The Monk Downstairs


In this novel by Tim Farrington, a monk, Michael Christopher, comes to live with Rebecca and her daughter Mary Martha in an in-law apartment that Rebecca has just refurbished.

The novel is beautifully written and seems to have moments of real insight into deep prayer. I've noted some of the here.

Alas, for those strengths, I'm afraid that what I expected did happen all too readily. Being a novel for larger public consumption, it catered to that whim. Mr. Farrington falls into the all-too-male habit of confusing satisfied lust with love and the couple no sooner brush hands with one another than they are entangled in bed.

If Michael is exemplary of the modern Catholic conscience, it is little wonder that we are facing the crisis we are in the Church today. He performs a baptism that does little more than mock the sacrament (a point he acknowledges later when he is reluctant to perform a more somber sacrament).

Rebecca, on the other hand is nearly schizophrenic in back-and-forthing regarding religion and faith. We're told she's lukewarm and seeking, and then she turns maniacal with Michael takes her daughter to a church to pray. And then she's back again asking him to perform a sacrament, although he claims to have no ability to do so (even though there is no indication that leaving the monastery has deprived him of his faculties as Priest).

Add to this various subtle errors regarding Catholicism that should not come from the mind and pen of a monk--for example, at one point, Michael speaks of "leaving celibacy" when, in fact, he has left chastity. Leaving celibacy is not a sin in itself, if the vow has been lifted; however, leaving chastity is always a sin. But then Mike isn't too clear on the notion of sin.

One is led to wonder whether Michael's dark night of prayer might not be more a result of his sinful and overweening pride and self-assurance rather than deep immersion in the life of prayer. All indications seem to point that way. I don't think it's possible to experience a dark night of deep prayer while one is in the midst of major sins. Although St. John of the Cross points out that we can't know and that God's grace is mysterious and makes all things possible.

At any rate, the writing is fine, many of the points about prayer are good, and the story was interesting if more than a little off-putting. It does show me that many male writers seem to have no notion of romance that does not center on the genitalia. A shame, this could have been a superb witness. As it stands, it is possible that someone who is not aware of Christianity or the power of prayer or the depths to which prayer can go may pick this up and derive from it an impetus to move further into prayer. Others will have a greater acquaintance with some good aspects of Christianity from it--so it is possible to have a good effect. Unfortunately, from point of view of faith, the novel is gravely flawed and so I can only give a half-hearted recommendation to it.

What a shame--it was building up to a superb novel--and had our main characters one iota of restraint, one moment of holding back, this novel could easily have flowed into the next in which the two get married. I've started reading that one and I only hope that it is better in matters of morals than this one.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 31, 2007 7:32 AM.

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