Last month, we began this series by asserting that spiritual childhood is a necessary disposition for sanctity, and therefore, the universal prayer of the Church must have some relation to it. We highlighted the fact that St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the popularizer of spiritual childhood, was deeply immersed in the liturgy. As a religious, she faithfully prayed the Office and attended daily Mass. Despite the deficiencies of 19th-century liturgical practice, the liturgy guided and influenced her life and spirituality.
In this month’s installment, we will delve into the relationship between Christian spirituality and monasticism. Understanding this connection is crucial for our exploration of how spiritual childhood is formed through liturgical worship. Monasticism focuses on the fundamental tenets and practices of Christian spirituality and serves as an exemplary model for all Christians to follow. Ultimately, we will see that monasticism strives towards spiritual childhood shaped by liturgical worship.
Jesus said, “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He also instructed a rich man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
All Christians who take these teachings seriously must consider the means necessary to attain such perfection. As we discussed last month, spiritual childhood is a crucial component of sanctification. To find the most effective formation in spiritual childhood, we must examine the spirituality of Religious Life, also known as living out the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This way of life embodies a greater perfection in its essence than other states.
The Council of Trent affirmed the superiority of virginity and celibacy over the married state, establishing a proper hierarchy of states. However, this does not imply that individuals within a particular state are automatically more perfect. There are lay Catholics who have died in the odor of sanctity, while unfortunately, some men and women in Religious Life have lived in a state of sin. The essence of Religious Life lies in the three Counsels, which combat the three primary vices: poverty against the lust of the eyes, chastity against the lust of the flesh, and obedience against the pride of life. Therefore, Religious Life provides greater protection against vice and more robust aids for the growth of virtue. The celibate life also closely approximates the life of the blessed in heaven.
While there are various religious orders that live out the Evangelical Counsels, each order has a unique responsibility and mission within the Church. Monasticism, however, possesses a more universal nature compared to other religious orders.
Every religious order is a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and has a specific mission to fulfill and a unique charism. Monasticism, however, holds a more universal character that distinguishes it from other orders.
Dom Paul Delatte, an esteemed Abbot of the Abbey of Solesmes in France, declared that the only qualification for the monastic and Benedictine life is an immortal soul, baptized and endowed with supernatural faculties. Father Louis Bouyer went even further, stating that the vocation of the monk is no more than the vocation of the baptized person carried to the farthest limits of its irresistible demands. Thus, every Christian vocation contains the germ of a monastic vocation, albeit to varying degrees and with different forms of development.
To understand the relationship between monasticism and the Christian life, we can view monasticism as the most concentrated form of Christianity. The principles and essence of monastic life are attainable by all Christians, with the intensity of commitment differentiating the monastic from the ordinary Christian life. Therefore, the principles of monastic life apply to all faithful Christians.
The Search for God
The primary objective of monastic life, its sole purpose, can be summarized in two words: quaerere Deum, which means to seek God. St. Benedict instructed his abbeys to appoint a senior member who would carefully watch the novices, ensuring that they genuinely sought God. Bouyer, in his book “The Meaning of Monastic Life,” arrives at the same conclusion as St. Benedict. He asserts that the true meaning of monastic life is not found in activities such as singing the liturgy, doing penance, or studying, despite their importance. Instead, the purpose of monastic life is the search for God.
The practices of monastic life are the most universal and accessible means of seeking God. Bouyer criticizes the contemporary paradigm of multiple types of Christian spiritualities, arguing that there is only one spirituality—the spirituality of the Gospel. However, there are distinct approaches to and applications of this one spirituality. The monastic charism represents the most general and universal manifestation of the Christian life. Other charisms, such as Carmelite, Jesuit, and Dominican, presuppose the fundamental dimensions of the monastic approach—the search for God. These other charisms pursue their search for God in specialized manners. Monasticism is attainable by all Christians, regardless of temperament, personality, or intelligence.
If the monastic charism is accessible to all Christians seeking God, those desiring to embrace spiritual childhood should consider the fundamental disciplines of monastic life that contribute to that formation. The most powerful tools for seeking God are lectio divina (holy reading) and the opus Dei (the liturgy). Delatte emphasizes that the unification of the soul’s powers is the primary objective of all authentic forms of religious life, enabling them to engage in the contemplation and service of God. The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, remains the primary duty of every religious order. Monks, in particular, consider the liturgy as their lot and mission. They understand that the liturgy is not about performance or evangelization; it is about rendering to God his due.
Monastic life is not limited to the liturgy alone. It is complemented by lectio divina, which St. Benedict encouraged his monks to engage in during their free time. Divine reading is a means of drawing closer to God and entering into union with Him. It is not an intellectual pursuit but a prayerful study pursued in love. Lectio divina is prayer itself, a holistic and all-encompassing approach to communing with God.
Understanding the relationship between Christian spirituality and monasticism is essential for connecting spiritual childhood to liturgical worship. Monasticism represents the most concentrated form of Christianity, with its principles and essence attainable by all Christians. The disciplines and customs of monastic life, particularly the liturgy and lectio divina, provide valuable insights into the formation of spiritual childhood.
In the next installment, we will explore the nature of liturgical worship and its significance in the Christian life. We will examine the teachings of the Church regarding the role of public, communal worship in individual spiritual lives. We will also delve into how the liturgy can touch the innermost part of the soul and prepare us for spiritual childhood formation.