Tag Archives: Monk

Anger and Demons

Our fourth struggle is against the demon of anger. We must, with God’s help, eradicate his deadly poison from the depths of our souls. So long as he dwells in our hearts and blinds the eyes of the heart with his somber disorders, we can neither discriminate what is for our good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions, nor participate in true life; and our intellect will remain impervious to the contemplation of the true, divine light; for it is written, “For my eye is troubled because of anger”

——-John Cassian

angry-manGetting angry can sometimes be like jumping into a muscle car, gunning the motor, taking off with the peddle to the metal and discovering you have no brakes. Very shortly we are in a great deal of trouble. Anger is our greatest enemy. It is the deadly poison that starts wars, leads to murder, breaks relationships, and keeps us separated from God. Our world would be so different if we could truly learn to bridle our anger.

The wise monk calls anger a demon. That reference puts this emotion in a very different light. Anger is elevated from a bad habit to a spiritual failure. Habits, good or bad, are conquered by discipline and training. Demons are conquered by prayer and supplication. Perhaps it is time we admit that we do not control our anger, but rather, it controls us. With that confession in hand, we can humbly approach God and ask for healing.

Lord deliver us this day from the deadly poison of anger. Amen

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A Monk’s Toil

1st-john-the-dwarfOne of the Fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, ‘What is a monk?’ He said, ‘He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is.”

—sayings of the desert

Toil is something most of us would prefer to avoid. Yet Abba John say that toil defines the monk, and Christians are defined by the work of monks. The monks are our prime examples of Christian living, because they have given all to follow Christ. I am sure that the “Father” who asked this question of John didn’t get the answer he expected. After all, monks are holy and just sit around getting holier all day long.

What is this toil?

I believe it is the keeping of the most important command of God, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Difficulties and toil abound when we seek to love others as we love ourselves. First, we may not really love ourselves. Many people are self-loathing and take it out on the rest of the world. God created us in His own image and for good; we must learn to believe that before we can accomplish anything. For quite a few people, that is toil. Second, we must believe that God loves everyone, and they are His special creation. Without that belief we find ourselves feeling very superior to a whole lot of people. The only way to put that aside is toil. Such toil puts us on our knees seeking His face so that we may more clearly see the faces of others.

All of this is toil – work, labor, drudgery but they are the calling of the Christian. We are to love God, ourselves and others. That is our task, and it is not an easy one.

Prayer Thought – Lord help me to put toil in its proper perspective so that I might see you in all of your glory.

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A Monk’s Story

One day a man from a nearby village called out at the monastery gates, and  handed the old monk who opened it a magnificent bunch of grapes, saying, “Dear Father, I have brought as a gift the finest grapes my vineyard has produced.”

PorterThe monk smiled, “Thank you, I will take them to the Abbot immediately; he’ll be delighted with this offering.” But the villager said, “No, no I brought them for you.”

The old monk didn’t think he deserved such a fine gift. “Oh yes!” insisted the man. “For whenever I come by, you open the gates and welcome me. When I needed help because the crop was destroyed, you shared your meal with me every day. I hope this bunch of grapes will remind you of the sun’s love, the rain’s beauty and the miracle of God, for it is He who made them grow so fine.”

The monk held the bunch grapes. It looked full and luscious. He decided to present it to the Abbot, who had always encouraged him with words of wisdom.

The Abbot was very pleased with the grapes, but as he accepted them, he thought of one of the brothers who had been very unwell. “I’ll give him these grapes; they may bring some joy to his life.”

But the grapes didn’t stay in the sick monk’s room for long. He reflected, “Brother Cook has been feeding me such nourishing meals to help me recover. I’m sure he will enjoy these.” As the cook brought him his meal, he presented him with the grapes. “They’re for you,” said the sick monk. “You work so hard; take a moment to sit and enjoy these.”

