New Monastics

February 6, 2008

Happy Ash Wednesday to all. Hope your fasting and penitence are going well.

Sister Mary Martha posted a link to this article yesterday, but hasn’t had time to comment on it yet. I look forward to reading her viewpoint on the matter.  I credit these folks a great deal for having the courage of their convictions to actually go and do, but it seems, after reading about some of their troubles, that their advance research on the subject – community living in a monastic style  – was a bit on the thin side. There’s no framework for holding the whole deal together – no clear leadership or rule.

Take the Benedictines, for example. Strict observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, whose motto is Ora et Labora (“prayer and work”). The monasteries are supposed to be largely self-sufficient, so the monks usually have some sort of local industry which is used to support their charitable activities as well as help keep up the place. They live by a very carefully prescribed schedule, and each of the members knows his role, performs it to the glory of God and is responsible to their Father Abbot. Does it work? Well, they’ve been cranking along (warts and all) for 1,400 years so something must be going right. Are they perfect? Of course not. They’d have their hands up first to tell you, too.

Additionally, the monastic life is considered a particular charism, or gift from God. It’s not for everyone, regardless of how badly they want it. Many of the orders have long formation periods that prospective members must pass through before fully entering into the community. It’s not because they’re particularly mean spirited. It’s because it requires lifetime vows, and that’s a long time to spend within the walls of the cloister. It can be, writes Thomas Merton, a very lonely place

Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover act without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and, beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.

Thank God this gift exists, and that there men and women brave enough to follow it into the “four walls of their new freedom”. Few things give me as much spiritual comfort as knowing that they are out there, quietly carrying on the work that began so long ago and only reach its fulfillment with the Lord’s return in glory.

Anyway, like I said: kudos for going out there and actually doing. It’s more than I’ve done in a lot of cases. I wish them the best, but hope that they discover that many of the models for this sort of living were worked out some time ago, and rather successfully.


One Response to “New Monastics”

  1. PeregrinJoe Says:

    That was an excellent article. I have heard about communities like this, and have wrestled with the thought of starting or joining one myself. One I read about had a more “balanced” approach in that every family bought a seperate house all on the same street. They had one “communal” house where they worshipped together, and took three meals a week together, but the other four meals were as seperate families. They also each had different types of service projects they were doing for the community at large that the other mebers of the “order” would help with. In addition they had other things “in common” like a library, cars, tools, etc. They had been there for about a decade, so apparently, it was working for them.

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