Skip to main content

Members Sent on a Journey

Sunday, August 25, 2024

Members sent on a journey will ask the prioress or abbot and the community to pray for them. All absent members should always be remembered at the closing prayer of the Opus Dei. When they come back from a journey, they should, on the very day of their return, lie face down on the floor of the oratory at the conclusion of each of the customary hours of the Opus Dei. They ask the prayers of all for their faults, in case they may have been caught off guard on the way by seeing some evil thing or hearing some idle talk.

The desert monastic, Samartus, had written in a culture that called material things evil and only spiritual things good: "If we do not flee from everything, we make sin inevitable." This fear of things outside the monastery was clearly still alive in the time of Benedict and well beyond. Monastics who traveled outside, then,--and they did, as we do, for reasons of business and personal need-- were reminded in this paragraph to call themselves consciously into the presence of God and the purpose of their lives before leaving their monasteries. Two things in particular make the paragraph valuable today. In the first place, however they saw the risks of the world in which they lived, they continued to confront them. They did not become less human in their search for the spiritual life. In the second place, however they counted their own commitment, they did not underestimate the lure of lesser things in life, even on them. They begged the prayers of the community while they were away, a practice which is continued to this day, and they kept as close as possible to the prayer schedule of the monastery while they were gone. Then, when the trip was over, they returned to their monasteries alert to the effects of the baubles and bangles of loose living. And they redoubled their efforts at monastic life. They started over again, prostrating themselves on the floor of the oratory as they had at the time of their profession praying to be reconcentrated on the real meaning of life.

The value of the chapter is clear even today: No one lives in a tax-free world. Life costs. The values and kitsch and superficiality of it takes its toll on all of us. No one walks through life unscathed. It calls to us for our hearts and our minds and our very souls. It calls to us to take life consciously, to put each trip, each turn of the motor, each trek to work in God's hands. Then, whatever happens there, we must remember to start over and start over and start over until, someday, we control life more than it controls us.

No monastics should presume to relate to anyone else what they saw or heard outside the monastery, because that causes the greatest harm. If any do so presume, they shall be subjected to the punishment of the rule. So too shall anyone who presumes to leave the enclosure of the monastery, or go anywhere, or do anything at all, however small, without the order of the abbot or the prioress.

A Zen story tells of two monks walking down a muddy, rain-logged road on the way back to their monastery after a morning of begging who saw a beautiful young girl standing beside a large deep puddle unable to get across without ruining her clothes. The first monk, seeing the situation, offered to carry the girl to the other side, though monks had nothing whatsoever to do with women. The second monk was astonished by the act but said nothing about it for hours. Finally, at the end of the day, he said to his companion, "I want to talk to you about that girl." And the first monk said, "Dear brother, are you still carrying that girl. I put her down hours ago."

The things we ruminate on, the things we insist on carrying in our minds and heart, the things we refuse to put down, the Rule warns us, are really the things that poison us and erode our souls. We dull our senses with television and wonder why we cannot see the beauty that is around us. We hold on to things outside of us instead of concentrating on what is within that keeps us noisy and agitated. We run from experience to experience like children in a candy store and wonder how serenity has eluded us. It is walking through life with a relaxed grasp and a focused eye that gets us to where we're going. Dwelling on unessentials and, worse, filling the minds of others with them distracts from the great theme of our lives. We must learn to distinguish between what is real and what is not.