Posted by: liturgicalyear | May 25, 2010

How the monastic ideal can transform our domestic church: In honor of the Venerable St. Bede

Today the Church honors the Venerable Bede, a saint reknown for his faith and learning. His life provides counterpoint to our current culture, and lessons for how we can live more ordered and faithful lives amidst the swirl of our —  fast-paced and faith-challenging — contemporary culture.
 
Bede’s birth dates (approx) to 729, during the Medieval or “Dark Ages” in the northern regions of the English Isles. Bede dedicated his great work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, The History of the English People, to the king of Northumbria, Ceowulf. This was an era hundreds of years after the fall of Rome and the Roman presence in Britain. The Angles and Saxons feuded with Britons and various other tribes of Germanic origin in the system now recognized as Feudalism — a fragile network of military alliances with few centralized powers exerting a stabilizing influence on a war-torn society.
 
And yet, parallel to this weak military system lay a network of monasteries affiliated with the Holy Father in Rome. The monasteries that dotted the English countryside provided stability, education, hospital care, orphanages — the entire safety net for medieval society. Oh, and the sacraments of course: The bonds of unity that provided identity and salvation to an emerging Christian Europe.
 
Bede was presumed born of higher birth, which meant his family owned land and some ancestors had been successful warriors in alliance with the King of Northumbria. Perhaps his intellectual gifts distinguished him at a young age. He was sent off to boarding school at a monastery at age 7. He endured plague and was ordained a deacon at age 19. He was ordained a priest at age 30, and he wrote 60 books during his lifetime. He knew all the classical languages and texts (long before the Renaissance) as well as Scripture.
 
In Bede’s The History of the English People, he argues that natives in England did little to help with the conversion of the English people; and they relied on Irish and Italian missionaries to carry on the work of conversion. He suggests that the Britons reneged their duty, and he highlights the virtues of the kingdom of Northumbria over Mercia.
 
Bede lived in the heart of medieval Europe, where kings strove for centralized power over feuding noblemen, where monasteries provided cultural unity to Europe and provided both the extended arm and warm embrace of the Church — and whose leader, the Pope, resided so very far away. Monasteries provided a counterpoint to the raging culture of the time. Bede’s influence gives testimony.
 
How about in our own day? We also live in a culture writhing in conflict and tension. Living as a faithful Catholic has never been more at odds with the culture. However, like the monasteries of old provided haven, witness, and protection from the Medieval strife, so our domestic homes can today.
 
Holly Pierot is a contemporary Catholic writer, mother and homeschooler, who wrote a book widely read among Catholic women: A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to your Home and Peace to Your Soul (Sophia Institute Press, 2004). She provides a beautiful argument and practical helps for how to model your home life around the Benedictine principles of monastic life: prayer, work and study.
 

Ordering your daily life on regular and sequenced prayer provides the organizing principle. A balance of work, study and play follows. We know that the demands of the world whirl before our eyes. We dash here, there and everywhere. Internet, phones and various media invade our peace daily. But the key can be found in modeling your home around some of the principles of monastic life.

 
* Let your home be a sanctuary. A peaceful repose for weary travelers in the world. Here you feed, heal and nurture your family and friends.
 
* Provide a family prayer area where all can go, and set up regular prayers for all to follow. It can be as simple as a morning offering prayer, grace before meals and evening prayers. Or, add in a nightly family Rosary. Some even follow the prescribed prayers of the Roman Daily Office. There are small and large ways you can orient your family life around prayer, but find a pattern that works for you (for now), and build upon it.
 
* Make sure life is balanced between prayer, work and study. And make sure there’s room for play and physical exercise too.
 
One of the ways humans are created in the Divine image is in our ability to order and use reason. Like Adam named the animals, so you need to name the parts of your life, and put them in an order that follows the mandates of faith first. And the pressures of the world will feel lessing pressing as you do.
 
The Venerable Bede’s influence emerged out of monastic life in a war-torn Europe. We can learn much from the good that can come from using our domestic churches as islands of peace, nurture, ordered work, study and play.
 
Barbara
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