Dom Basilio Magno
THE LAY MONASTIC COMMUNITY of CARYANA seeks to
relive the way of life of the first Christian communities, hopefully with
the same zeal and fervor. Herein, therefore, is the way of life of CARYANA
and the Christian principles on which it is based, the same principles that
governed the way of life of the early Christian communities. And fearful of
Christ’s words, we have tried not to add nor subtract from the precepts of
This treatise is a feeble attempt to answer the few who have asked us to
describe our way of life; this is the long-delayed response and we present
it with our apologies.
PROBLEM OF CARYANA
CARYANA, we are faced with several limitations. Firstly, because
monasticism is the art of the Saints, or the art of being holy; only holy
people can write about it and only those who want to be holy can understand
it. And so we have used the words of the Saints to describe the way of
life of CARYANA since her way of life was taken from the writings of the
Saints. Having complied with the first requirement, the reader is
encouraged to fulfill the second.
To those who have no such desire, this will all sound like a lot of
A second limitation is the “journalistic mentality” that pervades today’s
thinking. Bombarded by a journalistic way of thinking from talk shows,
countless newspapers and magazines, we begin to look at things the same
What is a journalistic view? Well, no one picks up a newspaper and goes to
the desert to meditate on it. Neither do monasteries buy newspapers and
read it for Divine Office or meals. Ordinarily people read it in the
morning to pass the time and discard it in the afternoon...precisely,
because it is journalistic...that is, shallow, unimportant...or, more
precisely, pure gossip. Journalism is the gossiper of history. History is
deeper; history, at least, tells the history of the story. Journalism
merely tells the story.
Let me demonstrate my point. Journalism tells us that so-and-so had been gunned
down, which is the first intimation that he even existed, and then briefly
narrates his life which tells us nothing about why he was shot. This is
like merely writing that the body of St. Francis Xavier is incorrupt, which
puts him in the same category as the mummies of Egypt.
Sometime ago, St. Francis of Assisi was declared, by our journalistic era,
patron saint of ecology (which is quite admirable) because of his love for
animals and the forests...which is completely missing the point. St. Francis
had no love for animals and forests: he loved God alone. To admire CARYANA
for having transformed deserts into forests is to say nothing about
her...it merely marks her as an accident of an early era but totally
The journalistic view, by its very nature, is news...and is narrow and
shallow in perspective. It is for people who have little time to read and
little time to think about what they read. It is, therefore, biased...not
intended to be so by journalists but inexorably dictated by circumstances,
like newspaper deadlines.
This view makes us look at all things, including religion, with bias.
Catholicism calls it rash judgment, an act highly condemnable. So we rashly
condemn the Inquisition without considering that it could have been the
best solution for a problem in that time and place. A historical outlook,
at least, would consider that. The biased looker would admire St. Francis
running among the flowers in the fields but fail to see his poverty and
To picture the monks in the Scriptorium preserving for posterity the
classics of Greece and Rome during the dark ages, is missing the point of
the picture. Why is he in the monastery in the first place?
The journalistic view tends to see only bits and pieces and fails to reconcile
inconsistencies...nay, even fails to see inconsistencies. It’s like
mentioning the activities of the Inquisition without describing the evils
of the times, or admiring St. Francis’ love for brother wolf but blind to
Francis’ hatred for brother ass, his own body.
To entertain this bias is never to understand the Catholic religion or
monasticism...or CARYANA, for that matter. He who sees the origin of his
religion starting only with Martin Luther or Henry the VIII will not be
able to give an account of its origin. Just as to say that the history of
the Jesuits began with the birth of St. Ignatius is to miss the whole point
of the story; like saying that monasticism began with Sts. Anthony,
Pachomius, Basil and Benedict. So to say that CARYANA began in 1972 is to
put out of perspective.
Sadly, this view pervades the men of the Church. Thus we see programs of
renewal developed without knowing what to renew and religious shrines built
in memory of we don't-know-what.
To understand the Catholic religion and monasticism, one must possess a
broad and deep mind and receive much help from above. Our topic is
unnatural, so contrary to the natural mind, because it is supernatural. The
biased mind is nothing but natural. And the paradox of the natural mind is
that its first act is unnatural, like worshipping the sun or money. While
the first act of one that is supernatural is always practical and down to
earth. Wasn’t it the monastic movement that gave us schools, hospitals, the
banking system, agricultural tools, medicines and the classics? While the
monks accepted patients without down payments...nay, without payments at
all, the natural corrupted the concept of hospitals which now refuse
patients unless there is a downpayment.
MONASTIC PERSON AND THE MONASTIC LIFE
FOR MANY OF US today, a monk is a figure of
yesteryears, usually with a patronizing smile, dismissive gestures and
extreme tolerance at everything hurled at him. Then there is the familiar
picture of St. Francis talking to birds and animals and harming no one; or
there is the gaunt, cowled, ghostly figure walking in dark, cold, stone
corridors with the faint sound of the Gregorian Chant in the background,
and bells past midnight.
Or for the younger generation, monks bring up the more sinister image of
cowled assistants to magicians and their bikinied subjects.
In spite of this, the image of the monk has intrigued the world of men
since the beginning of Christianity, for here is a man who in his silence
proclaims there is a God and that this God had manifested Himself in
historical surroundings in the person of Christ. And to proclaim this, this
cowled layman has deliberately withdrawn from the usual patterns of living.
The enigma of a monk is the question: what precise set of reasons impels a
person to opt out of the ways of the world and why, while everybody is
running after the world, he withdraws from it. So the talk is on
“withdrawal” from the world, on renunciation, rather than what ordinary
people do, of being merely “apart” or “away” from it all. In the monk there
is that irresistible feeling that he is aiming at a higher, fuller and more
perfect way of life.
This, alone, will explain why one monk would stay in a tiny cell with
enough space to sit only but not to lie down, why a stylite monk would
perch himself on top of his sun-scorched pillar, why some Egyptian monks
would boast that they look more like corpses rather than living men. This
seeming fanaticism merely shows the intensity of their zeal, but the way
and goal are identical with those of more sedate monks. This
sensationalized description, though, distorts monasticism in that it shows
what they did rather than how they lived.
The first monks were wholly admirable, gentle, wise, loving, and capable of
great heroism, and shining in their abiding trust in God. They left
enduring marks in their times, improving man’s quality of living and even
sparking the establishment of great cities.
This is the intent of the CARYANA monastery, not so much to imitate the
practices, but to imitate the way of life of these early Christian
Theologians, today, are
poor caricatures of the true theologians of early Christianity; the monks
were the true theologians. Before, a theologian was one who had had a
personal encounter with THEOS, the Father, through the LOGOS, the Son, in
the Holy Spirit, through prayer. So the early theologians wrote about the
commands of Christ that brought them to that encounter. Theologians today
merely write about what they think, which leads to we-don’t-know-where.
MONK and DISCIPLINE
The figure of a monk is
also synonymous to discipline. Discipline, irrespective of what it is for,
is an attraction and a spectacle. The marching of soldiers, the performance
of animals...their disciplined movement shows restraint, self-sacrifice,
manliness, solidarity...at least, for the moment. But the monk exhibits
perpetual discipline, unrelaxed and severe discipline motivated by a
commanding faith in God which brings out the best in men. Monasticism,
thus, is when man disciplines himself to bring out the best in himself. The
decision of a man to take on himself the discipline of a hard religious
life may not, after all, be so odd and unintelligible.
Monk and the ENCOUNTER WITH GOD
The first Christians saw
the relationship between hardship, discipline and an enhanced spirituality;
and the belief that, even in this life, one may encounter the real presence
of God. This, of course, is not guaranteed since it depends on God but its
reality makes all else look puny by comparison; and, besides, the Fathers
were proof of the supreme gift of the Divine rendezvous.
The candidates for our monasteries, therefore, are those who are truly
seeking an encounter with God and are willing to undergo the hardships and
discipline that this venture entails.
Monasticism is made up of that dream which says: God made us, and then in
keeping quiet we let Him speak to us...not through created objects...He,
Himself, speaking, so that we can hear His word, not in the language of the
flesh but, in His own Divine way. Think of this encounter, seizing,
absorbing, inviting man to the depths of joy. Is it any wonder why the
first monasteries were filled to the brim?
That anyone should dream of such an encounter in this life may seem bold
and surprising to a believer from the twentieth century...which explains
the half-empty monasteries. But for the early monks, though the promised
encounter could be in the afterlife, with their great capacity for love,
their hunger for salvation, and their bitter awareness of the fact of sin,
the way was clear; one just had to overcome the obstacles.
OBSTACLE: the CONFLICT
There is but ONE
obstacle: as a result of original sin, the conflict, endless and without
respite, between two irreconcilable antagonists, the body and the soul,
yoked together for a lifetime. The body is the foe, gross, corrupt and
greedy, doing what it wants and inventing subtle civilized needs against
which the soul has to struggle continuously. This deadly antagonism is
Christianity’s and monasticism’s focal point; it is, indeed, deadly because
the stakes are eternal. And this antagonism was described by St. John
Before I can bind him he is let loose, before I
can condemn him I am reconciled to him, before I can punish him I bow down
to him and feel sorry for him. How can I hate him when my nature disposes
me to love him? How can I break away from him when I am bound to him
forever? How can I escape from him when he is going to rise with me? How
can I argue with him when all the arguments of nature are on his side?
Note the great intimacy between the two, an intimacy that will be perfected
in heaven. But in the meanwhile it must be deadly antagonism here on earth.
For the two to be intimate here on earth would be a marriage made in hell.
Because of original sin, both would go against God in the process of
pleasing themselves, like the bad angels, just like Eve.
Know, therefore, that the monastery of CARYANA is the battlefield, not
hotels or resorts; and life is a continuous spiritual combat between the
two forces within man.
An attempt to define the monk and monastic life will always be insufficient
because they are greater than any definition. And any attempt to understand
them fully is presumption.
MONASTICISM AND OTHER RELIGIONS
MONASTICISM is a drive innate in man; it is a
basic drive within man, exhibited sporadically--one’s desire to climb a
mountain, stroll in the garden or build a cottage in the forest. This drive
is seen even in other religions where monasteries and temples are built in
inaccessible mountain tops, in the middle of impregnable jungles, or in the
middle of desolate deserts.
INNER DRIVE. This inner
drive is nothing else than the quest for God--a universal need, at last
satisfied with the birth of Christ--the first step of which was
demonstrated by Christ in his 30 years of hidden life. Monasticism is in
imitation of Christ’s hidden life, that we may attain the basic longing of man
to be with God and share his immortality. The hidden life is the beginnings
of Christian Living; reliving the hidden life is monasticism.
Ingredients of Revelation, because God wants all men to know them and
because they are written in the hearts of men, can be discovered by all
men, and, therefore, by all religions. All religions, in short, have
ingredients of Divine Revelation. However, we believe that the Catholic
Church, alone, has the complete Revelation. This claim, St. Augustine
states, is what makes us hateful to other religions. Even the most pagan
religion has ingredients of the truth. Now, if a Protestant or pagan
religion has only 50% of Revelation but obeys the 50%, while a Catholic has
100% but obeys only 40%, then the Protestant or pagan is more Christian
than the Catholic.
The aspirant to the CARYANA monastery must know and obey the 100%. And in
no way must he aim at less, or ask to do less, or worse, encourage others
to do less.
A MISTAKE. When modern monasticism lost its footing, it made the disastrous
move of borrowing from pagan practices instead of going back to its roots.
They thought primitive monasticism did not work, of course, because they
were not living it the way it should be lived.
Why borrow from other religions that have only an ingredient of truth? You
might borrow what is erroneous instead. Christian monasticism is allergic
to imports; it rejects foreign matter and, when forced with a transplant,
it gets sick. Whatever good you borrow from other religions is already
within Catholicism; you just didn’t notice it.
The CARYANA monastery has no intention of borrowing from exotic
Asian religions or otherwise; it will definitely not adapt practices from
profane sciences, like psychological techniques, for these are all inferior
to what we already have. Besides, to do so is to accuse Christ of having
left a body of teaching that is incomplete.
CHRISTIAN LIFE AND MONASTICISM
AIM OF BOTH is the imitation of Christ or the following of Christ or a life
in Christ for the eventual indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The commandments
of Christ, made up of Prayer, Fasting, and Good Works do not, in
themselves, constitute the goal of this life; they are but the
indispensable means of attaining that end.
If Christian Life is
“walking in the footsteps of Christ,” monasticism is the first step. And
Christ’s instructions on how to live this life are so simple and yet
astoundingly complete in their divine element; there is no need to
borrow from any outside source.
St. John Climacus describes a Christian as an Imitator of Christ in
thought, word and deed, as far as this is humanly possible. And what is it
in Christ that we must imitate? His Love. Christian Life and Monasticism
aim to follow Christ, to become “like God”, to imitate and resemble Him in
His Divine Love.
In Monasticism, spirituality and dogma are essentially connected. And the
virtues aimed at are not qualities of man; they are qualities of God, they
are divine attributes. So, like the human nature of Christ we fear death;
but we should have no terror of death because this comes only to an
unrepentant sinner, which Christ is not and which we shouldn’t be.
and the DOGMA of the INCARNATION
The imitation of Christ is possible because He became man; so He
experienced all our moral conflicts, our fears and temptations--
everything, except sin. We see in Christ a human will, yet one that is
freely obedient to the will of God. By this we know that such free
obedience is also possible for us. Thus monastic spirituality is correct
spirituality because it depends upon correct doctrinal teaching.
Though Christian Life is divine, (and precisely because it is divine), it
is down to earth...just like its founder, Jesus Christ is Divine, but down
to earth. Monasticism is the beginning of the wedding between the Divine
and the human...the beginnings of the Incarnation. So, it is in no way
antihuman. The Incarnation is reflected in the Benedictine motto, “Ora et
Labora”. The ORA signifies the Divine aspect of the life and the LABORA
signifies its human aspect.
PRINCIPLES OF MONASTICISM and/or Christian Living
MONASTICISM IS CURE FOR THE FALL
IF ADAM AND EVE DID NOT
FALL, there would be no need for monasticism ...nor for the Catholic
religion, for that matter: monasticism is needed because they fell.
Monasticism is meant to correct the damage caused by the fall.
HUMAN NATURE IS GOOD BUT CORRUPTED BY THE FALL
Human nature, as a whole,
i.e., body and soul, is God’s creation, and is, therefore, good. God
neither caused nor created evil. Sin is extrinsic to our nature; no one
wants to sin against God. Virtues are natural to man; vices are unnatural.
But the fall of Adam and Eve distorted this nature; Christian living or
monastic life is meant to restore man’s original relationship with God so
he can regain, symbolically, the garden of Paradise, and then progress to
Union with God, a state Adam and Eve did not reach but that would have been
given them if they had passed their test.
