Br. Scott’s Novitiate Clothing
Chapter Talk by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 5-04-2014
My Dear Br. Scott,
This ancient ritual for clothing a Postulant in the novice’s habit always reminds me of that old 1st generation Desert Father who – on his death bed – said to his monastic brothers, ” Truly, I am like one just making a beginning at Monastic life”. I have heard this “saying” attributed to Evagrius, Macarius the Great, and even to Antony himself! It must’ve been a deep awareness shared by many of our ancient monastic fathers!
So you stand here this morning…a beginner among beginners!
This awareness comes sharply “home” to me every time I read St. Benedict’s Chapter 72 “The Good Zeal of Monks”
They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other…
Supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behavior…
No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else…
Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ…
I am reminded here, Scott, of those sharp-edged words of the Apostle of Good Zeal, St. Paul: I live now – not I – but Christ lives in me. The question always comes back to: Who is this I – that I must “not”?
The answer St. Benedict gives is very simple. It is that one in me that prefers anything or anyone to Christ. Monastic tradition both East & West are very clear and very harsh – This “I” I must “Not” dwells in my thoughts. It is that constant inner dialogue “Murmurare” – that ongoing anxious debate with myself – Will I be happy? That boring & exhausting struggle with constantly judging my brothers –either putting myself UP – or putting myself DOWN.
IF you can free yourself of this “I” just think how free & single your focus – How Good Your Zeal.
This is why the Cistercian Fathers had such a deep commitment to the “common life” to their life in community; it was a life – a structure – that existed OUTSIDE their own thought patterns and therefore a life that can “NOT” the I and can set you free! It is so simple – this path – If you strive for some “ideal” state that you think you must reach – you INCREASE your “I”! If you eventually succeed in your own eyes you fall into your self-focus – which is a dark prison.
Your focus; your effort should be directed toward your life in community – your life in communion. As RB says – JUST DO IT – just do what you need to do now for your brothers to be faithful to your path. JUST LAY DOWN ON THE FLOOR AND ASK FOR MERCY. When the bell rings – just go! Why think about how you are feeling about going? OR whether or not today you want to go – JUST GO ; JUST DO THE LIFE TODAY.
One thing happens at a time and if you do that well,
There is no time for anything else!
This is the interior freedom, the singleness of focus, to which we are called as monks.
Br. Scott, This morning you stand here making an act of faith that this way of life – this community – can lead you to greater freedom, And most importantly, to greater love for Jesus. I pray for you the Good Zeal to just do it! Trusting that Jesus will meet you in your interior freedom – which is in your Poverty!
So I ask you now, Br. Scott, here in the midst of your brothers,
are you willing to set your feet firmly on this path of self-surrender & humility?
Are you willing to pray for your abbot, & each one of your brothers, this same gift of Good Zeal?
May the gracious Lord complete in you
What He has so generously begun.
+ Abbot Peter McCarthy