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“Suffer evil. Do good. Keep doing both until you die.” Today, the Solemnity of saints Peter and Paul, Fr. David preached and wrapped up his homily thus: the Christian vocation summed up in ten words. Simple words, but what a transaction is effected in this expression, the almighty ego crushed between the statements: “Suffer evil” and “Do good”. “Keep doing both until you die”, makes clear there is no provision here for the ego ever coming back. These words speak to the deepest desire of my heart. What do I desire?
Walking under the trees near the chip barn, praying with a text from St. Bernard's sermons on the "Song of Songs", I hear footsteps behind me and turn to discover Brother Stanislaus sauntering along the gravel road behind me smiling. Every evening at this time, he goes jogging out along the road past the machine shop and toward the vast open fields behind the chip barn and then enjoys a leisurely walk back. We have both set out from the monastery toward the wide open fields in order to be alone at the end of the day. By chance we meet. I greet him and ask if the gnats annoy him.
It is twenty minutes to seven and I am struck again by something enchanting in this blessed evening interval between supper and Compline, (our last prayer service of the day). Work is finished. At 5:30, we celebrated Vespers with it's prayers and hymns, giving thanks to God for the gift of a day lived with each other in His service. Having completed the dome lid of a walnut casket at the carpenter shop this afternoon, I know that tomorrow I will repeat the many precise steps that assembly of these lids involves.
God is expressive. Trappists have a reputation of being—well . . . not very expressive. We are the silent monks who live austerely, have only one outfit to wear, eat mostly bread, soup, and cheese, and live in spare rooms with almost no furniture. Well, that may be so, but we are made in the image of God, and, as God is expressive, so human beings are by our nature expressive. Monks are too, and it can be amusing to see how the instinct to express oneself finds its way out, sort of "seeps" through the cracks in the austere surface appearance of Trappist life.
One day, a very long time ago, in the monastery where St. Benedict was abbot, the brothers were building on an addition to the monastery, and accidentally dug up a little bronze idol—one of those little "false gods" that look so cute to us today, like little dolls. Not knowing what to do with the thing, and anxious to get back to work, they set it on a shelf in the monastery kitchen. A few minutes later, they were horrified to see the kitchen completely engulfed in flames.
O.k.—what am I looking at here. Brother Giles is crumpled up on the floor in front of the refrigerator on all fours with his cheek apparently pressed to the floor. He is eighty eight years old. An eighty-eight year old man doesn't do this. Giles does it every morning—I mean every single morning, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. I don't usually pay much attention to it, but this morning I find myself staring. There is no one else in the refectory, just Giles and I, so I indulge myself.
People wonder: "What would it be like to be a millionaire?" Do they ever wonder: "What would it be like to renounce all your possessions; all your money, and never again have any chance what so ever of being a millionaire . . . and to do this with deep, heartfelt peace and joy?" Do people ever wonder what it might be like to be that free? What might surprise them is that, the actual spectacle of a man divesting himself of everything—I mean positively everything . . . isn't actually very dramatic, at least not on the surface. It is a spectacle I am watching unfold now. Bro.