I went on retreat in the late 80’s to Emmanuel House in Clonfert with my good friend Ken Wise, the house was founded by our new friends Michael and Annette Cullen. They had left their home, their county and their relatives to go to a place that Annette had dreamt God would show them. When they found that place, they were to pray and offer hospitality to young people in Ireland. They took their growing family, (9 Kids at that time) and took to the road. They found the place, a derelict farm behind the Cathedral of St. Brendan in Clonfert. They lived in two caravans, Mam, Dad and boys in one, girls in the other, half of which they used as a chapel. The first money they were given, so they could build themselves a house, they spent on a chapel. They rebuilt the Farm, with a barn to offer hospitality to a 1000 kids at a time. They were card carrying Roman Catholics, unconsciously but entirely new monastic, entirely subversive, dismantling the walls that separated the church from the people, bit by bit, from the inside out.
Ken sounded like a gaggle of wild geese when he was asleep, so I tended to doze off during the day, and on one such occasion had an interesting dream. In my dream I walked from Clonfert along the River Shannon to the ancient monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise . Once there I was greeted by an old man who said he had prepared a gift for me; it was a stone from the ancient monastery. He said I was to use it in the new foundation God was preparing to lay. This dream confirmed to me that any new type of monasticism had to have the essential elements of the ancient monastic traditions built into its foundation.
From its earliest beginnings, monasticism has been a source of ‘constructive subversion’ in both the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ and the particular kingdom or society in which it was located.
St. Anthony (4c) regarded by many as the Father of Monasticism, was a friend and supporter of Bishop Athanasius of Alexandra who took on both the might of the Emperor Constantine and those in the Church who were considering adopting ideas that would have changed the belief that Jesus is The Son Of God. St. Anthony realised that theological ideas have political consequences and was not afraid to support ‘truth’ when he heard it.
St. Benedict (5c) One Pope said that “with his life and work St Benedict exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture” and helped Europe to emerge from the “dark night of history” that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.
St Aidan (6c) an Irish Monk chose Northumbria (my homeland in the UK) and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne close to the Royal Fortress of Bamburgh as the place for his monastery.He worked closely with his friends King Oswald and King Oswine to see the conversion of Northumbria to Christianity.
St. Francis of Assisi (12c) a much loved individual began his world changing religious order after seeking permission from Pope Innocent lll. The Pope Innocent who initially had doubts about giving permission for this new monastic order had a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran (the bishopric seat of the Pope and cathedral of Rome, thus the ‘home church’ of all Christendom), and so decided to endorse Francis’ order. This occurred, according to tradition, on April 16 1210 and constituted the official founding of the Franciscan order.
The point I am making, is the fact that monasticism has always been essentially linked to both Church and Society. It has often guided the Church through periods of political, social and economic collapse (Dark Ages) and then helped the Church reconstruct those failed societies.
We have seen empires come and go, new empires rise and fade. Currently we are watching the emergence of new empires in the making, as empires to which many of us have been attached are crumbling and failing. I for one don’t believe that there is any emerging church waiting in the wings ready to offer us a new start, a new perspective, a new fidelity, when the house which has been our home falls down on our heads. I do believe, that the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church can stand in those ruins and with a humility and authenticity borne from a true sorrow and penitence, can stand on her feet and whisper:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And receive this reply:
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but My Father who is in heaven.
And I also say to you that you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it
Matthew 16 v15..
A new type of monasticism stands with the Church, in the ruins, and says:
You beautiful Bride of Christ
Arise my love
My fair One
Come away my love
Come away my love
Come away my love