Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cosmas or the Love of God

Usually the best books come from writers writing from their own personal experience. Usually religious vocations manifest themselves; if they don’t, the presumption is there never was one.

But what about the layman—grandfather and businessman—who writes a flawless classic on the monastic life? If I hadn’t just spilled the beans and you’d read Pierre De Calan’s Cosmas or the Love of God without reading my review or the book’s introduction, I promise, you’d think it had been written by someone who’d devoted his life to the Cistercian tradition. That the author was neither a Trappist, nor a priest, nor even a member of any religious order will surprise most readers, when you think about it—which you won’t do often as you're reading the book, I suspect.

So incredible books can come from those writing about subjects which presumably they have not experienced. Cosmas or the Love of God is a retrospective story about a young man who feels called to the Trappist way of life, enters the abbey and immediately begins to encounter problems. However, unlike most cases where pride or some other obvious sin or character defect make it easy for his superiors to send Cosmas on his way with the assurances that he was wrong, he does not in fact have a vocation, this case defies simple disposition. There's something else going on here, but what?

If books can be written under unusual circumstances by those we don’t normally expect to write on certain subjects, can’t vocations manifest themselves in ways not seen before? With God as Author, isn’t the realm of possibility bigger than we may have suspected?

Here is how the wise Father Abbot, Dom Philippe puts it near the end of the book:

“The vocation of a Bach or a Mozart seems to be beyond all question because of the wonderful music they produced. But in the sight of God, have they any more value than that of any other musician, without their talent and grace, who has heard the inner call and tried to answer it until death? Those who suffer from this gap between their aspirations and their attainments—and whom we cruelly call failures—are perhaps less deceived about their talent than we imagine. But in their eyes the sense of inadequacy, of getting nowhere, and their failures, do not relieve them of the responsibility to keep on trying, unweariedly though in vain ... Has not this kind of fidelity, sustained neither by dispositions nor success, an altogether special value—provided it really is fidelity to an inner voice and is not merely the result of pride or obstinacy? . . . Once more God reminds us that he knows infinitely more than we do … that he knows better than we do the way by which each one of us can find peace.” (pp.224-227)

A thoughtful and thought-provoking read—Cosmas or the Love of God is a quiet afternoon’s meditation on life and how to live well. A good gift for a young person discerning vocation!

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