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The Monastic Struggle

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The Monastic Struggle

'Man's anger does not bring about the righteousness of God' (Jms. 1:20
(Chapter talk)

We must, with God's help, eradicate the deadly poison of the demon of anger from the depths of our souls. So long as he dwells in our hearts and blinds the eyes of the heart with his somber disorders, we can neither discriminate what is for our good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions,
nor participate in true life;and our intellect will remain impervious to the contemplation of the true, divine light; for it is written, 'Man's anger does not bring about the righteousness of God' (Jms. 1:20).--John Cassian

Not everyone has the same path to walk when they enter the Monastic journey. In fact, we may not find out what our path is until after we have arrived, perhaps even years after we enter. There can be all kinds of romantic ideas about what it is to be a monk, but the lived experience is another matter altogether. I do believe that the path each of us must traverse, whether monk, or layperson, has its roots in our deep past, often forgotten, but its effects can be felt. It manifests through our emotions, in how we perceive others, and in how we relate to ourselves, and yes, God. Until this is understood in some way, we are doomed to be chained to an endless round of frustration, misunderstanding, and suffering.

Living in a Monastic community is a life of real solitude, even if we are very active in how we live out our vocation. For we are always with ourselves, with many outlets denied us. No matter where we turn we will only find a reflection of ourselves looking back.

Cities are the collective manifestation of the inner life of those who live in it. We have in many ways created the world in our image and likeness, with all that entails. So it is in Monasteries, each of us are building stones in how the actual Spirit of the house is lived out.

The collective ideal is present. We strive to live deeply the mystery of our calling, yet the deeper we go inward, we will often find resistance to actually living out what we have vowed. So within community there is a level of chaos and dysfunction, and even destructive qualities that have to be addressed by the monk, as well as the community if it gets to serious.

The saying “Dealing with my inner demons”, is understood by those who hear it. I would think that most monks, because of the nature of the life, have, each, their own unique struggle with the flesh. More often than not, these ‘inner demons’ are a manifestation of our wounds that were inflicted on us when we were defenseless, innocent, and very, very young.

The deeper I go into my own monastic journey, there are times that I feel like Dante, finding myself in a deep dark forest, feeling lost, confused, and frustrated. I have also found ways in dealing with this that does as little harm to me or to others, such is the gift of our Monastic Life. I have learned that if I do not deal with my own inner chaos, it will deal with me. I can’t blame others or take out my inner frustrations on those around me.

Raimundo Panikkar is an author I like to read from time to time. Not saying that I understand much, he is a very deep thinker, but I found some of his sayings helpful in my Monastic Journey. Below is one such quote:

“By monk, monachos, I understand that person who aspires to reach the ultimate goal in life with all of his being by renouncing all that is not necessary to it, i.e., by concentrating on this one single and unique goal.”–Raimundo Panikkar

I am not sure I have yet to acquire what Raimundo is talking about, but it is something I desire, to grow in focus on my own journey. As I get older I find that my ‘true north’s’ pull on me is stronger, making the pull of other ‘good things’ lessen, and become less fulfilling.

The one thing necessary for a monk, is I believe ‘love’. Which is, yes, what is necessary for anyone who is seeking to walk the Christian way of life. However, because of the simplicity of our lives, the struggle to achieve, and the experience of my own lacking of this love can be a source of deeper inner suffering leading to restlessness. We can only truly grow by choosing what leads to greater life, and to learn to not fear the pain that goes with such growth.

I would also say that my chief inner ‘demon’ is anger, its root, in anxiety. I knew when young that I could get very angry and lash out. Yet as I age, and my trust in God, as well as my love for God, expands through His grace, this anger seems to be more pointed, violent, and is always asking me to deal with it. Over the years this energy of anger will arise for no apparent reason, and cause me some disquiet, or raw pain, but I have learned, that being alone before God, means that I have to not fear whatever comes up, but to make it part of my prayer journey into deeper union with Christ Jesus. It is part of obeying the commandment “to love myself as I love my neighbor”.

I do believe that in belonging to the Priesthood-Of-The-People, the persons who belong to my congregation or those who struggle the way I do. So I will often pray for those consumed with violence, and have no way to deal with it. Our struggles can make us more human, just as Christ Jesus was perfectly human. Evil seeks to destroy, to strip me of my humanity, to make me an empty shell. While the grace and healing of God seeks to fill me with life and healing. Yet in order to be healed, even if it takes time, or years has to be seen, embraced, and given to the Lord in prayer. All the while keeping patience, and trust, central.

I have found that God’s mercy is a flaming sword that cuts through my laziness, callousness, my lack of honesty with myself, and exposes all. This happens over time not all at once, for we are never given more than we can endure. Healing takes time, yet to face what we are, and our need for healing, and mercy, is non-negotiable.

So where am I at this point in my Monastic Journey? Well, I do not know. However, I do find that my trust in God’s mercy and love is growing, as well as my ability to love and accept others. My own wounds, failures, starting over, leads me to having compassion and empathy for others. I am not as free as I would like to think. My freedom grows as I choose from a deep place of inner ‘choice/struggle’, for only then can I move forward. To love oneself in God is to love all others, it cannot be otherwise.

As I age, I am finding myself, in some ways, like the older monks who were here when I was still in my 20’s. I find it amazing and am thankful that it is God who is faithful, even when I have not been. It is all grace, my love of prayer, the gifts that I have, as well as my struggle, or dance with anger. My thorn in the flesh that keeps me in the truth of my need for deeper healing, could be one of the greatest gifts. For the Lord uses us all to build up by our gifts. Yet, it reaches us in our depths through our wounds, sins, and struggles.

Patience endurance for me is a must, to not give in to despair, or to never doubt the love and mercy of God—Br.MD

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