Tuesday, January 08, 2008

where does it end?

There's a lot of good stuff in The Spiritual Meadow--too much to bring it up here every time something strikes me. But I thought this bit was particularly interesting, from "152. The Life and Sayings of Marcellus the Scetiote, Abba of the Monastery of Monidia":
Brethren, let us leave marriage and the raising of children to those whose eyes are towards the earth, who long for the things of the present and take no thought for that which is to come; who do not strive to possess the good things of eternity, and are unable to disentangle themselves from the ephemera of this world.
I get his point. As St. Paul says, and as any parent whose had small children in a worship service can confirm, it's easier to give your attention and energy to God if you're not distracted, even by things as important as family. And when he says "brethren," I take it he's assuming his audience are already monastics, so in that sense he's preaching to the choir.

What I found striking, though, was how our own culture is so degenerate as to invalidate his point today. It seems to me that "those whose eyes are towards the earth, who long for the things of the present," are no longer at all interested in "marriage and the raising of children." Our selfishness has matured over the past 1400 years. Modern man still has no time for God, but neither will he tie himself to spouse or children. His relationships can only be casual, with no possibility of remorse when he decides to give up and walk away.

In another of these stories, a demon settles into a monk's cell, explaining that he has every right to stay because the monk is still upset with his brother over something about a plate of lentils from three days ago. We see that, even after stripping away as many potential causes for division as possible, it's still a struggle to resist the infection of bitterness. But the monk, when confronted with his sin, runs to prostrate himself before his brother and beg forgiveness. Most of us today would offer the demon a blanket and a hot meal, figuring we can always find new friends.

In this climate, marriage and raising kids must itself be viewed as an ascetic endeavor. If we leave it to those who are lax about their spiritual development, it will stop altogether, or it will be done so badly that we will wish it had. I'm not saying that the monastic vocation has no more purpose. Far from it--we need their prayers now more than ever. But if we don't also have good Christian families, God will have to raise up his monks from the stones. It seems to me that things are a bit more complicated than they once were. For those of us who awaken to the reality when we're already married, the path is rather straightforward. But for singles it's not so easy. The way of the cross may run through a monastery, but equally it may mean abandoning the world's selfishness in a different sense. We need both kinds of ascetics--those who are celibate with regard to all, and those who are celibate with regard to all but one. We need Mary, who rises at night to kneel at Jesus's feet, and Martha, who rises to feed a crying baby. Because without that crying baby, both kinds vanish in one generation.

No comments: