Review Of Monastic Disciplines


A Review and Reflection on Monastic Disciplines


Sam Hamstra, Jr. and Samuel Cocar

Hamstra and Cocar in 145-pages review the disciplines of the desert fathers and hammer on the reality of the failure of the institutional Church. The institutional Church has become a shell, steeped in secularism.

They present the basics of the desert fathers as found in the early Church, which kept their faith blazing.

The Little Office: Giving, Prayer, and Fasting, the core Triad of Practice:  summarizing Matthew 6:1-16, introduced by Jesus as a regular role of the Christian life.,

+”So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men and women.”

The first practice is giving. We should give as much as we can, and live simply. The authors suggest tithing, giving 10 percent of our income to the poor, and the disenfranchised: “it functions as an act of faith in God’s promise of provision; a tutor for personal, planned, and proportionate giving (I Corinthians 16:2); and a weapon for victory over materialism.”

Henri Nouwen describes in more depth our journey of giving:

“We who want to bring about change have first of all to learn to be changed by those whom we want to help. This, of course, is exceptionally difficult for those who are undergoing their first exposure to an area of distress. They see poor houses, hungry people, and dirty streets; they hear people cry in pain without medical care, they smell unwashed bodies, and in general, are overwhelmed by the misery that is all around them. But none of us will be able to really give if he has not discovered that what he gives is only a small thing compared to what we have received. When Jesus says: “Happy the poor, the hungry, and the weeping” (Luke 6:21), we have to be able to see that happiness. When Jesus says: “What you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40), he is addressing to us a direct invitation not only to help but also to discover the beauty of God in those who are to be helped. As long as we see only distasteful poverty, we are not really entitled to give. When, however, we find people who have truly devoted themselves to work in the slums and the ghettos and who feel that their vocation is to be of service there, we find that they have discovered that in the smiles of the children, the hospitality of the people; the expressions they use, the stories they tell, the wisdom they show, the goods they share; there is hidden so much richness and beauty, so much affection and human warmth, that the work they are doing is only a small return for what they have already received.”

+”When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men and women.”(v. 2.)

Prayer, the second triad, is broadly considered communication with God-communication understood “as meaningful, interactive self-disclosure.” We talk to God daily, we pour out our hearts.

Prayer is more than just asking God for our needs. I spend my life having people ask me everything. It gets absolutely tiring to the point of taking three days off a month, and two weeks a year totally alone, with the phone off. God created us to praise, and simply be in his/her presence. (Psalm 63).

Prayer is at the center of Christian spirituality, whatever strand of Christian tradition one enters. Evagrius, spokesperson of the Orthodox tradition: If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly you are a theologian.”

We all struggle with the practice of prayer. Prayer is a powerful force. But pray, until the sweat from your brow pours out the presence of God.

The final practice of the core triad is fasting:

+”Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloom face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men and women when they are fasting.” (v. 16)

Richard Foster argues the most important text in the Bible for establishing the importance of fasting is Matthew 9:14-15:

“Then the disciples of John came to him saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast but your disciples do not fast.. And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” signifying that when Jesus is gone his disciples will fast.

Fasting is an exclamation point at the end of the sentence: “We miss you! We want you! We can’t wait until you come back!” When we fast we are witnessing the exclaiming, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”

We can fast in various ways: sitting down with someone on the street and giving of our time; working in an agency; fasting a day a week, and giving our money to a homeless person. There are many ways.

This is a revolutionary vision, for as the Gospels show, Jesus did not closely identify with people from the elaborate metropolitan centers that housed the political, military, economic, and religious elite. He more closely identified with the working poor who built and sustained those centers and the often destitute people from backwater villages.

Starvation, indebtedness, imprisonment,

exploitation and violence were crushing realities that marked life for those who lived under Roman occupation in first-century Palestine (Sound familiar).

It was in these boundaries that the revolutionary vision of Jesus, God’s Reigh found its gravitational center.

Today Jesus continues to understand the dehumanization of people through homelessness, lack of health care and struggles simply for daily living. He understands the yearning for water, bread, shelter, land, safety, and justice. It moved and moves him deeply because liberation from the yoke of oppression is always to be at the center of God’s Reign.

The “Little Office”, brings us into line with Jesus so that we may become his hands, feet, and mouth!

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!


Fr. C. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.Min., D.S.T.

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164


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