The monk is one who has come to believe that the monastic way of life is pleasing to God. He has this on good authority. The various monastic renunciations and observances are well attested in scripture (cf. Mt. 19:12; Mk. 12:25; Lk. 5:35; 14:33; 18:1) and have been followed by many among the Christian faithful from the very beginning. Indeed, the descriptions of the first Christian community given in The Acts of the Apostles (2:42; 4:32-35) with few changes in wording could easily apply to many observant monastic communities of today.
Monastic life is not just another career choice, a way of getting ahead in the world and of providing for a secure future. In reality, it is not a choice at all, but an act of obedience. It is a response to God’s call to abandon even the good things of the world and to follow Him alone — a radical act for which He has promised great rewards (cf. Mt. 19:27-29). This commitment is often summed up in one word: conversion, a turning back to God. Turning away from sin, from his self will, from his personal pleasures, the monk undertakes penance for his own failings and those of others, invokes the Lord’s mercy upon himself and upon this whole weary world of ours, and strives to conform his own will to that of God.
The endeavor is not altogether altruistic; while motivated by the love of God, the monk knows that conformance to the Divine will bring him true peace, and he remains ever mindful of the Lord’s promise of eternal life. The call is a grace in itself; it is not something the monk has earned or deserved, nor can he ever be worthy of it by his own efforts. Only by his ongoing response to God’s continuing blessings can he possibly hope to live out its demands. His vocation is not of his own doing; it is purely and simply a gift. Nonetheless, the undertaking does entail many serious difficulties. The monk is comforted to know that the Lord, in assigning a task, always provides the necessary graces for its accomplishment. Among them he counts especially the traditions handed on by those who have gone before him.
Authentic monasticism is not something we improvise or create for ourselves; rather, we receive it from others, who have, in turn, received from still others who have had it from others before them. It has always been thus.
In his foreword to the spiritual classic Unseen Warfare by Lorenzo Scupoli, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain writes:
The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our whole life.
With what weapons are warriors armed for this unseen warfare? Listen. Their helmet is total disbelief in themselves and complete absence of self-reliance; their shield and coat of mail — a bold faith in God and a firm trust in Him; their armour and cuirass — instruction in the passion of Christ; their belt — cutting off bodily passions; their boots — humility and a constant sense and recognition of their powerlessness; their spurs — patience in temptations and repudiation of negligence; their sword, which they hold ever in one hand, is prayer whether with the lips or within — in the heart; their three-pronged spear, which they hold in the other hand, is a firm resolve in no way to consent to the passion which assails them, but to repulse it with anger and wholehearted hatred; their pay and food, sustaining them in their resistance to the enemy, is frequent communion with God, both through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and inwardly; the clear and cloudless atmosphere, which enables them to see the enemy from afar, is a constant exercising of the mind in the knowledge of what is right in the eyes of the Lord, and a constant exercising of the will in desiring only what is pleasing to God, peace and quiet of the heart.
Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not
worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from
me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden
To the rock too high for me,
For you are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
(Ps. 60:3b-4; Ps. 61:4)
In God alone there is rest for my soul,
from him comes my safety;
with him alone for my rock, my safety,
my fortress, I can never fall.
(Ps. 61:2-3; Ps. 62:1-2)