What use are monasteries and convents whose monks and nuns -apparently- do nothing more than contemplate, pray and work for their own survival? Yet, was it not early monasticism that empowered and created Western civilisation as we know it today.
Monasteries are aimed at praising and celebrating God: they must do nothing else as a matter of priority. All the primary concerns of the world must be alien to them. And therefore…
Why would anyone want to become a contemplative, a praying monks or nuns, even to be chaste in divine virginity, obviously excluding oneself from children and a family? Starting from the criteria and purposes that today somewhat govern the existence of our world, all this would be absolutely meaningless and utterly “useless”.
Instead, it is precisely the first and last destination of human existence that is engendered and determined, in this case, by the sacred convent life. Which has placed this apparent uselessness at the centre of its existence. It is there that it is evident, as it is from the indisputable superiority and immeasurability of the said impalpable transcendence. And from which the material concreteness also of the factual takes substance! All the absurdity and devastation of contemporary nihilism stem from the modernist reversal: absolutely not modern!
Who, starting from the time of the Renaissance, wanted to overturn the very naturally predominant relationship of the Trinitarian Creator on the power of narcissistically organised man – since then massively in progression – into the self-sufficient and deceptively self-determined arbitrary. This upheaval of the so-called secular reality and defined as the “State”, was called, much later, “statism”: that is to say the prevalence, even illogical and always fatal, of the State over God and his pure natural laws. So on the Person! Refusing the one and only dominion of God over the universe, at least evidently ontological, we are preparing to submit to everything and anything!
As the American novelist and Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor in 1958 (certainly not the first to do so) had well noted. The true history of man and its peoples began – she said – with Abraham’s total obedience to the call of the world and to life by God the Creator. The great Jewish father had abandoned his village and began a new chapter in his life, whose journey was to become that of his entire people. Something that had never been seen before! And this whilst all the other populations continued to linger in shaping their numerous gods inevitably into polytheistic idols and DIY artefacts, even if at times they did so quite brilliantly.
The spiritual (monastic) culture from which everything springs, including the progresses of technological innovation, had foreshadowed the immense Renaissance, and even artistic development.
From the time before St. Jerome in the third-fourth century, the existence of tiny and poor convents (especially in the desert and always totally divorced from the diabolical power mongering of the world), constituted a prestigious point of reference to multitudes of faithful and powerful contemporaries. To the point that even the Christian anchorites, often founders of convents, were much loved or feared by most of the monarchs of the time.
The first heads of monasteries and abbesses (then extremely authoritative and passively prominent out of habit) were called upon to consult more and more often by those in power in order to show, quite publicly, their just subjection to the transcendence and sovereignty of God. Somewhat like most politicians do today -especially in the USA- but only during election times.
Quite different, therefore, from the predatory condition of our political system today in which the state has substantial centralised control over social and economic affairs, which we already know is totally secularised.
Those were the times – which today we call “Obscurantism” in a contemptuous manner, out of crass historical ignorance – when the fear of God the Creator still actually had a common significance. The monks already held the highest social prestige, in their wise humility. Therefore that absolute monastic religious became, before the High Middle Ages, the protagonists, with their network of convents already intrinsically prepared for practical universality, of a central factor, even within the most advanced technologies. Especially if we bear in mind that monks were the greatest natural travellers of their time, we need only look at Saint Brendan the Navigator and St. Columba. With the exchange of the Eucharist between convents and our brothers and sisters in Faith, they were the natural promoters and diffusers – especially in the Late Middle Ages – of meaningful innovation in their era: therefore civilisation was formed at a crossroads and synthesis of the (technical) horizontal and of the vertical (spiritual).
We are dealing here with the crucial theme of the theological and pastoral debate of the twenty-first century, namely the role of discernment in the face of the eschatological problems proper to Christo-centricity.
Today, however, things have remained practically unchanged, additionally, the fact that the dominance of techno-science seems to have created a real new and increasingly dreadful “religion”: the current one, founded on a sort of supposed equivalent syncretism of the various religions that all became well grounded within Masonry and the United Nations. The central problem of the contemporary Church is that even her conception of religiosity is now currently extremely falsified, if only by exerted influences.
It could be noted that the German materialist, Karl Marx, unfortunately currently still lingering, had summarised with his 11 theses, which became famous, the thought of his fellow countryman Feuerbach: “It is not God who created man but man who invented the Trinitarian God”, one explicitly said. Thus anticipating by a century his future compatriot’s and Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner SJ., almost contemporary in our day. A very Protestant “Catholic” and in the same manner quite idolatrous, like those ancient pagans and materialists of the nineteenth century who consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.
All the reductivism and destructive criticism of Feuerbach —and of Rahner himself — thus seems to have found fulfilment in the practical success of the so-called vast self-styled all-relativist (Ranherian) theology, rather prevalent within the Catholic Church today.
I have already talked about it, or rather mentioned it on this blog, with respect to the very appropriate criticism produced by the Social Doctrine of the Church, particularly by Stefano Fontana under the direction of the then archbishop of Trieste Mons. Eugenio Ravignani and theologian Monks. Giampaolo Crepaldi who is the current Archbishop of Trieste.
