A Catholic Monk Finds Gospel Brotherhood
John S. Staley
The brotherhood of a monastic order was John Staley's life for twenty-five years, the expression of his deep commitment to the Catholic faith. But the outward serenity of monastic life was in sharp contrast to his growing feelings of doubt and discontent about many features of that life. Finally, with permission, he left the order and sought to make reforms with the greater freedom of a layman.
The account which follows portrays the excitement of the quest as John Staley seeks—and eventually finds his long-dreamed-of Christian brotherhood. Reading it, the Church member finds himself a little more appreciative than before for the great gospel truths he tends to take too much for granted.
As a professor of Sociology at Brigham Young University, today John Staley brings to his students a combination of sound professional training, deep religious and intellectual experience, and firm conviction respecting the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.
To recount and share this expansive experience of being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and being sealed in a temple of God for eternity by the sacred ordinance of marriage is an ever-growing source of joy. I hope that my testimony of our Father's goodness will renew your experience of finding the gospel, or anticipate the joy that will be yours in embracing membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus I share with you my impressions of the gifts of peace and joy that I especially wish to bear personal witness to as a grateful member of the Restored Church of Christ.
My Life as Catholic Priest and Monk
Two little boys, orphaned at ages five and seven, were reared by the Benedictine monks of the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. One grew up to become the father of a large Catholic family of 13 children, of whom I was second youngest. The other boy grew up to become Abbot, or head, of that religious community.
The Abbot was my boyhood hero and was a frequent visitor in our home, as was the bishop of the local diocese. Good Catholic parents often encourage a son or daughter, who has the inclination, to dedicate his life to the Lord's service. Such a desire sprouted in my heart. As a lad of twelve I left the family circle to join my uncle at St. Vincent's, where there was a prep school, liberal arts college, and seminary for the training of Catholic priests.
After two years of college, I took my first triennial vows as a Benedictine monk. There were five of these vows:
1. A vow of poverty—that all the money I would ever earn would go directly to the St. Vincent monastery for the education of youth.
2. A vow of chastity—that I would never marry nor partake of physical love, in the belief that this state was a higher level of sanctity than marriage.
3. A vow of obedience—to obey the monastic superior or Abbot, because his will represented God's will.
4. A vow of stability—to be a member of the St. Vincent community of 240 monks and priests for the remainder of my life.
5. A vow of conversion of morals—to promise to attempt to rid myself of imperfections and seek for virtue, trying to become perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect.
As a young idealist of nineteen I gladly renewed these vows each year, culminating with final vows as a monk three years later.
According to St. Benedict, founder of the order in the early sixth century, a monk is one who seeks God. I must confess that my knowledge was indistinct as to who and what God really was. This has been a lifelong quest.
In 1941, when I was twenty-five, my ordination as a Roman Catholic priest was witnessed by my community, family, and friends. Mother, in a surge of love for me and maternal pride in giving a son to God, had the diamond from her engagement ring set into the silver chalice I would use in the celebration of mass. It was a day of rejoicing.
As monks and priests we rose daily at 3:40 a.m. to pray, recite psalms, assist at mass, meditate, and study. At 8:00 a.m. we began teaching classes. The day ended with vespers and compline, the official night prayer. On weekends and holidays and during summers we assisted in parishes by saying masses, hearing confessions, and officiating at baptisms, weddings, and funerals, as well as other pastoral duties. I spent thirty-two years in this way of life, which I viewed as service to God and man.
About five years after ordination I began to experience some discontent and found that in my religious life there were things difficult to accept. However, in keeping with the vows, I did all that was required of me. Each year as we celebrated the Feast of St. Benedict I would recall what I had said to God on that day of final vows: "Lord, let me not be confounded in my expectations." But I became increasingly confounded and sometimes complained to God as Moses did when those expectations did not materialize.
During these years I was a member of the Liturgical Conference, an organization interested in modernizing the Catholic worship service, and of the American Vernacular Society which, after twenty-five years, was to be successful in obtaining Vatican approval for the use of English in the mass rather than traditional Latin.
By 1966 I was openly protesting in my monastic community against various practices in the system. I was made to feel evil for trying to bring changes for good. This weighed heavily upon me, and I formally applied for laicization, being convinced that the Catholic Church was in dire need of reform to render it relevant to the needs of mid-twentieth-century man. The church structure prevented me as a priest from taking any more action as regards reforms than I already had; so it appeared that I could be more effective in bringing about reforms as a layman. (The process of becoming officially a layman, with the approval of the Vatican, usually requires several years, during which time the priest is still bound by his vows.)
