What does it mean to partake of the life of the Holy Trinity? What does it mean to have communion with God? Think of a married couple. In this marriage, the couple fulfills all their duties. They are good to each other, respectful. They build a home where all obligations on both sides are met. There is even love for one another. Years go by and nothing changes. The couple never grows in love nor do they ever try to know anything more about one another than what was necessary to begin the marriage. They never move beyond pleasantries in their marriage.
No relationship could ever stay like this of course. What love was once there would fade and die and life would get dull and lonely. And yet plenty of us try and have this exact kind of relationship with God (though few of us would admit it). We want to be good Christians, we want to keep the commandments, fulfill our moral obligations. But we stop there, we never fully surrender ourselves to God and never open ourselves up enough to fully experience His presence in our lives. Our love only goes so deep and our understanding of His love for us is lacking.
Just like in a marriage that never grows in intimacy, if our relationship with God doesn’t change and we never try to know Him more, the relationship will grow cold. It could never stay just as it is. We are always either moving toward God or away from God but we are never static. God asks everything of us and will not settle for anything less because He has given us His very life. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine…” (Song of Solomon 6:3).
Being a Christian automatically means you are not alone. It is in an intimate setting that we are meant to participate in the life of the Church. Marriage is the language the Church uses to describe our relationship with God and one another because marriage is the most intimate relationship two humans can have. The level of intimacy God calls us to as spouses is a glimpse of the intimacy that we share when we partake of the life of the Holy Trinity. Saint Paul wrote, “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.”(Eph. 5:29-32)
In one of the first homilies of Abbot Nicholas’s that I remember vividly, he said, “every man is called to be a monk and every woman a nun.” Of course it is not the institution of monasticism that he was referring to but the heart of monastic life. The faithful must have the heart of a monk, a heart that seeks communion with God at all cost.
This is the final article in this series. I have attempted to bridge what only appears to be a large divide between the religious and the rest of the faithful. Holiness is not for the select few. Everything that a monastic gives up, takes on, strives after, should be in order to die to oneself–to unite one’s entire being to Christ–to be able to rise with Him and be filled with the life of God Himself. We are each called to this kind of holiness, there is no other kind. I’ve attempted in this series to give examples of how we can foster monastic virtues in our own lives. There is so much more to be said and the best way to learn is by example. I encourage all of you to visit monasteries, read and befriend the saints, and most importantly, immerse yourself into the liturgical life of the Church…this is what every family and Christian community is called to do.
The life and example of monastics should never leave us thinking that their way of life has nothing to do with the rest of us. Their lives should inspire and encourage us in our own paths. They are a light to the Church, the light of Christ shines in their lives and can guide us so we too can reveal the light of Christ to the world.
The manner in which we follow their example will be very specific to our state of life. Saying every man is called to be a monk does not mean that our homes must be places of absolute silence where all the Hours of the liturgy are prayed. What it does mean is that we as Christians must foster silence in our hearts, we must strive for prayer at all times, live as simply as possible, leaving worldly things behind knowing the world is a distraction from what matters most. It means we arrange our lives in a way that best enables us to work out our salvation every single day.
Abbot Nicholas also very rightly said, “Every Christian must be a mystic.” The word mystic makes many people uncomfortable. I believe part of the uneasiness is because of the images of people being swept up into rapturous prayer which one has no control over or maybe even thoughts of being made a fool. Even the famous mystic St. Teresa of Avila would get embarrassed by her levitations in the chapel among the other sisters. We may also think mysticism is rare and not for everyone but only for the privileged few.
The extraordinary mystical experiences that come to mind for most of us are no more important than the ordinary everyday mystical experiences that every Christian has. At baptism we “put on Christ” and the Holy Spirit now lives in us. And what could be more mystical than the partaking of the Eucharist? There is no greater union or experience of God (this side of heaven) than receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ. God’s grace is given to all of us. An awareness of His constant presence is an uncovering of reality not a sudden change of reality. It is true that some people are more aware of God’s presence but this is an awareness that we can all foster, and should foster. Some people may have a “mystical experience” where God’s presence is made manifest in an extraordinary way however those experiences are like miracles–they are given to increase our faith. Christian mysticism is not only about extraordinary events but is first and foremost about the sacramental life that we have in the Church where all the treasures of the Kingdom have already been given to each of us.
The greatest treasure we have each received is love. It is also the greatest treasure we can give to others. The entire Christian life is a love story, the history of mankind is about God and His never ending love for His people. The vocation we have, the traditions and practices we keep, everything about the Church is for us to learn the depth and greatness of God’s love for us and to help us to learn how to love Him and others.
At Bridegroom Matins during Holy Week we sing, “I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, but have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.” Christ clothes us with His righteousness, He gives us–His bride, a wedding garment and allows us to enter the bridal chamber. It is in the mystery of the Eucharist and in the sacraments of the Church that we share in the life of the Holy Trinity and learn what love truly is. And that is the entire point of the Christian life–to be loved and to give love. We cannot allow ourselves to stop short and only practice morality, merely fulfilling our obligations. We must not become content with where we are in our relationships with God and others. True love is more than this. By God’s grace we can give more and truly love.
Love is a call to action. We must act on the love God has for us. In this Year of Consecrated Life we are being asked to build relations with the consecrated of the Church, express our gratitude for their lives, and as Pope Francis said addressing the laity, “live this Year for Consecrated Life as a grace which can make you more aware of the gift you yourselves have received.” I hope this small work of mine has contributed in helping people understand the great call to holiness we have, and shed some light on the Christian life as lived by monastics. There is only one life in Christ–let us all live it with as much commitment, joy, and longing for communion with God as the religious of the Church do. Always remembering that we are all called to be monks.