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The Life Monastic II: Noli me tangere

The monastery—the citadel built as refuge from the world, the flesh, the devil. The monk pronounces Noli me tangere (‘touch me not’)—Christ’s words to Mary Magdalene upon her coming to find him resurrected, John 20:17. The original Koine Greek phrase, Μή μου ἅπτου (mḗ mou háptou), is better represented in translation as “cease holding on to me” or “stop clinging to me”, i.e. an ongoing action, not one done in a single moment. [Noli me tangere,  Wikipedia]

“Traditionally Christian good manners outlawed all expressions of pleasure in the satisfaction of physical appetites.” [Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, p. 160.] If the monk’s vow to his body is cease holding on to me,and he tenaciously holds to this ancient evangel—if this is his idea of the “good news” or Gospel, then so be it, and who is there to second guess him.

Schopenhauer opined that the body is the immediate object of the will. The monk wills mightily toward its object, but in this case it is a will to cancel the body, reduce it to dry ash that is lost to the wind. The several objects of the will of the monk are union with God, Christ, the other world.

How dreary to be somebody said Emily Dickinson. How dreary indeed to the monk. To choose to reside with a large group of renunciates and celibates has to take a great commitment of will and psyche. The monastery is a place of bells throughout the day, silence, abstinence from the milk of human kindness, abstinence from touch, abstinence from sexual acts, from particular friendships which is a form of puppy love, from pride, from boisterousness, from dissipation, from arrogance. Avoid floating toward the ceiling while in Chapel. We don’t want to have to shoot you down. Put off the “old man,” but don’t then put on the “old woman.” The will of the confreres at recreation is the will of God; it’s a chance to deny your will. Yes, and do not dwell on your antipathies. Eat what is set before you, no matter your distastes. Take your turn as waiter, or on dishes. Speak only what is necessary during the day, and do keep the grand silence after compline. Direct your intention to God and to mindful, good work before starting. Do your work passionately well. Practice the practice of the present moment. Pronounce the intention upon awakening: Sleep is the image of death and awakening that of resurrection.  At the quarter hour, take the initiative to say out loud a reminder of God’s presence, such as “Live Jesus.” He cannot be detected, and most of the time gives no acknowledgment that you are deliberately recollecting Him. Keep the rule and the rule will keep you. And If you also follow the daily directives of the Spiritual Directory of St. Francis de Sales, in 30 years Jesus will be seen to be walking the earth once again in your person. 

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