It was at this juncture that the Abbot agreed to let me continue my quest by founding a new community whereby I could, with some measure of freedom, experiment with my ideas for monasticism. I obtained a post-doctoral fellowship in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. In February of 1967 I left St. Vincent with both gladness and sadness in my heart, sensing that never again would I be a resident, teacher, or priest there. I left St. Vincent at the age of fifty. As an expression of my desire for a declericalized priesthood, I was wearing a tie instead of a Roman collar and a suit instead of a monk's habit. My only possessions were a few clothes and books and an ancient car given to me by a friend. I felt much like a kicking infant emerging from the womb as I drove through the monastery gates.
The Search of a Troubled Priest
My fellowship at the University did not begin until September. For the interim period I had been invited to teach part-time at a remarkable place in Philadelphia, the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, where new and successful ways of treating all types of brain-injured children had been discovered. I was enticed there by a friend's intriguing description of it as a place where "the lame are made to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the boss lives in a stable." There I found the distinguished director of the Institutes living in the remodeled carriage-house of a sizable turn-of-the-century estate. The other buildings, including a huge old mansion, were used for research, diagnosis, and treatment of children—including those without brain-injury but who had reading problems—and for accelerating the learning of pre-school children. I met the staff of the Institutes, who were Christlike in their love for and devotion to children.
As a sociologist I was there to learn as well as teach—to learn how the concepts of the Institutes could be applied theologically and sociologically for the achievement of human potential. On the second day I met Mariellen, a mature graduate student. We met while observing the evaluation of a severely brain-injured child.
I conversed with Mariellen over the ideals that had led her to the Institutes, about her own brain-injured mentally-retarded son (now a young man of 22), and about the experiences she had had in working with such children. She was interested in my reasons for coming to the Institutes. As we talked later, I shared with her some of my enthusiasm for the Catholic Church. I had observed a spirituality that shone from her and the great desire she had to help problem children. As a priest, I thought she would make a splendid nun to found a new order for this work. My objective was to persuade her in this direction.
For "bait" I gave her a copy of The Divine Milieu, written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, an eminent French Jesuit priest and physical anthropologist. That book describes the author's concept of how man is gradually moving toward divinization. I considered it to be the most precious statement from a twentieth-century Catholic and thought that it surely would interest Mariellen in Catholicism. I anticipated the excitement this book would generate in her.
A few days later she returned the book to me and smilingly said, "I enjoyed the book—parts of it sound as though they might have been written by a Latter-day Saint." Never having heard that term before, I had to ask her, "What is a Latter-day Saint?" She replied, "I'm one, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sometimes we are nicknamed Mormons."
From that point our discussions in theology veered sharply away from Catholicism as she adroitly led me into a new search by quoting from Lorenzo Snow, a past president of her Church: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become." My spring was unsprung! President Snow had outdistanced Teilhard by a spiritual light-year! His was the most profound set of words I had heard in my life—and all my adult years had been spent studying theology, philosophy, and sociology!
While Darwin spoke of the evolution of the body of man; while Spencer spoke about the development of the family and social institutions of man; while Teilhard spoke about the spiritual evolution of man; here Lorenzo Snow—to me, an obscure Mormon leader of the 1890's—had taken the teachings of Joseph Smith (which antedated Darwin's Origin of the Species) and said that not only is man progressing toward deification, but that God himself has gone through this process. What a vision this opened! What excitement shook me! This struck at the heart of my difficulties as a Catholic theologian and sociologist. Snow's statement went further than anything I had dreamed. I had considered Teilhard as one of the great contemporary thinkers, and here in twelve short words was a vision that eclipsed his farthest reach.
As a seminary teacher at St. Vincent, I had been searching for a way in which doctrine might develop to meet the emerging needs of men rather than stand still. It was in this search that I had discovered the writings of Father Teilhard, who had captured the minds of many intellectuals in France as well as America with his scientific and theological perspectives. The Catholic Church would not permit his avaunt-garde writings to be published, and in fact they were not published until after his death in the 1950's. He had written about this idea of the continuous development in another book, The Phenomenon of Man. Also, I had read deeply another Catholic theologian, John Newman, in his Development of Doctrine. I had come to appreciate the search for the opening up of doctrine that would respond to the knowledge and development of man.
