Monastic Life: A Life Without Choices?

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! And we,
   Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
           Who never deeply felt, nor clearly willed

   Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
       Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;
           For whom each year we see

   Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
       Who hesitate and falter life away,
        And lose to-morrow the ground won today –

   Ah! Do not we, wanderer! await it too?
            —“The Scholar-Gipsy,” Matthew Arnold

Recently my wife and I have been looking to buy a house our first. Constrained as we are by a limited budget, and young and full of dreams as we are, none of the houses that we have yet seen have measured up to our visions, with the result that we have spent a considerable amount of time with our realtor (bless her heart) in search of “the one.” As will happen, professional barriers have begun to be replaced with a more casual acquaintance, until recently we found ourselves standing on the driveway of a house we had viewed (not “the one”, alas!) discussing, as will also happen, religion.

At some point I had mentioned that I was going to spend a few days over Easter at a traditional monastery, and this seemed to pique Cindy’s curiosity. Cindy is a fallen-away Catholic, jaded by the chaos of the sixties and seventies, and the scandals that were brewed in their midst, and expressed her skepticism about the monastic project. “You will probably disagree with me,” she said, “but it seems to me that the life of a monk is a life without choices.” But I did not disagree, pointing out that the lack of choices is precisely the point – that a monk gives up his right to choose in order that he may be able to focus, without distraction, on the one thing that matters.

But of course, Cindy’s complaint wasn’t really that monks are not able (or, perhaps, are unwilling) to choose. This was simply her way of saying that in her view the life of a monk is a dull one, without responsibility, comfort, freedom or happiness. I realized this at the time, and I tried to head off these objections by explaining that many of the priests, monks, and nuns that I know are some of the happiest people I know – far happier, I said, than myself or her. “Are they?” Cindy answered. “I am glad to hear that.”

But I don’t think she believed me. And I don’t blame her. Of what, after all, does the life of a monk consist?

Routine, mostly.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine….

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A few (very peaceful) days at Clearcreek Monastery

Over Easter I spent a few very peaceful days at Clearcreek monastery in Oklahoma.

Low mass in the church crypt. Low mass happens at 7:00 am. Ten monks say mass simultaneously, making use of the 8 side altars in the crypt, as well as the high altar, and the tabernacle altar.

Clearcreek is one of the only (the only?) traditional Benedictine monasteries in the United States. They are an offshoot of the Solesmes congregation, which was founded in France following the devastation wrought on the monasteries by the French revolution.

Another picture of low mass in the morning. A very peaceful experience.

The Solemnes congregation has specialized in resurrecting Gregorian chant, and the monks at Clearcreek participate in that tradition to the fullest. Daily mass at the monastery lasted a full hour and a half because of the intricate and rich chant (This was Easter week, and so I can’t be entirely sure such an elaborate mass was entirely normal. I have been to the monastery twice before, but both of those times was during Christmas week, when you would also expect elaborate liturgies).

And one more of low mass.

The monastery was founded in the early 90s and has come a long way. I counted 39 monks while I was there, though there may be more. They say their goal is to reach 60, at which point they will found another monastery. The most remarkable thing about the monk is how young they are: there appear to be several monks in their early to mid 20s, and plenty who can’t be into their mid 30s. Just another sign of the “springtime” JPII spoke about.

A picture of the crypt of the church.

This is monastic life at its richest, and its most authentic. The Benedictines are an entirely contemplative order, meaning their primary purpose in life is simply to pray. Silence rules their life: they speak only when necessary, or during times of recreation. They strive towards self-sufficiency by raising their own cattle and sheep, growing their own produce, and by mastering various crafts, including cheesemaking and iron work, the products of which they sell in their book store.

The monks go out for their daily walk during recreation. This picture was taken from my cell.

All of their liturgies are in Latin, and they say the 1962 missal (i.e. tridentine or extraordinary rite). They get up around 4:45 for lauds, and then matins, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline, all of which are chanted with exquisite purity.

A picture of the interior of the main church (sorry it's so dim)

During my time there I was able to get a tour of their cheese-making operation. It’s a humble thing, with an incredibly humble monk at its helm: and the cheese they make (a gouda from their own milk) is utterly delicious. In order to get this private tour I had to ask permission, and had to get it from the abbott: they are very jealous of their privacy, as pretty much any authentically contemplative order is.

Another picture of the main church (also too dim).

I will tell you more about the cheese-making later (and my own experiments trying to make cheese). I am also working on an article about monastic life, which I should be done relatively soon. In the meantime enjoy the pictures.

