Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Gate

One of our monks recounts the following tale:

I had an older cousin named Florida. And the family lore was that her father, recently arrived from Sicily, had seen a big poster in a fruit store with giant oranges and the word “Florida” and had decided then and there that it would be the perfect name for his next daughter. Now because of a series of unfortunate events, my Aunty Florida, as I called her, ended up spending part of her childhood at a Catholic orphanage in our city. Aunty Florida told me stories of what it was like there. Some of it was rather grisly. In particular I remember her telling me about pious little talks the Sisters would sometimes give before the children went to bed. And a phrase Aunty Florida recounted from one of these talks is forever stuck in my memory: “Boys and girls, even our innermost thoughts are sins.” I can hear Florida repeating it dramatically and laughing, “Imagine her saying that to little kids.” You wish someone had given that nun a book of bedtime stories for children. Talk about Grimm’s Fairy Tales!

Nowadays as I recall those words, I think that maybe that old nun was not so far from the truth. Of course we know that her wording is radically off. Thoughts simply are not sins. But even as I come to understand my heart - the depth of my desire for God, the good intentions planted there by his Spirit, I also see the darker alleys, nooks and crannies - my capacity for evil. And so the crimes and evil deeds I read about in the newspaper no longer seem a quaint, awful reality, something that other more evilly inclined monsters would do. No, these are deeds I could do or could have done or maybe would do. Bitter self-knowledge we call it in the monastery. Thoughts indeed are not sins, but thoughts need to be dealt with, named for what they are, and dismissed; and the good needs to be courageously chosen over and over. As Jesus reminds us, thoughts- “the things that come out from within”- can indeed “defile” and lead us away from God, if we don’t choose rightly and take action. Let us continue striving to enter through "the narrow gate" and "constricted" road by which he leads us to life and true freedom.

Archival photograph of the cloister at our founding monastery Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island.