When I Was a Young Monk
Thoughts on two of our Founding Fathers
(Fr. Corentine 1st row first on left.
Fr. Francis second monk down from Fr. Corentine)
My schedule for Sunday is different since I do not work the morning shift in our infirmary. So I can spend the first hour or so doing Lectio. Then I spend some time before Vigils (our first office of the day at 4 AM) doing my meditation. I guess one of the blessings about aging, and actually getting old, is that a routine becomes easier to maintain. I have experienced that I still have a great deal of energy for the inner journey. For prayer, reflection, and yes, some writing. At the same time, my ability to keep active lessens somewhat. My energy level which has never been great even when young, is now somewhat low, but I can still work, etc.
I would think that older people who or on the inner journey, can over time become amazed at how deep we humans are, all of us. Some of us have the language to express ourselves, but we all have many experiences that form us and even drive us but may not be able to express it clearly to those we deal with on a daily basis. It is what is often hidden in us that pushes us this way and that. Prayer can help to allow that to become understood in ways that would otherwise remain concealed. When we pray from the heart, we do open up the doors of our inner perception and what needs healing will often present itself when we are ready. It can often be uncomfortable and last for years, such is the inner journey seeking union with God.
When I was a young monk, I would watch the older ones, those who at that time were the age I am now, or a little older. Prayer was second nature to them. When I would take them to the Doctor’s office, they would usually open up a book, and pretend to read much of the time, and pray. Some would love the rosary, others would just pray by sitting in silence, but all prayed, and were men who did not fear what life gifted them with, whether it was pleasant, or not. I find this to be true of most older persons that I have met in our retreat house, and even when I was young but did not appreciate it at the time. Old people were interesting, but kind of strange to me. Loved being with them, talking to them, and just hang out. However, my inner awareness, and limited life experience, did not lend me really understanding them. Perhaps that is what made them so very interesting.
Fr. Francis, was one of our ‘Founders’, coming to Georgia in 1944 when our Monastery was founded. He was a little man, always on the move, with a dry sense of humor. No matter where you saw him, he was always saying ‘Jesus’, or ‘Mary’, a constant prayer for him. He was a childlike man, but when you listened to him, a keen observer of the human condition, which I am sure he learned from the many people he helped, as well as from his own inner struggles, and suffering, Which none of us escapes from in this beautiful, ugly, pleasant, and painful reality. One day I took Fr. Francis into the city to get a new clerical suit which a friend wanted to buy for him. He was going to make a family visit for the first time in 50 years. So we went to a shop in Atlanta that sold suits etc. It was a nice place filled with people. An amazing thing happened while with him. He walked in, and within a few minutes, just about everyone in the store stood around him, listening to him. He held one woman’s hand, and she seemed delighted. I just stood back amazed at the way people related to him. He had a real love for people, and always had that child-like demeanor about him. He did not try to attract attention, it just happened.
Fr. Corentine was the same as Fr. Francis in his prayer life. As well as one of our founders. I would say he was constantly saying the ‘Jesus Prayer’, it kept him grounded. He was a difficult man because he suffered from Schizophrenia, showing symptoms in his late 20’s while a young monk at Gethsemane Abbey, our Mother-House. He was, yes, problematic, but also a very prayerful man. The last few years of his life he re-discovered the Psalms, and prayed them constantly. He told me that many of the Psalms reflected back to him his own struggles. On the day he died, he was found in his bed, on his back, with his hands folded, as if waiting for death, the Lord, to come for him. He finally found peace. I knew him for around 33 years before he died. He never had a good day but was a man of deep faith. He never gave up, and we never gave up on him either. So as I said above, he could be a handful when he was in the throes of his dis-ease. I learned a lot from him, perhaps more than from the other monks. He had a stubbornness to him that kept him from falling into despair. I also learned that God’s love or presence in one’s life does not depend on them acting according to what society, or others, thinks is proper. He was seldom proper, but always a good monk even in the struggle that he had to deal with for so many years. In him I came to understand the reality of God’s grace and compassion.
Our lives have direction. In the Christian faith, we use the word ‘Pilgrim’ to bring that point home. We are always on the move, at least in our inner lives. Nothing really satisfies us for long. When we desire something, once we have it, it is no longer wanted, and over time we dispose of it. No, we hunger for something more. So I believe because of that truth, our latter years are truly the most important for us. Is old age a preparation? Yes, all of life is, it is just that being old, we can no longer evade that reality.—Br.MD