Brother Cook was amazed at the beauty of the grapes, then he thought of the newest entrant to the monastery. He decided to gift them to the youngster as he felt he might be a bit lonely without his family, and also so that he might understand that the work of God is in the smallest details of creation.

When the novice received them, his heart was filled with the Glory of the Lord, for he had never seen such beautiful grapes. Just then, he recalled the first time he came to the monastery, and of the simple old monk who had opened the gates and warmly welcomed him; it was that gesture which allowed him to feel at home in this community of people who knew how to value the wonders of life.

And so, he walked to the monk at the gates. “Eat and enjoy them,” he said. “For you spend most of your time alone here, and these grapes will make you very happy.”

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None is Higher than Hospitality

Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, was going to a monastery for a retreat. The monks observed vows of silence and the retreat was to be meditative and prayerful. Nouwen was delayed and was late getting to the Monastery on a verywelcome miserable, rainy night. Upon his arrival, he rang the bell and was met at the door by one of the brothers. He warmly greeted Henri, took his wet coat, took him to the kitchen and made him a cup of tea. They chatted into the late night hours and Nouwen began to relax and feel ready for the retreat. He knew this monk was supposed to observe silence, so he finally asked him, “Why are you willing to sit and talk with me?” The monk replied, “Of all the duties of the Christian faith and the rules of my order, none is higher than hospitality.”

The church is a community as well, and hospitality should be a primary focus. Today’s church should be a place of welcome to all who come our way. There should be no connotation that only “rule followers” are welcome at the church. I fear that we have forgotten the concept of radical hospitality and confused it with assimilation into our group. If the church is to practice true hospitality, it must practice inclusiveness. That means no one is barred from total participation in the life of the church. I am concerned that we have lost sight of a most important tenet of Christianity. I thank the monastics for giving us a reminder.

Prayer Thought – Lord help me to remember that the open door of hospitality can have eternal consequences.

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Right in Front of Us

abbotThere is an old story that has often been re-told in especially the Eastern Orthodox part of the church. According to the tale, a devout abbot from a Monastery decided to take a prolonged spiritual retreat in a small cabin located on a remote island in the middle of a large lake. He told his fellow monks that he wanted to spend his days in prayer so as to grow closer to God. For six months he remained on the island with no other person seeing him or hearing from him in all that time. But then one day, as two monks were standing near the shore soaking up some sunshine, they could see in the distance a figure moving toward them. It was the abbot, walking on water, and coming toward shore. After the abbot passed by the two monks and continued on to the Monastery, one of the monks turned to the other and said, “All these months in prayer and the abbot is still as stingy as ever. After all, the ferry costs only 25 cents!”

Humor aside, the point of the story is that it’s amazing how easily we may sometimes miss the significance of something that is right in front of us.

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Hospitality and the Church

From the rule of St. Benedict, Sixth Century A.D. “If any pilgrim monk come Benedictfrom distant parts, with wish as a guest to dwell in the monastery, and will be content with the customs which he finds in the place, and do not perchance by his lavishness disturb the monastery, but is simply content with what he finds, he shall be received, for as long a time as he desires. If, indeed, he find fault with anything, or expose it, reasonably, and with the humility of charity, the Abbot shall discuss it prudently, lest perchance God has sent him for this very thing. But if he have been found gossipy and contumacious in the time of his sojourn as guest, not only ought he not to be joined to the body of the monastery, but also it shall be said to him, honestly, that he must depart. If he does not go, let two stout monks, in the name of God, explain the matter to him.

True hospitality to the pilgrim is difficult enough, but dealing with someone that disrupts the community is even harder. The solution proposed by Benedict is quite radical by our standards. Perhaps the 21st century could learn from him. Who knows?

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The Devil Made Me Do It

“What am I to do, Abba, since passions and demons beset me?” a young monk asked the holy Abbot.

“Do not say that you are bothered by demons, child,” answered the elder, “because the greater part of us are beset by our own evil desires.”

