Friday, June 15, 2018

Benedictine Reflections: Stability and Monotony

One of the drawbacks to following the Monastic Diurnal rather than the Book of Common Prayer is that, aside from feasts and solemnities, one week is little different from the next. Indeed, given a solemnity with privileged octave, I can easily find myself saying exactly the same office for days. Again, I could think about what I am missing out on, but there is also the temptation to allow the monotony of the office to become boring. These days, monotony is a synonym for boring, but does it need to be?

St John Cassian reminds the monastic that there is an eighth deadly sin called acedia which often gets translated as sadness. It's the sin that he regards as being peculiar to those who follow a monastic or eremitic life. It is the sin of succumbing to the aridity in prayer that can often arise. There is a point in every monastic life where one says, "why on earth am I doing this? What's the point? Surely there are better ways to serve God than this?" The temptation is to spend one's time of prayer trying to answer these questions rather than actually praying. It's a cunning little device of the Devil to turn people away from praying to God directly.

Why is the full rosary 150 repetitions of the Hail Mary? Isn't that just vain repetition?

I've answered that before.

Still 150 Hail Marys, that's got to get boring, hasn't it?

Well this is where monastics labour hardest, hewing their faith out on the rock to build their house of prayer. Yes, the Hail Mary does not change, and therefore becomes monotonous, but we do have to reclaim monotony from its current meaning of "boring". Monotony is simply the sounding of one note repeatedly.

In music, the perpetual sounding of one note throughout a piece is called a drone and actually, it can have a very supporting effect.

Because the monastic always returns to the same routine, there is no reason for him to separate himself out into different people. The monk at work is the same monk at prayer. The nun asleep is the same nun at her study. The friar at Matins is the same friar at Terce and Compline.

Out of the cloister and we secular folk are so tempted to divide ourselves into different people, separating the religious person from the person at work and from the person in the pub. We lose our identity by allowing the world to split us up. This is a temptation of the Devil to separate us from God by separating us from the person He wants us to be. My bishop changed his name by deed poll so that he would be the same person in business as he is at the altar and also to bind himself to a saint for whom he has a particular connection. By using a deed poll, he has joined the requirements of secular law to ecclesiastical vows and there can be no separation without untangling both.

The monastic must be prepared for a life of monotony. When boredom and acedia arise from this monotony, so does the question of why they arise. This is excellent news for the monastic because in seeking the answer to this question through self-examination, they find something within themselves that needs to be rectified in God. Thus commitment to monotony pulls the soul fragmented by the fall back together. There is no separation between secular life and sacred life, because the Christian life is a call to make the profane sacred, to make life outside of Mass just as much of a sacrifice to God. If a "professional life" is to be separated from "church life" then how the "professional life" ever be lived with God? How can it ever be sanctified by the living of it?

Commitment to the Monotony means that one relinquishes control of one's life to God so that He may operate where once our will may have forbidden Him. When this is hard, we remember that it is because we need Him to perfect us. We cannot work our way into Heaven. We receive the grace of God in order to find perfection in Him, but we must allow that grace to work within us. Love does not coerce and love given in reciprocity does not withhold. As we learn to love God, Monotony gives us the time to do just that. In Monotony we lose ourselves and focus on God Who, in turn, discovers us as we are and works in us to be the one He wants us to become.

We see that Monotony is a product of cultivating Stability. With the changes and chances of a fleeting world whipping around our ears like a gale-force wind, to hear that single Monotone over the chaos brings us back to the rock from which we were hewn. Disregarding it will see us torn to shreds - different facets of our personality separating and dividing until we are lost in a Hell of our own making. If we really want to be ourselves, we need to commit to the stability with which God has both stablished and established His Church and not allow us to be divided into different people who are nobody at all.

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