Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Korean ex-patriot living in France writes about life as a monk, which began five years ago when he was in his 70s, in the monastery of  Abbaye de Sainte-Marie du Desert, a cloistered contemplative order of Trappists. According to Catholic history, he is living in the country considered the eldest daughter of the Church, a country epitomizing the struggle for human rights: freedom, equality, fraternity.  

The writer has lived most of his life in France where he retired from his work. He has always wanted to devote the last years of his life to silence and prayer, but until recently his circumstances did not allow it. And when he was ready, looking for a place to do this, he found that age was always the barrier. Then one day he asked a parish priest for help in his search and was introduced to the Trappists and their 150 year-old monastery, which became well-known in the surrounding area when a member of the community was  beatified. 

In the beginning he spent some time with the monks in prayer and silence and was hoping for an opportunity to do some service. He found it very helpful but didn't know how long it  would continue. One day, after looking over his life history, the Abbot asked  if he was willing to become a novice in the community. He was  surprised  and wondered if he would be able to live up to the requirements.  Six months later he was approved to begin training as a monk. He was  pleased but wavered because of his back ground of marriage and fathering a child. This would be, he says, a very strange thing for Koreans to understand.  Even his lay friends in France were surprised to hear of his joining  the community.

He thanks God  for the opportunity to live this life of  prayer and work, which starts each day at 4:00 am and ends at 8:00 pm. Besides meeting for Mass, they meet for prayer eight times during the day, and work in silence.

Though it is unusual for someone his age to take up the life of a monk, and perhaps even more so the strict life of a Trappist monk, he tells us of a priest in Hong Kong who joined the Trappists at the age of 75, made his solemn vows at the age of 100, and died at 110.  He also mentions the father of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who  sold all his possessions to join his son's community. He concludes that what he did is not so strange after all.

However, the cloistered contemplative life is not for everyone. It is a special kind of spiritual life that attempts to imitate the interior life of Jesus. He notes that a recently read article reported the death, at 101, of a Religious Sister who, since the age of 17, lived this hidden life.  He considers her a martyr for love.  Those who die for their country are called patriots and those who die for God are called martyrs, but all those who live the cloistered contemplative life can also rightly be called, he says, martyrs for love. Now his life is one of silence, work and prayer.

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