Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chastity, Obedience, and Broadband Access

"Even the patience of our brothers was being tested by our slow internet."

--Fr. Daniel Van Santvoort O.Cist., quoted in this week's Time Magazine, explaining his Welsh monastery's decision to get broadband access.

Indeed. Job put up with a lot. But slow internet? Heaven forbid. I'll go out on a limb and predict that this monastery has fewer than five novices over the next ten years. Look, the Lord giveth broadband access, and the Lord taketh away the heart of Monastic life. I'm struck by that word "even" in the quote. The assumption is that the monks, by nature of their vocation, are very patient people. So if the internet makes them impatient, it must be an authentic trial and beyond what they should be expected to sacrifice. An alternative vision, if I may, Fr. Daniel – if your patience is being tested by your dial up connection, you’re doing a bad job of being a monk. You’ve created a life where every minor annoyance is a distraction from your Beloved, when the very vocation you’ve chosen is supposed to keep you turned towards Him. The horse left the barn pretty far back in your list of compromises.

I'm harping on this even though it violates an important spiritual suggestion I heard recently from a friend: "when it comes to following the Lord, keep your eyes on your own dang paper!" I'll justify it on account of what I'll call "trickle down gospel living", or the "universal call to mediocrity".

In “The Restoration of Christian Culture” John Senior advocates that the universal practice of Christian laity ought to be a “tithe of time for prayer”; about two and a half hours per day. After recognizing what the reader is thinking – “how is that possible?” he first blames lax contemplative religious for not keeping their vigils and praying less than eight hours a day, and then active religious and secular priests for not being faithful to the breviary and praying less than four hours a day. The lack of commitment of prayer from those whose vocations are designed to be more focused on prayer than work, leads those whose vocation are focused more on work than prayer to throw their hands up and strive for what is only a pittance. Of course, Senior also recognizes a whole slew of economic, cultural and technological realities that prevent the typical Christian from praying two plus hours, but he asserts that had we been committed to prayer we never would have let them become an issue in the first place.

The monks with broadband are the same thing. They proclaim in Time magazine that simple living is just dang hard, and the message the world hears is why should we try at all? Of course, a factual commitment to simplicity and poverty is positively essential for a committed prayer life. And the more the message of materialism is heard and taken to heart, the less it will even occur to us that we ought to be praying.

St. Anthony of Egypt, Ora Pro Nobis

St. Benedict, Ora Pro Nobis

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Ora Pro Nobis

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