Almost 40 years ago (!) I took four of my pre-teenage nephews to the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, where I had been going for many years for my annual retreat. I was eager to have these young boys observe the life of the monks, hoping that some of the values they would find there would take root in their own minds and hearts and help them in whatever path of life they would someday choose. An old friend of mine, Brother Pascal, a Trappist for some 30 years, invited us on a private tour of the monastic enclosure.
The boys were wide-eyed and fascinated with everything they were seeing and hearing. Bright kids that they were, they asked many good questions about this unfamiliar way of life they were being exposed to for the first time. Their main question to Brother Pascal: Why did you become a Trappist monk, and why are you still one after such a long time? His head was just emerging from a ton of woven wool as he was showing us the ample white robe the men wear as they chant the prayers in choir several times a day, beginning a few hours after midnight. He laughed and answered, “I don’t really know. In fact, I’ve never thought much about that. If I had to answer the question, I guess I’d say that I’ve always felt that this is what God wants me to do with my life. I’m here, and happy to be here, because I’m convinced that God asked me to be here.”
Later on, as we were leaving the monastery grounds, we stopped at the gift shop to purchase their sinfully delicious chocolate fudge and some souvenirs. One of my nephews called my attention to a plaque on the wall, which read “BE.” The monk who minds the gift shop asked the boy what he thought the message was. He answered, “I think it means Be Yourself and don’t try to be what you’re really not.” I was proud of the response. But, with a reassuring smile, Brother retorted with, “I don’t think so. If it meant that, it would have said that. Instead, all it says is ‘BE’.”
Something more to think and talk about, as we did for many miles on our journey home.
The two incidents – Brother’s answer to the question about his vocation and the challenging message “BE” — appeared to be related. It occurred to me that only persons from a “DO” world feel compelled to ask others to explain or justify their occupations in life. Most of us – myself included – tend toward pragmatism expressed in slogans like Keep Busy, Produce, Action Now, and so on. We are inclined to judge others largely on the basis of what they do, how much, how successfully, how profitably. No wonder that a monk should be amused by the question Why? and answer simply that he is what he is because he believes that’s what God asks of him.
Whatever our life situation is, it inevitably includes both the well and the sick. Perhaps some of us who are thought to be well are really sick with the inability to concentrate first on being the unique persons God creates us to be. Our primary destiny is to appreciate every moment of life, to grow in sensitivity to God’s presence in people, in nature, in things, in ideas, in music and art and technology, in human situations, in time and space. We are to savor life with such childlike openness that we cannot help giving joyful thanks to our Creator.
And those among us who are known to be sick, who cannot do what they used to or want to, must discover that the circumstances of their life give them a new opportunity to BE, to find and appreciate and enjoy all sorts of hidden treasures that they hardly even noticed before because they were so busy doing.
Let’s try it: we’ll just BE!