A slip into insanity. And out again.

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


4. Ora pro nobis

   "Ave Maria, gratia plena. Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesu. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in horae mortis nostra. Amen." This is how Sorin began his prayer marathon: observant of the centuries of Roman Catholic tradition that he was building on in saying this prayer, he made sure to speak clearly and precisely, earnestly yet reservedly, and to make sure every word was perfect. Even in this, the first of many hours of his great despair, he was reluctant to abuse the Latin prayers that had at first attracted him to Catholicism. Yet as time went on, and he became more and more desperate, he began to omit the first part of the prayer, the Salutation of Mary, and to, as he saw it, get straight to the point: "Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in horae mortis nostra. Amen." Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death. Still the night grew darker, still his soul grew more and more frantic. "Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis. Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis. Holy Mary, pray for us. Mater Dei, ora pro nobis. Mother of God, pray for us. Ora pro nobis. Ora pro nobis. Pray for us. Pray for us. Pray for us. Pray for us. Ber til oss. Ber til oss, Maria, Mother of God, Holy Holy Holy Mary, Ber til oss, now and in horae mortis nostra. Pray for us. Pray for us. Ora pro nobis. Pray for us. Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Libera nos a malo. Libera nos a malo. Libera nos. Deliver us. Deliver us. Fri oss. Fri oss. Amen." After which he was silent from sheer exhaustion. Though his mind was still not completely at rest, the familiar words had soothed him somewhat, providing an element of familiarity in the awful, turbulent tempest he found himself being slowly pulled into.

   He had just climbed back into bed when the bell rang for Matins. With a resigned sigh, he stood up again, extending a hand to the wall to steady himself, and glumly made his way to the chapel. 

   His strategy over the few weeks following his first confrontation with his doubts was simply to ignore them in the hopes that, like a fire deprived of oxygen, they would starve and die if he refused them access to his waking thoughts. Thus, he went about his monastic duties as usual, prayed the Hours, devoted time to Sacred Reading and private prayer, not even admitting to himself the concerns rooted deep in his soul. He could not afford to consider the possibility that the doctrines he had devoted his life to studying, promoting, teaching and defending, the doctrines which, as a monk, were the basis of how he spent every hour of every day of his life, might not be true. There was too much at risk. Far better to simply leave them well alone and let them die peacefully, strangled with the beads of a well-prayed rosary.

  This strategy brought him temporary relief, and he was confident it would be successful. The last time sin had threatened to engulf him, he had been successful in escaping it by fleeing. Surely, the same strategy would work again.

   However, in this case, Sorin, despite the usual brilliance of his mind, was wrong. His doubts were not flames that would suffocate if left unfed; they were weeds, weeds that, if left unchecked, would grow rapidly and ruthlessly, infesting the beautifully cultivated garden of his faith that had been so long in the making and which was, as he had just confessed to his father, his most prized possession. And that is exactly what they did. Every time Sorin returned to spend time in the faith garden of his soul - which, as a monk, was nearly all of his waking hours - he found the weeds of doubt stronger and more numerous, infesting every corner of the magnificent garden he had planted and cultivated for so many years with their ugliness. Every time he prayed for the dead, he found the doubts deep in the hidden places of his heart, firm and unyielding.

   But of course, Sorin did not really know if it was just the afterlife he had concerns about. Certainly, that was all he had glimpsed in that brief, horrifying moment of recognition that all was not entirely comfortable within him in relation to his faith - but he had turned away so quickly, had fled in horror at the terrible prospect of losing what mattered most to him, that he could not be sure. And, after all, it is difficult to examine the full extent of something that one is trying their very best to deny the existence of.

   He continued in this course, desperately hoping to apply the strategy of 'flee from risk' that had served him well enough before to his current situation. Of course, it was futile - there is nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide, if what you seek to avoid lies deep within yourself; there is no monastery of the soul, and it offers no retreats to escape from your own being - but he did not, as of yet, realise this.

