Thursday, December 20, 2007

The One Overlooked Thing

A parable. Once there was a great and ancient monastery, a pillar of civilization and Christian life; but it had begun to go into a great decline. There were ever fewer monks and ever fewer supporters; the monks were becoming lax and indifferent; and the monastery seemed to contribute less and less to the religious life of the outside world every year. During this time a new abbott came to be in charge of the monastery, and he took himself to thinking about how he could remedy the situation. But nothing he tried seemed to work.

One day the abbott heard of a hermit in the nearby mountains who had come to have a great reputation for wisdom and holiness and true prophecy, and, not knowing what else to do, he journeyed to see this man and ask his advice.

"It is easy enough," the hermit said. "Indeed, it is so easy that I wonder that you did not see it before. You have done many great things in your monastery, and many noble things trying to reform it. But you have overlooked one thing. The reason your monastery has begun to fail is that Christ is not honored there."

"But we pray daily," said the abbott.

"Yes," said the hermit, "and many people pray, even Pharisees. But you misunderstood me. It is easy enough to honor Christ in the abstract. But Christ is among you, in person, in disguise, as though it were a masquerade. Or else his angels are, and that is much the same, for the honor given the messenger is honor given to the one who sent him. And yet no honor is given to Him; and there is your problem. I tell you truly, Christ is among you, unbeknownst to you, and in a disguise you cannot pierce, and you are inhospitable to him."

The abbott returned to his monastery, deep in thought, and when he arrived he called together all the monks and told them of the hermit's words. They were all taken aback, and did not know how to proceed; for the hermit always spoke truth, but how could they honor Christ if they did not know who he was?

There was only one way. They treated everyone with love and honor. When they gave someone a drink, they gave it as if it were to Christ or his angel. When they gave someone a meal, they gave it as if it were to Christ or his angel. When they prayed and sang the psalter together they prayed and sang as if Christ or his angel were the person next to them.

And the monastery flourished as it never had before.