Our Impractical Life

by Fr Matthew Kelty of Gethsemani Abbey

The Holy Roman Empire originally included what is now Germany, Austria, western Czechoslovakia, Switzerland , eastern France, the low countries, part of Italy. By the time Joseph the Second became Emperor, it was considerably less. He died in 1790, the Empire not long after. But he left his name in history in "Josephinism." He tried to make the Church a department of his kingdom. By royal right. He interfered in every area in a gross way.

Cistercians (including those at Conyers) remember him, for he considered monasteries of our sort of no practical value.He got rid of them all (867 in all). They could survive only by doing something Joseph thought practical, so many of them began boarding schools of quality. They still have them. They make up one branch of our Order. We are the other, having no ministries, no schools, no parishes. We are not practical. Joseph was quite right.

We are in the category of the arts: opera, ballet, sculpture, painting, song and dance, poetry, daffodils, and hyacinths. What practical value have they?

None. They are of another order than practicality, They pertain to the human spirit. To his transcendent dimension. We are immortal. Destined for an eternal union with God. 

All of us. Not just monks. Not just Catholics. Christians. All. And "God enlightens everyone who comes into this world." All suspect with varying intensity that there is more than this. There is more to follow. This is not the whole story.

And that's what a place like this monastery says: There is indeed more. And we are witnesses to that.

As a sort of art form. But not a dead one: we are not Deerfield Village, or Plymouth Plantation, or Shakertown: a reconstructed past on display. We are a living entity, and as Cistercians, over a thousand years old.

The whole package of a community of men, committed to love and peace, to work and prayer, to hospitality for the sojourner. Only God gives the place a meaning.

And this teaches the heart the way art does. On the deep, psychic, spiritual level. Powerfully. Not just the Catholic heart, but the human heart.

For all are immortal and they all know it. And when the inner light grows weak and wavering, a place like this gives it new confidence, enhances, increases it.

To be sure, any church spire says as much.What meaning has a church except spiritually? That's what it is and what it's for.

But this monastic house does it in a more dramatic way, perhaps, as all art does. Makes an explicit statement, an exaggerated one, the sort of statement Jesus often made. "If your eye offends you, cut it out. Better heaven with one eye than hell with two."

Keep the transcendent dimension of your own life burning bright through prayer and sacrament, through love and peace, mercy and justice. It changes every fiber of your being when the transcendent is your priority. Live for God. Nothing else is worth it.

Hence we do worse than make fruit cake. We get up in the night to sing psalms. Indeed, do it 7 times a day. For God. For you. For all. The Emperor was right: we have no practical value.

God bless us all. Amen