A slip into insanity. And out again.

A devout monk undergoing a rather intense and all-enveloping crisis.


3. Hostiam viventem

   "Obsecro itaque vos fratres per misericordiam Dei ut exhibeatis corpora vestra hostiam viventem sanctam Deo placentem rationabile obsequium vestrum." Sorin smiled. Exhibeatis corpora vestra hostiam viventem. Present your bodies a living sacrifice. I have done so, he thought.

   And indeed he had. Every day at Saint Thomas Aquinas was centred around worship. It was perfect for Sorin. He was completely free from temptation, secure in a bubble of holiness that was completely sealed against the sinful world. He felt he meant something here, that he was important. Every hour was devoted to God in some way: if he was not praying alone, he was praying with the other monks, or engaged in Lectio Divina, sacred reading, or chanting the liturgy. He felt that every hour of his day was perfectly structured to be pleasing to God. Every day except Sunday, from 8:05 to 8:40 AM, he and the other novices attended classes in Scripture, the Rule of St Benedict, monastic history and Gregorian plainchant, and they were often the highlight of his day. He delighted in his newfound vocation and applied himself to it in much the same way he had delighted in and applied himself to his newfound faith - wholeheartedly and unreservedly. By the end of his first month, he knew both the Book of Psalms and the entire Rule of St Benedict by heart, by the end of his second year his repertoire had extended to include the entire Bible in both English and Latin (and most of it in Norwegian as well). A year after he first became a novice, he was invited to take the three solemn vows - chastity, obedience and poverty. Naturally, he took them, after which he was considered a full-fledged monk of the Monastery.

   The concept behind a monastery, and indeed the thing that had most attracted Sorin to the idea of becoming a monk in the first place, is solitude. Both monk and monastery come from the word "monos" meaning "alone". However, Sorin made friends - the first of his life - at the monastery. He was no longer particularly unusual - not that that had ever bothered him - and he soon got to know the other monks quite well.

   The first monk to properly befriend him was Brother Matthew, the refectioner. Ironically, they became fast friends following a fierce debate over the compatibility of Scripture and Evolution (Brother Matthew was a rather old-fashioned and conservative man, and was adamant that evolution could not be reconciled with Genesis). They both became very animated, very fierce, condemned each other to hell for believing in such heresy, and quickly became the best of friends.

   His second close friendship was with the sacristan, Brother John, responsible for all the sacred objects used in Communion, Mass and the Liturgical Hours. It was perhaps natural that Sorin, who had at first been drawn to the Church because of the beauty of the ritual and the ornate majesty of the services, should seek the sacrister out. They had a shared passion for the services of the Church, and it was not long before Sorin was made sub-sacristan of the Monastery.

   The months passed, the seasons changed, and Sorin rarely spared a thought for anything but his new life. His days were spent in a kind of blissful reverie, he went about his business in a dream-like state. He was intoxicated with the splendour of mattering, of devoting his life whole-heartedly to a cause, of the new relationship with God he could feel growing stronger day by day. It was a peaceful joy that settled upon him and filled his soul with a love for others that he had never before felt.

   He was rather abruptly woken from this dream-like state eighteen months after taking his vows. He was in his cell, alone, reading and pondering: "Having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." He was surprised to hear a knock at the door, it was unusual for monks to be disturbed in the cell. He looked up. "Enter."

   It was the porter, Brother Mark. "Brother Sorin, you have a visitor. A very urgent visitor. The Abbot allowed him to see you."

   Sorin's eyebrows, already risen in surprise at having been disturbed, rose even further. Visitors were not normally allowed to the monastery to see individual monks. They could come for a retreat, but they were more or less segregated from most of the monks. Monks had to recceive special permission from the Abbot to make short, rare visits if the Abbot felt it was important enough. The Abbot had refused permission for Sorin to visit his family all three times Sorin had requested. For the Abbot to give his special permission to this mysterious visitor...this must be urgent indeed.

   He stood up quickly and set off, allowing the porter to lead the way. At length, they arrived at a small, uninhabited cell that Sorin supposed was going to serve as their visiting room. The Abbot was there,a s was the visitor. He was shocked to see who the visitor was.

   "Father," he exclaimed joyfully, rushing up to embrace him. Mr Vanvittig embraced his son half-heartedly.

   "Sorin," he began, and then faltered. "Sorin," he tried again. "Your mother is dead." He cleared his throat several times, but could not prevent tears from gathering in his eyes and spilling down his face.

   It took a while for Sorin to fully understand what had just been said. After a few moments, he felt faint, and reached out to grab the wall. "Come, Brother Mark," said the Abbot. "Let us leave them alone for a moment." Brother Mark, evidently uncomfortable in this situation, nodded with relief and followed the Abbot out the door.