With the fall, the body became both adversary and friend; adversary because
it is corrupted by the fall, and friend because it is God’s creation and
destined to enjoy eternal life with the soul in heaven. By virtue of its
fall, it is hindrance and enemy; by virtue of its creation by God, it is
partner and friend. But as long as the body has not recovered from the
fall, i.e., if man has not yet applied the medication of monastic life in
his soul, but is pampered instead, the more it can hurt the soul; the more
it is coddled, the more it becomes ravenous. Renunciation is waging war
with the corrupt aspect of the body.
We believe, not just in the immortality of the soul but, also in the
resurrection of the body. Because of the fall, the body and soul will be
separated at death but this divorce is temporary. Our goal is unity of body
and soul here on earth--a unity disrupted by the fall--and unity in the
When the soul has made the body holy, then the body becomes a mirror
revealing the splendour of the soul and the presence of God. Thus in
Christian hagiography, many Saints are said to have ascended to heaven body
and soul, that is, aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary--like Hesychius the
Horebite and, probably, St. Joseph.
SANCTIFYING BODY AND SOUL
Monastic life is sanctification of body and soul OR, better still, the
sanctification of body and soul together. HOW? The passions and vices are
mere distortions of God-given natural impulses; we repudiate the
distortions but not the natural impulses. The fall caused the distortions;
so we transfigure the passions, not suppress; we educate and control, not
The fall turned the natural impulses into unlawful passions. For instance,
the seed meant for procreation of children is abused for the sake of
fornication; anger meant to be directed towards the evil one is directed
towards our neighbor.
Eating is by no means sinful; and fasting implies no condemnation of
eating. But when we eat for the mere pleasure of it, then it becomes
gluttony. We must eat for a higher, sacramental reason.
The natural must not be detested because it still is the paradigm of the
souls longing for God. It is the misdirection of the human will that makes
the natural unnatural, and therefore an obstacle to the final resurrection.
Monastic Life is the cure--overcoming every unnatural movement in man
because this is the road to being free to be oneself and free to love God
and others; otherwise we end up just loving ourselves.
But in this process there must first be resurrection of the soul prior to
that of the body. The monastic life intends to accomplish both.
IN- A- LIFE- TIME PERFORMANCE
Before God, man, like the
first angels and our first parents, has to put on a once-in-a-life-time
performance surrounded by virtually unlimited perils. He walks in a
minefield with no promise of even a brief relief. But monasticism promises
him an unlimited amount of wisdom, insights and advice at every step on how
to reach his goal, provided he is truly seeking God. The monastery is the
light that shows, despite the myriad difficulties man must face, that the
way is not impassable
The monk, unlike the
ordinary Christian, is so overwhelmed by his sense of the reality of God
and of the afterlife that he turns away, by a deliberate choice, from the
concerns of this world, renounces the alliance between soul and body, to be
face to face with God, Who is Love personified.
Believing in the Incarnation, the Christian soul relives his own
incarnation but in imitation of Christ. In man there are two factors,
unequal in value but both equally necessary--divine grace and human
freedom. What God does is more important. Yet our part is also essential,
for God does not save us against our will.
In monasteries there is a tendency to stress the human role--the human
effort--and to say little about God’s role, precisely because we must
concentrate on our role and leave God’s role to God since we have no say in
that. But when the monk overcomes his fallen nature, he is reminded that
this is due to Him Who is above nature.
D. THE ENEMIES
The next principle of
monasticism is based on this: the evil one who caused the first great fall
wishes us also to go away from our resolve to encounter God. In his
strategy, he uses the world and our fallen nature; thus the
triumvirate--the world, the flesh and the devil.
WORLD AND “FUGA MUNDO”
The devil merely uses the
world and the flesh for our spiritual destruction; the world and the flesh
are not bad by themselves. And the monastic strategy is quite simple: the
less the enemies, the better. And so monasticism opts to get rid of the
first enemy--the world--by leaving the world, “Fuga mundo.” We leave the
world that we might more easily control the passions of the flesh, the
second enemy. It is impossible to control the passions in the world where
they are constantly provoked.
THE BINDING of the PASSIONS. If a bird has a broken wing and is
unable to fly, it is easy prey to predators. So is man, because of his
fallen human nature , easy prey to the evil one. For the bird to save
itself, it must allow itself to have its wings bound in a sling and
temporarily caged for its own protection. For man to allow himself to be
bound and temporarily caged in a monastery, thus limiting his freedom
temporarily, is MONASTICISM. And Christ exemplified this for our
instruction in His 30 years of hidden life.
Withdrawal from the world does not mean mere physical removal from
it. It is withdrawal by the soul of any sympathy for the body. One becomes
stateless and homeless; one gives up possessions, friends, ownership of
property, livelihood, business connections, social life and education. It
means unlearning knowledge derived from evil habits. St. Basil expressed it
thus: before you can write the things of God in your soul, you must erase
the preoccupation rooted in ordinary habits of worldly concerns.
Withdrawal from the world is a willing hatred of all that is materially
priced, a denial of nature for the sake of what is above nature (St. John
SELFISHNESS. Monasticism, like the contemplative life, has been
judged as selfish in that the Christian soul is obsessed in saving himself
alone. How can it be selfish when it is a life of self-denial, the very
opposite of selfishness; when it is, in fact, a way of life completely
devoid of self?
Selfishness is carnal love of self; monasticism is spiritual love of self.
The salvation of one’s soul does not rule out charity; on the contrary, it
presupposes it, for charity is the soul’s most precious ornament. For this
reason the monk was pioneer in the apostolate, in preaching and teaching,
and in works of charity.
The first two enemies of the soul--the world and the self--are overcome by
a life of renunciation. The first is overcome by renouncing a varied diet,
physical comforts, sexual experience, possessions, security and
self-respect. But no matter how much man retreats from the world, he
remains with the capacity to remember and imagine the road he has abandoned
and, entertaining the desire for the past, he fails to make the second
renunciation...of the self, the “I”--the urge to make judgments on whatever
he sees and hears. This is spiritual catastrophe because, by so doing, he
is promoting his superiority.
The “I”, with its power of decision, is the greatest enemy, always
insidious and exploited by the demons, endlessly given to self-deception,
making solitary life extremely hazardous for those not well-disciplined in
monastic life. And as exhibited by Christ in the Holy Family, the major instrument
to overcome this second enemy is the strategy of obedience.
The second enemy is the self; and modern Christianity’s heavy investment in
the notion of the value of the individual person is so incompatible with
this traditional doctrine.
It is no accident that, from Scriptures through all the writings of the
founders, Saints and Fathers of the Church, obedience takes center stage,
i.e., the decision to put aside the capacity to make one’s own judgment,
because of one’s consciousness of one’s failings.
OBEDIENCE. Monastic obedience is much more than what the term would
suggest today. It is not the mere acceptance of the rules of a club that
one joins. Nor is it the obedience of soldiers. Monastic obedience is much
more; it is surrendering one’s capacity to be critical regarding commands
given to him. This is not blind obedience because monastic obedience is
purposeful; the Christian soul is conscious of his defects and embraces
obedience to correct these defects that can cause his eternal damnation.
When a monk living in solitude
realizes his weak points and puts himself under obedience, then blind that
he was once, he recovers sight and can see Christ without difficulty. (John
This is the rationale for obedience. It is not blind. When the self is
humbled by obedience, then the soul is open to receive the grace of
becoming pleasing to God and a showcase of the virtues.
Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, using a metaphor, compared
Christ’s commands to a musical score, clear and in harmony; but it is
monastic life that transforms the score into a performance. Change a note
or a chord and you’ll probably get boos from the heavenly audience.
Obedience to the superior whom you can see is preparation for obedience to
God Whom you do not see.
In the monastery of CARYANA, we study assiduously the works of the Fathers,
like actors studying their lines; but this must be followed by a
performance, a performance in the ambiance of unceasing prayer and in
continuous dialogue with God. CARYANA is offering an alternative, another
choice from what the world offers--a life of obedience that leads to a way
of life above the world.
A man sentenced to death will not worry about the way theaters are run; so
a Christian whose soul is in danger of eternal death really has no interest
in what happens in the stock market.
The motives for renunciation, of which obedience is the highest act, are
positive. It is not mere sorrow for sins and fear of punishment, but love
of God and longing for the kingdom. A monastery may be a tomb before the
tomb; but it is also a heaven before Heaven.
Monastic life, like Christian life, has been compared to a life in exile
that involves the painful sacrifice of leaving parents, friends, families,
familiar surroundings...but to be free for God. It is a life in exile that
we may hold unto God. And so obedience, the most powerful weapon of
monasticism, is total renunciation of one’s own life that we may resurrect
with Christ. A monk thinks of death...but as if it were life. The monastery
is the place where one is schooled in hope, where one refuses to despair.
And as if the above is not enough, the Christian soul has to contend with
the third enemy--the unending assault of the demons, hovering, lurking,
restless and vicious, ready to turn anyone away from the path of right
conduct. And this enemy, we are warned, is powerful, unsleeping,
incorporeal and unseen...constantly probing into the Christian soul to find
where he is most likely to weaken.
Scriptures is the main rule in monasteries; and the Liturgy is their guide
and main expression. Thus, St. Ireneaus stated that our doctrines must be
in agreement with the Eucharist and must be confirmed by the Eucharist.
Monasticism is living the Mass.
At first glance, monastic life seems nothing except harsh demands for
self-denial and ascetic struggle. This is only one side of it. The other
side, that comes afterwards but is absent at the beginning, is the joy,
sweetness, reassurance and hope that comes with it.
THE NEED FOR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. Christianity
is much more than the exterior acceptance of doctrines and rules. No one
can be a true Christian by merely knowing the way to holiness; one must
actually know, see, taste and touch holiness. And this applies more
especially to those who teach.
And a Christian receives this knowledge and wisdom directly from God
according to his degree of humility or in proportion to his spiritual level
in the Beatitudes.
A Christian should never
embark upon this journey without a guide; and our guides in the monastery
of CARYANA are the saintly Fathers of the Church whom, we are sure, are in
heaven, and not mere writings of theologians whose whereabouts in the
afterlife we do not know. To be holy, it is not sufficient to listen to the
direction of the Saints; you must live as the Saints lived. As Paul said:
walk as I walked. You cannot learn from others the beauty of prayer; you,
yourself, must experience it. You cannot know the taste of honey from the
words of others; you must taste it.
And so in the CARYANA monastery, we encourage learning directly from
the Saints AND acting upon the things learned; lectures, talking,
discussions, sharing are considered useless. Firstly, because the Saints
have said everything that has to be said. And secondly, a monastery is a
workshop where what is learned is put into practice; and not a place to
discuss, argue and vote on what has to be done.
Detailed directions about what food to eat, when and how much, about hours
of sleep and the daily program of manual labor, on liturgical prayer, on
methods of private prayer, on bodily postures, and the like, being mere
physical asceticism, are left to the discretion of the superior. What is
important is HUMILITY AND PURITY OF HEART.
The CARYANA monastery is not offering techniques or formulae or a
school of spirituality or a set of regulations. It is offering a way of
life, adapting the attitude of the Publican, looking and admitting one’s
defects rather than looking at others’ defects, realizing we cannot accuse
others of insensitivity because we ourselves are insensitive.
In summary, the basic steps of the Evangelical Life and of Monasticism are:
firstly, the breaking away from the attraction of the world. This seems to
be the hardest; the worldly who enter monasteries cling to the world with
dear life. The second is the development of the virtues, the most basic of
which is humility, through a life of obedience; this is what cures the
fallen nature of man and restores him to his pristine state, i.e., his
state when he was in the garden. And thirdly, union with God, a state Adam
and Eve would have attained if they had passed their test.
The above three steps are not exclusive in that one step has to terminate
before one can commence on the next. Repentance is the first step; but a
holy soul still finds himself repenting even when he has reached union with
Monasticism is a slow
progression from human effort to Divine Grace. God’s grace is absolutely
necessary for the attainment of the virtues. But while both the divine and
the human elements are present throughout the ascent, in the earlier stages
we are chiefly conscious of our own toil and struggle; while on the higher
levels we are more aware of the freely granted grace of God. So what begins
as a painful spiritual combat ends with joy.
Spiritual writers write much about the first two steps and briefly about
union with God because the human effort required of us is found in the
first two steps. Union with God is God’s work, so let’s leave it to God.
Also, he who perfects the first two steps will surely reach the third; but
the first is so difficult for most, because of their worldliness, that very
few reach the third. Even in monasteries, union with God is the exception
rather than the rule.
And for one to try union with God without mastering the first two steps is
like swimming with your clothes on; “a slave of passion should not dabble
The CARYANA monastery offers no encouragement to those who look for
compromises. It asks for complete and unsparing dedication. But it observes
the moderation of Benedict and Basil, and avoids the zeal of Evagrius. In
the CARYANA monastery one grows gently, advancing little by little in the
spiritual life. No rush--but no wasting of time.
Monasticism’s role in the Church is to act as a presence, a sign, an
example. St. John says: angels are a light for monks and the monastic life
is a light for all men. Hence, monks should spare no effort to become
shining examples...and give no scandal in anything they say or
ABBOT. Since obedience is the main weapon in overcoming the second
enemy of the soul, the role of the superior is important. Obedience to
whom? To one’s superior or dean, who is one’s spiritual guide in one’s
ascent up the ladder. Insanity is the immediate punishment for those who
trust in themselves and forget to put themselves under a guide.
Another role of the superior, usually a layman and seldom a priest, is to
be recipient of another important ascetical practice, the confession of the
monks. The monks must confess, not only their sins but also their doubts,
temptations and thoughts, good or bad. Disclosure of sins is of utmost
importance: “Nothing gives demons and evil thought such power over us as to
nourish them and hide them in our hearts un-confessed. But once brought
into the open, they become powerless.”
A monk from Alexandria narrates how a long burdensome evil thought was
immediately cured after revealing it to the superior. If a disciple, in
disclosing his thoughts, deliberately conceals or misrepresents his faults,
then, obviously, the whole object of the confession is frustrated; the
physician cannot help it if the patient lies.
The need for an Abbot is sometimes over-emphasized in that “sin against our
spiritual father is worse than sin against God. Do not be shocked...for if
we make God angry, we have a spiritual father who can reconcile us to God.
But if our spiritual father is angry who shall reconcile us to God?” The
Superior is always looked up to as the living Icon of God.
TODAY'S QUEST FOR GOD
The Members of Caryana are just trying to
reconcile an admired past, abounding in martyrs, with the needs and burdens
of today. And since these first Christians spoke only of that corrupt
nature of man and how to cure it, a fallen nature that is the same
yesterday and today, their advice is as pertinent today as it was in the
3rd or 4th centuries.
