Mother Catherine Thomas, in her classic work, My Beloved, writes that the first words she heard at her entrance to a Carmelite monastery were, “Passio Christi, conforta me!”
Passion of Christ, comfort me!
I like that! The ancient founders of monasteries could have come up with something more mysterious, perhaps a secret handshake or a password, but I like those comforting words. I imagine that they are meant to remind the newcomer that Jesus knows what it is to surrender one’s life. At the same time, Jesus has a passion, as we would define it, for oneness with His own, His people. We know it, but most of us have not yet begun to appreciate it as we might. Here in Cor Unum Abbey, we are giving ourselves to that end.
We do well to enter this new pursuit, this personal monastic adventure, comforted in our resolve. If we make progress, if the Nearness of God becomes our all-consuming good (Psalm 73:28,) it won’t be an easy marathon, but the comforts are colossal and well worth every footsore step. We will know times of joy and fulfillment unlike anything else that life can afford, but the very best pleasure is knowing that it is possible to delight the heart of God. (Song of Solomon 4:9, Jeremiah 9:24)
Into the Abbey … one moment you’re on the doorstep in your street clothes, Smart Phone in your pocket or purse, the next … you take a step over a threshold and heavy oaken doors close behind you. Keys turn in the lock. It seems looks romantic in movies; not so simple a choice in reality.
Our choosing is not as immediately profound, but when we make it in good faith, it is just as binding and just as apt to take us where we want to go, into the image of Christ Jesus our Lord. We don’t have to surrender our phones, but this is for real. This is stepping into the pursuit of the Lord our God.
Inside these walls, grief and bitterness will have to give way to hope and forgiveness. Pride and fear will have to show themselves in all the little hidey-holes they have found for themselves. We will have to cut away little chunks of our souls, the dark and rotting spots, where we have rather enjoyed being jealous or angry or covetous or lethargic, but this is the most successful operating theater in existence. Even incurable wounds will be healed (Jeremiah 30:12-17).
Moreover, seldom if ever will we do more than to make tiny steps in a right direction. There will be a few glorious conquests of our selfishness and pride, but most of the time it will be one finger ledge, one toe-hold at a time.
Inside the Abbey, Sister Cecelia was taken to change into her postulants’ habit, and even that was rather plain and sophomoric compared with the full habit of the Professed Nuns, but she was glad. She then met the community, a happy and congratulatory scene. Cecelia had been corresponding with the Mother Abbess for quite awhile, and she knew something of the rudiments of a monastic vocation.
Here are some of ours:
- We will use time-honored tools for making sure that the Word of God dwells in us richly, conforming us to the image of Christ.
- We will make adversity and loneliness work for us, mightily.
- We will learn to practice silence for a season every day, some longer, some shorter.
- We will begin to pray more and more diligently … giving ourselves not only to prayer but to a lifestyle of intercession …
- We will learn to hope, beyond wishing.
- We will get to know the glories of “Conversatio.”
- This time next year, we will know we have made progress in this place.
This place. It is an imaginary Abbey, but we aren’t playing make-believe. We can know that we aren’t alone in this invisible cloister, as its walls and corridors and chapel are being constructed in our hearts. We begin to hear the bells at all the proper times of day. We can make sure that, together with one another, “Marketplace Monastics” the world over, we are obtaining Christ, which is why we’re here. Like Paul said,
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV)
“All this” is all Christ, His abiding and our abiding in Him, learning to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 23, 24.) Speaking of the bells, they are ringing for Vespers. Follow the veil in front of you, and welcome to the first day of the rest of your holy vocation.
Altenberger Dom (Altenberg Monastery)
Uwe Barghaan, by permission, Wikipedia