effort of the soul striving for salvation, and its coenobitic form is forged by living in community with others of the same mind and soul, and coming to be one in aspiration with them, each one spurring the others on to salvation.” (Hieromonk Seraphim Rose)
MONASTICISM & THE CHURCHIn this sense, monasticism – where God’s call is total – has served in preserving the purity and vitality of the early Church we read about in the New Testament, and the vigilance and zeal of the Age of Martyrs, when Christianity was literally a matter of life and death, and the giving of one’s life was the defining mark of one’s faith in Jesus Christ and one’s fidelity to his teachings.
In fact, when the Church secured its temporal status – with free access to the pursuits and pleasures of this world – many Christians fled to the desert to be alone with God, and to perpetuate this imitation of the life and passion of Christ through spiritual warfare and a martyrdom of spirit.
These Christians were more fearful of a peace that might be gratifying to the senses than they had ever been of the persecution of tyrants. (Cf. Fr. Jordan Aumann OP, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition, p. 35; F. Fenelon) It was no longer the pagan world that would fight to eliminate the Christian, thus making him a martyr; it would be the monk that would take up the attack and eliminate the world from his being. (Cf. Ibid.; P. Evdokimov)
“It’s often said that the first hermits went into the desert to escape the vices of the pagan world, but that’s only part of the story. The hermit, the monk, the nun – each of these individuals desires to love God above all things, and so he or she puts aside every obstacle that interferes with loving God: wealth, status, career, family, friends. This concept is summed up in the most famous mottoes of monastic life: ‘God alone.’” (Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, p. 8)
Although this monastic way of life developed in the 4th Century, its origins can be found in Old Testament times, when God revealed to Moses the vow of the Nazarite – a vow of consecrating one’s life to God (Cf. Nm. 6:2). Then from Elijah to John the Baptist, the prophets set examples of keeping this vow. Later this perfected in the life of Christ.
After witnessing Christ’s example, the Apostle Mark, who established the Church in Egypt, started the first ascetic communities that continued this way of life. These communities had as their models the prophets of the Old Testament, and operated on the principles set forth by the New Testament believers in Acts 4:32. It was later these communities became known as monasteries, and their inhabitants began to be called monks (and nuns).
The term “monk” was derived from the Greek word monos, which means single or alone. The monk is one who chooses to be alone with God or (better said) to put God at the forefront and center of his life. From these communities arose the great monastic saints of fourth-century Egypt, and then to Palestine, Ethiopia, Italy, Ireland, Francis, Georgia, Romania, Serbia, Russia, and to all the lands where Christians dwelled. (Cf. Door to Paradise: Jesus Christ in Ancient Orthodoxy, p. 10-11)
The influence of this inspired movement has been so great that its quality of life and measure of stature have been equated with those of the Church as a whole. This is why monasticism is often considered to be the barometer of the spiritual life of the Mystical Body of Christ. Where monastic life flourishes or dies, so does the life of the Church.
That the Church Fathers and the Christian Faithful would express so great an appreciation for the monastic life manifests something of the importance in which the Church views it. Monasticism is not just a “part” of the greater scope of Christian life; it is the very center and heart or “soul” of the Church (Cf. Bl. Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, 9) – in relation to which other aspects of her life are born and grow. (Cf. Monachos.net * adapted)
LAY MONASTICISMThroughout Church history, Christian monasticism has taken many forms, and it continues today to attract followers from among all the People of God. In fact, most present-day monastics are not clergy or consecrated religious (those who profess formal vows), and many are coming from outside the Catholic / Orthodox Church where monasticism originated.
The phenomenon we are witnessing is the great numbers of “new monastics” (as they call themselves) who are former and even still practicing mainline, evangelical, and charismatic Protestants (often referred to as “Emergent”) enchanted by and drawn to the depth and proven value of tradition, the structure and beauty of liturgical worship and the sacraments, the eternal other-worldliness of chant, icons and sacramentals, the discipline and accountability of a monastic rule and spiritual master, and a closer communion with the ancient Church of the apostles, saints, martyrs and monks they seek to imitate.
