Sister Joan Chittister's new book, The Monastic Heart: 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life, comes out on Sept. 21, 2021. Read an excerpt from the new book below, then join us in reflection.
Excerpt from the Introduction:
Monasticism is the single-hearted search for what matters in life. Any life; every life. It emerged in Rome in the shadow of a broken society centuries ago. It is possible, in the light of this one, that it has never been more needed than it is now.
Benedictine monasticism–Christian monasticism–was founded in the early days of the sixth century by a man of high ideals in search of personal growth and moral integrity. Benedict of Nursia came into Rome, the center of the empire, as a young student and found it eroded to the core, a broken and disappointing place. Disillusioned by the political corruption of Rome and the collapse of its character, he left the place and went off by himself to contemplate what to do next with his life.
In the end, Benedict never set out to conquer Rome. On the contrary. He set out to create a new way to live the good life in the shell of the old, in a society not unlike ours. Not unlike us. People from every rank, looking for security, stability, sanity, sanctity flocked to this new way to live a totally human life, a life free from slavery, inequality and dangerous individualism. And people have been flocking to it yet, in our own time, in multiple ways, from various levels of society, all of them serious in their search for the good life, the happy life, the productive life, the holy life.
Clearly, when anything–any institution–lasts over 1500 years, someone ought to ask what it has within it that can possibly go on from age to age. What is it that can respond to each era in turn and, at the same time, constantly attend to the distinct spiritual questions and quests of each of its eras?
The key to understanding this life in our own time is to realize that what is asked of us in this ancient Rule of Benedict is to simply begin to live an ordinary life extraordinarily well. We are not expected to leave society. We are meant to live in it in a new way, in a way that can survive the shifts and turns of the system because the soul is grounded in the ultimates of life rather than in its inessentials.
Reflect with us:
- What most resonates with you from this excerpt? Is there any particular word or phrase that stands out to you?
- Sister Joan says that monastic life works because it grounds us “in the ultimates of life rather than in its inessentials.” What are the “ultimates” that ground you?
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Monks in Our Midst: writings by monks from the 3rd to the 21st centuries.