Tonight I stumbled upon this 40-minute documentary about the Benedictine Monks of Norcia — Quarere Deum it’s called. “To Seek God”. It is several years old. How on earth did I not know about it before?
I had to stop watching it after a while. It was too painful to see on screen the places where I prayed and sought the Lord, and enjoyed some of the most precious moments of my life, knowing that now they are rubble, owing to the 2016 earthquake. But the monks remain, relocated to the mountainside near Norcia, where they are rebuilding. Their temple and their monastery was destroyed, but not their faith, and not the Rule of St. Benedict incarnate in their daily lives. And so, they rise again.
Watch that video and you’ll see why so many of us, even non-Catholics like me, fell in love with what God is doing through those monks of Norcia. Here’s a link to their website, where you can follow the rebuilding on the mountainside, and participate through your prayers and your donations. I find myself tonight hoping that there are young Catholic men reading this blog entry, who will watch the documentary, and feel in their hearts a calling to the life of a Benedictine monk in Norcia.
This past week I had dinner with two Benedictine monks who were traveling through my city, and who sought me out. They are fans of The Benedict Option, which, as readers know, is based in part on the life of the Norcia monks. (Funny how the most important chapter is the one in which I interview the monks about their lives and the spiritual wisdom they have to offer, but few journalists who interview me about the book ever ask about it.) One of my dining companions told me that he worried that people would read The Benedict Option and get the idea that all Benedictine monasteries are healthy. They are not, he said firmly, and it would be a shame, he continued, if people who read my book and went seeking spiritual guidance wandered unawares into a troubled monastic community.
The monk is correct about this. One has to be discerning. There are many sad stories, from both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox world, about diseased monastic communities. But when you find a healthy one, the light shines so brightly within it. I do believe with all my heart, though, that the little monastery whose life you glimpse in the documentary above, and through the pages of my book, is one of the brightest havens in a darkening world.
This afternoon I finally saw the new Star Wars film. In one of the final scenes, a beleaguered young figure who, with a small band of others, has survived a calamity, wonders aloud how they are ever going to make it, given the odds against them. An older character calms the younger one, saying, “We have everything we need.”
The Monks of Norcia are poor, and the odds are against them, but they have everything they need. So do we all, if we just open our eyes to see what they see. God willing, this year I will do my best to get to an Orthodox monastery in Russia, Greece, or elsewhere in the Old World. It’s time.