Monastic Question


#1

My protestant housemates are developing a fondness for repeatedly repudiating Catholic practice whenever the topic comes up. I’m trying to avoid debates with them because we all have formal theological education from the Baptist tradition. It isn’t that I have nothing to say, but I’m trying to make my life more focused on spiritual matters rather than a constant question and answer, tit for tat, teeth and blood, apologetic existence (if that makes sense). There is a time for it, though.

Anyway, one of the things they had to say about the cloistered monastics was this: It violates God’s command to go out into the world. I didn’t have an answer to that one handy as, quite frankly, I’ve never thought of it that way. Any help?


#2

Consider, also, the consequences of these two scripture verses:

"But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." Matthew 6:6

"Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Yes, we are all called to live (and evangelize) according to what is revealed in scripture, including these verses that I have pointed out, and we can also make the case that, though our cloistered brothers and sisters have left the world in a certain sense, they are also in their own way an impressive witness to the faith. Particularly to our self-indulgent world, what better way to make a statement, indeed, what could be more Christ-like, than to sacrifice everything for what one believes?

"Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Matthew 19:21


#3

There is a erroneous belief that joining a monastery is about running away from the world. Those who join monasteries choose Mary’s role of sitting at the feet of Jesus. They are running to God, not away from the world.
Monastics provide hospitality to those who join them for a day, an hour, or however much time they take away from the world to spend time with God.
Jesus say, “Come away and rest.” Where does the person go to rest, to retreat from the world? Who provides for the person’s needs while away?
Those who live in monasteries often run retreat centers, providing food and lodging for those in need of silent time.
There is an ancient tradition that traces itself to the desert fathers. These individuals sought the solitude of desert life in order to pray for those who remain in the world.
Each of us has been given different gifts, different means of building up the kingdom of God. For some this means living the desert or monastic life in prayer for the workers in the field, those who stay and work in the city to preach the good news by our lives and words.
Using the image of prayer warrior, some soldiers (warriors) are needed to stand watch at the furthermost outposts while others are commanded to march into the center of the battle. Monastics are prayer warriors.


#4

[quote="Medic_Mark, post:1, topic:223668"]
My protestant housemates are developing a fondness for repeatedly repudiating Catholic practice whenever the topic comes up. I'm trying to avoid debates with them because we all have formal theological education from the Baptist tradition. It isn't that I have nothing to say, but I'm trying to make my life more focused on spiritual matters rather than a constant question and answer, tit for tat, teeth and blood, apologetic existence (if that makes sense). There is a time for it, though.

Anyway, one of the things they had to say about the cloistered monastics was this: It violates God's command to go out into the world. I didn't have an answer to that one handy as, quite frankly, I've never thought of it that way. Any help?

[/quote]

To the poster who mentioned the panoply of services offered at some monasteries: I think the roommates are referring to the totally-cloistered extreme fringe of the monastic world--the Carthusian and even Trappist orders, rather than the Benedictines.

In any case, this question needs to be completely re-framed.

First things first: 'What is the world?'

When God said to 'Go out into the world', I wouldn't--in my humble opinion--think that he meant by this: 'go out into the world, and become the world'. What distinguishes the Baptist community from the Carthusians: when they do not make themselves accessible, when they do not attempt to readjust their cultural standards so that their message of Christianity can fit the 'world' surrounding them? Baptists--I hope you don't take offense at this, and I don't mean to suggest that only Baptists do this--tend to form fairly insular communities, that are regulated by their own, sometimes unforgiving and pigheaded, set of rules. A Baptist pastor getting up on the pulpit and preaching in the manner that many do, is really off-putting to most of America. It looks like this man is angry, drunk, or talking all crazy for no reason.

This is not 'going out into the world'--yes, its living in a mixed-gender, secular community, but its not exactly 'going into the world' in the apostolic way that I think the Lord meant it.

You could easily derail what I anticipate to be simplistic and unthinking conception of 'the world', by comparing their own Baptist standards with a stereotypically... I guess... ""hyper-apostolic"" tradition. Like the Mormons, who receive excellent cultural and language training at BYU, and then set out literally into the world with their message. They plumb the depths, and don't just settle for the local community.
Tell your roommates that the Lord didn't reduce the apostolic requirement of 'going into the world' to attending youth group and Sabbath services. If they were 'real Christians', do as the Mormons do. [just be the Devil's Advocate]

That should be enough--for now--in terms of negative arguments, and forcing them to redefine their claims... which, if I surmise correctly, is a pretty typical set of assumptions.