And so, in the CARYANA monastery, we simply find answers to the old problem
of what to make of the life one has. And the answer to that rests on a
deeper principle that makes sense of the reality we find ourselves in. It
is strange how this question refuses to go away; it nags, it makes one
anxious. And it is asked by the oldest nuns in convents or monks in
monasteries. Yet this question is loudest in a sick man about to face his
Creator, or in one beholding the seemingly untimely death of a child. Must
this question remain unanswered?
Not in a monastery; for a monastery is the place where the answers are
precisely to be found. It is a place where one works to move as far as
possible from the “things below” where most questions remain unanswered,
and to embrace a way of life that would give access to the “things above,”
where everything is answered.
And this is attained by rising above lowly and earthly works and thought;
then entreating Him to reveal His face to one in solitude. When one is
freed from the tumult of worldly ideas and passions, when one is liberated
from the confused melee of all the vices, when one has reached the sublime
heights of utterly pure faith and of preeminent virtue, the Divinity makes
known to him the glory of Christ’s face and reveals its splendors to him
whose eyes have been clarified by the spirit.
This is what monastic effort is all about. All the activities, being based
on the commands of Christ and interpreted by the early Saints of the
Church, lead to its promised outcome...direct encounter with God, briefly
in this life and forever in the next life.
Thus the CARYANA community finds the consuming need to learn the way of
life right, thus the passionate study and analysis of Scriptures and the
writings of the Fathers of the Church, and the ever-constant distrust of
teachings, doctrines and opinions of men who are not Saints.
IN IMITATION OF CHRIST'S hidden life,
monasticism has three CHARACTERISTICS: a) it is hidden, b) it is lived within
the family or community, and c) it is a life of subjection to authority.
“...He was subject to them.” “And He grew up in grace and wisdom,”
something lacking in many Christians, precisely due to the lack of a hidden
life or a monastic experience. Note that these characteristics are just
another way of looking at the things already mentioned above.
Thus, St. John Climacus entitled his work, “The Ladder”, and it has thirty
steps, one for each year in the hidden life of Christ before His Baptism. Monasticism
is just that. The words of the Father, after the hidden life, are: “This is
my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Just by living the hidden life
of Christ, we can be pleasing to God.
But this hidden life is no excursion. Panel icons, refectory frescoes and
illuminated manuscripts illustrate the seriousness of the undertaking. The
icon of John’s Ladder shows a holy superior on one side of the classical
ladder pointing the way up, and the Christian souls laboriously struggling
upwards. Christ is at the top welcoming those who have reached the summit.
On the other side of the ladder are angels encouraging the souls as they
climb, and on the opposite side demons trying to trip them and pull them
off the ladder, and at the bottom the dragon of the abyss waits with open
jaws. This last image shows that he who seeks God drives out the one devil
in him; but he who abandons the quest for God and falls has seven devils
more wicked than the first possessing his soul, i.e., the state of the soul
becomes worse than when it first started.
Monasticism is also an imitation of the way of life of the Apostles when
they lived together with Christ. It is also an imitation of the life of the
first Christians; the description given in the Acts cannot possibly be that
of Christians living independently of one another but Christians living
together or in community.
MONASTICISM FOR LAYMEN
MONASTICISM HAS ALWAYS BEEN MEANT FOR LAYMEN.
St. Basil always defines a monk as a layman seriously seeking to live the
Gospel. So the only difference between a monk and a non-monk is in the
seriousness of the quest for God. The Rule of St. Benedict, the most
popular and most widely followed in Western monasticism, clearly emphasizes
a lay apostolate. And while today most monks are priests, in St. Benedict’s
time, his monasteries were allergic to priests. He legislated, therefore,
that priests not be easily allowed to enter the monastery and, if allowed,
should not be given any special privileges or honors. And priests may only
say mass for the monks if the Abbot, usually a layman, should allow
MARRIED COUPLES AND CHILDREN IN MONASTERIES
A further proof that monasticism was primarily for laymen is the practice in
the early Church of admitting whole families into the monastery, i.e., the
admission of married couples and their children, or the allowing of
marriages among the members of the community. And CARYANA is unique in that
it follows this tradition of the early Church today; no known monastery
today observes this practice. Thus, CARYANA is returning monasticism to
whom it belongs...to the laymen and their family.
St. Basil, who established monasteries for whole families, in his “ Long
Rules “ has Q. 12. How Married Persons are to be received. Here he requires
that, before entering the monastery, there must be mutual consent: but if
the other’s refusal is because of less concern for God’s good pleasure,
then the seeker of holiness must obey Christ’s precept “...to leave father,
mother, wife...”, for nothing should take precedence over obedience to God.
It is a fact, however, that the perseverance of one tends to induce the
other who has been obstinate to soften and eventually seek God.
St. Benedict on Chapter 59 of his Holy Rule entitled, “On the Sons of
Nobles and of the Poor Who are Offered”, writes about boys who are “very
young” and are offered to the monastery for monastic training: that they be
given no inheritance, in fact, nothing at all that will make them different
from the monks. And Chapter 30, “How Boys Are to be Corrected”, speaks
about boys and adolescents.
St. Fructuosus of Braga (7th century) in his Regula Monastica Communis,
Chapter 6, entitled, “How men ought to live with their wives and children
without danger in a monastery”, writes about husbands and wives who enter
the monastery with small children under the age of seven and the rules they
The writings of the early Fathers of the Church are specific and complete
on the rules that must govern such monasteries, so that we are left with
nothing to add.
Monasticism, like Christian life, is directed towards the soul; the soul of
man and woman and child are the same. And so the way of life must be the
same; with very minor differences in deference to their physical
CARYANA, in her attempt to be faithful to the practices of the
Tradition of the early Church, has adopted the above practice; i.e.,
accepting families into the monastery following the provisions of the
Saints. In this the practice of CARYANA is very old; but new today. This
practice makes a lot of sense. Salvation is a family affair. The whole
family must be saved; they must all work for their salvation seriously. And
since the monastery is the ideal ambiance for this goal, henceforth, all
must enter the monastery. In fact, the ideal monastery is the first
monastery whose members were Joseph, Mary and Jesus, a whole family. Well,
we can transform our homes into a monastery. Or, if this is impossible
because we keep on doing our own wills, then we must enter a
Holy Matrimony, being a part of Christian Living, must be used accordingly
by those with proper disposition; there is no reason to exclude it from
Christian Living of which monastic life is the beginning. To prohibit
Matrimony is tantamount to denying us of an important ingredient of
Christian Living; thus, to prohibit Holy Matrimony is a heresy which is
given as one of the signs of the end times.
FAMILIES IN MONASTERIES
The lives of Saints, more than not, are stories of whole families who
entered monasteries or who lived a monastic life in the world. St. Basil’s
was such; and St. Bernard was said to have brought his father and four brothers
and an uncle inside the monastery.
IX. THE REASON FOR MONASTERIES
MONASTERIES ARE SCHOOLS where one learns the way
to heaven; they are also workshops where one applies the knowledge he has
acquired. Monasteries are established to create the perfect ambiance in
executing the Science of the Saints, the way to holiness.
One of the commands of Christ is to pray unceasingly. For this, solitude is
necessary and this is the purpose of the monastic room, called a cell--to
have solitude so that the mind is constantly directed towards God,
undistracted by thoughts or by passions. Therefore the quest for purity of
heart becomes essential to pray well and unceasingly. Needless to say, the
worst obstacle to prayer is sin.
