Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Voices Of Ruins

Although impressive, it wasn’t the evangelistic fervor of St. Patrick that made the greatest Celtic impression on me. Patrick did some extraordinary things and I mean not to detract from or make little of his faithfulness. Worthiness of his Sainthood is obvious. There were, however, multitudes of other Celtic saints, some canonized and others not.

It was the Celtic hermit-monks that made the greatest impression on me - a large crowd of souls whose names will forever remain unremembered. Though most of their names have long been forgotten, a few rocky ruins of their hermitages, and other ruins of their monastic surroundings, remain as a testimony of their devotion and commitment to wholeheartedly turn to God once the light of God penetrated the pervading darkness of their times.

Only after a lengthy exploration of Celtic monasticism did I visit my attention upon the hermits of the desert, people whom my Protestant professors insisted were well intentioned but quite deranged. In looking into the lives of these pilgrim followers of Christ, I find it difficult to consider them deranged. Devotion and commitment to God motivated the Desert Fathers and Mothers to abandon the comforts of civilization and make their hermit-homes in remote desolate regions. Their sole purpose in life was to prayerfully seek God.

Such devotionally heroic acts are difficult for our 21st Century minds to grasp. Our air-conditioned and pillow-mattress rested minds have a way of immediately focusing on the physical hardships endured by the Celtic coracle riders and the desert basket weavers. Our “practical” nature insists that such heroism isn’t possible in our day. It also insists that it isn’t necessary in these illuminated times.

We are, after all, a modern society and turning to God in our modern times is something that we do according to the social climate and economic conditions of our times. Are we not supposed to orient our spiritual lives in such a way that we don’t lose contact with the world that we are hoping to save? Doesn’t the world need us so badly that we can’t afford to abandon it? Besides, unless we cooperate with the world, how are we supposed to maintain what we’ve accumulated and keep acquiring more. We are, you know, supposed to be industriously good stewards.

That, at least, is the general direction most of the basic modern arguments tend to go. Even the Church, in its maturing intellect, has determined that vocation to the religious life is not the only sure means to avoiding the pains of hell. That is a comforting thought although it has created a tendency to downplay the historical and present importance of turning to God through the means and disciplines of monastic spirituality.

I suppose there is some merit to these self-defense arguments. I find it kind of funny though, now that I’ve joined the ranks of the Centrum Silver crowd, how weak and feeble these arguments are becoming.

“If it is permitted to judge from the principles of the Holy Rule, one may reasonably believe that if St. Benedict were among his followers today, he would insist even more than does the Holy Rule on ‘the hard and rugged things’ because the forces that tend to keep one from God are so numerous, and powerful, and ubiquitous. It is certain that he would correct many present-day ‘broader interpretations of the spirit of the rule’ as out of harmony with the purpose he set for himself: to make men share in union with Christ.”[1]

These words come to us from over 60 years ago. The forces described by Father Sause have not diminished. To the contrary. The pervading darkness of our times is even more intense and even more accepted by a sin sated modern society.

Despite the arguments, the testimonies of the hermit-monks, and the testimonies of multiplied generations of cenobitical monks and religious sisters living out their vocations within monastic cloisters, toll loud and clear like steeple bells. These tolling bells can only be interpreted to say … “there is more.”

[1] The School Of The Lord’s Service, Rev. Bernard Sause O.S.B., p. 132, © 1947