May 2017 Print

The Pilgrimage of Life

by a Benedictine Monk

The ancestors of the majority of U.S. citizens were, more or less recently, pilgrims from a foreign country. Amongst the others, waves of Catholic immigrants came to this country seeking work, a better standard of living, or, in some cases, simply survival. They came with the hope of one day becoming a citizen. They struggled to adapt themselves to our country and its laws while at the same time holding onto their ethnic traditions which in no way were a threat to the common good of our country. We thrive on the variety of cultures of which we are composed insofar as all contribute to strengthen the common good of the nation.

In a Catholic household, the head of the family, in the name of charity, should receive a poor man offering a meal and if possible lodging for a brief time. Our Lord says that what has been done to the least of these would be considered as if done to Himself. God will reward all Christian charity and hospitality.

Imagine the scenario of a poor refugee becoming obstinate and violently forcing the generous family to let all of his relatives come and stay in this same house, thus obliging the host family to seek shelter elsewhere. The head of the family must defend the common good of his household. The immigrant is no longer seeking refuge, but a military conquest. He has no intention of adapting himself to the rules of the household, but of imposing his rule and abolishing the rules and rights of the legitimate owner. Immigration is quite different from invasion.

In a monastery the monks are like foreign pilgrims. As one author puts it “The Rule of St. Benedict was written for the roughest of rogues and the gentlest of gentlemen.” This range of characters is possible only because the soul seeking admittance is put to the test before admission. His desire and motivation are carefully examined in order to maintain order in the house. In chapter 58 of his Rule, St. Benedict prudently explains how to receive a monk seeking to enter. “When anyone newly cometh to be a monk, let him not be granted an easy admittance; but, as the apostle saith: Test the spirits, to see whether they come from God. If such a one, therefore, persevere in his knocking, and if it be seen after four or five days that he bears patiently this harsh treatment and the difficulty of admission and persists in his petition, then let admittance be granted to him. ... Let a senior be assigned to them (the novices) who is skilled in winning souls that he may watch over them with utmost care. Let him examine whether the novice truly seeks God, and whether he is zealous for the work of God, for obedience, and for humiliations. Let him be told all the hardships and trials through which we travel to God.”

St. Benedict wants the newcomers to be tested to see if they truly seek God. Nothing else really matters in a monastery. The social condition, the standard of life, the nationality, language, and even the education of the candidate are of little importance. The one thing that unites all the members of the community is the common desire to contemplate the beauty of God. The necessary condition to become a member of the community is to faithfully observe the Rule of the house. In the space of a year the Rule is read at least three times to the novice desiring to enter the monastery. If he does not wish to observe it he may freely depart, but no one enters without fully embracing the law of the house. The newcomer must adapt himself to the monastic way of life without expecting the monastery to change its own identity in order to maintain the newcomer’s customs and his worldly desires.

In a sense, we are all pilgrims seeking refuge from this hostile world governed by the Prince of lies. We are travelling through the trials and hardships of this life seeking the kingdom of heaven. Our Fatherland is the Heavenly Jerusalem of St. John’s Apocalypse, where God our Father wishes to restore us to the kingdom that we willfully abandoned. Where hatred and jealously are forever forbidden. Where the impurity of egotistical sensuality is dethroned and the Internet is no more. Where unjust wars and the cruelty of abortion will never again rear their bloody heads. Where the law of God will be respected out of love and gratitude for the Lawgiver. Where Charity, the Spirit of God Himself, will unite all of the citizens to their Creator and through Him to one another. Where the Lamb of God freely bestows citizenship upon the blessed immigrants into this kingdom, where all are bound by the most sacred obligation to love one another.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be anymore, for the former things are passed away. And He that sat on the throne said: Behold I make all things new.”