St. Romuald and the depraved habits of monks

Today is the feast of St. Romuald. Few of you have probably heard much of St. Romuald, or anything at all, for that matter. He’s not one of the more well-known saints of the Church, like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Terese of Lisieux, or St. Augustine of Hippo. Still, he made his contribution and his sanctity was recognized, and he is listed on the Roman calendar. Born at Ravenna in the middle tenth century, Romuald traveled across many lands establishing monasteries, all the while, in the words of the book of Christian Prayer, “directing himself to a life of perfection by the practice of virtues.” St. Romuald passed to the Lord around the year 1027.

What struck me about the brief biography Christian Prayer provides is this: “He fought strenuously against the depraved habits of the monks of his day.”

We like to think of the Church as a bulwark of moral rectitude and virtue. We like to think of the Church as the one institution on which we can count, both for moral guidance and moral example. We like to think of priests, bishops, sisters, brothers, deacons, and monks as bastions of righteousness to which we may point when looking for those who follow Christ without reserve. And, of course, most priests, bishops, sisters, etc… do their best to live up to our expectations, while reminding us that they, too, are broken in their humanness and struggle, too, to run the race faithfully.

But, perhaps the feast of St. Romuald is a good day to remind ourselves that the struggle to be faithful is not easily won, or won at all without the grace of Christ. And that, sadly, there are too many in the Church, even among the ranks of clergy and religious, who have little interest in winning that struggle or of relying on the grace of Christ to provide them with fortitude against temptation. Any reasonable reading of Church history reveals that the “depraved habits” of monks, priests, sisters, etc… never mind lay Catholics, are not limited to the time of St. Romuald.

Today we have too many priests and religious, and even some bishops, who are quick to compromise the moral teachings of the Church in order to accommodate the present era and the cultures of death and relativity that confronts the Church on every corner and at every turn. Proffering the pastoral concern of welcoming those who are alienated, they fail to extend the welcome to an invitation to leave sin behind. Jesus welcomed people first, they say, and spoke with them about sin and God’s mercy later. Yes, but Jesus did eventually get around to talking about sin and God’s mercy. He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but He did tell her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Enemies of the Church, of course, would insist that the history of Christians is nothing but a history of oppression, suppression, greed, and “depraved habits.” There have been no saints, in their estimation, but only fools who took this whole Jesus thing a bit too far, or charlatans who were more successful than others in covering up their depravity. This is absurd special pleading, of course, but facts and sound argument are of little purpose to those who have an agenda to push.

Where do we find the balance? Catholics today need to first recognize that, at least as far as our clergy and religious are concerned, we are enjoying today an almost remarkable period of moral uprightness. Yes, there are those who surrender to their temptations and even some who are committed to lives of sin. The news media are only too happy to point these out to us. Yes, there are those who are eager to surrender the Church’s moral teachings to the present age. The news media are only too happy to celebrate these. But, by and large, most clergy and religious are people of God on whom we can count as being committed to the life of Christ. They struggle with us to be faithful, to be sure. But, their desire to be faithful and their commitment to the struggle is cause for rejoicing.

Second, regardless of the errors of clergy and religious, or even of bishops, as Catholics we are responsible for being faithful ourselves to the Christian life and to the moral expectations of that life. Yes, we sin. Do we ever sin! But, while the world will try to persuade us that our sins are permanent obstacles to heaven because God is cruel and eager to punish, Christ has revealed the Good News of God’s love and that the Father’s mercy triumphs over justice.

The Church is ever in need of reform. The best way to reform the Church is to constantly re-commit ourselves to the life of Christ and to gently and mercifully call our brothers and sisters who have fallen from faithfulness back to the mercy of God in Christ.

St. Romuald, pray for us!

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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