Sunday, October 06, 2013

Feast Day of St. Bruno

St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusians.

I've mentioned in this blog before my fundamental conflict between faith and reason. Even from my earliest days, I've never felt any genuine belief in God or an afterlife, even though I attended Catholic school for 5 years and was baptised and confirmed into the Catholic faith. Thus I never had a vocation - - a calling - - toward a life in the Catholic church as a priest or member of a religious community. Having said that, were I actually to have a vocation it would probably be to the Carthusians, the group of hermits-in-community that were founded by St. Bruno.

The Carthusians combine elements of the hermit (solitary) and monastic (community) vocations into a single existence. The Carthusian spends most of his life in his cell - - a small, two-story apartment - - only leaving a few times every day to gather with his brothers: the Night Office of Matins and Lauds, sung around midnight and lasting a couple of hours; daily Mass; and evening Vespers. The rest of the day and night, around 20 hours, the Carthusian is praying, working and existing in his cell, by himself. His cell comprises areas for work, prayer, dining and sleeping. Each cell also has an enclosed garden, so that the Carthusian can grow food, flowers or herbs, unseen by any of his brethren.

Each Carthusian Charterhouse (monastery) includes men or women in two broad categories: Fathers - - hermits in cell who are priests, and the main vocation of the Carthusians; and Brothers, men who fill the support role in the Charterhouse as cooks, barbers, tailors, etc. The brothers themselves take the same vows that the Fathers do but have no desire to be priests, so instead of reciting the Liturgy of the Hours in cell they do the necessary labor to support the Charterhouse and the Fathers, attend a daily mass, and say the Rosary - - often.

Anyone wanting to see what the Carthusian life is like is encouraged to view the documentary film Into Great Silence. It's a tough film to watch, because there is no conventional lighting, music, narration or any explanation whatsoever as to what you're seeing - - you simply watch the daily existence of the Fathers and Brothers insofar as the Carthusians were willing to grant it - - and the film was only made after the Carthusians pondered it for over a decade. Most people watching the film will be bored to tears within 20 minutes, I'm guessing; there's simply no relief in it from the stark reality of the Carthusian existence, which admittedly is only suitable for a small minority of men and women.

And yes, for those of you who are wondering: the green liqueur known as Chartreuse is made by the Carthusians from a secret recipe that started as a health tonic. The Fathers and Brothers themselves don't drink alcohol regularly, but receive small portions of Chartreuse a few times a year on certain feast days (they normally drink only water and tea).

You'll never hear much about the Carthusians, because they are averse in the extreme to publicity and adulation; indeed, when even the most holy exemplar of the life dies, (s)he, as all Carthusians are, is buried in a grave marked only by a cross, with no words or inscription written thereon. They view pride of achievement as a grievous sin, and quash it when it rears its head; they take their example from St. Bruno himself, who was never formally canonized, and who turned down a bishopric and all other such earthly honors himself. Because of this spirit of humility the order has never had to be reformed, as have most (if not all) other religious orders.

Anyone wishing to know more about the Carthusians is encouraged to see the above-mentioned film Into Great Silence, or read the book An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order by Nancy Klein Maguire. It tells the story of five men who tried to live the Carthusian life: in the end, only one persevered and remained in the order.

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