‘Who are you looking for?’ This question, put to Mary Magdalen by Jesus on Easter morning, is at the heart of the Christian life. It touches on the very heart of our desire to enter into relationship with the risen Christ. It is a question that is echoed by St Benedict in his Rule, ‘Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?’ God desires that we enjoy ‘life and good days’. In response to this we, like Mary Magdalen, go looking for God’s presence with us in our daily lives because in our hearts we know this is the way to enjoy ‘life and good days.’
This is a call that has echoed through the centuries in the lives of Christian men and women, calling them to seek God’s presence with all their hearts in every aspect of their lives. Monastic life is one way of responding to that call that has existed since the early centuries of Christianity. It began in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, as men and women withdrew into the deserts, sometimes living as hermits and at others forming communities around charismatic and wise leaders such as St Anthony. Later, a more community based lifestyle emerged, largely under the influence of St Pachomius and taking its inspiration from the descriptions of early Christian life found in the Acts of the Apostles. Whether these early Christians lived as hermits or in community they sought to discover the presence of God in their hearts, in the world around them and in the people they met.