St. Bruno and the call to contemplation

St Bruno-FounderSaint
St. Bruno (St. Peter's Basilica)

Saint Bruno‘s feast day is today. He is probably one of the oft-forgotten saints in the Church, but has always intrigued me. St. Bruno founded the Carthusians, a hybrid kind of religious order in that its members are part cloistered religious, part hermits. Their life is centered upon solitude, silence, and communion with God. It is a strict and simple life.

The Carthusian vocation seems so particular that a man who feels called to the vocation is asked to take a one-month retreat at the monastery before beginning any formal application process. The only Carthusian monastery in North America, the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, only allows men discerning a vocation to take retreats at the monastery. I knew someone who did such a retreat and commented that it was one of the most intense places he’s ever been.

The intensity of God should be felt in such a place, shouldn’t it? As one Carthusian wrote to Thomas Merton:

Most men find their balance in life through action or creation. A totally contemplative life demands a special grace and a special faithfulness. It also requires a maturity, a richness of soul. But to contemplate, in the first sense of the word, i.e. to gaze upon God while staying immobile, repose and purity being both the condition and the result of such a gaze, is truly speaking the real life, the eternal life for which we have been created.

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The intensity of the place is found in silence and solitude, the Carthusian’s principal means to finding God. And through this silence and solitude, the Carthusian is able to devote himself completely to becoming holy before the Lord.

But this kind of spirituality is not inaccessible to the common layperson. The Carthusian Rule states:

Carthusians have no special prayer method or technique; the only way is Jesus Christ. In the contemplative life it is not so much what we do but what God does in us. Our task is only to purify our longing of all that is not God, to seek “that purity of heart, to which alone is it promised to see God

This ideal should be at the heart of everyone’s prayer life–to focus on Christ that He may direct us as He wills. The fruits of our prayers show forth not in what we do, but in what He does through us. And we should cherish the silence of our days as time to interact with God as it comes so rarely and is often so fleeting.

The Carthusian life was featured recently in a documentary, Into Great Silence, in which cameras went into a monastery to witness the beauty of the silent life the monks live. I have yet to see it (I’m on the holds list at the library) but I’m sure it will be as amazing and intriguing as the life it seeks to capture.

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