Last week I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage with my 11 year old son to a Benedictine Abbey. Anthony is a part of the Troops of St. George, which is a fraternal Catholic outdoor apostolate for men and their sons who are “looking for a life of adventure coupled with virtue”. One of the achievements for his age group is to make the journey of a pilgrimage with his Dad to a Holy site.
We packed up and headed north about 5 hours to Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. As we twisted down the old dirt road to our destination my cell service lost connection and we were seemingly time warped into a different age.
The monks of Clear Creek Abbey live out a radical love of Christ by modeling the life of St. Benedict who lived in Italy in the 5th Century. The religious order that he created gave birth to the monastic life and has been the guardian of many of the Church’s sacred traditions and beauty, such as Gregorian chant. Their life is centered on prayer and contemplation as they strive to perfect the liturgy which is the most dramatic encounter with Christ in the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.
In addition to prayer, they work the land by raising sheep and cattle and hone many of the lost trades like carpentry and metalworking. This type of life involves a choice to strip away most of the modern conveniences and pleasures like media, internet cafes and power everything for a quiet existence in the foothills of Oklahoma.
I first noticed that these were not just a bunch of old crotchety men who just wanted to escape life and earn their way into heaven through some idealized masochism. This order is thriving. It is filled with young men who are strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste and disciplined. Far from church mice, these men embody the characteristic Jesus described himself as possessing: meekness. The classical Greek understanding of the word meek was used to describe a horse that was tamed. To harness the imposing energy, strength and wildness of a beast and command it. Simply put it is great power under control.
As we were able to catch a glimpse of the extraordinary life that they lead, I was struck by some of the similarities to my vocation of marriage and how the two complement each other. When our culture wants to throw out the old fashioned ways of celibacy for the Kingdom because it seems incongruent with our modern sensibilities, I was reminded that the two vocations mirror each other in many ways and can draw the best out of one another if only we have the eyes to see it.
When we stepped into the Abbey to take in one of the Hours of prayer or the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we were struck by all of the attention to detail and the use of sacramentals. What I mean by sacramentals are the visible signs that signify a spiritual reality. These can be objects or actions that we do with our bodies that signify something greater like tracing the sign of the cross with our hand. This is different from capital S Sacraments which are also signs but actually bestow grace on us as God’s action in us. From deep bows before the Alter and sacred images, to incense and candles, the monks lift the senses to something greater that is occurring.
In the married life we use sacramentals like rings, or gestures like holding hands and bestow gifts for our beloved in order to bring about the reality of the covenant relationship that we have chosen. Just as the monks continually use these actions daily in their prayer life to accentuate its beauty, so we should look for ways in our marriage to use signs that demonstrate sacrificial love for our bride.
We saw the monks start their day together in prayer at 5am and like clock-work, showed up without fail to pray the Liturgy of the Hours together throughout the day. When they prayed, they didn’t just mumble through the rote prayers that had been memorized, but rather they chanted in a most extraordinary way using the ancient language of praise: Latin. With great care and discipline they prayed the Psalms and lifted everyone’s mind to God who could hear.
Our marriages need faithfulness. Just showing up means something in a life that is filled with challenges and turmoil. By faithfully showing up and giving all we have for the other, we can produce a synchronized harmony for our kids to witness. This melody of faithfulness will impress who God is upon their hearts.
Vocations to the religious and married life are meant to call to mind to the world that we are a part of a covenant with God and they signify the self-sacrificing love that Christ has for each of us. The complementarity of the two vocations have purpose and can help the other realize the radical call that we all have to be Disciples of Christ.
“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)