Leaving Egypt: Reflections from a Trappist Monastery


Jesus gives some challenging advice in the Gospel of Matthew: And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)

Of course, Jesus does not mean to literally cut off your physical hand or any other appendage.   But all the same, there are sins in us and around us that there is simply no “negotiating” with. To take the alcoholic as an example, there is no “on occasion” drink.  It’s all or nothing.

When one steps into the monastery, one immediately feels one has been “cut off” from something.   Here CNN is not blaring its anxiety driven messages. There are no endless chains of restaurants catering to our insatiable appetites.

Nor is there readily made access to online material with access to every known pleasure (and depravity) known to man.

Disconnecting even for a time, allows the Lord to draw all these addictions into the light.  We begin to see that the things we thought we could never live without, were actually the things holding us back all along.

The Trappist life holds onto this rich tradition of Christian asceticism.  That is, the practice of denying oneself (Matthew 16:24) the luxuries afforded in life, so as to live for something more.  Essentially, it harkens us back to the Ignatian idea of indifference where an individual tames their appetites, such that they no longer desire one object over another.

Rather, they are now free to follow the will of God. I discipline my appetite for foods, so that I am no longer a slave to pleasures (after all, there comes a time when to do the will of God is not pleasurable at all).

I tame my desire to receive honours because there will come a time in God’s will, when I will receive dishonour and neglect. I discipline my desire for money, so that when the Lord calls me to give a little more (or it all away), I am ready and waiting.

Yes, if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off.  We must all struggle to sever those attachments in our lives which render us slaves.   But most importantly, we are called freedom, and the grace to give that freedom over in the accomplishment of God’s will.

Greg Toland is a New York based writer.

  • graeme quinlan
    Posted at 02:35h, 17 June Reply

    Our wold is so definitely one of materialism and individualism , It is the norm to be me first then maybe the other .Its the norm to put oneself in the first place, make sure I am well placed with what my material status is. Jesus calls us to have an open heart, an open mind, but most importantly an open hand, one that is willing to give so that they may have life and grow in love and peace that can only come from the HEART OF LOVE..

  • graeme quinlan
    Posted at 02:38h, 17 June Reply

    I am Catholic living in Victoria Australia and receive so much strength from these reflections.

    • Greg
      Posted at 17:52h, 17 June Reply

      Thank you Graeme for your thoughts, very inspiring. I’ll make sure to pray for your continued perseverance.

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 08:54h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you Greg!

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