The Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year is ‘perseverance’. Blithely ignoring the fact that most people probably associate the word with NASA’s Perseverance Rover and Mars, I’d like to bring us firmly down to earth by thinking about its meaning and how it applies to monastic life and, indeed, life generally.
‘Perseverance’ means going on steadfastly, despite difficulty or limited or no success in achieving a goal. The medieval origins of the word bear additional notes of strictness and resolution. Clearly, perseverance is not to be trifled with. It has a severe, determined face and can make huge demands on the individual. In the monastery, it is recognized as a necessary quality and has even given its name to the questioning of a novice’s intentions regarding commitment to the monastic life. Three times during his/her novitiate, the novice comes before chapter and is asked whether he or she wishes to continue seeking God in the monastery. If the answer is in the affirmative, a further period of probation is allowed before vows are made.
To persevere is therefore a daily re-engagement, a daily re-commitment. It is unshowy and unspectacular but the only way to ensure genuine growth. As with monasticism, so with marriage or anything else we value. Sticking at something through the proverbial ‘thick and thin’ isn’t a mark of lack of imagination but rather the reverse. It is a is an indication of hope and trust and belief — in God, in people, in ourself, even. It is, in its own humble way, a key to the Kingdom.
We celebrate today the feasts of St Hilda, St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Hugh of Lincoln, all well-known in various ways, and for those of more curious liturgical mind, St Nerses of Armenia. If you follow the link below, you will find three posts on St Hilda which throw a sidelight on the subject of this post as well. To attain holiness without perseverance is an impossibility and it has nothing whatever to do with ‘success’.