The central theme of the restored gospel stated aphoristically by President Lorenzo Snow went far beyond Teilhard and Newman. What I found here, I found in every one of the aspirations that was troubling me: the search for a new kind of priesthood, the search for a new kind of worship, the search for a new kind of perspective on man. Here, in the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a vision of man on an ascending, expanding, open-ended spiral of eternal progression. This is dynamic, developmental, as opposed to the static closed circle of organization accepted by prevalent Christian thought.
This explained the inherent but frustrating desire in man to be what he is not yet; the boy to be Superman; the teenager to become a hero; the Greeks and Romans to aspire to godhood; the deification of mortals in Oriental religions. This desire for divinization is inborn in man, then, but it took modern prophets of the Lord to affirm this as revealed truth.
During this time I was commuting on alternate weeks between the Institutes in Philadelphia and the new monastic community being established in the ghetto northside of Pittsburgh. Other Catholics and I were forming an inner-city mission to the poorest of the poor while we were searching for answers of relevancy in our outdated church. Commonweal, a layman's magazine which is spokesman for the disturbed Catholic, has published many articles and reports about the "troubled priests" who are seeking a better way to serve God, even though that way increasingly is causing them to forsake their priesthood. I was truly a troubled priest—happy for the vocation I had, but troubled in the pursuit of it. In that pursuit, I was looking for a way in which worship would come more spontaneously and directly out of the hearts of the faithful; that would allow each member to share his encounters with God and Christ.
Mariellen had electrified me by discussing the statement of President Snow. Now it was my turn to seek a similar reaction from her about a paper on "The Sacrament of Matrimony" that I had read in Denver back in 1946 at a meeting of the National Liturgical Week. The paper declared that the sacrament of marriage did not take place at the altar, but in the very intimate and sacred act of marriage itself. For this I was removed from my position as a seminary teacher for several years. In 1959 I was invited to give this paper again and this time it was received with a standing ovation from the seminary class that would be ordained the following year.
Mariellen agreed with my views, but I was disappointed in her reaction. She then proceeded to open for me a vista of the doctrine of celestial marriage taught by the Latter-day Saints as contained in Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This gave insight on one of the most pressing problems I had experienced as a sociologist and marriage counselor. As a former college chaplain, I knew too well the dissatisfactions that exist concerning the Catholic theology of sex and marriage. I thought I had come a long way in my own thinking until Mariellen explained the appealing doctrine of celestial marriage, in which a worthy and loving husband and wife can have their union sealed for time and eternity instead of "until death do you part."
Finding a New Community Instead of Founding One
Mariellen invited me to attend a Sunday School at the Philadelphia Ward, and I responded in the spirit of ecumenism. This was the first non-Catholic service I had ever attended. I went hoping to find ideas to use in my experimental community.
I found many things. Instead of a depersonalized mass of two thousand, I saw a group of perhaps two hundred people. I saw a boy of sixteen pronounce words of blessing on the symbolic bread and water for the sacrament, something I first did at the age of twenty-five. A youth of twelve distributed the sacrament. I noticed the reverent, humble manner in which the congregation received this. I heard a ten-year-old girl give a short talk from the pulpit, followed by a young woman. A college student played the piano for singing that was led by a white-haired matron. Two different men, in business suits, gave the opening and closing prayers spontaneously. Another conducted the meeting. I was awed by this involvement of the laity. So many had taken key parts instead of just one professionally trained man in ecclesiastical garb running the entire ceremony. This seemed to be worship on a higher level. It opened my eyes to a new reality.
After the opening assembly, the congregation dispersed to classes. Mariellen led me to the Gospel Doctrine class where the teacher, a young man, elicited lively participation from his adult students. This, after what I had just witnessed, so impressed me that I whispered to Mariellen, "Is this some kind of special service that you have once a year or so? "Oh no," she quietly laughed,"it's done this way every Sunday." Although I was a stranger, I contributed to the class discussion and was listened to with interest.
After the service, many were reluctant to leave. I had been used to those two thousand worshippers walking solemnly into a big urban church, and forty-five minutes later filing out with scarcely a nod to anyone. Here I found people eager to share with one another. I find this in almost every Latter-day Saint service—what we sociologists call "primary relationships," a deep sharing of self with others. That first day in the Philadelphia Ward, I discovered many things that I was eager to take back to my monastic experiments in Pittsburgh. I did not realize it just yet, but I had found the kind of community I had been yearning and searching for, far beyond the dimensions of which I had dreamed.
