Thursday, May 14, 2015

CHAPTER 73: This Is Only the Beginning

The purpose of this Rule is to help monks achieve at least some moral righteousness, or rather a beginning of the monastic life. If you truly desire to pursue the perfection of the religious life, read the Church Fathers.  Following them will lead you to the height of perfection. And what page or what passage of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament are not a most exact rule of human life? So, too, the collections of the Fathers, their advice and their lives, and the Rule of our holy Father, Basil…what are they but monuments to the virtues of exemplary and obedient monks? You, therefore, who hasten to your heavenly home, with the help of Christ must do your best to fulfill this little rule for beginners; and then you shall, by the grace of God, attain at last to the heights of knowledge and virtue.
Amen.

Back when I first decided to join the monastery, my roommate from college decided to go off to LA to become a movie star.  And he did.  Randall was on “The Young and the Restless” and made guest appearances on sit-coms.  He was in movies and hung out with models and rock stars.  One night, I got a call from him on the monastery phone.  He said to me “Guess who was just named Teen Magazine’s ‘Hunk of the Month’!”[1]
I said to him, “Well, I’m in a monastery, so I guess it must be you.”
Not long after that, he came out to the monastery to visit.   I asked him whether he had seen “Passion of the Christ.”  He said, “No.  I don’t like Jim Caviezel.”
I said, “You don’t like his acting?”
He said, “No.  I don’t like him personally.  We had an argument at a party, and I just can’t see him as Jesus.  On the other hand…I might enjoy seeing him flogged and crucified, but I don’t think that would healthy.”
            As you might imagine, Randall’s stories started to become a real temptation to me.  Whenever life in the monastery seemed dull or lonely, I would think of Randall.  He lived upstairs from Heather Graham.  His wife had a two-page spread in Sports Illustrated (not the swimsuit issue).  He would go out to eat with Emilou Harris.  I wanted to live upstairs from Heather Graham.  I wanted to have a fight with Jim Caviezel.  I still want to have dinner with Emmylou Harris, and I don’t even know who she is!
So a few years passed, and after I professed my Solemn Vows, I went to visit Randall in New York.  He had a little party in my honor.  All of his beautiful friends were there: models, producers, musicians…they were all beautiful.  The loft was beautiful.  Randall and his wife were beautiful.  The hors d'oeuvres were beautiful.  Even the little toothpicks were beautiful.  So I was really taken with all this beauty, and having a serious vocation crisis all to myself, when one of Randall’s friends, this chic Jewelry designer from Soho named Claudette…she leans toward me over the coffee table and she said, “Why did you have to become a monk?  Isn’t it enough just to be a good person?”
She couldn’t have picked a worse time to ask me that question.  I was in no condition to give a convincing answer.  But, as is sometimes the case, the Holy Spirit stepped in on my behalf.  I slapped my beautiful hors d'oeuvre down on the coffee table and said “No.  No, it is not enough ‘just to be a good person.’   Being a good person is the minimum.  Think about it.  What’s the alternative?  You’re expected to be a good person.  That’s the least you can do.  We are called to be saints—to live lives of heroic virtue—to give and give and give till it hurts!”  (Then I stabbed myself with a toothpick and had to run to the bathroom.)
My point is that as Christians, we can’t ever be satisfied with mediocrity.  We can’t allow ourselves to be too comfortable with the status quo.  The minimum isn’t enough.  It never was, and it certainly isn’t now.  A lot is expected of us.  Perfection is expected of us.  “Of those to whom much has been given, much is expected” (Luke 12:48).
Does this scare you?  It should.  But it should also thrill you, because perfection is entirely within your grasp. You have a whole army of saints at your back.  You have volumes and volumes of guidance to draw upon. You have the sacraments and the Scriptures at your disposal—all the resources of a two-thousand-year old Church.  And of course, you have the Eucharist, where you may draw upon Jesus’ own divine strength and make it your own.
So get to it.  Time is running out.  There’s a war going on for the soul of the world, and you have been chosen to fight on the front lines.  This is just the beginning.

[1] I’m not sure I got the title right here, but you get the point.