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JAMES BEHRENS: As monks age, they enter into a realm of sainthood

When I was in graduate school, I had a vague sense of discomfort that grew and nagged at me as the years passed.

Separate tracks of studies covered so much of the ground of academic study. Various disciplines took shape, fleshed out by scaffolding of data that, to my way of thinking, begged for a larger context, a context to give them meaning and purpose.

The sociology of religion, for example, was on the surface somewhat interesting but lacked a living spirit that would have breathed some life into the mounting detritus of data.

Maybe my problem had something to do with the claim that faith made on my studies. I could not bracket where I was coming from. I looked at all the facts and charts, cross cultural studies and deep thought structures, and looked for traces of the living God who knew and loved Australian aborigines, head hunters in New Guinea, cargo cults in Africa, voodoo priestesses in Brooklyn.

I still think back on those days, and I still wonder about what nagged me. But I feel more at peace these past years. I think I know why. I gradually learned that God not only likes difference -- He revels in it. He lives in it. He loves it.

On Nov. 13 we celebrated the feast of the Saints of the Benedictine Family. Saying something about those saints is a big order. Well, the Benedictine Order is first of all big and, secondly, the saints are as varied in their gifts and contributions as are, say, head hunters and cargo cults.

But I am aware that I not only found the context I was once looking for -- I entered it and live in it. We all live in a spirit-filled heritage, on the cusp of a long line of men and women who also needed a living and merciful context for their lives, their gifts, their joys and sorrows, their lives and deaths.

One big family. A family of saints and sinners, of saints who are sinners. Ordinary lives that have made an extraordinary contribution to what it means to discover God in this life and to follow him -- and to do it with others.

There is more. The genius of this way of life is to be found in the workings of any given day. We work, pray, study and yet these are intertwined. One cannot be understood apart from the other two.

We labor to find God and to express God, whether that be through cutting the grass, repairing pipes, rerouting water, stocking shelves in our store, taking care of the sick, fashioning stained glass, making a flower arrangement, cooking a meal, sewing a habit, teaching a class -- all these and more reflect our heritage, the heritage of the saints who have gone before us as well as those who are living among us.

Dom Bernard used to refer to the senior monks as "saints." I had never heard that before and it sounded strange to me.

But after a while, I think I understood what he meant. To age is to grow into sainthood. To deal with one's humanity year in and year out is to not only to discover saintliness, it is the long route to becoming one.

So we celebrate this day the past and present saints among us. Big names and little ones. Old and young -- students all in this school of love, helping each other to live in a divinely inspired context, and, it seems to me, doing a pretty good job of it.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.