A view of the monastery. Right now there is a temporary roof on the church, because they have not yet been able to raise sufficient funds to complete the full church, which will be about twice as tall as it is right now: a classical romanesque church with soaring vaulted ceilings. It should be very impressive when it's complete.

The monastery is surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest and hills, with ponds and creeks and lots of pasture. It is in a valley, and this picture was taken from one of the surrounding hills during a hike.

Another shot from the hill - you can just see the top of the monastery peeking through the trees.

The view from my cell. That part of the building is the bookstore and, I believe, other administrative offices.

A typical cell (my cell). Sufficiently small and austere for a monk.


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My Alma Mater …

Being a major amateur “camera user” and “Final Cut Editor” I produced this low-key promotional video for my college in 2007.  I revisited it just recently after these several years and noticed that practically no one has viewed it (in part 2, there was like 9 views … that’s probably the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard).  Anyway, I’m posting the video now.  There are several things wrong with it (i.e. artistic/stylistic stuff mainly) but what’s done is done, I guess.  I have fond memories of my Catholic college.  It had an invaluable impact on my intellectual and spiritual life.  I don’t think I would have survived (in any sense) if I hadn’t gone there.  Anyway, here it is, warts and all …

And here’s part two:

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Alack …

Someday, I’m going to come out with a good post.  The one I’m working on is going to take a million/billion years … so until then, I have the proverbially entertaining YouTube video distraction tactic to throw at you, in the hopes that you’ll still like me and keep returning to chance come upon … as said before, an actual good post.

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Anthony Hopkins speaks at Thomas Aquinas College

Anthony Hopkins (the actor who played “Hannibal Lector” in The Silence of the Lambs … the serial killing cannibal genius, voted the greatest movie villain of all time in many official “lists”) was driving one day in California and randomly spotted Thomas Aquinas College (particularly, its beautiful chapel), and spontaneously decided to visit and give a speech there.  This is one of the only genuinely Catholic colleges still in existence and has a student body of only 350.  Yet, one of the most famous and talented Hollywood actors showed up by himself, saying, “I’ve never seen such a beautiful place in my life.”  While his speech simply was about his experiences and thoughts about acting (which I found very interesting, having done some acting myself), I feel that this was a meeting of profound significance.  Perhaps a sign that Catholicism and culture are slowly beginning to reunite.

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Women Cardinals? Head of USCCB, Fr. Groeschel say it’s possible

Well, this one threw me for a loop today: but apparently it is theoretically possible for the pope to appoint women as cardinals of the Catholic Church.

Who knew?

Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I think that would be pretty cool. Cardinal Mother Teresa? Why not?

Anybody else know anything about this fascinating loophole in canon law? Of course, it’s very unlikely ever to happen, and probably there are people smarter than me who have good arguments for why it shouldn’t happen, but still, it’s an interesting thought-experiment.

Over at Patheos Mark Shea writes:

For 15ish years, ever since the publication of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, I have maintained that one implication of the document is that women can be created cardinals of the Church (since the office of cardinal does not require holy orders and it is *only* the sacerdotal office to which the Church lacks the authority to ordain women). When I say this, I invariably get chewed out as a subversive modernist.

However, the other day, Fr. Groeschel and Cdl Dolan noted exactly the same thing (go to the 3:50 mark):

Update: Shea’s post has started quite the heated exchange between him and Sean P. Dailey over at Shea’s blog. When I search my innermost soul, I think Dailey probably has some good points about the potential that appointing a female cardinal could have in terms of scandal: i.e. sending the unintentional message that female ordination is a-ok with the Church. The niceties of theology and canon law don’t typically get translated well in the world’s media, and a technical exception that theoretically allows a woman to be made a cardinal would probably very quickly become: “Pope bows to feminist demands: ordains woman cardinal,” etc. It probably wouldn’t be pretty.

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On the other hand, maybe Mary Poppins is Evil …

This will either traumatize you or make you laugh really loud …

On the other hand, it is said that the Devil is the opposite of Our Lady, not God (because the opposite of God is non-existence).  It has also been said that Lucifer rebelled against God when he heard that a mere woman would be raised up beyond all the angels.  So, as Mary Poppins is comparable to the Blessed Mother, this evil version of Poppins is appropriately comparable to the Prince(ss) of Darkness.

By the way, I laughed really loud.  But I was also traumatized … a little.  I’m okay though.

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