   Sorin didn't feel sad, or at least, not yet. He just felt numb. He did not weep. After a while, he asked: "Is it my fault?"

   Mr Vanvittig looked up to his son. "Yes," he said. There was no accusation in his eyes or his voice, just a profound and overwhelming sadness. "Not entirely, perhaps. But after you left, she literally lost the will to live. You were always her favourite son, though she would never admit it."

   Sorin walked up to his father and embraced him tightly, and this time his father did return the embrace. They stood like that for a long time, after which Mr Vanvittig said: "Why do you persist in this, Sorin? What do you hope to achieve here, locked away from the world?"

   "For times like this," Sorin responded after a while. "My faith must be at the centre of my life, or times like these make no sense."

    "So this makes sense to you?" Mr Vanvittig asked. "This is...ok...to you? Your mother's suffering is completely fine to you?"

   "No, but at least it matters. Because of my faith, this event is not merely the cessation of a neurons firing in the brain. It is not merely the recycling of stardust. It is the grand transition of an immortal daughter of God to a higher plane of existence, to a different realm. Because of my faith, I do not see mother as merely a collection of chemicals. She was a human being, with an immortal soul, and she matters enough that God Himself was willing to suffer unimaginable pain for her sake. Faith does not make her suffering fine, but it makes it important. Have you been to Church since her death? It will help, believe me."

   Mr Vanvittig laughed mirthlessly. "No. I have not been to Church. The Lutheran Priest came to offer his condolences and I told him to go to hell."

   "Ah. I see," said Sorin.

   They fell into silence again. Suddenly, Mr Vanvittig exploded: "How can you feel that you matter, Sorin? Tucked away in hiding from the world, on your own? What difference are you making to anything here?"

   Sorin was quite taken aback. "Well, I...I...I am saving my soul," he muttered. "Perhaps it is because I am weak. I cannot keep myself unspotted from the world excpet by fleeing it."

   "So it is all about you? Your salvation? Your purity? And what of others? What of your family? What do they matter, as long as you remain holy and 'unspotted'! You are being selfish, Sorin. I am no longer angry with you, but I am disappointed. Your faith is not the issue here. It is your morals I am concerned about." Despite his words, it was quite clear that Mr Vanvittig was, in fact, quite angry. He stormed out of the cell without so much as a goodbye.

   When the porter  returned to guide him to his cell, Sorin let himself be led on. He thanked Brother Mark, closed the door, and knelt down to offer a half-hearted prayer, but he was left shaken by his father's words. Was he being selfish? His father had been on to something when he made the accusation, for Sorin now saw that in all his reasoning ever since he found Catholicism, the central worry in his mind had been for the security of his own soul. He had considered the well-being of others, but his own spiritual welfare was always at the forefront of his mind, and it had been the driving factor in his decision to become a monk.

   He got very little sleep that night, for this was not the only question plaguing his mind. He was concerned for the fate of his mother's soul. She was, after all, an unbaptised agnostic. He had no idea exactly what she had gotten up to in her life, but his parents were not married at the time of his birth, so that alone would mean mortal sin on her part. Mortal sin which she had never confessed to a Priest, never repented of....it would earn her a one-way ticket to the depths of hell. He knew enough theology to be confident of that.

   Yet, strangely enough, it was not this that plagued his mind the most. It would, of course, be sad to know that his mother was damned to hell for the rest of eternity. But what was much, much worse, and infinitely more horridying to Sorin, was the fact that he did not know. He was uncertain, not because there was any ambiguity on the part of the Church - the teachings were quite clear - but precisely because he himself was not so certain, despite the firm and clear words of the Church. This suggested doubt, something which was completely new to Sorin's mind.

   His first reaction was fear. He was absolutely terrified - not of his mother's fate, but of his own doubt. Once he finally realised that there were seeds of doubt planted in his mind, he sought to eradicate them, thoroughly. Doubt was the enemy of faith, it had no place in the mind of a monk. He had just explained to his father how important his faith was to him. Without it, he had nothing to cling to, nothing to rely on, and the deep philosophical questions which had haunted him in his youth and which had been banished from his mind by the illuminating light of the Word of God would return. He felt as though he could feel a great gap growing underneath his feet, into which he might fall at any moment, as though he hung from a cliff with slippery fingers and might let go and tumble into a dark abyss from which he would not be able to return. Dwelling on these doubts only made them grew, and questions crept into his mind, ever louder and ever stronger. Frantically, he leapt from his bed and knelt on the floor. He must eradicate these doubts or they would destroy his faith and condemn him to the damnation of the unbeliever along with his mother.

   With these frenzied thoughts running through his mind, he began to pray.

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