Father Thomas Matus

Father Thomas

New Camaldoli Hermitage is a community of Roman Catholic monks whose life is dedicated to contemplation and prayer. They are a worshiping community, celebrating with their friends and guests the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Eucharist. Their monastic fellowship extends beyond the walls of this hermitage and embraces a large and inclusive community of oblates, persons of different walks of life who live the grace of their baptism in spiritual communion with the monks. This page offers a brief history of the monastic men and women whose life and teachings have inspired the Camaldolese Benedictines to this day.


“…a threefold advantage: the community life, which is what novices want; golden solitude, for those who are mature and thirst for the living God; and witnessing to the good news of Christ, for those who long to be freed from this life in order to be with him.”

A ruff transcript of our conversation:

I am here with Father Thomas. Let me just introduce myself. Okay, Thomas Matus monk of Newcombe. I’ll delete Hermitage in Big Sur, California. Thank you, sir. Okay, thank you so much for meeting with me today after all of that. I think it’s been a long drive up from Los Angeles. Okay, so I’m just going to jump right into it.

And the first question is why meditate?

the question really is why not you see, right? It’s something that is being talked about being proposed. There’s an enormous amount of literature about it. It’s part of people’s lives. If you ask them why they meditate they might give an answer, but that’s really not pertinent to the experience itself. Right which is a discovery of a dimension of our existence. Which goes beyond the purely physical or the immediate and so forth and certainly isn’t something that is gratuitous. In other words. It is a pure gift. It is not something that produces something that they can be sold or put on the market and so forth. So all of these exterior criteria that are. Very important for people everyday life there their work there the income. What are we going to pay the bills at the end of the month it all of that? These are these are concerns that real concern for people but on the other hand, this does not feed into these concerns. It is a way also of finding a space where we need not be so concerned about. These contingent realities of our life. What are we going to do? What are we going to eat? You know, Jesus reminded his followers to look at the flowers of the field and the other words. This is a meditation that you’re looking beyond your immediate needs and requirements and so forth look at the flowers of the field. They don’t do work. They don’t spend they don’t so they don’t do other activities, but there they are and all their beauty right? There are more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory as the metaphor is in the gospel. So there you are. It is something that you could say. Does not have any justification because it needs no justification. There was no reason to say well I meditate because it does this or that people will say this and I don’t say they’re wrong. I just say that that’s a very marginal part of it. Uh-huh because meditation is discovering who you truly are and it also in a perspective that I think is there in much greater tradition. Of the greatest traditions of humankind who or what is the ultimate in this reality in which we’re immersed and obviously many of our tradition speak of God, right and in very different terms, they can be and all have different metaphors and so forth. I might mention Buddhists are sometimes referred to as atheistic. Well, they’re not because you just ask them they say well we don’t profess atheism. No, but you will find that when they are conversing with Christians. We obviously believe in God they will use the term God and then they will question. What do we mean by? Right and that is the basis of before conversation. Let me just fill in little Gap here. I’ve been I joined this community in June of 1962. Wow, and I was a year out of college and had but I had no background in really about the institutional Christianity. I was baptized the age of 12 by my own request. I was attending a Baptist Sunday school to learn about the Bible and they passed out a car. Do you want to be baptized at Easter and I signed it? Yes. Yeah, because I wanted some connection with Jesus Through reading about Jesus reading about the Bible reading the New Testament so fourth gospel and I wanted to know more about him and have a personal contact with. This was something that I understood is really of the essence then not long after that. I read the “Autobiography of a Yogi”. This was the cry out of my early autobiography of Paramahansa. Yogananda was Ryan to Yogi teacher. Who came to California and 