Patrick Leigh Fermor on the Efficacy of Prayer (particularly monastic prayer)

“After the first postulate of belief, without which the life of a monk would be farcical and intolerable, the dominating factor of monastic existence is a belief in the necessity and efficacy of prayer; and it is only by attempting to grasp the importance of this principle–a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought–to the monks who practice it, that one can hope to understand the basis of monasticism. This is especially true of the contemplative orders, like the Benedictines, Carthusians, Carmelites, Cistercians, Camaldulese, and Sylvestrines; for the others–like the Franciscans, Dominicans or the Jesuits–are brotherhoods organized for action. They travel, teach, preach, convert, organise, plan, heal and nurse; and the material results they achieve make them, if not automatically admirable, at least comprehensible to the Time-Spirit. They get results; they deliver the goods. But what (the Time-Spirit asks) what good do the rest do, immured in monasteries far from all contact with the world? The answer is–if the truth of the Christian religion and the efficacy of prayer are both dismissed as baseless–no more than any other human beings who lead a good life, make (for they support themselves) no economic demands on the community, harm no one and respect their neighbours. But, should the two principles be admitted–particularly, for the purposes of this particular theme, the latter–their power for good is incalculable.”

Fermor, Patrick Leigh. A Time to Keep Silence. New York: New York Review Books, 2007. p 26-27

Hope vs accidie in Christian obedience

“A botanist, discovering a rare flower growing thickly all along the margins of one of our Scottish rivers, followed it back and back up a sidestream, and then along a tributary of that in its turn, until at long last the trail ended high among the lonely hills in the garden of a ruined shepherds cottage beside a tiny hill. There it was, in that far off, forgotten, hidden spot that the original plant had caught and seeded itself, and the winds and waters running past had done the rest. You, too, will make a difference in your land, will sow seeds, however small your sphere may look, which the winds of God and the currents of life will carry far” (AJ Gossip, In Christ’s Stead).

Introductory Essay concerning Accidie – Francis Paget.

Introductory Essay Concerning Accidie.

Yea, they thought scorn of that pleasant land, and gave no credence unto His word; but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord

Most men may know that strange effect of vividness and reality with which at times a discoloured of character and experience in some old book seems to traverse the intervening centuries, and to touch the reader with a sense of sudden nearness to the man who so was tried, so felt and thought, so failed or conquered, very long ago. We are prepared, of course, for likeness and even for monotony, in the broad aspect of that ceaseless conflict through which men come to be and to show what they are; for the main conditions of a man’s probation stand like birth and death, like childhood, and youth, and age awaiting every human soul, behind the immense diversity of outward circumstance. We expect that the inner history of man will go on repeating itself in these general traits; but when out of an age whose ways imagination hardly represents to us with any clearness, there comes the exact likeness of some feature or deformity which we had thought peculiar to ourselves or our contemporaries, we may be almost startled by the claim thus made to moral kinship and recognition. We knew that it never had been easy to refuse the evil and choose the good; we guessed that at all times, if a man’s will faltered, there were forces ready to help him quietly and quickly on the downward road; but that centuries ago men felt, in minute detail, the very same temptations, subtle, complex, and resourceful, which we today find hiding and busy in the darker passages of our hearts, is often somewhat unreasonably surprising to us. For we are apt, perhaps, to overrrate the intensive force of those changes which have extended over all the surface of civilized life. We forget how little difference they may have brought to that which is deepest in us all. it is, indeed, true that the vast increase of the means of self-expression and self-distraction increases for many men the temptation to impoverish life at its centre for the sake of its ever widening circumference; it may be harder to be simple and thoughtful, easier to be multifariously worldly now than once it was; but the inmost quality, the secret history, of a selfish choice or a sullen mood, and the ingredients of a bad temper, are, probably, nearly what they were in quieter days; and there seems sometimes a curious sameness in the tricks that men play with conscience, and in the main elements of a soul’s tragedy.

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Christ the Shepherd and Philosopher


“The figure of Christ is interpreted on ancient sarcophagi principally by two images: the philosopher and the shepherd. Philosophy at that time was not generally seen as a difficult academic discipline, as it is today. Rather, the philosopher was someone who knew how to teach the essential art: the art of being authentically human—the art of living and dying. To be sure, it had long since been realized that many of the people who went around pretending to be philosophers, teachers of life, were just charlatans who made money through their words, while having nothing to say about real life. All the more, then, the true philosopher who really did know how to point out the path of life was highly sought after. Towards the end of the third century, on the sarcophagus of a child in Rome, we find for the first time, in the context of the resurrection of Lazarus, the figure of Christ as the true philosopher, holding the Gospel in one hand and the philosopher’s travelling staff in the other. With his staff, he conquers death; the Gospel brings the truth that itinerant philosophers had searched for in vain. In this image, which then became a common feature of sarcophagus art for a long time, we see clearly what both educated and simple people found in Christ: he tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human. He shows us the way, and this way is the truth. He himself is both the way and the truth, and therefore he is also the life which all of us are seeking. He also shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life. The same thing becomes visible in the image of the shepherd. As in the representation of the philosopher, so too through the figure of the shepherd the early Church could identify with existing models of Roman art. There the shepherd was generally an expression of the dream of a tranquil and simple life, for which the people, amid the confusion of the big cities, felt a certain longing. Now the image was read as part of a new scenario which gave it a deeper content: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, because you are with me …” (Ps 23 [22]:1, 4). The true shepherd is one who knows even the path that passes through the valley of death; one who walks with me even on the path of final solitude, where no one can accompany me, guiding me through: he himself has walked this path, he has descended into the kingdom of death, he has conquered death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through. The realization that there is One who even in death accompanies me, and with his “rod and his staff comforts me”, so that “I fear no evil” (cf. Ps 23 [22]:4)—this was the new “hope” that arose over the life of believers.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 6.

This sarcophagus is found in the Vatican Museum.

To be a “pilgrim” (status viatoris)

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Viator means wanderer, walker, wayfarer, pilgrim. The last term has acquired a special meaning and became a familiar part of religious parlance. We speak of the “pilgrimage” of this earthly life. This is a perfectly honorable and legitimate use of the word, to which no serous objections can be raised. However, certain rather melodramatic overtones have become associated with this usage, overtones which may blur the precise meaning of this important term, or even cause us to brush it aside. In reality the concept of status viatoris involves nothing sentimental, nor even anything distinctively religious or theological. What is meant, rather, is that man, as long as he exists in this world, is characterized by an inward, as it were ontological quality of being on-the-way to somewhere else. Continue reading

“prime trustfulness” and love

… our own existence in fact testifies to nothing less than our being loved by the Creator. What this can specifically mean for man’s relationship to the cosmos is movingly expressed by a remarkable, little-known writer with somewhat old-fashioned solemnity, “But insomuch as God loves me because I am, I am truly irreplaceable in the world.”

It seems clear tome that only through a conviction such as this can man achieve solid ground underfoot, within his own consciousness, as well. Presumably there exists something like a prime trustfulness by virtue of which one can live a “simple” life (in the biblical sense of “simple”), that is, ultimately without complications… And if such prime trustfulness does exist, then it must consist in nothing less than the certainty of being so surpassingly, effectively and absolutely loved. I recall the words of a great student of human nature and a master of spirituality: that simplicity, and he was referring here to the simplicitas of the New Testament, was at bottom nothing but “trusting to love” (Josef Pieper, “Faith, Hope, Love” p. 178-179).