I was asked by Father Abbot to preach the monks’ retreat at Clear Creek Abbey.
As usual in such cases, I received far more than I gave.
One of the great memories was the chance to meet and visit with so many of the young lay brothers. These are guys in their twenties and early thirties–some who are well educated, some not so much. The made their confessions, told me about their life before the monastery and their eyes lit up as they spoke about their life in the monastery. These were happy warriors. The spoke about the pigs or the sheep and how they like cooking for fifty people every day. They spoke about the big smoker they built to smoke their meat, about their work in the blacksmith shop, grading the roads or fixing the fences.
They came from all over America and beyond. One guy from Australia said, “there’s not so much of this kind of religion where I come from so I had to come here.” Gotcha.
Why do they do this? Why do they get up early every day, spend all that time singing psalms in Latin, doing back breaking work under the broiling sun in summer and the freezing cold of an Oklahoma winter? Furthermore, from what I hear, most of the Benedictine monasteries around the world that are attracting young vocations are the ones like Clear Creek, where the monasticism is authentic, where the life is austere, where the worship is beautiful and the rule is strict.
They do it because a young man has to have something to live for and something to die for. He needs a vocation. He needs to be a warrior priest. This was the theme of my retreat: The Way of the Warrior Priest, and it is the title of the book that has come out of the retreat.
Why the current epidemic of male suicide? Because men’s lives are empty. They have everything but believe nothing. They look to the church and find it being led by soft men with rotten hearts–men who have sold out to their dark side long ago, and been promoted by like minded men.
I am in my early sixties and I too am soft. I am rich by the world’s standards, and I am selfish, vain and greedy, but I don’t want to be like that. I want to be lean and hungry and to stroll about supple and strong with a glint in my eye and a spring in my step. There’s something alluring about those guys living on the edge for Jesus.
I remember once meeting one of the Friars of the Renewal on a Tube train in London. He stood over six foot. Bald head. Big beard. Ragged habit. Sandals and a big rosary by his side.
“I know who you are. You’re one of those Friars of the Renewal”
He looks at me, stone faced.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“What are you doing here in London?”
“Preaching the gospel.”
“Good for you. How do you do that?”
He looks at me again. I can see a twinkle in that Clint Eastwood eye.
“Are you involved in parish missions or youth work or what?”
“Mostly I just stand around.”
Train pulls into station. Door opens. He nods and gets off the train.
OK. I get it.
Driving back to the airport in Tulsa I was talking with Brother Jerome who helps ferry visitors to the Abbey.
“Don’t you get wear of it? Every day the same. Every day the grim food. Don’t you ever want a steak?”
“Sure.”he smiles. “But I’ll tell you what happened one day. I was out working with the young monks in the summer. The sun was baking all of us pretty badly, and one of the brothers didn’t have his straw hat with him. I offered him mine saying that he’d get skin cancer if he didn’t wear his hat. The young guy laughed and said, ‘That’s okay. I’ll just go to heaven faster.’ See, we do all this because we want to go to heaven, and we believe the gospel where it says that the gate is narrow and not many are going to get there. We want to be some of the few.”
Me too. Before it’s too late.
I want to be one of the few too.
Asceticism, death to self, and a substantial beard. Yes, this indeed is the best kind of evangelizing in a world that is deaf.
If you need to tear your life down and start over again physical labor is among the best foundation blocks.