Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Monastic Vocation: Some Random Thoughts

It is always a good day to share something from the Benedictine Abbey of Le Barroux and I noticed today that the Polish site, Nowy Ruch Liturgiczny, have up various videos they took from Abbey this past summer.

Here they begin the recitation of the Divine Office.

I am always struck by the peacefulness and sense of spiritual refreshment I am provided by scenes of the monastic life as these.

I have commented before that I believe the monastic vocation seems too often neglected as a vocational consideration today, and what a shame that is if so, particularly when one understands, as Benedict XVI recently highlighted in his homily for the midnight Mass, that God and his worship through the liturgical prayer of the Church is of such centrality and priority for us. While we are all called to this in varying degrees, the most concentrated form of this is without question to be found within the context of the monastic vocation; a life entirely formed by the ebb and flow of the Mass and the Divine Office.

In part this may be due simply to a lack of familiarity; the monastic vocation is often less seen -- especially in the new world due to both vast geography and shorter history -- and so it may not enter as readily into one's considerations as other vocational callings might.

In part this may be influenced by our modern emphasis on and understanding of "utility" and "doing"; a utility which is often restricted to certain forms of activity -- something that also is seen to extend to "active participation" in the sacred liturgy and what that is popularly understood to entail -- and which might therefore make the monastic vocation seem somehow of less relevance or value. The liturgy and liturgical prayer are indeed "doing" however; it is activity -- and extremely important activity at that; the activity of divine worship, the centre from which all else flows. Meditation, silence, and prayer are also forms of activity.

In part this may be influenced by the frenetic pace and tone of modern life which is filled with noise and technology at every turn; where we have become somewhat divorced from our sense of dependency on creation and our awareness of its serene beauty, where, if a television isn't filling the void, then a radio is, a video game, a telephone or something else. In short, silence, quietude, and the meditative reflection and listening that comes forth from it -- all features of the monastic life -- is rather foreign to modern life, and by virtue of that, often also felt uncomfortable. Yet how important it is.

Finally, in part this may also be influenced by a forgetfulness or lack of understanding of what the liturgical prayer of the Church primarily is, divine worship, and what its place is within the Christian life: central. We need to constantly recall: "In the Church's liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated. The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation. In his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings. Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit." (CCC, para. 1082) The sacred liturgy is the worship of God and the work of the Holy Trinity "in which God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified." (CCC 1089)

Of course, even if our calling isn't to the monastic life, we cannot simply dispense with these things as though they were only relevant to the monasteries and not to those of us in other vocations. The liturgy and liturgical worship of God is of central importance to all Christian life, and all people need times of prayerful silence and listening. As our Holy Father reminded us, "For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives."

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