Wednesday, 30 October 2019


I have known two monks in my life, both members of the Catholic Order of St Benedict. The first, young Christopher, was a rather frivolous man whose failure at the vocation I saw before he did. I think he now works as a fry cook. The next was Matthew, whom I knew at Heythrop. Matthew was a general practitioner who gave up worldly success in medicine for the strict observance. He'd be about 50 now, but he was closer to my age when I knew him. I didn't know him well but I was disappointed when I heard that he'd failed because outwardly he seemed very suitable. I vividly remember watching him as he observed five minutes of silence at the railway station. His eyes were distant but he seemed in every other respect present. I became envious because silence seemed to me to be an unattainable ideal. I fidget a lot, with autistic habits (picking at hangnails, bruxism, cracking my joints, &c), and while I suppose I can detach from material things and simply not engage in conscious thought, I never could achieve what I consider to be true silence. It is not just the absence of sound!

I'm sure to discuss these things with my Bishop in the weeks to come but Fr Andrew is not the first to suggest that I should become a monk. See the comments on my old blog here. Another friend, when I suggested the idea, said "yes, yes, of course!" It was a very emphatic yes too. My grandmother always said that one day I'd be a priest. I don't suppose she ever had an experience of monasticism, though.

Now let me tell you why, far from sneering at them, I would be just like Matthew and Christopher. I have few material things (besides my precious books) to renounce in the first place; I have no worldly success; indeed, on the face of it, monasticism would be my material salvation more than my eternal! I have no passable skill to offer a monastery; I am practically useless; I don't think I can sing. Failure has been my principal success to date, and there's no reason to believe that I wouldn't fail at monkhood. St Tikhon of Moscow was destined to be a monk, and this was apparent to his contemporaries when he was at school. With me, it seems that people just want to lock me away as a nuisance and eccentric as opposed to divining in me something palpably holy. I'm not a saint; I'm an ordinary backslider who eats and drinks too much, and loses his temper. I suppose that exchanging my present lot for the sweet labour of God's vineyard would be good in principle, but is understanding that enough? I have my doubts.

I also feel a sense of obligation to my father. With my mother's health the way it is, he has confided in me his fears of giving up and becoming a tramp. I think he exaggerates a bit there but even my mother said, in a cryptic reference to her mortality, that he doesn't even know how to change his bedding. These are the things that go around my mind as I try to come to a decision. But I'm getting ahead of myself, having yet to arrange to meet my Bishop. He's over the sea in the Evil Empire at the moment but I shall call him on his return.


  1. Whether you are suitable monk material is not up to me to judge. But that you are practically useless is not true. You can write. And you are able to see your own shortcomings, which is not an ability many people have! It is one of the foundations for improvement.
    I do hope you will keep us informed as to the eventual outcome of meeting your Bishop. It won't be an easy path if you choose monkhood, but I am sure it will be very rewarding if you are willing to learn. And it seems to me that you are.

    1. Thanks for your comment. My ability to write is not practical. I earn no money from it and I don't have the respect and admiration of people. Not that I want that but there does seem a striking difference between people who churn out rubbish, and make millions, and someone like me who writes in total obscurity, and who is held in contempt if he is thought about at all.

      Embracing monasticism would make only a subtle difference to my life, in a meaningful sense. I work in food retail, which is very hard work, unrewarding, generally hopeless, and, being at the bottom of the social ladder, attracts students (who are part-time) and riff raff. There's a complete lack of integrity, and an overwhelming feeling of burnout from people like me. By contrast, monasticism is very hard work; but it is hard in a rewarding and hopeful way. That is the subtle difference.

  2. Consider that your self-doubt perhaps stands well to you. Remember Tolkien's words on the principle of the phrase 'nolo episcopari'. You have flaws but grace enough to recognise them.