1920 course he first came to Boston and then he moved to California and so after he had been. Lecturing to large groups of people who are wanted to learn about yoga wanted to learn about spiritual practice that is based on concrete reality life itself and so forth and he was very good at that because he understood, you know that Americans are very pragmatic and they want something that something tangible something real in their lives. Yoga is. Very tangible part of the Hindu tradition correct, but he would always lead them to an understanding of yoga as a way of realizing God realizing that God is in me and in others and in all things and so this realization of God was something that I. This real up didn’t I? I knew that this was what I was really looking for what had been seeking and oh and reading the Bible and learning a bit about Christianity and as I developed a was reading. The Hindu Buddhist writings and also the Christian Mystics and it came to me that the guru that I needed to follow was the Catholic Church. There is this great tradition. Wow, not just the Roman Catholics the Eastern Orthodox and many others that this Catholic tradition that where the mystics are. Recognized are honored even though they’re not that many of them are often a very exceptional people often went against the grain of things that were considered suitable and so forth and yet at the same time, they were persons of experience and could testify to that experience. So this attracted me and but it was a very immediate thing and I very quickly requested to speak with a priest. And as I was beginning my last year at in college, I was speaking regularly with her Dominican young Dominican priest who men of answered my questions very satisfactorily and became a Roman Catholic. And went on from there while looking for a monastery. Well, I’d read my read about Catholic but monastic orders and there was in a book written by a very famous mock called Thomas Merton. He also wrote an autobiography two years after you go Yogananda. Let’s go back to when these two autobiographies were written. Okay, the autobiography of a yogi in 1946. Two years later in 1948 the seven-story mountain by Thomas Merton two months the two best-selling American autobiographies, right? You know, yep, so you’re going to understand where these two monks now, what was so fascinating and attractive and you know make that made them both be the best sellers, right? What about. Because this is something that you know, it doesn’t confuse new right or something new the law also something quite strange. I think that people. Coming out of whether they were directly on the front lines of the second world war but coming out the from a half a century of one tragedy up to after the next two great Wars and the depression and lots of other, you know, some smart stuff scattered suffering and violence and so forth. They wanted something that would lead them Beyond this and into a way of existence. That would be. Peaceful that would be creative. They would open possibilities for richer and more authentic human life. So something like that was was behind this interest. But for me, it was in that very existential thing. It was something that I very quickly realized that for me about the call of God was to enter a monastery. And so I read about the Kemal delays Benedictus in one of Thomas Merton’s books. And well, I thought all these monsters were in Europe and Italy or France or wherever but in the United States and him so a lo and behold somebody sent me a newspaper article about this new commodity Hermitage, which was being founded here in Big Sur, California. Wow, very far from where I was living so. I decided to come here. I decided to try this life first by visited another Catholic Monastery in Southern California closer to where I was living and it was very, you know impressed by it, but I wanted to try this and I said well if it doesn’t work for me, I made a deal with God, you know, I’m not going to move until the superior of this Monastery tells me to leave right? Otherwise, I’ll stay here and. See what see what happens what kind of and what happened was I just went ahead and made my vows and it was difficult. I think I was not naturally disposed to the kind of discipline that was required of me and our way of life here. And this was a time where we followed certain rules very strictly. We were getting up at 1:30 in the morning to celebrate a vigil service. Which sometimes lasted. More than an hour while in Latin the Latin was actually something that I’m I liked because it would be a childhood ambition to learn, you know, another language learn how an ancient language and the modern language. I studied Spanish and so forth and a little bit of Latin I study on my own but here, you know, I could learn it and then she