Blessed Feast of the Epiphany!
A scene which never fails to resonate in Stave Two of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — which we read in the refectory starting on the 26th of December every year — shows a young Ebenezer alone, sitting, reading, fearful, sad, and full of angst. Without ever making it explicit, we see in his loneliness the source of his later troubles. We see too in Scrooge’s rush to leave the scene an anticipation, a foreshadowing of what was to come — not just for the old, avaricious workaholic, but for our own generation too.
Some ask us what the monks have in common, what links do men called to monastic life share in their vocation stories. The answer surprises. From all over the globe, from all economic backgrounds, from big families and from small, future monks suffer from a deep sense of loss, of being alone. Social media, the ubiquitous smartphone, music and television everywhere; none of these have successfully treated Man’s deep need for company.
In 2017, we read Andrew Sullivan’s “I Used to Be a Human Being,” Patricia Snow’s “Look at Me” and Mark Movsesian’s “The Smartphone and the Virgin.” All of these confirmed what a man with a monastic vocation knows deep within — the conviction so eloquently summed up by St. Augustine centuries ago — that the heart is restless until it rests in Him. Only Being itself is capable of filling the deep need in Man for spiritual companionship.
Today’s Feast of Epiphany celebrates three men, led by a star, who seek to adore the Christ child. At the same time, it is a glimpse of the monastic vocation — an improbable collection of kings and shepherds, poor and rich, beasts and men. The characters at the crib sense that they are deeply alone but turn their loneliness into solitude and find, unexpectedly, with exceedingly great joy (gavisi sunt gaudio magno valde), that in adoring God they are no longer alone.
In Norcia today, two young men follow their example: one became a novice and was clothed in the habit, one made simple profession, offering his vows of obedience, stability and conversion as his gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In the “Yes” of these two men to the solitude of the crib, the community of monks also renews its “Yes.” Loneliness becomes solitude, monks worshipping and adoring together discover that they are not alone after all.
As we embark on a new year, there is much still to rebuild; your support (http://en.nursia.org/donations) is always needed. We bring what you give us to Christ in the manger. There we realize that we are not alone. Our prayer is that you and your families may realize this too.
Wishing all our family and friends a happy feast,
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.