Though these “new friars” and “ordinary radicals” (as they are also called) freely adapt or even explicitly reject many elements of Catholicism / Orthodoxy, they seem to manifest the DNA of their monastic ancestors: namely a sincere desire to imitate Jesus and to see him in others. Not unlike the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their “hearts are burning” but they have yet to recognize Christ in his mystical and sacramental Body. (Cf. Lk. 24: 13-35)
Yet what is common between these “new monastics” is that the majority of them are of the laity, even those who are married with children. In fact, within the Roman Catholic Church, Third Orders (such as Secular Franciscans and Benedictine Oblates) outnumber their First and Second Orders 3 to 1. To those who know the history of the Church and the development of the monastic movement, this is not surprising.
As we have already seen, monasticism did not originate in monasteries. Monasticism began in people’s homes, upon mountaintops and in deserts. Also, the early monastics were not clergy or consecrated religious. They were lay people. At first, the vocation of a monastic carried no special class within the Church. The monastic way required no religious ceremony, no vows were taken, no special garb was needed, and they were even prohibited from becoming clergy (bishops, priests or deacons).
Monasticism was considered more of a way of life rather than a formal affiliation to an organized body: a God-centered lifestyle available to any Christian who wanted to give an authentic witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Monastics were identified simply as ordinary Christians seeking communion with God and spiritual perfection (theosis, deification) – Christians living in the perpetual state of penance (metanoia), i.e., conversion.
According to the monastic, the most perfect life on earth is that of a man who obeys the command to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” (Mt. 6:33; cf. Lk. 12:31) and “do penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 3:2; 4:17) Thus monastics were often described as penitents (metanoountes), an ideal which would later inspire the movement of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th Century.
Profoundly saddened by the misfortunes that the Church was then passing through in his time (the 13th Century), St. Francis of Assisi conceived the incredible design of renewing everything conformably to the principles of Christian law – i.e., the Gospel. (Cf. Eph. 1:10)
THE FRANCISCAN IDEAL
After having founded a double religious family – one of Brothers, the other of Sisters, who pledged themselves by solemn vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience (“the evangelical counsels”) – Francis, in the impossibility of opening the Order to all who had the desire of being formed in his “school”, resolved to provide, even for souls living in the whirlpool of the world, the means to tend to Christian perfection.
He founded then an Order properly called Tertiaries, differing from the two other Orders in that it would not bear the bond of the religious vows, but would be characterized by the same simplicity of life and the same spirit of penance. The Third Order of St. Francis was born to satisfy this thirst for heroism among those who though having to remain in the world did not wish to be of the world. (Cf. Ven. Pope Pius XII, Address to Third Order of St. Francis in Italy; cf. John 17:9-18)
Thus was born the project, which no founder of a regular Order had yet imagined, to cause the religious life to be practiced by all. Francis first conceived the idea, and the grace of God gave him to realize it with the greatest success. (Cf. Pope Benedict XV, Scara Propediem, 5)
EXCERPTS FROM THE IDEALS OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
The entire Franciscan movement assumed its character and individuality from the Gospel. Francis had no other aim than to lead back all classes of Christian society to the purity and the ideals of the Gospel by means of his three Orders. The Friars were destined not only to be leaders in this movement by their preaching of the Gospel, but more so by living it themselves in the fullness of its perfection. That was the aim of the Poverello (the “Little Poor Man”) of Assisi, which was at all times his supreme Ideal. Viewed in this light, and grasped with such depth, clarity, courage, and living force, this Ideal was something entirely new; it was, moreover, peculiar to Francis alone.
By Hilarin Felder, O.M.Cap, p.13-19 * Compiled & Adapted
The novelty and peculiarity of the Franciscan Ideal was that it regarded the Gospel as the rule and compass of Christian life and of moral perfection. How could any Christian and, above all, the Founder of an Order, think otherwise! Every Christian is bound to the observance of the moral law of the Gospel. A Religious is furthermore bound by his vows to follow the evangelical counsels of perfection through poverty, chastity (celibacy), and obedience. Yet all Christians are called to live in the spirit of these counsels according to the measure of their calling and cooperation with grace.
