On Sunday somebody kindly brought along a book for me to read. We had been talking at a previous Sunday meeting about Into Great Silence. That’s the film about Grande Chartreuse the mother house of the Carthusian Order of contemplative monks. I’d actually forgotten about the book so it was a pleasant surprise to receive it.
The book An Infinity of Little Hours, gives background to the order and then brings it alive with the stories of five young men who entered Parkminster, the Charterhouse in Sussex, in the early 1960’s. This book makes for compelling reading for anybody interested in monasticism or by stories of people overcoming, and not overcoming, great difficulties. I believe only one of the five made it through the rigors to their final, ‘for life’, vows.
Quite often, and it happens with people who are on the way to joining our order, the vocation is tested literally on the journey. One lad travelling from America on the Mauretania in l960, on board he fell in love with a girl from Manchester. He was torn between his vocation and the girl who had dazzled him so. When the ship docked in Liverpool, after sitting with much inner conflict he went with her to Manchester, instead of Sussex as he had intended, and arranged previously. Not the end of the story though.
This is taken from the book:
Still dazzled, he took her to a movie theatre and arrived there in time for the last of the commercials that preceded the feature film. The ad showed a line of Carthusian monks on their way to church. With monastic chant in the background, the ad went on to promote green Chartreuse liqueur, Bernie didn’t need any more signs. He got up immediately, said goodbye to the young lady, and set off for London and then on to Sussex.
Still later when he had been living ‘in cell’ as the Carthusians term the life, since it is so bound up with living alone in a cell, he decided he couldn’t take the life any longer. He was on his way to tell the Novice Master his final decision. However, faith having not completely deserted him, before he left his cell he prayed for help. Although just a short distance to walk the cry for help turned him around and by the time he was facing the Novice Master he had decided to stay. No flashing lights or bolts from the blue. He just saw things dramatically differently, and very quickly. That can happen.
Incidentally one of the slips, in the context of a monastic vocation, is pregnancy.
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