Ritual can be taken too far. But even worse, sometimes ritual can be taken not far enough. Case in point: I am sick of OUR monks, monks of the Western monastic tradition, who just as cloistered in their monasteries, who just as fervent in their various little rituals and doings that they put out like clockwork as a means of consecrating everyday activity and repurposing it as prayer, praise, meditation - folks, and I specifically address "Western tradition" folks out there when I say this - folks, our monks do the monk thing just as well as the Eastern tradition monks do.
With one glaring exception. Why have Western monks totally ceded the field on KUNG FU MASTERY? Zen monks have it all over us in this regard - even Thomas Merton, so lauded for his mystical musings interpreting Eastern Zen thought via the light of doctrinally-sound Western Catholicism, never advanced beyond the rank of yellow belt. WHAT THE HECK, MY FRIAR?
The practice of martial arts should simply be part of what every monk does, just like get up at ungodly hours on the punctual dot, sing this then sing that then, observe silence, and brew Belgian ales. Practice and mastery of the martial arts is a meditation both physical and spiritual - or it certainly can be! To quote Ren McCormick, if there's a time for dancing and leaping before the Lord, then why not Kung Fu? That more quotes the spirit of it than what he actually says, but we're talking about deeply spiritual matters, here. "Point taken, Ren." To combine rigorous and ascetic physical discipline with an attentive and humble spiritual mastery, one that can only be attained by one who has leaned far enough into his or her being as to appreciate its limits, and transcend them even - by the grace of God, perhaps! Well if martial artistry can't be a form of by-God PRAYER, then what the heck can be? Legitimately?
Our monks need Kung Fu in their lives. This fact is so obvious I can't even believe it has to fall to me, yet again, to say it.
As usual, I hate to blame the Pope, but there it is. Where is his leadership on this issue? Come on, Padre. Don't put the "sin" in sinsei on this one.