In the worship service of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I found a priesthood that is shared by all worthy men of the Church, beginning with age twelve, and wearing neither special vestments nor insignia. I discovered that, according to their various offices, they carry a gentle but strong authority to pray, teach, administer, heal, and to bring order among their families, wards, and stakes. I was witnessing the kingdom of God in action.
Later I was to read this in the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of modern revelation, in Section 121:
…the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true: but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man….
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned. (D&C 121:36-37, 39-41.)
I saw this gentle priesthood, this priesthood that allowed man his free agency, exemplified that first day by the bishop of the Philadelphia Ward. It was wonderful to behold.
Before I left the chapel that day, one of the seventies (a priesthood calling specializing in missionary endeavors), put a blue Book of Mormon in my hand, admonishing me not to accept his word that it was true but to read it and pray over it in Christ's name, and promising that it would be made known to me whether it was truly the word of God. (This exhortation appears in Moroni 10:4-5.)
That afternoon Mariellen and I were discussing the Book of Mormon and she said, "Just as the New Testament is an enlargement on and supplement to the Old Testament, so the Book of Mormon is to the entire Holy Bible." This challenged me. I opened the book and began to read. It did read like scripture. It had a poignancy, a ring of truth; it reached into me as scripture should. It was direct and plain.
Later, as I finished reading the Book of Mormon, I saw it as a tying together of the Old and New Testaments; as a new witness that our Lord, Jesus Christ, is the Son of God. It helped me to understand the gospel as I never had before. It opened a great new body of revelations, the end of which is not yet. I never read this book but what I pray. I love to read and reread of such wonderful things as the faith of the brother of Jared, of such magnificent men as Lehi, Nephi, Alma, Benjamin, Ammon, and Mosiah—men who stand with like faith, love, and greatness as the best known biblical figures. This is another book in which to read the words of Christ as he taught the gospel, this time to the ancient peoples of the Western Hemisphere—the "other sheep" he referred to in the Book of John.
Mormon Elders Teach the Gospel to a Catholic Priest
Mariellen soon invited me to listen to two young elders give a series of six discussions about the gospel. My first reaction was that this was taking the ecumenical spirit too far, but I had a feeling that God was doing some wonderful things these days, and so I consented.
She introduced me to two college-age missionaries. They were sincere, direct, and had as clear a spirit as I have ever observed. There were no apologies, no invitation to argument. We prayed before each session. They invited me to pray, and I enjoyed these informal prayers. To my surprise, I discovered that these young men were adding to what I had known before. They said much that brought together the mosaic of pieces that had fit only loosely before, and they supplied a number of the missing ones.
I could accept the Mormon concept of God the Father, because in my studies of the Bible I had come close to this concept myself. But on the third session the elders talked about an apostasy, which meant that the early Christian churches had abandoned the purity of the gospel by taking away, adding to, and changing the teachings of Christ; and because of this, the authority of the priesthood was removed from the earth by God.
They told me that there had been a full restoration of the gospel, including authority of the priesthood, over a century ago when Joseph Smith was called by the Lord to be a prophet and to usher in the dispensation of the fulness of times. They cited all this with conviction and clarity, but I would listen to no more, and said: "I can believe that Joseph Smith was responsible for translating the Book of Mormon, but I can't believe that the good Catholic people I have known all my life did not have the fulness of the gospel." I could not accept their statement. The implication was that my Catholic baptism and priesthood were not valid. I could not abide this either, and bade them good-bye without making an appointment for any further discussions.
Unknown to me, that evening Mariellen and the elders, rather than argue the issue with historical facts, went to the Lord in prayer. I also felt prompted to pray about it. One of the underlying reasons for my dissatisfaction as a priest was that what I had been given in Catholicism was not enough. I had tried the system all my adult life, and must honestly say I found it failing in many areas.
Then I recalled a Jesuit priest at Notre Dame University, Father John McKenzie, who was head of the American Catholic Theological Society. In his book, Authority in the Church, he had been saying approximately the same thing as the Mormon elders. McKenzie wrote that in the third century at the time of Constantine the authority in the Roman Catholic Church seemed to degenerate. The organization was somehow corrupted, left without its pristine purity. I, myself, had interpreted that corruption as being part of the pagan residue, though I now have a different view of it. I began to think more openly about McKenzie's study, a study that nearly caused him to be condemned as a heretic by the Archbishop of San Antonio.
