Yesterday I started reading the book “The Cloister Walk” by Kathleen Norris after being referred to it by many different books I’ve been reading on Benedictines (an order of monks) and the Rule of Benedict. The Rule is a guidebook for the operation of monasteries written by St. Benedict in the sixth century. It’s a simple rule of moderation and taking joy in everyday life that has endured to this day as a guide for living – monastery or not.
Norris wrote the book to share her experience in spending time at a Benedictine monastery and the transformative effect it had on her life.
While I’ll share more about my fascination with Benedictines and the Rule of St. Benedict later, today I wanted to share with you something that stood out to me in the introduction to her book. She notes that for most of her life she was leery of the Christian religion, which I could immediately relate to. I’ve continued in my mind to try to explore what it was that didn’t appeal to me for so many years that appeals incredibly to me now. In her explanation, I found my reason.
She said she has a skewed vision of Christianity and had been put off by religious evangelists who manipulate religious language, preaching of “the saved” and “the kind of holy talk that can make me feel like a lower life form…” (7). That is precisely how I felt. I did not want to be saved, never appreciated anyone trying to “save” me and felt all religious talk had this aim. And if I wasn’t “saved” I was no good. Don’t judge me please 🙂 was how I felt.
And so I never gave Catholicism a chance. I thought it likely even one-upped all the other religions I’d tried over the years – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Disciples of Christ. None of these was a fit for me.
But, when I felt the internal longing (more to come later :)) at the age of 36 to return to a Catholic retreat I’d once attended for my marriage, and felt a deep stirring when visiting the beautiful campus of Notre Dame, I began to listen. And I finally gave Catholicism a chance after 16 years of being with my Catholic husband.
And what do you know, but the religion I thought would top all religions in judging and looking down on others who were foreign to its ways, who had more jargon than I could learn in a lifetime, who has more traditions and sacraments than I could ever get my arms around, would be the one that stuck. Why? Because of its plainness, its simplicity, its clarity.
Catholicism at its heart, once you get past all the Biblical and Latin words, is the language of Benedict: do good and you will life a joyful life. Love others; make time for prayer, work, rest and community. All things in moderation. Help those who need help without complaint. Follow a routine and find joy in the littlest of chores. Indeed. Nothing fluffy about it to me.
So amidst the complication of Catholicism live the simplest messages of all, at least to me.