The “meaning” of monastic life

My friend Nancy over at has been rummaging through her books and finding some great quotes about monastic life. One of the ones she posted today struck a chord:

“Monastic life is nothing else..than a Christian life whose Christianity has penetrated every part of it… The monk is precisely the Christian who has recognized in Christ ‘the way, the truth, the life,’ and who intends to act logically over this discovery, a discovery of such a nature that it should not leave any of those who have made it tepid or indifferent.” (Louis Bouyer of the Oratory, "The Meaning of the Monastic Life")

My own answer is: "Monastic life is the life of anyone who lives as if he actually believed in Jesus." Yes, the "as if" is ironic. Usually it challenges my good neighbors since they are pretty sure that no "papist" can be a Christian… 🙂

I really like the appeal to logic here. It seems to me self-evident that if you believe in Jesus the only rational course of action left is do to what he says, and to imitate Him. C. S. Lewis lays down the same challenge (with much more force):

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God." (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

I do not like to spend too much time arguing for/against beliefs. We all have beliefs, and, has been frequently pointed out, even atheists have beliefs. It is just not a very useful line of inquiry. So I focus on the aftermath of belief. How does it change you? How are you different?

Since I was blessed to come to Christ late in life, I frequently have a clearer vision of the before/after than those who are what my father-in-law call drip-by-drip Christians: who came to the overflowing cup of faith, little by little over a lifetime brought up by a Christian family. Mine was a much more dramatic, cataclysmic conversion. So it is obvious when I became a Christian.

The one thing that strikes me if how often we (and I include myself here) choose to act as if we did NOT believe in Jesus. usually when it is most inconvenient.

A monastic of any stripe and worth their salt is simply incapable to doing so for any long period of time. They are dragged back, kicking and screaming to living out their reasonable faith and hope. Like my children, who grumble and mumble in the morning when it is time to wake up and go to school, pulling the covers over their sleepy and warm heads, so we all like the warm sleep of "this world." But the Christian will get up with Christ while it is still dark and cold, and do the work that His Father has given us.

This, as I repeat over and over, is the calling of every Christian. Religious are simply people who are willing to stand up and be held accountable for what all the baptised have given nominal assent….


About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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