Monastics are a sign to the world, and to the Church in particular, that there are persons, men and women, whose love for Christ and zeal for following His call is so extreme as to lead them to literally “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him.”
This is the visible, radical, total response to the call of Christ.
Monastics who heed this call are a sign of the eschaton, the fulfillment of all things when Christ comes again in glory. They die to this world, that they may begin living even now in the heavenly kingdom. They wear black, that they might be filled with light. They deny themselves, yet provide solace, hospitality and healing to pilgrims. They wear themselves out through asceticism, yet are renewed daily by the Holy Spirit.
In his recent reflection, ‘Fire in the Desert’, Fr. Lawrence Farley explores this radical call by considering the person and mission of St John the Forerunner, who is especially looked to by monastics as their prototype and icon. He writes:
…John’s voice continues to sound telling us to open our eyes. Like Israel in John’s day, we remain blind, shrouded in darkness. We need to see with new eyes, and look again at the world around us.
That is, we need first of all to look to our hearts. This is the meaning of repentance—to look first at the darkness within us, and let in the light of God. When the light shines in we will see that God is not simply one part of our life, but life itself…
Secondly, we need to look to our neighbor and see him for what he is—that is, as God’s gift to us… John the Forerunner reminds us that those whom we meet even casually are people like us, and if we have two coats, we should give the second one to the one who has none (Luke 3:10-11).
Finally, we need to look to the horizon. John bid the people look not the darkness filling the land (which often bore a Roman sword), but to the coming Kingdom of God. We live in a later day than John, and the Lord before whom he ran has already come and established the Kingdom of God like seed in the earth… The prophetic voice of the New Covenant ends with the voice of Saint John crying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). In both Old Testament and New, the horizon is the place to look to. For at all times it is illumined with the light of redemption and victory.
Is this ‘Fire in the Desert’ burning in your heart? Visit a monastery, make a pilgrimage, and provide divine fuel for this other-worldly fire which can enable you to become all flame!