Keeping the faith: What Monks can teach us about Social Distancing
During my college days I lived for a time in a restored Carthusian monastery. While the monks had been kicked out by the emperor Joseph II in the 1700’s, the bones of the monastery remain and they teach a lesson about faith and society and so about ourselves.
Carthusians are a unique order. They are quasi monks and quasi hermits. They live together, but alone. This doesn’t make them anti-social. In fact, the opposite. They rely upon their brother monks for every part of their life that they are not assigned. One brother cooks each day. Another takes care of the animals. Another is assigned to do their business with the outside world. Each one doing their part allows the whole order to function. In recent events, we may have discovered how much we really do rely upon the work of others for so many facets of our daily lives. Even if we feel alone, there are countless people doing work that sustains us and our activities.
In the Carthusian monastery, each monk does their work alone. Each one studies and prays alone. They even observe what is called the “Grand Silence,” refraining from speaking to each other so that they can more fully enter into the presence of God. Each day though, they come together for prayer in common. On Sundays, the silence is relaxed and fraternity is practiced as they talk and walk and joke and recreate together.
They have observed this rule and way of life, almost completely unchanged, for nearly a thousand years.
(If you want to see their life in action, check out the film Into Great Silence)
What Does This Have to Do With Me?
We are being asked (albeit perhaps unwillingly) to live a more monastic life right now. We cannot help but rely upon others – the mail carrier, internet provider, grocery store clerk, electric company, doctors, and nurses. Our lives could not go on without them. We should have a deep sense of gratitude. They have also given us a great gift – a time to be alone. Here is where the choice lies. We can be alone and lonely, or we can be alone with God. This will likely come through a period of loneliness. That is ok.
The monks do not seek distractions. They don’t turn to social media or streaming movies for entertainment. Each day, multiple times a day, they turn together to the Lord. We can and should do the same. Together to the Lord. It will be what makes the rest of our monasticism possible. We have the possibility of ordering our days around rosaries, teachings, mass, chaplets, and prayer that is available with our families (our domestic monasteries) and online with the whole world.
The life of the monk does not make much sense without communing with God. Neither will ours. This time of distancing and quarantine can be a time of senselessness, boredom, and despair. Or a time of incredible Grace and growth. Christ promises to be with us in the silence. To be with us in the monotony and daily duties as we strive to do what we have been asked to do for the good of others.
Our Steady Source of Hope
The motto of the Carthusian Order is “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis” or, in English “The cross is steady while the world is turning.” This seems fitting for us in this time in which we have been asked to live, to be high school students, to raise our families. The cell of each Carthusian monk has almost no furnishings and no decorations. Except for one Crucifix. In our homes and in our rooms, let us find that cross, find that crucifix, and hold fast to it. For it is steady while the world is turning.