During this time of Lent, we are striving to become perfect Christians. If you are looking for role models for your children, introduce them to the monastics, the great athletes of the Spirit. They practice daily and all year long what we strive to just get a taste of during our Lenten exercises.
Here is a synopsis of descriptions of the monastic life by authors quoted below: By struggling to transform his passions into virtues, the monk strives to approach the incorporeal beings, the angels. This is only possible in a place set apart from the world, the "desert" of the monastery which is a prophetic place, a reference point for all, the ideal for human coexistence.
I love this last term by St. John Paul, the Great. It reminds me of the bumper sticker: "Coexist!" Now, if we could all just learn how from our monastics.
Don't worry, a post about nuns is in the works! This is, after all, St. Rosaline's site.
A beautiful poetical example of a young monk's introduction to self control is the story of St. Kevin of Ireland. The Blackbird's Nest by Jenny Schroedel, illustrated by Doug Montross, is a true Lenten story in which undisciplined young Kevin stands still for 40 days to allow a nest of blackbird eggs to hatch on his outstretched hand. A fascinating tale for ages four to eight. This ascetic feat performed for the love of a bird is a wonderful metaphor for self control performed for the love of God.
For those of us raising families in the world, ascetic feats like St. Kevin's are impossible to perform. This is why we have monks and nuns dedicated to the perfect Christian life, an ideal for us to strive for and look up to. St. John Paul, the Great, talks about the monastery as the role model for Christians in his encyclical Orientale Lumen:
"The monastery is the prophetic place where creation becomes praise of God and the precept of concretely lived charity becomes the ideal of human coexistence; it is where the human being seeks God without limitation or impediment, becoming a reference point for all people, bearing them in his heart and helping them to seek God."
Hegumen (Abbot) Joseph of Duchovny Dom Byzantine Catholic Men's Monastery, Oregon, writes: "A monk is one who has placed his entire being into the hands of God through his spiritual father. He has renounced the world and lives for the kingdom of God. He chooses the ascetic life as a means to transform his passions into virtues. He seeks to attract the Holy Spirit to himself.
The Abbot and I by Sarah Elizabeth Cowie, illustrated by Sarah Selby, describes the daily life of an abbot just like Father Joseph. The abbot's day and night is seen through the eyes of Josie, his cat, making the story appealing to young children ages four to eight.
Monasticism's great goal is to approach the angels in holiness. In the words of St. John Climacus, the monk is "... he who within his earthly and soiled body toils towards the rank and state of the incorporeal beings. A monk is he who strictly controls his nature and unceasingly watches over his senses. A monk is he who keeps his body in chastity, his mouth pure and his mind illumined."
The Ravens of Farne: A Tale of St.Cuthbert by Donna Farley, tells the story of the holy hermit Cuthbert who sails from his monastery Lindisfarne to lead a life of solitude on the small uninhabited island of Farne - uninhabited by humans but not by birds. The pesky ravens attack the monastic endeavors of Cuthbert in the same way the passions will attack the struggling ascetic.The book makes the monastic struggle visible and accessible for young children ages four to eight.
Mother Ephrosynia of the ROCOR Convent of Lesna, France, describes the monastic life as "....a longing for God that knows no limits. It is the beginning of the age to come, of the Kingdom of Heaven still here on earth. The Church calls monasticism the “angelic life.”
A Miracle In the Desert (see picture above), a Serbian book, describes the ascetic life of a desert hermit. In one of the iconographic illustrations, the angels look down curiously at the man who strives to equal them in holiness. The special relationship of monastics to animals always makes a story interesting for young children. In this case a hyena brings her blind cub to the monk to be healed. The book is published by the Publishing House of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro, editor Protopresbyter Radomir Nikchevich, translated by Petar V. Sherovich, (no copy found online, sorry). Ages four to ten.
Our children need to know the immense importance of the monastic life. St. Silhouan, the Athonite, writes: "Thanks to monastics, prayer continues unceasing on earth, and the whole world profits, for through prayer the world continues to exist, but when prayer fails, the world will perish."
Similarly, Mother Ephrosynia reminds us: "...the Holy Fathers speak of monasticism as a barometer of spiritual life in the Church. When monastic life flourishes, the faithful are really striving spiritually; and conversely, when few people find inspiration in the monastic ideal, monasteries diminish and are ignored, spiritual life amongst the faithful is on the decline."
Our children need to read about the immense value and beauty of monastic life and to hear the stories of its great heroes. I have collected some more books about monks for you on this pinterest board which also contains some books for teens:
Our children rarely get a chance to see the beauty of the monastic life. Therefore I have collected some images on another Pinterest board. Enjoy and marvel. Note especially the two photos of Father Seraphim Rose on the left, on the far left his blissful face in death.