Care in the community

Posted by HC in Celibacy / Monasticism / Spirituality on 19 January 2009

Years and years ago I left a monastic community as a young man. Now, I return as a middle-aged one, and I’m still one of the youngsters. This time, though I am doing the caring.

I joined my Benedictine monastery in the 60s as a young radical, a romantic, a seeker after truth. I return now as a “carer”. The community I left was never large and it still numbers about a dozen. A steady trickle of youngsters has joined, but most leave after a few months. Even amongst the older ones, there’s a bit of attrition as love of various sorts – or loss of faith – takes men away.

But how the old linger on! My community (yes, it is still mine) has some old boys who have been “old” for 20 years and more. That is, they have been somewhere between a bit weak and pretty well bed-ridden since the late 1980s.

I go back to lend a hand with these old timers every Christmas and New Year. Some of them have social services assistance, but the Abbot has the enlightened policy of sending some younger men home to their families for the holidays. This was unheard of in my day and is disapproved of by some even now. Anyway, it produces gaps in the housekeeping and personal care regime of the monastery and I go along and help fill them.

In case you are kind enough to wonder why I do this work, here’s the reason. Years ago I struck a deal with the monastery – I mean also with myself – that I would swap ordinary secular commitment for the monastic one. Though I lost my faith – or most of it – after I’d been ten years in the monastery, I still felt that my underlying commitment to lead an isolated, removed and devoted life should stick. It was partly a matter of honouring the commitment the monastery had made to me: they kept their part of the bargain, and I felt I ought to keep as much of my side as I could. That was compounded by the pain I caused my family by not being around for my own father’s last illness and death. I felt and still feel that my being away from him then created an obligation that I be available to other people in their hour of need.

In short, I am still some sort of monk.

share this:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Google Bookmarks

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.