was praying but this Latin language and so forth and I enjoyed that but it was very difficult for me on an emotional level on. Psychological level physical even because you know, this is not what we’re people in the US, you know, they don’t burn up at 1:30. And that’s what is that going to a party or something like that or right? Yeah, but I mean it’s schedule was trying with difficult. There were other things that were very strictly observed. We didn’t take our meals together. They were all delivered to these cells. You know, these guys that we reached Mach has a separate space. That’s the Hermitage. I’m ideal that the element of solitude there was also this strong affirmation of community and the insistence that we must be there on time for every one of these prayers and said it was five times a day. We were meeting for prayer Charles and then also has younger. Candidates for monastic vows we had to attend classes. And also do manual labor. I mean the church was being built starting my first years here. Okay, so I had to push a wheelbarrow foiled and full of full of Samantha, right and sometimes a little too heavy for me and I knocked over this apparently was not very pleased by that. But then I had one of the Elder monks who said oh don’t worry about him. He’s an artist. He doesn’t you know, that’s not made too much too much for this heavy manual labor. Sure. Okay, but I was. Want to do my part and of course building this Hermitage and there were some others and so forth. So there were lots of coming and going at the beginning. You know, we just lost two of the eldest Monks at the present moment. I am the eldest and the oldest the oldest in here’s and the eldest and Asthma as a member of our monastic order sure and in the community here, so you were here at the very beginning early beginning of the close to the beginning here. There were one of our monks is about three years older than I and had been here. Already two and a half years when I joined as Father Robert Hale. He just passed away in September. I was out and I wasn’t able to be here at before his funeral but you know, he was 81 and made a great contribution serve the community and various ways and wrote some very excellent books short. So he was a learned man. It was kind of an example for me because since he  know went to Fordham to get a Ph.D. I also went to Fordham to get a Ph.D. but on something different right as a matter of fact on yoga, but compared with Christian mysticism. Well, so anyway, we you know, we had some some excellent examples. I have you know in these brothers who were here before me and then. I’ve tried to fulfill my duties, but you see the. It was a choice that was made at the beginning of this Foundation that the first two groups of novices who joined the community here after their first formation and making vows would go to Italy to live at our mother house, which is in Tuscany. It’s midway between Florence and and Rome and it is it’s called Commander Li and oh and has a Hermitage very much like this, but also, A larger Monastery sure that which forms one Community but with this visible balance and integration of what are considered to be. Incompatible on the one hand community on the other hand Solitude. Well, if you go for solid you don’t have any Community when you’re not with anyone, but if you go to give me a let’s see what they’re always there and so forth. You don’t have a 10-minute to yourself. Well, maybe if night then okay, you can meditate a bit by yourself. But this is this is not what we do here. You see we bring together these aspects and join it also with a way of reaching out to people. In on a way that could be called a mission but it is not like the missionaries who go and and to foreign countries and and live there and work and you know do great works, you know for for education and health care and all of that. Whereas we do it by receiving people here as guests retreatants. And so this was the the way there at our mother house. Well the in my case, it was a very interesting experience because I was asked to continue my studies and then I realized that I’ve also felt that part of my own personal mission could be teaching. Teaching spirituality in English or and so I remained in Italy for more than 30 years while men no man. I’d finished my teaching and also some other duties that I had for service to our congregation, then I came back here. Wow, that’s quite a bit. It’s quite a story. And yeah, it is I suppose but you see all this I see it as simply a Grace a gift. And that is the way I see life itself. I mean, this is a language. That’s illogical it is traditionally Christian and also other religions use these terms helps you in Hinduism the doctrine of grace. Well, a longer along that same line then the next question is about mindfulness. Yes.