This will constitute the central and crucial point —I am sure— of the whole doctoral and pastoral debate (somewhat called today “creative” and subjective pastoralism) of our century and which in meticulous contrast is still cheapening religiosity. The idea of God was in fact led not to a too evident and total denial of him, but to the horribly psychological response to the needs of today’s humanity, somewhat lost and standardised in its narcissistic agnosticism.
The cause of the desertion and renunciation of the Faith was as a consequence replaced by the influence of a tamed God, self-constructed and on a “human scale”. A dimension that is currently being pursued after many generations of secularism and nihilism: in this manner, God is the relief (moreover in a partial and sentimental way) of today’s so-called “life weariness”: the philosophy, therefore, of Feuerbach, has just now developed! And with all the ideological structure of the so-called ‘new Church of Karl Rahner’ (without fail fundamentally Rahnerian in origin, without expressing this too bluntly) based on the false ideology that divinity and its transcendence derive from utterly human and independent planning, “artificially” fabricated by history itself. Furthermore, collective (with the theory that social and cultural phenomena are determined by history) and personal “experience” (through Individualistic moral relativism: based on a person’s feeling, preferences, and values). That is to say, the denial and complete opposite, as that great Stigmatine theologian Cornelio Fabro CSS, had already accurately stated, at the dawn of the 1970s, regarding the mission of the Church and of monasticism. According to the discovery of the temple of that “unknown god” by St. Paul in Athens, in the vast polytheistic Greek culture.
It is singular and curious that many monks and nuns are chasing worldly concerns today instead of dedicating themselves primarily to their essential evangelical mission and Eucharistic celebrations.
The tendency (I was about to write “biliously mundane!”) of wanting to diagnose and prescribe formula for the Church which is in full identity crisis mode, leads various convents and large monasteries to want to practice the so-called “progressive therapies,” improvised and above all not Christologically founded. And particularly eccentric if not extraneous to the conventual and divine vocation founded on prayer, adoration and industriousness.
If this pernicious attraction to the inessential social practice (especially in our era which is very socialised by the leadership) on the part of monasticism vocationally consecrated to divine praise, does not quickly die out, monasteries will not be able to play the role that the “Benedict option” has attributed to them and started to materialise in the destiny of Christianity and of the Church. That is, to continue to form countless small ecclesial communities of laity concentrated around the new (but always ancient) Catholic convents centred on prayer and the adoration of the Eucharist!
Today the “field hospital”, of which the bishop of Rome speaks, can regard above all contemporary convents as permanent places and the source of the Sacred: where the essential and the heart of the Mystical Body is preserved in prayerful continuity in all its grandeur and its authenticity at the heart of monasticism.
This specificity must be a dedicated and well understood symmetry for committed lay people on the front lines of this world. It is therefore, both a legitimate and established practice for them. And for some monks and nuns, it is we could say unearthly and a priori (based on theoretical deduction) or extremely unorthodox, always far too eccentric! The mission of the monastery is for monasticism —to institute indirectly in the world and in the spirit of humanity— the central concept of the Eucharist as a living and enduring memory of Christ in flesh and blood regenerated during every celebration of Holy Mass. Quite distinctly it has the purpose of allowing the invisible to become visible: the perfection of the heavenly beauty of Christianity as a sustained encounter with Christ, whom we call the Son of Man, within human fellowship.
The strength and intellectual clarity of the monastic purpose is so evident with respect to the so-called laws of the world, that every little drift can only signal a distressing lack of pure doctrinal and missionary faith.
The global and material mission of the Church, starting within the heart of Christianity which is nothing more and which is founded only upon Eucharistic Adoration socially validated by Catholic social teaching.
Where did that simple planning for which the patroness of the Missions, which is the moral responsibility of the most extreme and external interventions of the Church which had been designated a nun (Saint Teresa) of strict enclosure end up? Monasticism therefore hast to generate —as it has been doing for many centuries— giants of culture, but silently (as continually advanced by Robert Cardinal Sarah) even if not entirely voiceless. The regal intangibility of the eternal Truth can only arise from the serene silence as opposed to the vain over-talkativeness of an anxious search for the world, because it is almost always misguided. After recalling the Petrine formula of Blessed Paul VI according to whom “politics is one of the highest forms of charity,” what can doctrinally and pastorally establish that residual commitment today within our world and, especially, within our social and political spheres? Only and exclusively the CST —Catholic social teaching— which is naturally empowered at the highest levels to proffer truthful indications and binding criteria.
However, this area is still tragically neglected today, even more than its boundless and largely ignored wisdom relating to the life of the Christian polis (city state) and its history. The congregation of the faithful, and especially the many prelates with their current priests or new monks who are quite delinquent and immoral within Christian culture, should know how to abstain in silence, learning assiduously from the great Magisterium of Tradition. The Kingdom of God in the world —it must be said— always and once more begins within a convent in unceasing prayer encompassing the Eucharist!