A Season in the Desert
    by W. Paul Jones

    To OrderOne could certainly make a case that our culture, to its detriment, is intentionally devoid of Mystery.  In strong contrast, the Church through the centuries has manifested its own profound sense of Mystery. This is true not only through its Sacraments, but by building monasteries in which life as Mystery can be pursued deeply for its own sake.  Before Vatican II, the immediate family of "candidates" for the monastic life (male or female) could accompany them only as far as the huge oak doors, which read "Monastic Enclosure—No Admittance. "There the family said their farewells, knowing that a person passing through those doors "died" to all but Christ.  Pictures, treasured tokens, everything that would remind the potential monk or nun of his or her "previous life," were returned.  With nothing except the clothes one was wearing, he or she would enter the monastic enclosure, never to see or be seen by the outside world again.  The only exit was by death—but even then only to the backyard.  Beyond the doors, one's hair would be cut, symbolizing that there, with no mirrors, one forfeits all concern for "appearance.."  Then a time would come when one was sufficiently prepared to lie prostrate before the abbot or abbess.  Covered symbolically by the black cloth of death, one died to self.  When asked what one wanted, one offered one's whole life to the monastic community as an organic part of the Body of Christ.  In arising, one did so as a new person with new clothing within a new "world."  Before being embraced by each member of the community, the new monk or nun was given a new name—that of the saint in whose footsteps one was called to follow.


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