Most of us recognize the beauty of the religious life. For most, the beauty of monasticism stands out. But its other forms us as beautiful as well because love is the motivating center. But why is the religious life beautiful? In order to answer that question we should first list the classical criteria of beauty. Thomas Aquinas says three things are necessary for beauty:
First, (1) integrity or perfection, for things that are lacking in something are for this reason ugly; also (2) due proportion or consonance; and again, (3) clarity, for we call things beautiful when they are brightly colored.
Since Christ is Love made visible and religious life is conformity to Christ, religious life is a continuation of that love made visible in Christ. Love is perfect, showing forth integrity (1). There is no lack. It is the perfection of all things. It is harmonious and proportionate (2). It does not undermine a(they part or add superfluity. The parts are united into a harmonious whole (order). Lastly, it shines forth (3). It communicates itself, bringing others into its life.
If religious life is an intense participation in the Christ life which is Love, it will meet these three criteria. In an age full of thrills but lacking in beauty, Dostoyevsky’s prophecy that “beauty will save the world” needs to be taken seriously. Taking into consideration what was said above, then it makes sense to say the beauty of the religious life is integral to saving the world because in and through it Christ is encountered.
Why did the early Church accept some strands of Greek philosophy and not Greek mythology as a whole? Both had a theological worldview, one possibly more specific than another. It was not as if philosophy was simply within the realm of reason yet as one step to faith, but Greek philosophy already had a more or less distinct vision of God and man according to which the soul ought to conform. Accordingly, Plato’s Academy was more like a monastery (seeking God) than today’s university (seeking Information). Not only were ancient philosophical schools for discovery and contemplation, but its practices were integral to the end of union with God. While not the fullness of Revelation, philosophy manifested aspects of the truth, whereas, the mythological worldview contradicted Revelation, presenting a false image of God and man, i.e. idolatry.
The Church still struggles with competing mythologies about God and man. Currently, she clashes with many modern idols of God and man, seeking to remake all things in its basic image and likeness. Such an idol destroys man because it doesn’t manifest the truth, making him a slave. Modern philosophy very often is at the service of such idols, but like Moses it should destroy them. If you want a revitalization of Catholicism, pray for a revitalization of philosophy that it may return and follow the example of the midwife of Wisdom, Socrates. Like Moses, he was an idol smasher, namely, smashing the idols of the city. He paid for it with his life. I think that after the smashing he would have been open to the Revelation of the true God, thus making him someone who would have been close to the Lord. Erasmus echoed the Church Fathers by loosely designating Socrates a saint. They were on to something, i.e. the marriage of philosophy and the Word. Pray for a revitalization of philosophy because when that suffers the Word suffers.
When I lived in Washington D.C. there was a group of nuns that accomplished everything. They were the hardest working people in the city. I once asked them how do they find the time to accomplish all of their work and still find time for other things. Their simple answer was prayer. Taking the time to pray focused them not only on God but on the task at hand. They were not prone to the million little distractions many of us go through because the act of praying disciplined their attention. Many of us do not work well because our hearts are divided. Kierkegaard said that purity of heart is to will one thing. Part of the ascesis of the religious life is learning how to will one thing, ultimately the will of God.
Many companies struggle to keep their employees focused, especially if the work is on the computer. The internet has presented innumerable distractions. It almost seems to be made for distraction. I have never talked to someone who said the internet has made them more focused. On the other hand, almost every gardener tells me that gardening actually makes them focused, bringing them a sense of calm and confidence. Eden was a garden and Adam a gardener. Internet work seems to make the modern Adam anxious and frazzled. This might be the reason I have never met a religious order that makes working on the internet their main apostolate. It might lead to some very unhappy nuns.
Looking at the ways religious orders order their lives is necessary when the dominate way of life lacks any coherent order. Many social commentators agree that we live in a “Anxious Age”, an era that is leading many people to depression. Often this is found within technologically advanced countries. Some technologies are supposed to help people accomplish their work quicker and free up some time in their schedules. However, most people are overwhelmed and have no leisure time whereas the nuns who did not use many technologies to speed up their work had all the time in the world to pray and enjoy leisure. Now is the time to actually look at how religious order spend their time and what is key to their success in making time.
Saint Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews writes that the Christian virtue of “Hope” is set before us as “an anchor of the soul, sure and firm.” (cf. Heb 6:19) The anchor of a ship is that substantial piece of equipment that when thrown down, grabs hold of the solid sea bed below. The winds may blow and the waves crash about, but the anchor provides security and stability until the skies clear and the waves calm.
The community of religious brothers called the Brotherhood of Hope was founded in 1980 by Father Philip Merdinger. With their motto as “Primum Deus, Deus Solum”, Latin for “God First, God alone”, this community based in Boston, MA wears on their habit the Anchor.
With 18 young men in Brotherhood formation as of this writing, these serious, yet joyful men prepare to labor in the harvest of the Lord with a zeal for the “lost sheep”, particularly college students and young adults who are especially vulnerable to being lost in the storms of the increasingly secularized and hostile culture with its many allurements and distractions.
From the earliest days of the Church, the Anchor has served as a powerful symbol of Hope in Christ our Resurrected Savior and His promise of eternal salvation, with countless examples found on the epitaphs of the faithful departed within the catacombs in Rome.
The important work of the Brothers is that in their apostolate, in their fidelity to Christ and to the Church and their works of mercy, they inspire Hope and demonstrate the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21)
That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.
For more information, visit the Apostleship of Prayer.