Evidently, solitude is impossible in the world with its countless concerns;
and so monasteries were established to provide solitude.
We learn and obey the commands of Christ to tame the passions. The goal of
monasteries is, as the Apostle says: “That the world be crucified to me and
I to the world...”
St. Basil says that monastic life has one goal alone, the safety of the
soul--that it might be saved through love; so that the soul seeks no other
wisdom, knows no other duty than to recognize and to accept that form of
life which will lead it most surely to the most supreme Love.
To live the enclosed monastic life, chastely and in common, is the
beginning of the life of the world to come; it is the life of the angels;
it is no perishable bread that is labored for, but fruits that will endure
forever. Its goal is to espouse as a chaste virgin one’s soul, knowing no
other husband but Christ.
Dorotheus of Gaza explains: the world is crucified to a man when a man
renounces the world to become a solitary, and leaves parents, wealth,
possessions, business dealings and himself, by combating pleasures, the
desire of having things, his own will and his evil passions.
It is a tragedy that some enter monasteries to crucify the world to
themselves but when inside refuse to crucify themselves to the world. It is
foolish that we give up great things and pick up small ones; that we give
up valuable things and become attached to things of no value.
The ideals of monasticism are so high that it seems to many that those
ideals must always remain an ideal rather than a way of life to be followed
successfully. Monasteries are meant to show Christian souls that far from
being inaccessible, the way of life to God is accessible even to weak men
X. MORE SPECIFIC GOALS OF MONASTERIES
In short, monasteries are needed, because, left
to ourselves, we will never do what we have to do to save our
The removal of vices, especially the TWO prides. The pride of the world,
firstly, is when you feel superior because you are rich, more handsome, you
have nicer monasteries or have more conveniences. This is vainglory about
material things-- like education, a nice is, tragically, to develop the
pride of the world.
The pride of monastic life, secondly, is vanity in keeping vigils, fasting,
acts of piety, rule of life and zeal.
There is no graduation in
the monastery; it is a continual act of progress. One studies and
progresses up to his death bed. “Let us grow in all manner of
charity...until Christ is formed in you,” says St. Paul, repeating Christ’s
admonition to be perfect.
Some are capable of abrupt progress; most must do it gradually, like the
growth of a person from infancy, adolescence, then maturity. This is
symbolized by the 42 points corresponding to the 42 generations enumerated
by St. Matthew or the more popular Ladder in Jacob’s dream used by Aphrahat
and John Climacus. Today we see the more popular stages of
progressing--from being servant of God, to friend of God, and graduating to
being child of God.
For the pride of the world,
the remedy is humility in holding your confreres to be wiser then yourself.
For the pride of monastic life, it is to attribute to God all virtuous
actions, also an act of humility. Note that the goal of monastic life is
merely the first Beatitude...to be poor in spirit.
CARYANA would want to gather together Christians with one heart and one
mind in the quest for God. Just as St. Francis de Sales warns us of false
Christians, St. Benedict warns us of false monks. And their description is
practically the same: these are always on the move, transferring from one
monastery or convent or religious organization to another, slaves to their
own will, and constantly imposing their will on others, giving in to their
gross appetites. Their law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their
fancy. Anything they believe in and choose, they call holy; anything they
dislike, they consider forbidden...sort of an “anything goes” Christianity.
So only those who have proven themselves to be detached from the world and
from their wills are the right candidates for CARYANA’s monastery.
CARYANA, at first treading
nowhere, was led through a spiritual no-man’s land, and since the wisdom of
how to cross it is non-existent today, it necessitated ruminating through
the Tradition of the Fathers of the Church to confirm the direction that
the Holy Spirit had blown. The process of feeling the breath of the Spirit
and confirmation from the holy writings of the Fathers, though tedious, was
a singular adventure in spiritual enlightenment.
UPS and DOWNS
Monasticism is the
thermostat of the Catholic Church.
Monasticism was popular and all-pervading in the early Church when the
latter was most fervent. The Church may be said to be fervent only as
monasticism is fervent, and vice versa. When the Church is not fervent,
neither is monasticism, and vice versa. When both the Church and monastic
life are in crisis, and God, keeping His promise that the gates of hell
shall not prevail against His Church, begins to renew the Church, it always
begins with the renewal of monastic life.
This was noticeable during the dark ages of the Church. During the
pre-reformation period, for instance, when there were so many monastic
orders of less fervent observance, the original monastic life rose from
mere laymen in the Brethren of the Common Life, the community that produced
Thomas a Kempis of “The Imitation of Christ” fame.
The devil has given up
trying to destroy the Catholic Church from without...at least, for the
meantime. He has always found it more efficient to destroy the Church from
within. And so the primary cause of monasticism’s downfall is from
within--when the monastery, instead of being filled with men whose interest
is doing God’s will as expressed in Christ’s commands and the Holy Rule,
are filled with men who would listen to none but themselves and whose lives
have moved inexorably into spiritual catastrophe...which is the case when
worldly ideas, desires and comforts enter the monastery, “through the
visitor’s parlor,” says St. Teresa of Avila, brought in by worldly relatives,
says St. Basil. Too insignificant to cause the fall of a monastery? The
fall of the whole human race was caused by an insignificant bite, so to
XI. SOURCES OF MONASTICISM
The monastic practices of CARYANA are taken from
the writings of the Saints and Fathers of the Church enumerated below. Holy
writers not mentioned below also say the same things. Well, this is what
qualifies Saints to be among the Fathers...because they say the same
The first and foremost
source is the Sacred Scriptures--in the Hidden Life of Christ, from the
community life of the Apostles and, more specifically in the Acts of the
Apostles, in the description of the first Christian communities
Monastic activities are filled with readings from Scriptures; the Divine
Office recited eight times a day is pure Scriptures; part of the readings
during meals is from Scriptures; monks are required to memorize Scriptures;
and the ejaculations they recite continuously during the day are from
Scriptures. Ruminating Scriptures, symbolized by eating the book of
Scriptures, is the most important intellectual activity in the monastery;
and putting it into practice is Monasticism.
“They consumed words of Scriptures in the manner they consumed bread and
wine in the Eucharist,” it was said of the early monks. Monasticism is
living the Mass.
Scriptures’ meaning is not given to all; it is given only to the pure in
heart. Monasticism is the process of purifying that heart that one might
understand Scriptures. St. Dosithy is said to have understood Scriptures
depending on his progress in purity.
Monasticism has it roots, not only in the New Testament, but even in the
Old Testament. But monasticism, in its perfection, is based on the New
Testament. The first monasteries did not have a written Way of Life,
precisely, because their way of life was the New Testament. The so-called
Holy Rules was a mere appendage to the New Testament, i.e., the Holy Rules
gives a summary of the commands of Christ that must be obeyed for salvation
and a few tips on how to manage a monastery. But the way of life in the
monastery is the way of life of the Gospel, of which the Holy Rules is a
Monasticism is also based on Tradition, that vast volume of Christ’s teaching
which, as St. John describes it, cannot be contained in all the libraries
of the world, and which was not included in written Scriptures. These were,
however, written down by the Holy Fathers of the Church and called
Tradition or Fathers, for short.
