O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When A Monastery is Also a Barracks

Icon of Our Lady of the Wedding Ring
Over at The Anchoress, Fr. Longenecker has a piece about running a family based on monastic values. As an Anglican convert, Fr. Longenecker has a family of his own. To most Latins, that seems too out of place, but to my semi-hellenized brain, a married priest isn't too big of a deal. Just as long as a married man includes temporary continence as part of the Communion fast (from midnight according to the practice of the Greeks) he can be a priest as much as he wants. I'll save the "can married men be ordained" debate for a day with more than 24 hours and skip to the only thing I'll engage in the comments: the marital vocation.

Running a family in a semi-monastic style is something I've wanted to do for many years. My family would pray together as a community daily (you can bet your behind that there will be an abundance of home altars and incense), eat as a community, and work as a community: the boys would be pressed into doing yard work and the girls into doing housework. The older children would help take care of their younger siblings. Various monastic values would be instilled in the children. Obedience: as monks must obey their superiors, so too must children obey their parents. Poverty: just as each monk must share with the other monks, so too children must share with each other. Things belong to the family more than they belong to individuals. Chastity: I have much respect for the chastity belt and am infatuated with medieval weapons. The kids will also learn, upon reaching a certain age, that sex is not an act done desiring physical or emotional pleasure, but rather sex is the giving of your entire self, even your very body, to your beloved, for her(his) own sanctification, carried out not in natural emotions, but in supernatural love. This whole system makes life a heck of a lot easier than doing it any other way because the kids help take care of each other and cooperate together, not running off each in his own direction like scattered sheep. To those who think that children would be to uncooperative to live in this system, we are all called by God to develop self-control over our natural passions and to pass this virtue on to our children.

The modernist notion that “You can be just as holy being married as being a priest, monk or nun." is hogwash that (wrongly) presupposes that worldly things are good, therefore you can be just as holy living a worldly life as you can a detached life and worldly things can be included in liturgy and worldly ideas can be included in morality with mutual enrichment the result. Back in reality, attachment to the world is detachment from God, so you can't be living in the world according to the world's ways and at the same time be holy. Inclusion of worldly elements in liturgy is sacrilegious and inclusion of worldly ideas in morality is false teaching that easily leads to heresy.

However, there is a stumbling block on the other side. Sure it's much smaller of a problem, but it's still there. It's the idea that just because the married are in the world, that automatically makes them less holy, as if they are somehow inferior to the monastic and priestly states. What's lacking here is a distinction between "detachment" and "separation". All Catholics are called to be detached from the world regardless of individual vocation; to reject the world in favor of God, which we call "conversion". We are all called to be great saints and it doesn't matter if God wants you to be married or a monk. He wants you to be a great saint wherever He puts you.

However, most Catholics are not called to be separated from the world. Hermits and cloistered religious are called to be the most separated from the world. Other monastics and clergy are separate to a lesser degree. Those called to marriage, as well as the other laity, are called to be living among the world, right on the front lines of the Church Militant. We are still called to be completely detached from the world (we might be on the front lines among the enemy, but we cannot join the enemy-we are trying to convert them, not be converted by them). The analogy of monasticism being the direct route and marriage being the scenic route to Heaven is true to a certain degree. It would be better to say that monasticism is the easier route because of the limited exposure to the world, whereas marriage is the more difficult route because of the greater exposure to the world. It's as if the married are the foot-soldiers on the front lines mixed with enemy soldiers and monastics are the archers further back in a safer position. Both are equally called to be detached from the world (both being in the same army opposing the world), but they are not called to be separate from the world to the same degree, as they have different roles in the Church Militant and thus they each require different kinds and amounts of strength to win. Laity are, as the old saying goes, "in the world, but not of it", whereas monastics are neither in the world nor of it. Both are equally called to reject the world in favor of God, but one is in an easier position to do so.