Blessings, Peace and Harmony: Monks are Prophetic Seeds of Renewal in a World Waiting to be Reborn
The monastic life is one of the greatest treasures of our Church
On October 17, 2012, six monks appeared on the Today Show and sang the ancient yet ever new chants which open the heavens and bring them down to those of us who need the gentle rain of grace in the desert of our daily lives.Monks are always involved in the rising of the Church. They help to water the growth of the renewal it signals. Monks are prophetic seeds of the kingdom to come who always seem to be around right when we need them the most.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - One of my favorite definitions of a theologian was offered by a monk of the fourth century, Evagrius of Pontus. He wrote in his reflections entitled "Mirror for Monks": "The Knowledge of God is the breast of Christ and whoever rests on it will be a theologian".
The Image evokes the beloved disciple John, the author of the fourth Gospel, so often depicted at the Institution of the Eucharist, the "Last Supper", with his head on the chest of Jesus the Christ. His Gospel narrative was the last to be written and is the most theologically reflective. Clearly, John was a theologian. He learned that theology in the school of prayer.
That has been my own personal experience of monks. As a 'revert' to the Church, one who returned after wandering away as a very young man, I spent 21 months in a Benedictine monastery shortly after "coming home". There, I began what has become a lifelong journey of prayer and found my hunger for theology.
I also studied the early fathers of the Church. I was taught by a wonderful monk. He was the first of several monks who have graced my life with their gift of holy presence, making Christ so palpable by their interior life - one which overflows in a genuine transfigured humanity.
From my encounters with monks, living immersed as they do in their unique and vital vocation, I learned that no matter how much formal theological study they have, it is their depth of prayer which makes them the best of theologians. So it should be with all theologians - one cannot give away what one does not truly have.
It is out of the storehouse of grace that monks and theologians are able to help the faithful in their pursuit of the longing of every human heart, communion and intimacy with the God who has revealed Himself. We find, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, the "human face of God" in Jesus Christ. What is necessary is to encounter Him, contemplate that beauty and be transformed by the encounter.
A part of monastic life and spirituality is also labor, immersed in prayer. Monks support themselves through hard work, dedicated to God and caught up in the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ in and through His Church. They follow a "Rule", a Way of Life. Yet, even in that, they peel back the deeper mystery and remind us that all work done in the Lord participates in His ongoing work of redemption.
Too often, people mistakenly believe that the monk retreats from the world because of its "corruption". In fact, the monk retreats (in differing ways in accordance with their particular monastic response) precisely in order to transform the world by his prophetic witness and powerful prayer.
The dedicated monk is an essential part of the Lord's plan for the Church. The Church is what the early Fathers called the "New World", being recreated in Christ. We who have been baptized never again leave the Church. We actually live in the Church and go into the world to bring all men and women home.
The monastic life a treasure of the Church.
Monasticism in the first millennium gave us the fountain of theological wisdom which still inspires the Church. Those who went into the desert became the great teachers, fathers, confessors and prophets. Their prayer and witness kept the Church in the Divine embrace so that she could effectively continue the redemptive mission of the Lord.
That is still the mission of the whole Church - and every one of her members, no matter what our specific vocation or state in life, are called to participate in it.
In the second millennium, their work and witness continued. Sadly, the Church had been torn in two with the first split, East and West. In the East, the Monks continued to be a resource for the kind of theology which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. From their ranks the great Bishops of the Church were chosen and the Church was continually renewed.
In the West, the great Monasteries of Europe became the beating heart of the emergence of Christendom. The extraordinary intellect exhibited in the emerging theological tradition birthed in the monasteries enabled the Church to contend with daunting challenges, welcome them without fear, contend for the faith and offer the claims of Truth Incarnate.
Over the years of Pope Benedict's service, his teaching on monks and their essential contribution to the Church has been extraordinary. In an address given in 2007, he again zeroed in on the monastic life as a gift for the whole church. It can be read in its entirety here.
I believe there is a prophetic connection between monks and the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. Monks are a seed of the great renewals of the Catholic Church and he is the Pope leading such a great renewal in our day. It is no accident that he took the name Benedict as he responded to the Lord's invitation to serve the Church as the successor of Peter.
He had just returned from a retreat at Subiaco, the cave where St. Benedict had spent three years in prayer. In a General Audience on April 29, 2008, he spoke at length of Benedict whom he calls the "Patron of His Pontificate".
Throughout her history, just when naysayers count the Catholic Church out, she again rises, refreshed by the Holy Spirit, and changes history. After all, the Church is God's plan for the whole human race. He has not changed His mind.
As the Catechism expresses so beautifully, borrowing from the writings of the early fathers, "To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church."
"The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood." (CCC#845)
Monks are always involved in the rising of the Church. They help to water the growth of the renewal it signals. Monks are prophetic seeds of the kingdom to come who always seem to be around right when we need them the most. So, when I discover something special involving monks, it always touches a soft spot in my heart - and I want to pass it on to as many people as possible.
On October 17, 2012, six monks appeared on the Today Show and sang the ancient yet ever new chants which open the heavens and bring them down to those of us who need the gentle rain of grace in the desert of our daily lives.
Three of the Benedictine Monks came from the Abbey of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico and three from Mount Savior Monastery in New York. Together they sang "Alleluia Iustus Germinabit", taken from their beautiful recording entitled "Monks in the Desert: Blessings, Peace and Harmony" recording which can be purchased here. You can also listen to selections from their CD at the same site.
I love listening to monastic chant. It opens my heart just as wide as it opens the heavens. My most recent memory of its transformative effect comes from those years I commuted to do my doctoral studies in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America.
It was monastic chant which provided a portal to prayer in those early pre-dawn hours spent driving while trying to avoid the gridlock of Washington, DC traffic. The inside of my car became a holy place of encounter. On many mornings, it was the chant which also saved me from road rage!
These wonderful monks opened the viewing audience of the Today show, and its hosts, to their supernaturally natural way of life. They planted eternal seeds with their simplicity, joy and radiant faith. You can view the spot here. You can also experience the serenity borne of their deep interior life in the Lord, hear the life story of the Abbot and some of the inspiring storiesof the monks of the desert here.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
Keywords: Blessings, Peace and Harmony, Monks, Monastic, Abbey of Christ in the Desert, Mount Savior Monastery, gregorian chant, religious life, prayer, contemplation, Today Show, Deacon Keith Fournier
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