Monastic Dad Without Mystic Coffee

This is my last full day of vacation at the home of my daughter and son-in-law. In one sense, I’m sad to be leaving, because I won’t be seeing IMG_3369them again until December. On the other hand, it will be nice to get home, back into my routine and not live out of a suitcase. I don’t see how these folks who travel a lot do it. Living out of a suitcase is not fun.

I’ve made some interesting discoveries during this vacation, discoveries that one does not make in the seminary or on retreat. There are some rules that one must follow if one is a Dad, father-in-law, sibling, theologian and religious superior.

  • If you debate with your family, you will lose every time. Your family does not use the methods of Augustine, Aquinas and Bonaventure and you haven’t used your family’s methods since you left the world; you’re a little rusty.
  • Humor can often be a mystery. You often find yourself wondering what they’re laughing about or you’ll laugh and they won’t understand. Sometimes you get the joke 20 minutes later.
  • If you have a relative who likes to play the Devil’s Advocate, just tell him or her that you accept that you’re as dumb as sheep and move on to pizza. Those of us who are monastic don’t know how to respond to the Devil’s Advocate, because St. John Paul II banned this kind of argumentation in 1983. It’s been a long time since some of us have had to deal with the Devil’s Advocate.
  • Obedience and authority have nothing to do with relationships. Monastic relationships are defined by a hierarchy. You never question a superior or a brother who is older than you are unless he commands you to violate the moral law. Relationships out here are built on respect, love, trust, friendship, cooperation, complementarity and common goals, just as in religious life. However, they are horizontal, not vertical as in a monastic community.
  • Forget structures and schedules. We are very used to following a horarium and doing things a certain way, speaking a certain way, saying some things and never saying other things, or simply doing things in a certain order. In this world, you have to be very flexible. Schedules are governed by work, domestic chores, social commitments and custom. In our world, schedules are governed by the superior, period. He makes up the schedule and the entire community follows along. It’s very easy.
  • As far as what you can or cannot say, the rule and constitutions take care of that. Out here, the rules are not written down. You have to observe. You may often have what I call “The Stupid Look” on your face, because you don’t have a road map for the day or for the conversation. You’re trying to figure out what’s what.

I believe that secular clergy have an advantage over religious men, especially monastic religious. The life of the secular clergy is closer to that of the typical family.  The secular clergyman has never renounced the world. He simply has a different place in the Church. He is a deacon, priest or bishop. But he is not required to distance himself from the secular world.

The life of the monastic is very different. Our first time with our family we may feel like one who is learning to ski. His feet are in two worlds at the same time and he has to keep them from colliding or he will fall.  He’ll feel that he is neither a good monastic nor a good family member.

As a monastic spending time with family, one goes through three stages.

1) You’re excited to see your family; nothing bothers you.

2) You realize that you’re in a different world and you feel anxious.

3) You throw your anxiety into God’s hands and you relax.

Many people think monastic is a place where there is an eight foot wall and you never leave. The truth is that monastic is a way of living and thinking. It can take place in a monastery or on the road. Each order is different. To be monastic is to build your life around prayer, silence, solitude, brotherhood, study, penance and out of that grows service. When you’re a dad and a monastic, your life is very different from that of your adult children, their spouses, and friends.  You have to detach from your old self to become the person Christ means for you to be today.

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