Monks have more fun

All my life, it seems, I have been learning that Patience is a Virtue. So that I still look forward to graduating from the junior school, and learning patience itself. This virtue may have applications in both Action, and Contemplation — as Cluniac and Cistercian may argue between themselves. One should at least try to be on both sides of such issues.

This is part of my ambition to be an Unmodern — to be on both sides — a goal that might not require patience, per se, but in which it would be very useful. Ironically, it embraces the modern irony, which George Grant once illustrated for me, as the fact he owned a Volvo.

I, truly, once owned a rusty-trusty Volkswagen Rabbit, in what I claimed was an unmodern way. I never condescended to drive it, awarding my then-unestranged wife that thrill. For looking into the matter quite generally, we should perhaps avoid mere unmodern postures; lunging instead towards the more heroic conceits. Sometimes, I reflect, a car may be necessary; for another, though surely not for me.

I had a Spiritual Director, once, to whom I repeatedly asked the question, Why? As in, “Why has this happened to me again?” … referring usually to some personal disaster. “Because you haven’t learnt yet,” this often-patient priest would reply. “Keep trying.”

He said all we can do is keep trying, and fight discouragement when it comes our way. We must be, or become, patient.

“God is not out to get you, you know.”

Now, the very mention of a Spiritual Director is an affront to the modern ear. With his, essentially false, idea of personal freedom, he thinks having one would abridge his Rights. But the religious have no power to stop you doing anything, unlike the civil authorities. The worst they can do is wash their hands of you. It is not your Freedom, but your Conscience, they afflict.

(Of course, in the good old days they had some civil powers; and even the Presbyterians left the civil authorities to hang you. They just made suggestions. And where would the lamented Spanish Inquisition have gotten, had it not been for enforcement by the Spanish State?)

The monk is happy, because, through the mastery of patience, he can be free. It is a series of unmistakably voluntary actions that leads him deeper into the life of prayer. Even outside a monastery, I have noticed, saying one’s Rosary requires a little determination. Not as much as it would take to read Heidegger, but some.

Patience, on the road to real Freedom. This is a peculiarly Catholic (or Orthodox) way to read the map, along the pilgrim stations. It might also be read as the order of generalship; the route of a Crusade. Though we think them rather confused, the Mussulmans may have something in their notion of Jihad. Their shaheeds can be somewhat impatient, however. (So can some of ours.)

To Witness, in the Christian idea of sanctity, requires a motherlode of patience. As I understand, it requires emptying oneself, of one’s ego. It is bound up in fussy rules, such as, you mustn’t kill people. (Except when they don’t leave you a plausible alternative.) It demands the highest possible reach of “objectivity” — when you acknowledge something that you’d rather not.

It is Temperance, a word which conveys more than “patience,” including chastity against the forces that burst through its walls; chastity in sex, for instance; but also chastity in everything else. The modern world makes jokes about this. We are obliged to make jokes about the modern world.

The monk is happy in his cell, where, as in a fortress, he is hard to assail. I’d say the same for nuns, but I don’t even try to understand women any more.