Monday 17 April 2017

The Carthusian Option

I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me
(Psalm 84:9)

The earliest martyrs of the English 'Reformation' begun by Henry VIII were Carthusian monks. They were executed because of their loyalty to the Apostolic See in Rome. There is something richly symbolic in the fact that an order which is committed to contemplating the things of God and whose motto is Stat crux dum volvitur orbis ( the Cross stands firm while the world turns) was the first to apprehend what Henry's plan would lead to.

Another monastic order, the Benedictines, have as the first words of their Rule "Listen carefully." This word 'listen' may indeed be the Benedict Option which the world, and particularly the Christians who inhabit it, may most need to exercise. Paradoxically the best environment to enable one to hear is silence.

We are accustomed to making our decisions, big or small, in the midst of a cacophony of noise. Not simply the external noise generated by things but also the internal noise generated by our mind's leaping from thought to thought, impulse to impulse, stimulus to stimulus. The choices so made may be good or bad but they share one characteristic; they are hurried. What appears before the eyes of our mind is the obvious and the material and it is from those things that we draw the primary conclusions which prompt us to act.

The world, and we ourselves, are made up of a fine web of subtle and invisible things. We see them if we look and hear them if we listen but whether we see and hear them or not they are there and they are of the most vital importance to us. We cannot then fully understand ourselves or the world if we are continually in hurry mode. To get behind the noise we must stop and listen to the silence.

It is in silent listening every day that we can begin to hear what the Lord God speaks in us. He speaks through the material universe, through the world of men and of events and through our friends and acquaintances. He speaks too, and that most profoundly, through the Sacred Scriptures, the Sacraments and in the prayer of contemplation. It is, perhaps, because they listened above all to these things that the English Carthusians perceived long before the practical men of politics did that Henry VIII was hell-bent and so, ultimately, would be those who went along with him.

It behoves each of us then, if we wish to understand the signs of the times and the secrets of our own hearts, to become listeners. To contemplate the One who is All Wisdom and Love itself. Is this a difficult thing for an ordinary person to do you ask? "This commandment, that I command thee this day is not above thee, nor far off from thee...But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it" (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Although it is a specifically contemplative order the Carthusians prescribe no single method of prayer to its monks. Instead each is free to find among the treasures of Catholic spirituality the one approach which is most suitable to them. We can do the same, prayer is a very adaptable thing. Even a Rosary prayed with a recollected mind is a form of contemplation. Seek and you shall find. You might even wish to start on this blog with my post on 'A Simple Method of Contemplative Prayer'

The symbolism of the Carthusian martyrdom is twofold. First, that their contemplation gave them a clarity of vision which others lacked. Second, that they died out of loyalty to the universal Church. Deep personal prayer does not estrange us from the corporate life of the body of Christ it unites us more firmly to it. Through contemplation we can understand and love with ever greater comprehension the liturgies, sacraments and dogmas of the Apostolic faith. We are not saved or enlightened as individuals apart and alone but as members one of another in the body of Christ. It is through contemplation that we can gain the quiet Carthusian strength to bear witness to truth in our lives and to fully understand the meaning of the words Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis

Catholic Scot has a Facebook page

My *other* blog is thoughtfully detached

The Paintings are Martyrdom of the Carthusian Priors by Vicente Carducho and The Forty Martyrs by Daphne Pollen

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