——Sayings of the Desert

Flip Wilson was a quite popular stand-up comedian of the 60’s and 70’s whose trademark phrase was “the devil made me do it.” His catch phase served as an excuse for any type of outrageous behavior. Those words became very popular and were used by many to excuse their own behavior. Flip Wilson knew the expression was just a joke, but this expression is hidden in each of us. They are an unrelenting desire to pass responsibility along to someone or something else.

youngmonk_at_prayer2The wise Abba is confronted by the very same concept by a young monk. This young brother couldn’t possibly see that he was largely responsible for his our behavior. His Abba correctly instructed him to start with himself, and in doing so he would find victory over the demons. This approach holds a very profound lesson for us. Transformation begins with me.

My favorite pop philosopher, Jimmy Buffet, says it all in his signature song – Margaritaville. After three verses of decrying his plight with the words “there must be someone to blame,” the final verse says, “its my own d**n fault.

OURS IS THE GREATER PART

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My Dog Saw the Rabbit

There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who asked one of the old men of the desert why it was that so many people came out to the desert to seek God and yet most of them gave up and returned to their lives in the city.

“Last evening my dog saw a rabbit running for cover among the bushes of the desert and he began to chase the rabbit, barking loudly. Soon other dogs joined in the chase, and they were barking and running as well. They ran a great distance and alerted many other dogs. Soon the desert was echoing the sounds of their pursuit but the chase went on into the night.

After a little while, many of the dogs grew tired and dropped out. A few chased the rabbit until the night was nearly spent. By morning, only my dog continued the hunt. “Do you understand,” the old man said, “what I have told you?”

“No,” replied the young monk, “please tell me father.”

“It is simple,” said the desert father, “my dog saw the rabbit.”

—-Sayings of the desert

candle-yomhashoah1Seeing the rabbit is the key for us today as well. Just as in the desert monasteries people drift in and out of churches looking for God but never truly find Him. Their problem is that the never see Him. Many are drawn in by the excitement of others but fail to see who God really is and what He does for those who find Him.

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The Gift of True Giving

Jesus renewed people with the power of his compassion. I like the ancient legend about the Monk who found a precious stone, a precious jewel. A short time later, the Monk met a traveler, who said he was hungry and asked the Monk if he would share some of his provisions. When the Monk opened his bag, the traveler saw the precious stone and, on an impulse, asked the Monk if he could have it. Amazingly, the Monk gave the traveler the stone.charity-hand-up

The traveler departed quickly, overjoyed with his new possession. However, a few days later, he came back, searching for the Monk. He returned the stone to the Monk and made a request: “Please give me something more valuable, more precious than this stone. Please give me that which enabled you to give me this precious stone!”

Prayer

Lord give me this gift of giving that I may be able to give something of great value without reservation. Teach me that all that I have is yours. Amen

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Putting Others First

 

Amma sara 1Some monks of Scetis came one day to visit Amma Sarah. She offered them a small basket of fruit. They left the good fruit and ate the bad. So she said to them, “You are true monks of Scetis.”

—-Amma Sara

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

—-Parables of Jesus


The clarion call of all followers of Jesus is self-denial. Without self-denial we are in a constant state of grabbing and competition for the chief seats. Over and over again Jesus the teacher told His disciples to be self-sacrificing and humble. One of the great sayings of the scripture is, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Is a person who calls himself a Christian but always puts self-interest first really legitimate?

Sara of the desert gives us some insight here. She lived the life of a desert monk, and a real monk knows the meaning of true sacrifice. She entertained some fellow monastics in her cell and offered them fruit, and they ate the bad fruit first. Her reaction was to call them “true monks.” Amma Sara knew that there were true and false monks, and declared that true monks don’t grab for the best but leave the best for others.

In this same way, true followers of Jesus must be willing to take a “back seat’ so that others may thrive and go forward. That sort of thinking is contrary to the norm of our day, but brings us closer to an understanding of the nature of God and His grace. By living out a life of self-sacrifice, we find the divine peace that surpasses all understanding.

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