These writings of the Fathers offer advice, counsel and guidance to those
capable of embarking on that difficult road whose summit is encounter with
God, and they embody the fruits both of long personal experience and of the
intensely dynamic insights of earlier generations of men caught up in the
first great surge of Christianity. These true theologians gave sound
doctrine, examples and rules of conduct...not speculations. Foremost are
St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony and the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
And there is no difference between the Christian spirituality of the East
and the West, though some human writers who do not go deep enough contend
there is. This knowledge of spirituality is simple, easily understood by
adolescence, though thought to be complicated by those who do not
The Desert Fathers, noticeably, do not quote Scriptures; well, they cite
Scriptures in their own words, showing they understand it thoroughly. To
quote Scriptures exactly the way it is shows you have a great memory but
not necessarily that you understand it.
This is the reason why the Holy Rules is laconic and cogent. Monastic rules
resist the tendency to legislate on all the tiny details of everyday life,
thus giving the Christian ample opportunity to use his freedom in adjusting
to circumstances. But when it comes to Christ’s commands, the rules are
firm in their articulation, allowing concessions with great reluctance.
When it comes to spirituality, opinions are not welcome.
ICONS, a monastic creation, superbly exemplifies monastic life; though
icons have a thousand differences, they all look alike. They all follow
strict rules of creation; no one is allowed to put in his personal opinion
or style. It is an art form well protected against all individual
expressions of one’s personality.
Christianity has always been a Tradition-oriented religion more than a
book-religion; in that Christianity is obsessed with how Christ and the
first Christians did things. But many today are book-oriented; and thus
have a great disadvantage. Given the circumstance that there is a vast
amount of literature we are heir to, our capacity to make a commitment and
sustain our interest diminishes as we try to devise a way of life to God
from the opinions of the countless modern writers.
The first Saints of the Church always refer to Scriptures and “the
mysteries of the Church which Scriptures does not proclaim.” They insist on
the Oral Tradition...which, fortunately, the latter Fathers began to write
down. For Catholics, this is as Divine as the written ones.
To insist on Scriptures only is to be bookish and tends to stifle the Holy
Spirit who continues to teach the Church...without teaching new truths but
definitely giving the Church a deeper understanding of revealed
Then there is the Hesychasm of the Eastern Church, where, in Otia
Monastica, renunciation of worldly preoccupations is stressed as necessary
St. Benedict summarizes the doctrines and practices of monastic life. The
genius of St. Benedict is not in that he composed a Rule, for he did not,
but in his brilliant and concise summary of the commands of Christ,
presented in a way of life that sets down nothing harsh, nothing
burdensome. A little strictness, however, is observed for the correction of
vices and preservation of charity.
St. Benedict’s genius is not in that his Rule is original, but that it is
traditional, i.e., he just wrote down what the early Christian communities
Unlike Pachomius who encourages intellectual labor over manual labor, St.
Benedict opts for manual work (Labora) over intellectual work. His
reasoning is simple: the Holy Family, the exemplar for monasteries, was
engaged more in manual labor than in intellectual work. Besides,
intellectual pursuits tend to make man proud, while manual work tends to
make him humble. And wisdom is always given to the humble. Thus the
monasteries of Pachomius did not prosper but the Rule of St. Benedict swept
But St. Benedict does not shun intellectual pursuits: the monks have one to
two hours of study, depending on the length of Matins, every morning; they
have readings from Divine Office, they have readings during meals, they
have lectures from the superiors, they are required to read a book from
page to page during Lent...but there is more manual work.
St. Basil makes provisions
for married couples and even entire families within the monastic
environment. Like St. Benedict, he legislates that everything the monks
need might be within the monastery: bakery, wells, garden plots, various
workshops etc. St. Basil, however, went one step further. Instead of going
out to do good works, the members of his community brought the good works
inside the community. So St. Basil’s community had orphanages, hospitals,
hospices, provisions for the mentally sick, etc.
St. John Cassian, a contemporary of St. Augustine, collects the wisdom of
the East and gives all the causes and solutions to every spiritual problem
man will ever meet in the spiritual life.
St. Augustine’s Rule is even shorter but contains all the commands of
Christ. Like Benedict’s Rule, he shows that, though there will always be
distinctions of persons in the monastery due to the hierarchical nature of
the Church, the distinctions are based not on human inheritance,
intelligence or human custom but on one’s role in the work of
St. John Chrysostom interprets every single word of Sacred Scriptures (New
Testament) and shows how it is to be practiced in everyday life...mostly
within a monastic context.
XII. THE NEED FOR
AFTER THE EDICT OF CONSTANTINE the Great that
gave freedom of worship to Christians, the emperor showered the Church with
gifts, power, honor and privileges. This way he unwittingly did more harm
than good to the Church: for the Church grows from the blood of martyrs,
not in the silk of opulence. And, true enough, corruption, laxity and
heresies swamped the church. Monasteries were primarily meant to free the
Christian from the offending influence of rebellion against God and
heresies...that the quest for God may be a little easier. This explains why
everything had to be within the monastery and permission to go out was
seldom allowed. This, also, explains why visits from worldly relatives were
forbidden. The Christian, in seeking God, must leave behind even the memory
of his past life. St. Benedict writes that to go outside the walls of the
monastery is not expedient for the soul.
Basil adds: if a Christian finds it hard to be holy inside the monastery
where evil has been minimized, how can he be holy in the world where evil
is maximized? Monasticism, St. Basil states, is evangelical life lived in
common where the presence of others would not endanger one’s union with God
but, on the contrary, be of great help not to stray away from it. Thus the
monastery became the ideal for the Church.
As we have already seen, the family is the first monastery, and the Holy
Family is the ideal of monasticism. An ideal Christian Family lives by the
rules of the Gospel or monasticism. If your aim is to know God, you must go
into a community or family. You must also live with others who have the
same intention and the same aspiration. In that community, you must learn
to practice prayer and the moral life that is necessary to
prayer--continence, poverty, obedience. It is because all the above
spiritual activities are lost in the family that monasteries became
necessary. Nowhere can you find a family where all have the same
aspiration...to be holy; nowhere can you find families where living a moral
life is a priority. With the corruption of the family, the perfect ambiance
for seeking God can NOW only be found in monasteries that observe the Rules
of the Fathers or founders.
Thus in the early primitive Church when Christian families were fervent,
there was no need for monasteries. But after a few generations, when so
much lukewarmness began infecting the church, the need for monasteries to
take over the role of the family in the salvation of souls
Keep in mind, though, that monasticism is a way of life, it is something
inside in the soul. So it can be lived anywhere. One may be in the
monastery but without living the monastic life. St. John Cassian tells us
of laborers in the world whose virtues are monastic. The seculars who
behave holier than the monks are always monks in their hearts. This is rare
among the secular; it must be common with monks.
Though monasticism aims at God’s command, “Be ye perfect ...” the CARYANA
monastery is a school for beginners; but with provisions, if God so wills
it, for those who progress, i.e., for those called to the eremitical life,
the perfect life.
XIII. ACTIVITY IN THE MONASTERY
THE ACTIVITIES IN THE MONASTERIES are primarily
spiritual or mental with the hope that the physical will follow suit; sort
of--if the mind thinks rightly, the body will act rightly, too; and if the
mind thinks holily, the body will act holily.
The first activity, as in
the parable of the seed and the soil, is to fertilize the soil to ensure
that the seed bears much. For a master of the spiritual life cannot hope to
do any good by casting his insights at people who are not prepared to
receive them. And if the master or director of souls tried to put what he
knew in front of people not capable of understanding what he was talking
about, God could make that master inarticulate and incapable of coherent
explanation, so that the truth might not be corrupted or misunderstood.
Without fertilizing the soul first, it is futile to proceed to monastic
life. This first step is not an intellectual process, though it must be
guided by intelligence.
