Posts Tagged ‘Hieronymus Bosch’


The Demons We Will Always Have With Us

When I entered the monastery a lot changed in my life.  To cite only the more obvious, the monastery recast my daily schedule rather drastically.  Since then life with widely-differing characters has challenged my adaptability as well as my patience.  All too often I’ve also had to surrender my desire to have everything done my way.  But early on one thing really surprised me.  I thought I’d left my personal demons behind me.  But to my amazement, they moved right into the monastery with me.

Our demons we will always have with us, whether we live in a monastery or a mansion or under a bridge.  Married or single, wealthy or poor, self-aware or blissfully ignorant, these demons flit into our lives, whether we realize it or not.  They are our lifelong companions, and we only fool ourselves if we think we can ditch them along the way of our personal pilgrimage.

814B73E6-A604-42D9-B270-E612706F4DC0The readings for the first Sunday of Lent make it clear that demons — be they literal or figurative — are our bosom companions.  Genesis 2 tells the story of the serpent who dangled before Eve the allure of godlike powers.  Her experience was enough to get buy-in from Adam, and so began the chain that links them to us.  Therein we learn a fundamental point with which the Bible begins:  evil has the power to dazzle us and take root in us at virtually any time or in any place.

For this reason the Christian tradition resists any effort to transform Jesus into some sort of superhero.  Jesus is like us in all things but sin; but like us he was not exempt from all sorts of temptations during his sojourn among us.  To tackle them head-on Jesus spent forty days in the desert, as Matthew 4 relates; and in a classic contest of power Jesus finally rejected the array of options that his demons offered.  In the process he came to terms with who he was and what he was called to do, and he elected to embrace the will of his father.

F305A4EE-BCAD-4F9B-B447-752C4C6993D9Being Christian is a noble calling, precisely because it centers on coming to terms with who we are and what we intend to do with our lives.  Like Jesus, it involves a struggle with our own personal demons.  Like Jesus, it involves prayer and a regular inventory of our lives.  Like Jesus, it involves an embrace of the unique vocation that God offers to each of us.

So how do we deal with our personal demons?  I suppose we can be rude and just shove them aside.  For my part I’ve chosen the more gentle route.  When possible I politely recognize and greet those demons for who they are.  Then, with equal politeness, I ask them to leave and not come back.  But of course I know they’ll be back.  Like a familiar friend they know my faults and foibles.  Fortunately I know many of those too.  But I have one advantage.  I know some of my strengths, and chief among them is the Lord who walks with me.


+On February 24th I taught a class in monastic history to Novice Felix.  We covered issues in the life of Saint Benedict.  This is the first of seven classes which we will have together.

+On February 26th we celebrated Ash Wednesday, and several hundred students joined us for the abbey Mass.

+On February 27th we learned that Saint John’s School of Theology alumnus Abbot Elias Lorenzo was named auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ.  Abbot Elias did his seminary studies with us for four years, and he sat in on two of my classes.  A monk of Saint Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, NJ, he was elected abbot-president of our congregation of monasteries three years ago.

+Friday February 28th was one of those days.  After a crazy morning I headed to the airport.  My plan was to stop in St. Cloud for a haircut, but when I checked in I discovered that the wait was an hour and fifteen minutes.  Naturally I wondered what in the world I could do to spend all that time, but inspiration came to me.  That’s when I realized I could use that time to drive back to Saint John’s to retrieve my luggage, which absentmindedly I had left in my office.

+The images in today’s post are from a triptych entitled The Temptation of Saint Anthony.  Artist Hieronymus Bosch painted it ca. 1500, and today it hangs in the National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon.  This is not the only instance of a painting in which Bosch allowed his imagination to run absolutely wild.  Click on the individual photos to fully appreciate his attention to detail.


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