The Fathers of the Church do not hesitate, therefore, to designate the religious life as the only and truly evangelical and apostolic life. The monastic way is nothing more than “the life according to the Gospel.” (St. Basil the Great; cf. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, Introduction)
Thus, if Christians seek to be authentic witnesses of the Gospel in the manner and spirit Jesus sent forth the Apostles – whether they make formal vows or private promises, whether they join an association or remain simply members of the Mystical Body of Christ – they personify this Gospel ideal according to the measure that they possess a true poverty of spirit, purity of body and soul, and total submission to the will of God through love, built upon the sure foundation of humility, in abandonment and perseverance with burning and unfading desire to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with all men.
With that said, Francis was well aware that his institution was not merely a variation or a branch of another Order, but a new and distinct creation. One need only mention for instance, the stabilitas loci (stability) of the older Orders, and the obstacle it placed in the way of the apostolate of preaching. For this reason Francis rejected most emphatically the suggestion to borrow from these rules. When this was suggested to him, he replied: “I do not wish that you propose to me any other rule, be it that of Benedict or Bernard, nor in any other way a manner of life but that which the Lord has mercifully given and shown me.” Neither would he listen to the proposal of St. Dominic to merge the newly founded Mendicant Orders of the Friars Minor and the Preachers into one.
And because Francis was firmly convinced of its divine origin, he held fast to it with every fiber of his being. There was absolutely no discourse. Yes, even with his last breath he adhered to this conviction, breaking forth on his deathbed into praises for the evangelical mode of life, placing it before all other institutions. His constant anxiety was the luster and purity of his heavenly Ideal. Humble and meek and submissive as he was, he was unrelentingly firm where the soul, the substance, the individuality of the Order was concerned – its evangelical character.
To have grasped this individual character fully and completely, to have preserved it untouched and to have made it a world-reality, that was and always will be the glorious distinction of St. Francis; that it is which gives him his historical significance. The rebirth of the Gospel and of the primitive Church: this is that outstanding feature which drew the praises of his contemporaries upon the Poor Man of Assisi, and even still do today. Every biographer who depicts his life, every chronicler who has fixed his character, if only in a few lines, emphasizes his singular merit in leading the world back to the Gospel by means of his life and his work.
Thomas of Celano said, “He was the man with the evangelical vocation, in truth and in faith, the servant of the Gospel. His to observe the Gospel in all things and above all things.” The Legend of the Three Companions, “Emulating Christ most perfectly, the apostolic man Francis followed the life and the footsteps of the apostles.”
Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, one of the most learned and pious men of his time, who was personally acquainted with Francis and his disciples, writes under the influence of this experience: “This Order of Friars Minor is spreading so rapidly over the whole world because its members imitate faithfully the manner of life of the early Church. To the three Orders of the Hermits, the Monks, and the Clerics Regular, the Lord has added in these days the fourth religious institution: the flower of the monastic life and the essence of monastic sanctity. Indeed, if we study more closely the nature and form of the early Church, we find that he has not so much discovered a new rule, as renewed the old; namely, the evangelical manner of life. He has brought to life the decadent and almost defunct religion, in order to place in the field new warriors for the perilous times of the anti-Christ, and to defend the Church by means of this bulwark.”
“This is truly the significance of the Order of Poor Men of the Crucified, the Order of preachers who we call Friars Minor. They endeavor so zealously to renew the fervor, poverty, and simplicity of the primitive Church, to draw in the thirst and fire of their spirit the pure waters from the fountain of the Gospel, that they not follow the precepts, but also the counsels of the Gospel, and imitate most perfectly the manner of life of the Gospel. That is the holy Order of Friars Minor, and the admirable society of those men whom the Lord has raised up in these days.”
The return to the Gospel is, therefore, according to these authorities the one, great achievement of St. Francis. The Christian peoples indeed believed the message of the Lord; but to a great extent they failed to understand and to practice it. Thus the chasm between theoretical and practical faith became wider and wider among all the classes constantly complaining of this. And most lamentable of all was the fact that the consciousness of this glaring disparity between faith and its practice had been lost. They no longer sensed the grandeur and sublimity of the Gospel, having become entirely engrossed in common and customary things. For Francis, however, to know Gospel, meant to live it.
Its every word engraved itself upon his soul with startling freshness and keenness. Hardly had he read or heard it when he immediately set out to put it into practice. Whether this or that word of the Gospel were a precept or only a counsel, whether intended for all or only for certain persons, whether given for all times or only for the apostolic period, whether only a figure and parable or an actual occurrence – such exegetical questions were unknown to him. He heard the word of God, he understood it literally, and fulfilled it to the last iota, unless circumstances rendered its execution impossible.