What is your definition of mindfulness and what is your vision of a mindful life?

Do what you’re doing be present to yourself and also breath present to your relationships with others because I think we Americans tend to be. There’s a certain tendency to well certain subsets. And as you know, there were rugged individualism that right ideal, you know comes out of the pioneering Spirit as I could of our country at the beginning and so forth and and all of that but you are not mindfulness. If you’re not thinking about another you’re not in mindfulness and others mindfulness, you’re not mindful if you’re only mindful of. That’s right. We’re putting on your only mindful. You’re not mindful. If you’re only mindful of yourself what’s going on inside of your brain or what you want to do or need to do or whatever you’re mindful when you realize the greater context of your existence and that includes the people to whom you relate or people. That you can help you can serve this is also something. It’s like I’m speaking of course in and very much in Christian terms, but the old thing can be very easily translated. I do believe into Buddhist terms because mindfulness is inseparable from compassion, right? so if I’m mindful of. Like the state of my Consciousness, this must bring another word if it is true mindfulness, it will bring me to the compassion for those who suffer and a commitment to alleviating the suffering. So this is a two very different Traditions. That’s our Christianity and Buddhism really come together on a very essential point. And I think this is also very important for us to be aware that our way of life, even though we’re if you’re in mountain and you know, very far from any, you know, great centers of population right? We’re open and we enable people to come here so that they can discover something in their lives that connects them with a greater reality. Since it is a quiet place and we are here in one of the great natural. Wonderland is above the planet, you know, people say to him for a lifetime to drive this highway up and down this Coast just for the beauty of it. Then I’m driven up the down this Coast a hundred times and didn’t realize this was even here. Yeah. Yeah. It was really exciting for me to find something new. So we are here and we welcome people and we offered them the what is necessary to have a beautiful experience. What this the natural beauty of nature can, in other words, nature here will draw people out of themselves into a wider reality. And this is always for me very important that the sensual the meditation. Yes. It is turning inward in a certain sense. But the purpose is not simply to analyze my thoughts. Self-analysis said he it is it is the way of connecting with them. Greater scheme of things. So that’s what that’s what if I’m understanding you correctly mindfulness allows us to connect with them with a larger world. Yes and to find compassion in us exactly. Okay. The next question is what is your different?

What do you see the difference between meditation, contemplation and prayer?

Sometimes these can be described in terms of States Progressive States and there’s something of this of course in the yoga tradition your sutras also the Buddhist Traditions, but I don’t think that I think there’s a there’s a great overlap in the Christian tradition in specifically in Christian monastic tradition and the. The church there is a practice a spiritual practice that begins with a certain way of reading the scriptures reading. The scripture is not to gain information or gay learning, you know points to argue with people about how they should live and what they should do and shouldn’t do but rather as a way into a vision of God. And so we find we open a page in the scriptures and find a brief passage a verse a phrase a single word that speaks to us and we remain with that. So this is what is called Next you Naveen had said Divine reading it. So it’s a reading that takes us immediately into the presence of God and then. When we go through that we go to into meditation is dwelling with that word and allowing it to speak to us from within we taking it in by reading then we allow it to abide within our own Consciousness and from that comes contemplation. Brian and so is so it’s a progressive unfolding that begins with something that is out there that is a word or a parable of Jesus or something like that and then it becomes contemplation. But from the contemplation comes something else and that is the return to humanity. There were other Traditions also have this metaphor them and all their hermit in the cave at a certain point leaves his cave and comes down into the village sure comes down to the end and to the other where people live and gives them some words of inspiration of some spiritual healing and so forth. So we find this of course unless the stories of the prophets in the Old Testament of Jesus himself, you know spend time in the desert and then sure came forward with his with his teaching and preaching and healing. So anyway, this is this is something so what is the difference there is a certain difference if we look at it as ways of progressive interiorization. Going within and finding within the deeper meaning of the word that we have read and so forth, but it’s not really something that can be separated because the culmination of the practice of meditation or contemplation is when there is no difference. It is not an altered state of consciousness. But I am simply conscious. I am simply here and the hero now is being with someone doing something listening to somebody else and so forth. So all of this is a moment where I can experience the great mystery of my existence of the existence of the other and I am which I understand is God God present within us sure. Yeah, fabulous. The next question is my business.

Are actually my last question is what can we do to promote compassion in ourselves and in the world around us?

