How does one live in the world? We each have a path to walk to God and our life is the working out of how we will achieve this. Those wise monks of the desert said this; A brother asked a hermit; “tell me something good that I may do it and live by it.” The Hermit said, “God alone knows what is good but I have heard that one of the hermits asked the great Nesteros, who was a friend of Antony, ‘What good work shall I do?’” He said, “Surely all works please God equally? Scripture says, Abraham was hospitable and God was with him; Elijah loved quiet and God was with him; David was humble and God was with him. So, whatever you find you are drawn to in following God’s will, do it and let your heart be at peace.”

And Paul says this to us; “So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” Philippians 2:12-13

There are many paths to walk in this world and we each have to find a way of living in it and in following God.

In ancient times men and women went to the deserts, mountains or forests to live in solitude. They did so for various reasons, to confront their passions and battle the demons of their weaknesses, to cultivate a spiritual life and a relationship with God, or to better understand their inner self. They may have stayed there for life or just a couple of years. Through their disciplined life of fasting, meditation, prayer and intercession, these Desert Fathers and Mothers were helping mankind. They were saving mankind from destroying itself. They were closer to reality, which means, they were closer to the spiritual realm. There was no ego or selfishness in them, only unconditional love for all of life. What these men and women did in their own sacrifice was to keep the flame of hope burning throughout the world. Without men and women such as these that flames would have been extinguished long ago and we may not have survived ourselves.

Now imagine a man wandering through the modern urban wasteland living a life of solitude and stillness in the midst of a world that has become chaotic, where up is down and down is up. In order for him to survive in this world he has to practice a disciplined life. He examines his actions and thoughts, cultivates a spiritual practice, keeps himself healthy and as he wanders through life, he does his best to help those in need. He shares the Gospel message through his life. This is what I call the Lay Monk.

Today, our urban centers have become wastelands and the human heart has become like a desert. Daily we come face to face with our inner demons in the form of our addictions to food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money and entertainment. Our spiritual life has dried up and we have become secular atheist. For the spiritual seeker, it has become a struggle between life and death to save their souls.

I believe that the way to survive the modern “Wasteland” is to become “Active Contemplatives”, men and women who seek to cultivate a close relationship with God through their daily life. I believe it was Thomas Merton who said that in the midst of a busy life, the place and the moment where we struggle with ourselves is the place where we can encounter God. These are the places and the moments of temptation but these are also the places and moments for transformation. This is where the extraordinary is discovered in the ordinary and where we can know the presence of God in our life.

The Active Contemplative or Lay Monk is a lay person who lives in an urban setting as a contemplative who explore their inner being while at the same time works at making a living, interacts socially with people, who will marry and raise a family if that is their calling or live a celibate single life. Sometimes they form communities of likeminded people who help and give support to each other or they may live as a solitary person. Their life becomes the “instrument of God’s peace” and through their daily life they are bringing the presence of Christ to their world.

We are now facing a bleak future and we are seeing many Catholics and Protestants leaving the church. I feel that the times have forced us to think in new ways as we face our future. We must not forget the two thousand years of wisdom and truths that have shaped and formed us as Catholic Christians but we must face the near future with new energies.  Isn’t that what the church has always done in the past when society collapses. Just think of St. Benedict as one example. In an Apostolic Letter, St. John Paul II wrote about the new millennium and he instructs us on how we should face our future: “… if we ask what is the core of the great legacy it leaves us (our Catholic history and traditions), I would not hesitate to describe it as the contemplation of the face of Christ: Christ considered in his historical features and in his mystery, Christ known through his manifold presence in the Church and in the world, and confessed as the meaning of history and the light of life’s journey.

Now we must look ahead, we must put out into the deep. Jesus himself warns us: No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). In the cause of the Kingdom there is no time for looking back, even less for settling into laziness.

It is important however that what we propose, with the help of God, should be profoundly rooted in contemplation and prayer. Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of doing for the sake of doing. We must resist this temptation by trying to be before trying to do. In this regard, we should recall how Jesus reproved Martha: You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful… (Lk 10:41-42).”

To be an active contemplative is to be a monk in the world;

“Every one of us is a mystic. We may or may not realize it, we may not even like it. But whether we know it or not, whether we accept it or not, mystical experience is always there, inviting us on a journey of ultimate discovery. We have been given the gift of life in this perplexing world to become who we ultimately are: creatures of boundless love, caring compassion, and wisdom. Existence is a summons to the eternal journey of the sage – the sage we all are, if only we could see.” [1]

We cannot abandon the traditions or teachings of the Church but they must be embraced and presented in a new way to the world just as the Desert Fathers and Mothers did in their time.

[1] The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

Adapted from A FINGER POINTING TO THE MOONConsiderations on Living as a Lay Monk By John Waligorski

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