These words of the Savior, with which he became acquainted through the daily reading or hearing of the Gospel, formed the rule and compass of his life. With touching simplicity and heroic firmness he lived the Gospel – that is the secret of his influence on the Franciscan Century and salvation history. That also explains the newly awakened enthusiasm for St. Francis in our days. Since the 13th Century there has never been so keen and widespread an interest for the Poor Man of Assisi as today. The main cause of this phenomenon is undoubtedly that quality in the life and ideals of the Saint that is identical with that of the Gospel.
The mainspring of this movement is a yearning for the simplicity and the purity of the ideals set forth in the Gospel; the Saint is esteemed so highly because since the days of the Apostles no other has dared to live the Gospel in all its idealism as he did. This alone gives to the Seraph of Assisi his historical significance and his place in the “hall of faith”; this alone explains the proverbial popularity of the Franciscan Order and it undiminished influence. If this Order is to be the salt of the earth, as its Founder wished it to be, it must always remain true in principle and in practice to the motto of St. Francis: “The rule and life of the Friars Minor is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Gospel is embodied in the person of the God-Man, the Word-made-flesh. Jesus Christ is the heart and soul of the Gospel. To observe the Gospel means to make Christ the center of one’s life, and the source and summit of one’s activities. That St. Francis accomplished this, even a superficial study of his life will prove. For not only did Francis reintroduce a personal Jesus to the common man, Francis recovered basic Christianity for the common Christian. Even more, Francis restored the evangelical character of the monk and the contemplative character of the layman. In short, he fulfilled what was asked of him by Christ from the Byzantine crucifix icon at the church of San Damiano, “Francis, rebuild my Church, as you see it is falling to ruins.”
“I have seen a great multitude of people coming to us and wishing to associate with us in our habit of holy conduct and our rule for a blessed religious life. Why, there is still in my ears the sound of them going and coming at the order of holy obedience. I have seen the roads so as to say of every nation coming together hereabouts, filled with the multitude of them.” – St. Francis of Assisi
THE NEW MONASTICISM
Monasticism is not bound to any particular spirituality or milieu – not even Franciscan – and it is not confined to a select chosen few. All Christians are able and are called to live the Gospel in the manner and spirit of the early apostles and disciples regardless of one’s station in the Church or status in the world. “The monastic state, taken in what is essential, does not constitute a particular form of existence on the borders or at the side of Christianity; it is the same Christianity offered to all.” (Abbot Columba Marmion O.S.B., Christ, The Ideal of the Monk)
As St John Chrysostom said, “You greatly delude yourself and err, if you think that one thing is demanded from the layman and another from the monk; since the difference between them is in that whether one is married or not, while in everything else they have the same responsibilities... Because all must rise to the same height; and what has turned the world upside down is that we think only the monk must live rigorously, while the rest are allowed to live a life of mediocrity…The Holy Scriptures do not know any distinctions. They enjoin that all lead the life of monks.”
Monasticism, as a way of Gospel life, can be lived not only by clerics and religious in monasteries, convents, sketes (lavras), and hermitages (poustinias), but also by anyone, anywhere, and at all times whether one is single or married with children, and no matter how poor or rich, young or old, gifted or broken one may be. It can be lived in the context of one’s home, church, school, workplace, coffee house, sports bar or online social network by those who will interiorize the life of monks within the “temple” and “sanctuary” of their body, (Cf. Ven. Pope Pius XII, Provida Mater Ecclesia, 14) and who will embrace the entire world – the “global village” – as their monastery and mission field. “The world is my monastery, my body is my cell, and my soul is the hermit within.” (St. Francis of Assisi)
All Christians – even those who are not bound by religious vows or who do not live in a monastery – should try in all their acts to have the intention of performing them for the glory, honor and service to God. They should do them in such a way that they could be presented to God as acts of worship, offering, and oblation, i.e., a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). The virtue of religion (and of monasticism) is not confined to the hours of prayer; it embraces our whole life, transforming it into one continual act of worship to God, in imitation of Jesus, and in union with him: who is our Abbot, Teacher, and King. (Cf. Divine Intimacy, 281) “In his whole being Francis was not so much a person who said prayers, as he was himself transformed into prayer.” (Thomas of Celano on St. Francis of Assisi)
This radical but simple dream was the Franciscan Ideal – the original vision of St. Francis for his Seraphic Order – a mission that recently celebrated [in 2009] the 800th anniversary of its founding , and one that is still alive, ever-relevant, and desperately needed today. (Cf. Pope Pius XI, Rite Expiatis, 2-3)
A NEW TYPE OF MONASTICISMOn 14 January 1935, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a German Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis in 1945) wrote a letter to his brother, Karl-Friedrick. What Bonhoeffer, now famously, said in that letter was to prove both prophetic and affirming to that which it predicted.
