I look at St Bede’s life and it becomes obvious to me that the madness of the world in which we we live feeds on our lack of love for each other. We can scream at each other at the top of our voices – we shall never hear what the other one says, because they don’t speak out of love, and we don’t listen in love. There is no oneness between us. There is no humility. No genuine openness. We are paralysed in our ‘truths’, our righteousness – ultimately, we are consumed by the idols we have created. Our world is falling not because of sin, but because of selfishness and lack of love. I look at St Bede, I look at St Silouan, I look at all these wondrous holy people, and their silent prayer reminds me that the way to salvation – for myself and for the world around – does not come from screaming my truths louder than everyone else. Quite the contrary, what we all need is silence, so that – in this blessed silence – we may hear the Voice of the One Truth – that Truth Who is also the Path and the Life.
There is a story about a meeting between St Silouan the Athonite and the other Elders of the Russian Monastery of St Panteleimon on Athos, when the Saint was asked why he does not read the papers. Does he not want to know what happens in the world? Does he not care about the world? After all, those were the horrid years of the Second World War. In his humble and quiet way, St Silouan replied to say that one does not need to read the papers to know what goes on in the world. One simply needs to pray with love for the world, and that opens one’s heart to feel the pain that torments the world. That is still knowledge, but not knowledge of the mind, information collected from the outside, but knowledge of the heart, that comes through shared experience of the same reality.
There are many stories like this about the Saints. Ancient or modern, their way of ‘knowing’ has very little to do with the cold manner in which we relate to gathering ‘information’. Their love opened them to the world, made them one with the world, and this oneness told them all they need to know about it. I’ve heard this many times in confession, too – mothers who tell me they ‘know’ when their children are going through a rough time, although they live thousands of miles away. Husbands and wives, live-long friends – people connected by love know each other in ways unrelated to ‘information’, but to a sort of shared experience.
St Bede entered the monastery when he was about seven, to access the best available education of the time. Except for a few brief visits to other monasteries, he spent his entire life in his Monastery. This is not an extraordinary fact. To this day, many monks and nuns – from Athos to monasteries in the Holy Land, Egypt and many other countries – never leave their monasteries and never interact with the ‘outside’ world in any other way except through prayer. Yet this self-imposed distance, this physical separation does not generate a spiritual separation from the body of the Church. On the contrary, when their asceticism is offered with love, they become one with the world and they know it in ways that remain inaccessible for the rest of us.
St Bede spent his life in his Monastery, but wrote over sixty books on topics as varied as history, canon law, poetry, grammar and chronology. If one takes the time to listen with patience to all those whom God brings in our lives; if one is not obsessive with promoting one’s own opinions about things, but rather listens and discerns; if one is not overcome with the need to control others and impose one’s own righteousness upon them – if one simply allows others to exist freely around himself and opens oneself to them in love, then no physical distance can come between us.
Only lack of love can separate and break us.
Commission going to Oxford, England.
More photos on the Monastery Bookstore: https://www.shop.mullmonastery.com/product/st-bede-love-as-knowledge/