Monday, October 18, 2010

the feast of st. luke

there is no end to what could be said about the evangelist luke.  i liked this icon because of the sandals.  i who walk a bit, have been wondering what it must have been like for luke as he wandered around, mostly on foot, seeking the sources for his gospel.

but i am most thankful, i think, for the wonderful poetry that is preserved in the gospel according to luke alone.  i found this recording of a very traditional english singing of the benedictus, for instance.  but luke's writings have continued to inspire musicians and writers long after st. jerome and the scholars of the douay-rheims bible.  i also found a very contemporary guitar song inspired by the same poem.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

what's it all about: an answer from celtic monasticism

it has been very popular since the beginnings of "the enlightenment"--you remember, the time when frenchmen invented  the guillotine and began to make human sacrifices to reason--to suggest that all religions are basically the same, and that they can be reduced to simple moral principals.  there are, and were, some of who try to live religious lives who disagree to some or all of that statement.  whether religions are basically the same or not, they are not reduceable to simple moral principals.  indeed, morality is not the most important goal of religion at all, at least not in the christian tradition, nor in the tradition of celtic monasticism.

this is often either confusing or ignored, especially in our time of "separation of church and state."  s. peter's admonition in his first epistle, "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the lord's sake:  whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishemnt of evil-doers, or for the praise of them that do well," is either found confusing or over-rated.  yet throughout most of history since constantine, there has been some sort of understanding that the the state, however it is organized, has a role in promoting morality.  we often hear today that "morality cannot be legislated."  of course it can.  all legitimate laws, whether they are prohibiting murder, and setting sentances for the murderer, or controlling traffic, so one is less likely to commit vehicular homicide, are legislating morality.

but morality is not, despite what one hears so often these days, is not the ultimate goal, the essence, of christianity.  if religion is, as i suggest, what ties all the different parts of one's life together--the literal meaning of the word--then it might be the goal of some religions:  both islam and many protestant sects seem close to that understanding.

religion as it is revealed in the person of jesus christ has a different goal, however.  morality is of course required.  one can almost say it is assumed.  but the purpose is to know god the father, as he is revealed by jesus christ his son.  and that is the amazing thing about celtic monasticism, if kathleen hughes and ann hamlin are right in their slender book, celtic monasticism:  the modern traveler to the early irish church (new york:  the seabury press, 1981).  they suggest that celtic monasteries were founded to make that goal easier for all the members of the society.

"there is," they say, "no complete philosophy of the monatic life in early irish records, but if the sermons attributed to columbanus are really by him they provide the fullest early statement.   . . . the monastic life as he sees it is for contemplating and practising the presence of god.  for him jesus is the joy of man's desiring, and to long for god is greater bliss than any worldly pleasure, any earthly fulfilment:  'taste and see,' he says, 'how lovely, how pleasant is the lord. . . . may no one and nothing separate us from the love of christ . . . that we may abide in him here' and for ever." (p.1)

i need hardly mention how different this way of organizing society is from what is most common in the time of our "contemporary psychosis," as thomas merton calls it.  but that life is always available, even if it means turning off the television, turning away from the call of the mall and the gladiatorial fights of monday night football.  indeed, as our lord says, it is at hand.