“The expansion of Christianity and the increasing secularization of the Church caused the awareness of costly grace (Cf. The Cost of Discipleship) to be gradually lost…But the Roman church did keep a remnant of that original awareness. It was decisive that monasticism did not separate from the Church and that the Church had the good sense to tolerate monasticism. Here, on the boundary of the Church, was the place where the awareness that grace is costly and that grace includes discipleship was preserved…Monastic life thus became a living protest against the secularization of Christianity, against the cheapening of grace...The restoration of the Church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Testament to Freedom)
The so-called “new monasticism” is the resurgence of devoted Christians living midway between the cloister of the monastery and the chaos of secular society (Cf. Ven. Pope Pius XII, Provida Mater Ecclesia, 19) – those who remain in the world but who do not wish to be of the world. (Cf. Ven. Pope Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress of the Lay Apostolate; Jn. 17:9-18)
Christians who, out of the love of God and desire to preserve their divine union with him, forsake the alluring pursuit of worldly gain (Cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 4) for the eternal riches of holiness salvation (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 39-40). Christians, who – like Mary, the mother of Jesus (Cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 4; Lumen Gentium, 58-59) – remain hidden with Christ in God (Cf. Bl. Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 17, 26; Redemptoris Custos, 8; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 531-533; Col. 3:3), by living the Gospel according to a monastic way.
Christians who manifest their independence from the State and civil society by making themselves slaves to Christ and citizens of a kingdom not of this world, living as strangers, and because of their nonpartisanship, as peacemakers in the world. (Cf. Fr. Michael Casey, Strangers to the City, Preface; 1 Pt. 2:11-12)
Thus guided by the mind of the Church (Cf. Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, 6) and motivated by the heart of Christian charity (Cf. Divine Intimacy, 344; Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8) – which is the summation of their monastic vocation (Cf. St. Therese of Lisieux, “My vocation is love!”) and the “soul” (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 33) of their lay apostolate (Cf. Ven. Pope Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress of the Lay Apostolate) – they more effectively share in the Church’s mission and ministry to build up the Mystical Body of Christ, to spread the kingdom of heaven in the world, to make all men partakers of redemption and salvation, and to establish – in the spirit of the Beatitudes (Lumen Gentium, 31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 932) – the right relationship of the entire world to Christ. (Cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2, 7, 20; Bl. Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 1-3)
New monastics are characterized by a similar devotion and zeal as the early Christians and monks. They are an active reminder that the Church was established upon a commitment to simple gospel living and unity of faith, liturgical prayer and communal worship, the necessity of the sacraments and holiness of life, communion with the Apostles and their successors, and the example of the Martyrs and Saints.
They continue the traditions of showing hospitality to the stranger, caring for the sick, the imprisoned and the poor, carrying out missions to the outcasts of society, and remaining devoted to the restoration and development of culture. Thus, by the grace of God, new monastics – with the clergy, consecrated religious, and all the Christian Faithful – will help serve in moving the People of God forward by actively rebuilding the Church upon these foundations.
However, you might say, “This is nothing new!” As Peter Maurin (co-founder, with Dorothy Day, of The Catholic Worker) said of a similar movement of his day, “It’s a vision so old it looks like new.” New monasticism is nothing extraordinary, but something basic and essential. And it emerges and manifests itself not through Christians being more “monastic” per se, (i.e., imitating the life of the monastery) but through being more Christian (i.e., imitating the life of the monk); or better said, imitating Christ.