In terms of positive arguments, there is the most obvious: the Carthusian monastery is the proverbial city on the hill. When the Lord told us to go out into the world, there was no corollary injunction to: 'neglect what is inside'. On the other hand, the simple fact that the ideal of an intensely focused Christianity and prayerful, celibate life exists somewhere in this post-Lapsarian world is a miracle for the entire world to behold. Moreover, this lifestyle--despite its rigors--is far from unnaturally sterile and artificial. Work and humble toil is a factor in the lives of most cloistered monks. Community--even when most interaction is mute--is still a factor in the refectory, while praying the Divine Office, while on weekend hikes.

What it comes down to is that there are barriers and entrances into this community, as there are in the Baptist community. Both exist, as can clearly be seen, with different purposes, and both live Christianity to different degrees, in different ways.

I hope this was of some small help.


#5

I ended my last post with the image of the sentry standing guard at the furthermost outpost.
There was a Trappist convent profiled on 60 Minutes or one of the other news programs. That is exactly how they described themselves. While the rest of us are tending to our personal lives, they are doing their job as prayer warriors praying for our needs and protection. Midnight for these women was "the Devil's hour" when their prayers were most needed. How often does the enemy strike in the middle of the night? How many die during nighttime?
In my first post, I was actually thinking about those early saints who set out for the desert and people followed them there. They simply could not find the solitude they sought. People were attracted to the "light on a hill." I thought also of John the Baptist who lived in the desert to "prepare the way of the Lord." People flocked to him. Jesus himself worked in the midst of the people, in the middle of the city. When needed, he sought solitude (especially in the early hours of the morning).
I thought of the Amish who set up their own communities, living their lives "apart from the world." The word "holy" means to be "set apart."
Whether we live in the city, are part of an Amish community, or live the monastic life there are still chores to be done. When somebody does come to us, we are required to provide hospitality, to be cordial to our guests. Unless in a hermitage, we work with other people and deal with relationships. Even the hermit, choosing the better part as did Mary, becomes the lonely sentinel praying for the needs of the community.


#6

I was watching something on TV last night and the comment was made “before He began His Ministry”. This led me to reflect on “ministry” and how it is expressed in The Church today reflecting that ministry of Jesus in all its aspects. I began to reflect further on the ministry of Joseph and of Mary - we hear very little of them in Scripture and it seems they lived a very ordinary rather hidden, nothing extraordinary or public type of life as their Son was to take up in His Adulthood. This I connected to the largely hidden life of monastics today which is one of( in many if not most monasteries anyway) very ordinary daily kind of tasks and of prayer. It is a family type of lifestyle too. Monastic life is an extaordinary way of life, lived by very ordinary people and without God’s Grace it would be impossible - as with all that is good and productive in this world.
Not only this, Scripture tells us that Jesus rather often went off alone to pray and this prayer was another aspect of His Public Ministry and Witness and one reflected and taken up by our monastics today it seems to me.
In The Church we are all one in Christ, hence each ministry of each vocation is a reflection of the Life of Jesus and on behalf of each one of us i.e. the whole Church.

TS


#7

Everyone has a vocation, a call to holiness and to fulfill God’s plan for them. When God asks us to go out into the world in the Bible, He is not speaking of the physical world necessarily… more I think He is mandating that we not hide our gifts from the world and keep ourselves from benefiting the world with our talents and abilities.

Those with monastic vocations are called by God to a life of a constant and sacrificial prayer of themselves for the world itself. I like to think of the monastics as the prayerful force that keeps the rest of the Church’s work moving. They pray for the increased faith of the faithful and for the conversion of sinners, for the wellbeing of the poor and for the assistance of those helping the poor, they pray for all the priests, prelates, laypeople, missionaries, helpers of the poor, and all those touched by these people’s lives. It is often said by monastics that a monk or nun will effect the lives of thousands, many of whom they will never know.

Monastics are in the world, but not of the world. They bring us all closer to God through contemplation and allow themselves to be given spiritually to the world by removing themselves from it. Though they may not seem to be in the world, they are indeed in it in a unique and profound way.


#8

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