- Understanding of the concept of calling for a Christian.
- Awareness of different Christian responses to the world and to suffering.
- Consider what escapism is and what drives people to escape.
- Discuss a community that has chosen separation and what motivates and sustains their lifestyle.
- Find out about a contemporary monastic community and their reasons for choosing such a lifestyle.
- Consider the role that separation and retreat had in the life of Jesus.
- Assess different Christian responses to the rest of the world.
Ask the students to share in pairs what their dream ‘escape’ would be. Where would they go? What would they do? (For example, is their idea of a total escape to disappear to a desert island, or to be anonymous in a bustling city?)
After a few minutes, ask a few of them to share their ideas of escape. If they did escape, what aspects of the world would they want to escape from? How would they define ‘escapism’?
Explain that today’s lesson will examine the notion of escapism – what is it that drives people to run from reality? And is the practice of monasticism a form of escapism?
Give out copies of the article Wanted: bankers willing to give up Mammon for God from the Independent newspaper website. You can find the article at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/wanted-bankers-willing-to-give-up-mammon-for-god-2129771.html
Read through the article with the students and ask them why they think the Capuchin monks decided to place the ad. Do the students think that the monastic lifestyle described in the advert might be appealing to some of the readers of Alpha magazine? What about some of the other social groups mentioned later in the article as the target of later stages of the order’s advertising campaign?
Point out that monastic communities have been a part of Christian faith for centuries, although it has never been the case that all Christians are expected to become members. Many Christians throughout that time have chosen to protest against worldliness by joining a religious order.
Distribute copies of the following passage about a present day monastic community in Scotland, Pluscarden Abbey. Ask the students to draw out from this short passage a summary of the reasons why a Christian might consider joining such a community. This activity can be done either in small groups or individually, then feeding back in a plenary session.
The full article can be found at www.pluscardenabbey.org/being-a-monk
The following questions may be useful for your discussion:
- What is the main motivating factor for the monks of Pluscarden?
- What is the attitude of the community to the outside world?
- The monks at Pluscarden are driven by love for God and the desire to serve him.
- The monks at Pluscarden believe that ‘the world could best be served by withdrawing from it and praying for it.’
(As an extra activity, you may also wish to visit the page on Pluscarden Abbey’s website entitled ‘Becoming a monk’ and investigate the role of calling in the decision to become a monk. Monasticism is never suggested as the way of life that all Christians should adopt but rather that of a chosen few.)
Jesus sets a Biblical basis for retreat from day-to-day life in the Gospels. Ask the students to look up the following passages and discuss in small groups how Jesus’ words and actions could shape Christian views on monasticism. Why did Jesus separate himself from others on occasions? What were the goals and outcomes of his retreat?
- Matthew 4:1-11
- Matthew 14:22-24
- Matthew 26:36-45
- Matthew 28:16-20
- John 17:14-19
Although, as these passages show, there were occasions where Jesus withdrew from others in order to pray, he also returned from those times and engaged with the world around him. For most Christians, following Jesus does not mean taking monastic vows and withdrawing from the world – and even those who do would contend that their way of life is not the right one for all Christians.
Stimulate further discussion by reading the following quote from the Monasticism handout sheet:
When we consider the Desert Fathers, we can rightly be challenged by their faith, their commitment, their self-discipline, their disregard of worldly comfort and success, their stunning prayerfulness. But there remains a basic fallacy in their quest. God calls us to himself, in Christ. He then sends us out, not into the desert, but into the world – a world crammed with lost and hurting people.
We all need those times of stepping aside: in unhurried prayer, or in battling prayer. But Jesus’ times in prayer were not his ultimate destination. They were not the model for the whole of Christian living. They were the prelude – and accompaniment – to costly service in the midst of humanity.
Searching for Intimacy with the Desert Fathers by Stuart Lange.
Do the students agree with this observation about some of the earliest monastic followers of Christ, on whose lives are based many contemporary monastic communities? Do they think that monasticism is an effective way of facing the world’s issues?
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Ask the students to prepare a set of questions (at least five) that they would want to ask someone who had chosen a monastic lifestyle. The questions should explore the reasons behind the decision to live in such a way, and should provide the opportunity for the answerer to express what they feel is positive about such a decision.
If you have a local monastic community (whose members do come out and engage physically with the world to some extent), you may wish to make contact with them and invite someone to come and speak about their way of life. If this is not possible, then set students the task of answering their own questions, from the perspective of a member of a monastic community.
YOU WILL NEED:
- Copies of the Internet news story Wanted: bankers willing to give up Mammon for God from the Independent Newspaper’s website.
- Copies of the Monasticism handout.