New monasticism, in a certain sense, is nothing more than a truly devout Christian lifestyle, where the Christian clothes himself (or herself) in the “habit” of Christ and lives liturgically according to the rhyme and rhythm of sacred space and time, though amidst the ever-changing trends and distractions of this earthly pilgrimage, and among one’s fellow pilgrims.
To be clear, new monasticism does more than simply invite Christians to make retreats at monasteries, or to become loosely affiliated associates to “real” religious orders. New monastics are truly called to live in essence the life of those who live in monasteries, and are to fulfill in spirit what the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are to those who make formal vows.
Though not all are called to renounce their possessions, all must relinquish their possessiveness and attachment to desires and things. Though not all are called to celibacy, all must be chaste (pure) in body and soul and put God before all things. Though not all are called to follow a monastic rule and spiritual master, all must be obedient to the precepts of the Gospel as members of Christ’s Mystical Body the Church, uniting one’s will with God’s will in holy abandonment to Divine Providence.
If lived correctly, new monastics fulfill their unique role in the Church not as elites (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-31) away from society (or even their local parish) – abandoning the common man and the common good to replicate and emulate the trappings of a past epoch or perceived golden age (Cf. St. Augustine, Sermon cf. The Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings: Wednesday 20th Week of Ordinary Time) – but as a “society” in society amongst everyday people and amidst ordinary life. By nature of their secular status as lay Christians in the world, they are sent forth as apostles into the “highways and byways” (Lk. 14:23) to bring the monastery to the world, boldly proclaiming by word and example, “You don’t have to be a monk to live like one.” (MONKROCK tag line)
St. Basil the Great (an Eastern monastic father of the 4th Century) said that total separation from human society is “nothing but a mark of self-will and remains foreign to those who honor God. Nothing is as proper to our nature as to enter one another’s society, to have need of one another, and to love the man who is of our human race.” (Cf. Fr. Jordan Aumann OP, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition, p. 43-44)
We must remember that when we fulfill our duties of work and serve those in need, we have not ceased praying but have continued our conversation with God, and only then rightfully have completed and fulfilled our prayers. “One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out.” (St. Vincent de Paul) Through our poverty and self-martyrdom we have conquered our fear and need for defenses, and as pilgrims and oblates, we possess a new openness to share God’s life and love with others – more than a mere hospitality of home, but one of the heart.
Thus we receive this divine life and love back in greater abundance through those we serve – seeing only the image (icon) of Christ in them – because we are no longer attached to or in need of anything they themselves can offer us since we have held on to nothing and seek nothing but God alone. As St. Theodore the Studite puts it, “A monk is he who directs his gaze towards God alone, and who, being at peace with God, becomes a source of peace to others.” “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” (St. Seraphim of Sarov)
O, how we need a monastic revival, renaissance, and revolution today! If only we, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Anthony the Great, St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and all the monks, mystics, martyrs, and saints who have walked the Royal Way of the Cross and climbed Jacob’s Ladder of Divine Ascent before us, will choose the one thing necessary – the best part – it will not be taken from us. (Cf. Lk. 10:42)
We will no longer be like children (Cf. 1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14) playing imaginary games of shallow pietism or (even worse) empty activism, but will aspire to the sober, vigilant, tested and proven maturity of the Saints, properly disposed to attain the fullness of the knowledge of Christ and unity of faith in his Universal Church as one Flock under one Shepherd. (Cf. Jn. 10:16; cf. Eph. 4:4-6) This is our Christian duty, our right, and privilege. The Church needs us. The world needs us. Therefore it is not permissible for anyone to remain idle. May God grant us the courage and the grace!
2 January 2013 *
Feast of St. Seraphim of Sarov
Kevin Francis Bernadette Clay,
and fellow Oblate of the Last Martyrdom
T* Originally released: 1 November 2009 (Feast of All Saints)
Miscellaneous Sources * Compiled & Adapted:
Wikipedia, Christian Monasticism
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Monasticism
Monasterodibose.it (Bose Monastic Community)
Community of the Transfiguration: The Journey of a New Monastic Community
New Monasticism (What It Has To Say To Today’s Church)
Community of the Transfiguration (The Journey of a New Monastic Community)
Punk Monk (New Monasticism and the Ancient Art of Breathing)
The New Friars (The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor)