July 19, 2012
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [July 22, 2012]
There have been times in my life when I have thought seriously about heading off to some remote monastery and try to live as a monk. Sometimes life in this world, even the life of a priest and religious seems overwhelmingly oppressive. We are all called in so many different directions; demands are made of us that we can hardly bear. The noise of the modern world seems to drown out all possibility of contemplation, much less some time simply to read poetry, listen to some quiet music, or just the opportunity just to escape into some wilderness of our choice.
I sometimes think about all this and wonder what it would be like in a monastery or even if I have the vocation, much less the stomach for the life, which is so, structured and leaves so little time and opportunity to explore the deeper matters of life.
Then, of course, there is the sameness of that life each day: Work and pray, work and pray, and always the silence, always the silence.
In my small library of compact disks I have a copy of a beautiful three-hour story of life in a Carthusian monastery. It is titled: Into Great Silence. A German filmmaker named Philip Groning produced it. Some years ago, Groning wrote to the abbot of the eleventh century Carthusian monastery in France, the Grand Chartruese, to ask whether he might come and quietly film the daily life of the monks without disturbing their exercises, the liturgy or their work. The Abbot wrote and said that he would get back to the Mr. Groning after he had consulted with the monks. He did get back to him, sixteen years later! Obviously, life in a monastery does not move so swiftly. So Philip Groning, spent a full year with the monks and watched them live their daily lives.
The result of the film is spellbinding. You will sit there for three hours and it will seem like an hour to you.
As I watched it, I said to myself, this is Medieval religious life at it’s best and most enriching: Regularity, predictableness, quiet, the opportunity to work with one’s hands and mind, the opportunity to escape the intrusions of modern life, time to read.
But when it was all over, I knew that the monastic life would never be my cup of tea. I’m too much of an activist. I need to get things done; I need to see results of my work. I also have a hard time keeping my mouth shut for five minutes at a stretch.
But does that mean that one cannot learn to appreciate the monastic life? Does it mean that you are not even allowed to imagine what it would be like if you had the choice of living the monastic life on your own?
Here is my sense of it: I think there is a time and place within the active life of the ordinary person for quiet and contemplation. There has to be, otherwise one would go mad.
I am saying all this because I have read the scriptures for this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time and I find Jesus struggling with that same issue: How does one continue to exist in this world without quiet, without, rest and relaxation? How does one keep one’s sanity. If one cannot find a way, there is the danger of simply being overwhelmed by those in the world who need you but have no sense how important your own life is to you.
It is interesting to notice that at least four or five times in one or other of the gospels we see the gospel writer saying that Jesus would go out into deserted areas, into the mountains and hills simply to be back in touch with his God.
It is just such a situation that we find in the liturgy for this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The pressure on Jesus and the disciples had been overwhelming: People wanted to hear him preach; they wanted to be healed; they simply want to see him, to see what he looked like.
But it just became too much after a while. So he asked his friends to come aside for a while and rest. I’m sure they did not have a problem with that.
But notice what happens: The retreat does not last long. People found out where they were and flocked after them. You get the sense at this point that Jesus simply says, Okay, let’s go back to work. They won’t let us alone. Perhaps that short time, maybe even a half a day was enough to restore Jesus’ and the disciple’s energy. So, it was back to work!
What I draw from all this is that even though we may love the work we do and feel that we are doing much good, we still need to refresh ourselves occasionally in whatever way we choose: It could be a quick weekend, a day or two away from the office, maybe calling in sick or even just some free minutes during the day to gaze out the window at something beautiful in the world outside.
Obviously, our own psychological and spiritual welfare is important too. We need to be able to live with ourselves and on into our future. Even Jesus did not seem to think that he was a slave to the needs of others.
I started all this out with the description of the monastic life and its beauties. I still love monastic life, but, if you will, from a distance, maybe even sitting in a recliner, watching the film, Into Great Silence. That will be enough for now.
Posted by Cindy Lentine on July 19, 2012 09:48 AM.