There’s a practice or as well as a daily life in our daily life. Well, I think one way is to examine that which is contrary to compassion with the examination. Yes of our own wealth of conscience. That is a very traditional term which is used in the course as a part of. Christian spiritual practice examining one’s conscience. No, but not simply to find where we have done wrong. But we are we have fallen short of the greatness of the great potentiality of our human existence which gives fulfilled only in the outpouring of love in the outpouring of service to others. Right but also an examination of conscience as an examination of consciousness. What where is my Consciousness limited only to that which is immediately happening and what is necessary or what I need or I want and so forth or do I am I am I able to enter into the situation of others to know in myself what they themselves may be suffering, but they themselves need. And that brings us to compassion and that brings us to compassion. Okay. Yeah, just to recap in my own little brain. Yeah, when we’re involved in the world and being mindful in our day. Yeah, and we’re seeing the suffering of others and doing what we can to alleviate that of our own and in the world around us. That is what brings us to compassion. That’s exactly right now along the compassion, of course, I mean. They had to be proven in our deeds and that’s very important that we do something that is real and concrete and effective in the lives of. People to help them so it’s not it’s not something that needs to be organized and developed and well-known, right but just finding those occasions where I can alleviate some of these self-suffering rights and also to have this intention and this is very important. That the credit not is given to me. I’m not doing it in order to have the person thank me or have the person praised me if they think to give me. Thanks, then I accept their thanks, but that’s that’s it and not looking to Source from a selfless place. It is Promised selfless place and that is a test of the sincerity and of the truthfulness of the practice of. So that’s the question we want to ask ourselves the question we want to ask ourselves and also it reflects the depth of our meditation in other words. If we meditate deeply if we try to have this sense of an immense and infinite reality, which yet can be found within us if we realized that this is not only. I realize that it’s not only in myself, but this is in every person every human being every human being says the Bible is created in the image and likeness of God or in the image of God and develops into a greater and greater likeness if their life goes well, so written God dwells in each of us in eastern in each of us, right. and therefore selflessness and. Self-effacement in other words not putting myself forward not wanting to be praised or honored because I’m doing good deeds and so forth, but really to have a positive effect on others. It’s put in this these terms in the gospel so that they will give glory and thanks to God. You see of course not worry and thanks to me right now and thanks to God in other words to the source of all of this the source of the good that I can do is not is can be in myself. I can Discover it within myself sure as the imprint of the Divine reality upon my own being my own soul, but ultimately. It is always from there. It is always from that Infinite Source and it leads back to that. So the effectiveness of my service to someone helping us of suffering person is then that they will discover God within themselves and they will relate to God.

Lastly, if there’s anything else that you that you think we’ve missed or around the subject. There are only two things that I know we could go on for hours about it. But I even my father’s have been of course will fill in a lot of a lot of gaps from his own experience. And I finally helping and helping us live together as a community because he’s in he’s he’s the prior other words. He himself had the first servant the servant of the servants and so he. Is Among Us and helps us to work together and to build the community and so forth. So he has a great experience there to share with you. Well, I was Finding with each of these interviews that I’ve been doing. It’s just interesting to hear. Because it’s all about personal experience and it’s all about how one relates to these subjects and to this in their own lives and it’s just been it’s just been really intriguing and interesting for me. No learning about this, but I just want to thank you so very much for spending the time with me and the noise you heard is the rain coming down. Oh my gosh, the rain. Yes, and I guess that’s a little nerve-wracking up here with all the. That wider leave it is, of course, a concern and that is why we have this huge expenditure ever before us and we don’t know how well but we have to do it, you know to build this new entrance Road you did. I read write that this is 800 that you have 800 acres here 800 acres but but on a steep slope right other words, you can’t, you know can’t really do anything. Yeah, plant wheat here. Yeah. Sure. Sure. Yeah, it’s it’s yes part of it is to create a safe environment where all of the aspects of nature of the plant life the animal life and so forth is sure is respected and venerating live in harmony and live in harmony with that. We live in harmony as a community and welcome people into this where they can contemplate this beauty as we as we do sure and so it serves that purpose of creating a space A Generous space right only for ourselves, but also for the people who come here and join with us, and I also have to say I love your domain name. Contemplation.com contemplation.com that was just brilliant. I just when I saw that he suggested to me and then I saw the domain name and I go oh my gosh, I gotta go talk to these guys. I have to it was just it was that’s what really drew me. Anyway. Thank you very much

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