But then another thought overcomes the first: I am standing observing the dying breaths of pure Irish Christianity, and what the future holds for a world without men like this is infinitely more disturbing than any fleeting chill I may be feeling on their behalf.
The brief stab of absurdity I have experienced in this setting stands to become a chronic condition in a society in which there are no longer men and women prepared to live in this way. It strikes me forcibly that, even if we are barely aware of their existences — even if we scorn their sacrifices — the silent prayerful presence of these men here is somehow vital to our very human continuance. I don’t mean just that they pray for us, but that the sense they give us of something to be believed in so unconditionally — that, even as we scoff, this somehow allows us to continue inhabiting what we think of as the "real" world, in much the way that we once partied all night, knowing that our staid parents slept fitfully at home, hoping we would make it back safe with the dawn.
It hits me like a train that, in a future without these monks at our backs, everything will seem as absurd as the moment I have just experienced as a spasm of sadness and affection.
In Father Columban Heaney’s booklet, there is the following startling passage: "The human person is really a metaphysical misfit in the world. He was not made for it and cannot find total fulfillment in it. Hence, he is a frustrated creature in this world; this can be taken as a definition of man. Monks and nuns are people who accept this definition of themselves and live accordingly. They know that they have no lasting city here on earth, so they turn to the desert where they hope to meet God and can begin to find part of that ultimate happiness for which they long."
This is the truth of us all, whether we can face it or not. Without this clue as to the ultimate nature of reality, we are headed nowhere rather than somewhere, no matter how determined our step. Without such as these monks to remind us, all sense of an ultimate meaningfulness would leech away, leaving us with our baubles and the debris of our emptied hopes, cold-sweating in the face of another pointless and pitiless dawn.
John Waters is an Irish writer, journalist, playwright, magazine editor, columnist, and campaigner for fathers’ rights. He is a columnist for the Irish Independent where this article originally appeared. It is reprinted here with permission. Visit his website.