Catholicism is not, perhaps, the most obvious choice for me. In fact, I am often forced to admit the many failings of the Church to live the faith it professes, even to the point of committing acts which can only be called evil. It is sad but it is so. There is no way around that.
Yet I still believe. If you would like to understand why, you can find my inspiration in the Trappists or, more precisely, the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. When all else has failed me, they are still there, laboring in relative obscurity, largely untouched by the scandals of the modern world. They are still there, living lives of such radical, courageous commitment that I am in awe.
I suppose, in a way, that is their purpose: to remind the world that, yes, this can be done. Not one brother can call so much as a pencil his own. He has renounced the world and thereby gained the one thing that matters above all else. He has given himself without reservation to God and has received his own true self in return. It is possible; it can be done.
That is the lesson in every monk's vocation.
Next week I will be in the monastery myself: living with the monks, praying with them - hopefully, learning from them. They have not, as is popularly believed, taken a vow of silence, yet silence is encouraged. In silence, we can listen better. So we will keep silence and get about our business of listening.
Monastery retreat houses are usually filled months in advance. I have heard that the monks find comfort in this. As much as many of us look to them for inspiration, they see our interest in sharing their lives a validation of their calling: a sign that what they are doing is truly important.
The monks live, for the most part, anonymous lives outside their own community. They pray, they work, they pray some more: quite useless by most worldly standards, but this is no surprise. Why would the world understand the vocation of a monk? The monks are busy with their own work: praying for a world that has forgotten to pray for itself. They have given themselves without reservation to God. They show us it can be done.
What could be more important?