I’m back in Starhill on this Sunday morning, looking out my kitchen window at the fog over the back lawn. And I’m thinking about the monks of Norcia. I am surprised and delighted that of all the Dantean heights, not to mention the culinary wonders, of this trip, the highlight of a pilgrimage filled with them was our all-too-short visit to Norcia (Nursia).
Those monks. We in the world may not think of what it means to the rest of us that they are there in that mountain town, praying for us all. But when you go there, and you see with your own eyes what a lighthouse this monastery is, it re-orients the way you think. We need monasteries — healthy, prayerful ones (and not all are!) — to stabilize and strengthen us. Re-reading Dante on the plane home, I kept thinking of something Father Cassian, the prior of the monastery, told Casella and me: “Our hope is only in the Lord. All others will fail.” This is what Dante learned by the end of his journey through the afterlife. This is what we Christians must learn: not the family, not the church, not the state, nothing but God, who is Love.
Prayer, fasting, the liturgy, discipline, work: these are the foundations of a Christian life that does what it is supposed to do: unite us to our Creator. One of the monks said to us that this is the calling all Christians have; the monks live it out institutionally, within the monastery and among those in the local community they are called to serve, but the calling is universal.
How much easier it would be to live it out if we could dwell in the shadow of monasteries like St. Benedict’s in Norcia! Again, not all monasteries are healthy, but when you have one that is so palpably full of light and joy and peace, you understand at once how and why the early Benedictines drew so many ordinary people dwelling in the darkness after the collapse of the Empire to the hearths that were their monasteries.
Above, the trailer for Quaerere Deum (To Seek God), a 2011 documentary about these monks (you can watch the entire 40-minute documentary here). The trailer quotes Pope Benedict XVI saying “What we need are men like St. Benedict.” We do! I’m exhorting you to go to Norcia and see for yourself what’s going on there. Every single day I see things that discourage me about the life of the universal church and the state of the world. I cannot think of the last time I saw, heard, and experienced something that gave me more hope.
All is not darkness. Go to St. Benedict monastery in Norcia. See it for yourself.