It’s not often that I read a book, enjoy it while reading it, then, after mulling over the key ideas, almost wish I hadn’t read it. It happened this past month.
About a month ago, while perusing my book shelves for something to read, I found Frank Bianco’s Voices of Silence, Lives of the Trappists Today. I picked it up and started reading and I thought it provided some interesting insight into the lives of the four or five Trappists who form the main characters of the book. I say “form” because Bianco makes clear in his introduction that the Trappists mentioned by name are composites, made up of many of the monks he met while staying for extended periods at several monasteries both in the US and in France.
The main picture that comes across is that Trappists are:
1) Dedicated to the pursuit, almost single mindedly, of solitude and silence;
2) Resolved to sacrifice everything they have and are for the sake of following Christ;
3) Very tolerant individuals, possessed of a certain degree of wisdom, but open to most of the “progressive” ideas still floating around the Church in the late 1980’s, the time the book was written;
4) An order struggling with the “vocation crisis” that, to some extent, still concerns most religious orders today.
As I got toward the end of the book, the thing I kept thinking was, “How could I ever think about becoming an Oblate”? I had assumed that those who feel drawn to the Oblate “vocation” share certain qualities with those who lived as professed in monasteries. My idea was that Oblates would also share certain key aspects of life under the Rule with monks. I realized though, that I could never be a Trappist monk, as least not as they are described here. I would be one of the ones who washed out after the first year or so; I could not make the kind of sacrifice those men make to become Trappists. If I couldn't be a monk, how could I be an Oblate?
However, I began to think about what I was reading. In this book, there is very little explicit mention of Benedict’s Rule. There is no mention of stability, and only some reference to obedience, the focus is much more on prayer and solitude, and openness to “progressive” ideas, such as the ordination of women. It seemed the focus was a bit out of whack. Either that, or I was greatly misinterpreting what I had read.
I finally came to the conclusion that reading about something, and trying to live out that same thing in real life can be very different things. I’ve learned, and perhaps had forgotten, that it is always better to go to the source if the best information is what you desire. The source, in this case The Rule of St. Benedict, makes one thing clear: The point of being a monastic is to “. . . prefer nothing to Christ.” It seems to me that whether you are a Christian layman or a cloistered monastic, that injunction is at the heart of the matter. If you have your priorities straight, everything else will fall in line.