Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Uselessness of Monastic Life (Reading Notes)

In 1966, an American Benedictine monk wrote to Thomas Merton complaining about what he perceived to be the uselessness of monasticism. Merton's frank response is worth reading, particularly as it touches upon the prophetic nature of monastic life, a point discussed briefly in a recent article in America on why young people are intrigued by monasticism:
There has always been and there always will be a conviction in certain minds that the monastic life is useless. Well, it is. It is not meant to serve some practical purpose. It is not "for" something other than itself. On the other hand, the assertion that "reality" is to be found in secular life only is patently foolish: but people will continue to make it. And in the same breath they will lament the fact that they have no time for anything, that they are always nervous and frustrated, that people get on their nerves...The world has its dignities and heroisms and its servitudes: and for many people life in the world is little more than the latter. The monk should have the courage and patience to keep his life going as a sign of freedom and peace: he should be in his own way open to the world, and he should even to some extent be able to share some of the advantages of his life with people in the world who seek a little silence and peace to restore their perspectives. The monk can also in his own way be effectively concerned with worldly problems: more effectively for the fact that he is not immersed in them up to his neck.
 Picture of Merton above used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust

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