“Monastic Life, Shining as Constant as the Sun” (3/16/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
God the Father’s goodness shines like the sun in the sky. His brilliant rays shine on both the good and the bad. It’s a beautiful image that Jesus uses in our Gospel today. He tells us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good” This is what our heavenly Father is like, like the sun shining upon all. And this is what we are called to be like. To be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect. To be like that steady shining sun, to have a stable disposition of goodness toward all we meet.
If it’s God’s love that is in our heart, God’s love is unconditional. If we depend on God for the foundation of our love, our love can be almost as steadfast as he is. We can keep a stable, consistent demeanor of goodness toward others in the midst of every circumstance. For the source of our love is God, not ideal circumstances. We too can be like our heavenly Father, shining like the sun on the good and the bad.
It’s certainly an ideal to grow towards. And one of the graces of monastic life is precisely to grow in this steadiness of character and demeanor. The stability of monastic life, the regularity of the schedule, the sameness of the environment, can help instill a consistency to your character. It can help you become that sun that shines constantly on all because you are drawing that love from the Divine Source dwelling within you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Divine Communion of Love that is stable and immutable from all eternity, dwells in your soul; and your love is rooted here.
It was said of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusians, that he was always the same. When his brothers wanted to describe what he was like, this is what they said. He was always the same. Whenever the brothers met him, he always had the same pleasant demeanor. There was always a subtle cheerfulness about him. He always met his brothers with a kind and gentle smile. They said he had the vigor of a father and the tenderness of a mother. He had a balanced equilibrium, showing strength and tenderness. And as they said about him, he was always the same.
That was surely one of the results of his living the monastic life those years. The steadiness of monastic life, its regularity, helps one rise above his or her given feelings at each moment. It helps one to take small disappointments in stride and to press on toward God. For the schedule continues on whatever you might be feeling at a given moment. Whatever your preference may be at a given moment, the task at hand is set before you, regardless of what’s going on interiorly.
So it trains you to have this stable character, rising about the whims and fancies of yourself. If you are faithful to it, this regularity and stability of monastic life, builds the same stable character in you. You learn to rise above your petty preferences. The little disappointments here or there don’t faze you so much. You are able to keep an even-kilter through the waves and turbulence of life. You become more and more like the heavenly Father who is as steady as the shining sun, shining upon the good and bad. Loving all with a cheerful disposition and a steady demeanor.
St Anthony, the founder of monasticism was also a striking example of this. St Athanasius says of Anthony, “His face had a great and marvelous grace, and this spiritual favor he had from the Savior. [It was a result of] the stability of [Anthony’s] character and the purity of his soul. His soul being free of confusion, he held his outer senses also undisturbed, so that from the soul’s joy his face was cheerful as well. And from the movements of the body it was possible to sense and perceive the stable condition of the soul, as is written, ‘when the heart rejoices, the countenance is cheerful.’” (67)
Athanasius also marvels at Anthony’s steady equilibrium. After spending 20 years in a cave of the desert, Anthony comes out as a model of balance. In a long quotation, Athanasius says, “Anthony came forth as though from some shrine, having been led into divine mysteries and inspired by God. And when the people beheld him, they were amazed to see that his body had maintained its former condition, neither fat from lack of exercise, nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons, but was just as thy had known him prior to his withdrawal. The state of Anthony’s soul was one of purity, for it was not constricted by grief, nor relaxed by pleasure. It was not over-affected either by laughter or dejection. Moreover, when he saw the crowd, he was not annoyed anymore, than he was elated at being embraced by so many people. He maintained utter equilibrium, like one guided by reason and steadfast in that which accords with nature” (14).
Well, Sisters, this is how you can attain the constancy of the sun, shining on the good and on the bad, as God himself does. And this is what the Church needs today. The Church Universal needs your hidden monastic life, tucked away in mountains of Virginia. The Church today needs constancy and faithfulness in these difficult times. The Church needs your steady faithfulness in these difficult times, to shine like the sun on our land today, even if in hidden ways. Who notices what the sun does day in and day out? Yet the sun goes on nourishing the land and the new life sprouting forth. And so we count on you, your hidden faithfulness, and your steadfast prayer, shining as constant as the sun.