One thing that must be done to fertilize the soil is to remove the stones,
i.e., to strip oneself of all distractions that turn the attention to
anything lower in the scale of value, everything that is not God. Some of
these distractions are mere distractions of the mind, as when a child’s
attention is distracted by a puppy in a pet shop. But other distractions
are moral, i.e., when the instincts of fallen nature turn the mind to a
scale of values far lower--to food, or to gain in property, to an eminent
position, to respect by one’s fellows and colleagues, or to mere comfort
or, lastly, to mere boredom with the quest for God.
Truth is not won in a moment. Just as it takes time for a tree to grow, the
truth only grows if the necessary steps are taken.
Since love of God consists in obedience to His commands, “If you love Me,
keep My commands,” then the second activity is to learn those commands.
Studying Christ’s commands is the aspirant’s most important activity. So
the aspirant is made to study Scriptures, memorize portions of it and get
Scriptures’ correct interpretation exclusively from the holy Fathers of the
And since the commands of Christ can come under three headings; namely,
prayer, fasting and good works, the Christian soul must study how to do
these three according to the instructions of Christ. The Pharisees did
pray, fast and perform good works but they did it according to their own
fancies which earned them the wrath of Christ. So make no mistakes. We must
learn it right and do it right.
After learning these lessons, obviously the third activity is to act on
them...under the watchful eye of an experienced spiritual superior. Just as
the commands of Christ must be observed every moment, the watchfulness of
the superior must also be constant so that errors may be corrected
immediately. As we have said, here we cannot afford to commit mistakes
because our souls are at stake.
The four common activities that make up prayer are reading, meditation,
prayer and contemplation. Reading is concentrated on Scriptures and the
commentaries of the Fathers of the Church. The soul's aim is the sweetness
of a life that is blessed: and to attain this, reading seeks, meditation
perceives, prayer asks and contemplation tastes. Compared to eating food,
reading puts food whole in the mouth, meditation chews, prayer extracts the
flavor and contemplation tastes its sweetness.
The behaviour of the person will be according to the state of his soul. The
more the soul advances in prayer and contemplation, the more he knows and
does things according to the will of God. And prayer is most important in
the understanding of Scriptures because Scriptures has interior, hidden
meanings and this understanding the soul humbly prays for, not as in any
way merited, but as a grace and a free gift.
Readings in the monastery abound, specially during Divine Office. CARYANA
observes the lightest program of reciting the Psalter, prescribed by St.
Benedict, wherein the 150 psalms are recited within one week. They begin
with Matins at 3:00 a.m., then are spread throughout the day at intervals
of three hours, and end with Compline at 7:00 p.m., followed by a Hymn of
homage to Our Lady.
The Mass is the most important liturgical function. And there are private
prayers to Our Lady, the Saints and the angels.
As in the early monasteries, the personal prayer in between Divine Office
prayers is of more importance. The Divine Office is meant to supply the
matter for one’s personal prayer. So he who prays badly during Divine
Office will surely have no personal prayer; and he who does not have
personal prayer will surely pray badly in the next Divine Office.
Ordinarily, because of his fallen nature, man’s body functions tend to
subdue and enslave the soul. In monasticism, man, consoled by the taming of
his passions, tends to subdue the flesh. And he does this through FASTING.
Firstly, fasting consists in detachment from worldly things, specially
those that have nothing to do with one’s salvation. And so the monastery
has rules to prevent the entry and use of these things. And, secondly,
there is the internal fasting wherewith we give up our ambitions, desires,
thoughts of families, our past; and so in the monastery we have rules
forbidding thinking of the way of life that has been abandoned (which is
difficult to implement) but more specially talking about these things. St.
Augustine describes fasting as the fasting of the five senses.
Then there are good works. Needless to say, every good thing in the world
today can be traced to monasteries, from hospitals to banks, from medicine
to money. St. Augustine even presented the possibility of entire cities
being built under the influence of monastic rules and called it the City of
God...and Charlemagne tried it. And rightly so, because though St. Benedict
describes his monasteries as mere schools of the Lord’s service, St.
Basil’s Basiliades are virtually cities following his monastic rule. And
the mountains of Cappadocia, abandoned by early monastic communities,
stagger the mind at the enormity of its population.
Herein, CARYANA is involved in hospices, free school, out-patient services,
and feeding and care of malnourished children from the surrounding barrios.
CARYANA also produces publications on spirituality, and zealously
propagates devotion to Mary under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, here
in Asia, and everywhere. Publications on Catholic Truths that are placed in
doubt, objected to and, sometimes, rejected outright are
enemy of monasticism, obviously, is the same as the enemy of Christ--the
evil one. And since the evil one sees in himself what damage pride and
vainglory can do, to destroy monasticism, he merely introduces pride and
vainglory among the monks. And so the first enemies of monasticism are
monks who are proud, i.e., who would listen to none but themselves and
follow none but themselves; who believe that everything they want is holy
and everything they dislike is unholy. They follow their own will and
impose their own will on others. We have said this previously, but it is
good to repeat it.
A less potent but equally destructive weapon of the evil one is ignorance,
where untutored and undirected Christians, due to lack of introspection and
understanding, give in to that most common malady of self-delusion. And so
the love for learning that results in knowledge and wisdom, that comes from
true humility, is of the utmost importance in monasteries. Without this,
the monk is in continuous risk of forgetting why he is where he
THE GOAL OF THE EVANGELICAL LIFE and of
monasteries is the same...the attainment of the true freedom of the
children of God. And today, we find that in monasteries that faithfully
observe the monastic rules, men and women discover true liberty of mind and
spirit, which shows that monastic life, just like Christian Life, is the
Charter of Spiritual Emancipation.
Monasticism being what it
is, a rule for beginners, it does not pretend to present an exhaustive treatise
on spirituality nor does it promise that anyone can reach the heights of
union with God; that would be short of playing God. And so St. Basil’s
advice for the beginner and the proficient is the same: “pursue learning
this life with all diligence and add to your information by asking
questions, but not in a spirit of controversy. Either through me or through
others the Lord will supply what is missing according to the knowledge
given to the worthy by the Holy Spirit.”
We have intentionally omitted many other topics like relations of the
monastery with the hierarchy and clergy, relationships with other religious
congregations, and the like, because we are describing the life inside the
monastery, not outside.
CARYANA aims at imitating the monasteries, not of any monastic founder, but
the monasteries of the early Catholic Church when zeal and fervour for the
things of God sent men and women to the highest mountain tops, the deepest
forests and the driest desserts to build monasteries. It is a way of life
that resembles, in all aspects, martyrdom...but without the shedding of
blood...a sort of protracted martyrdom.
Based on the doctrine of original sin, take a newspaper, and you can label
every act of the men in the news as motivated by a vice...or even by a few
vices. Even their seemingly noblest act is really an act of vice; the
hand-outs for the poor are often done with pride and vanity, and every
protestation of everlasting love is nothing more than mere
The so-called moral values our society propagates are mere social
etiquettes, like the hypocrisy salesmen exhibit to prospective
Only holy people act with virtues. And these virtues are first developed in
a truly Catholic family. Sometimes this is not possible due to a systems
breakdown in the family; that is why Christ instituted the monastic life as
CARYANA proposes that we begin with ourselves ...in the monastic life. The
fact that we need this aid is evidence of breakdown in our families, in
which case the monastic ambiance becomes a necessity. Then, hopefully, just
like St. Monica, the rest of our loved ones might just follow.