May 2017

 

Sickness

In his Rule for Monasteries Saint Benedict says that the abbot must act like a wise doctor. His point is that monks are sick men, some in one way some in another. I think Benedict would agree that the abbot is no exception and would say to him, “Physician, heal thyself.” But the fact is, monks are men and it is the human condition to be sick, unwell. Benedict is simply being realistic, then, when he says that monks should keep death always before their eyes. It is the chronic unwellness of our mortal condition that makes Jesus’ understanding of his own vocation all the more arresting: “I have come that they might have life, and have it   to the full.” Such a vocation would be pointless unless it were true that “they,” that is, every man and woman, did not have the fullness of life just as they are. Our life always has something of the color and even the smell of death about it. Saint Benedict describes the sick monk in several ways, but they apply to anyone, not   only monks and nuns. The sick monk does not show up: he’s delinquent; she just floats along without direction; she doesn’t know where she stands; he’s sometimes simply out of his depth, even through no fault of his own; not paying attention, she tends to make mistakes; and there is just something about him—not everything, but something—that is more bad than good. What is the remedy for this sickness? Isolation? Punishment? Shame? Ridicule? No. For Saint Benedict, the remedy is consolation! Benedict uses the Latin, consolari, cum and solus.  To be sick is really to be solus, alone. The remedy, then, is to be “with,” cum, that person in their aloneness, to make them be no longer alone but rather whole. And this wholeness that comes from a consoling companionship puts the blush of “abundant life” on the cheeks of the sick person, and even a smile on their lips.

Fr. Mark

People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.

-- John Wanamaker

 

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

Book

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Viking, 2016.

Beyond the door of Moscow’s luxurious ­Hotel Metropol lies the tumultuous landscape of early 20th-century Russia. But the Metropol, with its customs and routines, is a world unto itself. Towles’s novel spans a number of difficult decades, but no Bolshevik, Stalinist or bureaucrat can dampen the Metropol’s life; World War II only briefly forces a pause. A great hotel is eternal, and the ­tidal movement of individuals and ideas into its lounges and ballrooms is a necessity for one longtime resident. He’s not difficult to spot: a man who enacts a set of rituals and routines, grooming and dining, conversing and brandy-drinking, before ascending each night to his room on the sixth floor, which has barely enough space for his Louis XVI desk and ebony elephant lamps. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was already ensconced in luxury in Suite 317 when he was sentenced to house arrest in a 1922 trial, condemned for writing a poem. He has been forcefully relocated to a new floor. His new cramped room will keep Rostov away from the Bolsheviks below but as he climbs the 110 steps to his room, he can’t wait to descend them again; he has begun, early on in his confinement, to be “threatened by a sense of ennui — that dreaded mire of the human emotions.” What is a cultured man to do? Towles has an educational scheme for his protagonist: If the hotel contains the world, Towles assiduously offers pleasures and lessons, room by room, as a reborn Rostov bears witness to his era. The Metropol is imbued with a sense of idiosyncratic wonder. ­Towles’s greatest narrative effect is not the moments of wonder and synchronicity but the generous transformation of the inhabitants of the hotel, employees and clients, into confidants, equals and, finally, friends. With them around, a life sentence in these gilded halls might make Rostov the luckiest man in Russia.

 

 

Author: Fr. Mark Scott

Tags: Sickness, A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles, John Wanamaker

This simple communication is one way for me as abbot of New Melleray Abbey to communicate with the abbey’s employees and volunteers. My intention is to give our stakeholders some idea of the values and lifestyle of the monks and to share things that I have found worthwhile, thoughtful, and/or humorous. It is hoped that this sharing from the abbot will strengthen the bonds of partnership and collaboration between the monastic community and our extended community of employees and volunteers.

Fr. Mark

Abbot