   Sorin was made painfully aware of this fact, however, when the problem had grown too big to ignore. It was during Mass, and the time had come for the Profession of Faith - the recital of the Nicene Creed. Sorin dutifully recited along with the other monks, but the words became increasingly hard to speak, they seemed to stick in his throat and to his tongue, refusing to be uttered confidently into the walls of the chapel. Finally, when they were approaching the end of the Creed, Sorin faltered utterly. He simply could not bring himself to proclaim: "Expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi." I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. His body began to shake; he no longer entertained any hopes of denying the doubts which were now so obvious and apparent to his mind, the weeds of uncertainty which choked the words of faith in his throat, bound his tongue and utterly forbade him to speak. He could no longer deny the lack of his conviction. He could no longer hope to evade this moment, though he had tried earnestly for a long time: he must rid his garden of faith of these monstrosities, or else how would it be acceptable to God? How could God look upon him except with disgust for the way he had neglected his faith? 

   Gathering himself together, Sorin desperately tried to calm down, stop shaking, and breathe deeply. He reminded himsef, that his omission of the final words had most likely gone unnoticed; the vast majority of the monks were half asleep anyway. With a smile of relief slowly spreading over his face and the colour gradually returning to him, he raised his previously bowed head to survey the other monks. He was quite confident none of them had noticed his slip, and his smile of relief grew even larger, until his eyes met those of Brother Matthew. He was staring straight at Sorin, with a very worried and concerned expression on his round, chubby face. Almost as soon as their eyes met, Sorin looked away, but he knew he had been seen, and he knew Matthew would seek him out to discuss what had happened in the Profession of Faith. There would be no avoiding either him or the subject, and Brother Matthew would have the truth out of him eventually, he knew that for a fact. It was the eyes - like blue spears that pierced into the depths of your soul and left no stone unturned in their path. It was impossible to hide anything from Matthew, he could always see straight through you.

   As expected, Matthew approached him at dinner that evening. Approach isn't exactly the right word, he just sort of appeared, as was his custom, red-faced and sweating, and suddenly dropped onto the bench next to Sorin. He took a few moments to get his breath back, and then calmly announced, in a low voice that was intended jut for Sorin: "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." Sorin tried very hard not to react visibly, and he succeeded. After a while, Matthew added: "Do you?"

   Sorin was silent for a long time, struggling to contain his emotions. Then he responded, as calmly as he could manage: "I cannot say I look forward to it. But I hope for it."

   "What about God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth? The Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God? The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life?" Matthew paused briefly, hesitating, and then asked gravely: "The Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?"

    "Yes! Yes! Or at least I think so! I ...I don't know! Of course it's true, it must be!"

   "Is it?"

   "Well, isn't it?!"

    "Well, how do you know?" There was a strange look on Matthew's face, a sort of cynical, skeptical expression.

   "I....I don't know, exactly, I just....well, well how do you know?"

   "Who said I did?"

   "Well, you believe at least. Don't you?" Sorin was very confused.

   Matthew was quiet for a time, looking Sorin steadily in the eye. "Does it really matter?" he asked gravely after a while. "Does it truly matter whether it is true or not? It makes people happy. It offers a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark and dismal existence. It imbues the most mundane of things with divine importance and a glorious spiritual destiny. It provides meaning to people's lives, Sorin. Isn't that enough?"

   Sorin was shocked. Since he had joined the monastery, before he even made his vows, Matthew had always been his first, best and, for a long time, only friend. He had respected and admired him as he had no other monk in the monastery. Brother Matthew had been, for a long time now, the epitome of a strong faith in Sorin's eyes. Indeed, his unquestioning support of the traditional, conservative theological viewpoint had irked Sorin on more than one occasion, such as the debate over evolution that had been the catalyst for their friendship. It was a shocking revelation, one that left Sorin feeling deeply betrayed, but also cautiously hopeful. At least he was not alone in this terrifying path; there were others who had walked it before him, others who had felt the anguish of doubt and passed through, as he was now beginning to, their own personal Gethsemane. It did not make the betrayal any less hurtful, or the anguish of doubt that had just been aggravated any easier to bear, but it provided him with the hope that, perhaps, these feelings were not unique to him, and perhaps, the agony of confusion he was now consumed by would have a resolution some day - one way or the other.      

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