The Virtue of Virtues

A bedraggled young urchin was found one morning knocking on the door of the monastery. The day was extremely cold, for the chill of the west wind carved a niche into everything it touched. The young urchin could not have been more than ten years old. His clothes were threadbare and torn and it looked as if he had not had a square meal for nigh on many weeks. His matted hair, filthy visage and sunken cheeks made it even appear that he was not of sound mind.

Yet, as the monk opened the large oak door of the monastery, he felt an immediate sense of compassion for the young urchin, and bade him to enter the sacred sanctuary. The first thing that the kind monk did was to take the boy to the kitchen, where he was given a bowl of refreshing broth and bread to satisfy his hunger. The speed with which the fare was devoured was of itself a miracle to behold. It was at once on the table, and then it was gone, into the ravenous mouth that had not seen such delicacies for many a day. The boy was then taken to the bathing area and allowed to wash away the grime of many weeks of foraging and rough living. Subsequently, given a clean set of robes to wear, he even gave resemblance to a rejuvenated young human being.

The attending monk then bade the young man to sit in the nearby courtyard and await further instructions as to his wellbeing. Some minutes later, the master Abbott of the monastery came to seek the boy"s attention and talk with him about his story. Alas however, the Abbott found the young charge curled into a ball, sound asleep on the cobblestones of the courtyard. In such a sound sleep that only the dead were more at peace.

The Abbott, with firm tenderness, took the boy in his arms and lifted him into the nearest lodgings where he could sleep undisturbed until he was well rested and had recovered strength to his diminutive body. Indeed, it was not until some twenty-four hours later that the Abbott was informed that the young lad had awakened and had broken his fast with yet another substantial repast. The Abbott instructed the attending monk to bring the boy to the sacred meditation hall where he could commence his dialogue to uncover the boy"s history.

As the master Abbott sat upon his mediation mat, he bade the young boy to come and sit on the mat placed in front of him. The master observed that the young man, although diminutive and in obvious awe of the splendour of the sacred hall of the monastery, was unafraid and appeared at ease in the face of such an imposing figure as the master of the monastery.

"Young man," began the Abbott, "know that you are safe within the walls of this confine. No harm will befall you, but in order for us to tend to your needs, we need to know the story of who you are and from whence you have come."

The young boy told the Abbott his name. It was Joshua ... he didn"t know his second name and as he told his story, the master became more and more aghast at the plight of the young man. The boy had endured deprivations beyond the pall of any human expectation for one so young. For as long as the young lad could remember, he had been summarily beaten by his abusive mother. He was made to toil in the fields by his father from dawn until dusk each day and, while his parents ate a reasonable fare most everyday, he was made to survive merely on the scraps and remains from the table. He relayed to the Abbott how, unlike other children, he was never sent to school, but had managed to learn the rudiments of reading and writing from the books and literature he scavenged from the nearby refuse. The young boy confirmed his story by showing the Abbott the welt marks that criss-crossed his back and his legs. He then described how he had run away from this abuse, and with nowhere else to go, he made his way the many a mile, to the doorstep of the monastery.

The Abbott, with great compassion and understanding said to the young man, "Your body is bruised from your many beatings – but these, in time will heal. Given time, your body

will recover its strength and you will grow into a strident and strong man. But tell me young man, what of your spirit? How do you feel in your heart about what has occurred to you in your life?

The young lad pondered the Abbott"s question for some moments, and then said in reply, "Master, my heart is full of gratitude for the experiences I have endured in my life for, in truth, without these experiences, harsh as they have been, I would not now be sitting in your presence in this monastery."

The master was amazed at the wisdom of these words from a person so young, and while he did not allow his inner thoughts to reflect on his face, he said to the young man, "My son, I see that you have a wisdom beyond your years and it is with an open heart that I offer you the opportunity to stay in the monastery as a novice. God willing, one day, this will lead you to become a master monk. But be aware, this journey will not be one of pleasure nor ease, but rather one in which you will traverse much hardship and trials of the spirit."

"Master, these trials can be no more arduous than many I have already encountered and even if I should try and fail, it will be a journey of joy and amazement that will be a wonder to behold. I will learn my lessons well and apply myself diligently to the task of learning."

"Welcome then, my son, to this humble monastery of monks and may God be your guide for all of the days that you are amongst our fold."

... and so it was that the young man undertook the journey of learning, both for his schooling and for his spiritual enlightenment. It was many years later that Joshua assumed the title of master of the Abbey, after the current master passed on to heavenly realms. Indeed, right throughout his life, he was ever thankful for the experiences he had as a youth and the grand opportunity to join the monastery that the master Abbott had so openly bestowed upon him in his time of need.

Stephen Chong M.Ed.