Another disturbing factor came to my mind. Benedict of Nursea, founder of my monastic order, had left Rome in the sixth century in protest against the corruption there. He, too, was a reformer. I realized now that Rome had been Christianized for about two hundred years by the time Benedict withdrew. I began to question why he left, and it now struck me that the corruption he witnessed against was not in paganism but in the Catholic Church itself.
A study I had made as chairman of the monastic policy committee came also to mind. More than sixty-five per cent of my brother monks were troubled with psychosomatic disabilities such as ulcers, diverticulitis, migraine, or leaning on the crutch of alcohol. It came to me that the cause of these difficulties was a system of human relations that had been built on a defective vision of the gospel, a gospel tainted by apostasy.
My observations came into sharp focus. I know it was God speaking to me as a result of prayer. Arguments and facts from Mariellen and the elders alone could not have swayed me from my Catholic loyalty to believe that an apostasy had taken place.
The next day I told Mariellen quietly: "You know, I've been thinking about it, and I believe there really was an apostasy. When can we proceed with the fourth discussion?" However, let me make it clear that at no time had I any intention of leaving my church—the priesthood, yes, but not the Catholic Church itself. I loved my church. I was wed to it, and sought for reform within much as a husband seeks aid for a sick and ailing family. Visit to an LDS Home Evening
On my first visit to the Philadelphia Ward I noticed that the babies cried differently. It puzzled me as a sociologist and a student of the family. The answer came as I later visited a family home evening of a young Latter-day Saint couple. I was delighted by the warmth and love and joy that radiated from the group. Everyone was involved. They sang. They had some spiritual lessons. They played games. They were close in love. Fear was outside. The strong loving part of the father reassured them. Here seemed to be the modern version of the strong Early Jewish family with its patriarchal priesthood welding the family members together. Social theorist Amitai Etzioni points out that coercive and instrumental authority (which uses people as things) alienates its subjects; persuasive authority binds in warm relationships (active society). The high premium placed on freedom and free agency struck me.
My Twenty-fifth Anniversary as a Catholic Priest
Instead of a considerable celebration of my twenty-fifth anniversary as a Catholic priest, I decided to just have a quiet luncheon with my family at a brother's cottage. My only present was a triple combination of Latter-day Saint scriptures. It was given to me by Mariellen, and was to play an important part in my coming to the commitment step.
My Decision to Marry
Before I had any intention of becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I, along with other members of the Pittsburgh community, had declared that celibacy impeded both spiritual and human development. I went to my superior at Latrobe to seek his blessing on my intention to marry Mariellen. I had and have great confidence in him. He is truly a great man (he has since become head of the Benedictine Order in Rome). After I opened my heart to him, he responded by giving me a blessing. This he did as a person approving the decision of another person. I also visited my family and apprised them of my plans.
Baptism, the Gift of the Spirit, and Marriage
"A reed shaken in the wind" best describes me during the week before my marriage. (We had unwittingly set as our wedding date the 11th of July, the anniversary of my making solemn vows in the Benedictine order!) We prayed each evening together. The night before, I was in great apprehension. Was I going squarely into the jaws of Satan? We prayed. As we prayed, a warm, comforting spirit came over me. I found myself uttering words that did not seem to emanate from me. Words that gave me peace and joy as I said them: "I want to be baptized; I wish to be baptized."
Early the next morning I called the bishop of the Philadelphia Ward and asked if I might be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost as well as be married. There was a long pause, and then his reassurance. How grateful I was for his discerning spirit!
On the way to be baptized at the Philadelphia Ward, I went through another agonizing anxiety: "Am I being deceived by the devil? Am I on a greased slide into hell?" As these fears tormented me, I opened the triple combination Mariellen had given me. This book of eight hundred pages opened to Section 131 in the Doctrine and Covenants. Had our Father in heaven sent an angel to reassure me I would probably have questioned his origin. The probability of this book opening to that page was far too low for it to have been an accident. I read:
In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it. (D&C 131:1-3.)
Needless to say, I did not receive many wedding gifts, but this priceless one of assurance from our Heavenly Father that exorcized my fear will always be highly treasured.
To receive the holy ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost and to have Mariellen as my bride were almost too much for this vessel of clay to hold. It was the great day of my life up to that time. It was only eclipsed in joy by the later occasion of our being sealed for time and eternity in a temple of God.
My Patriarchal Blessing
To have one's spiritual DNA Chart read to him by one inspired of God, by a patriarch of the Church, as I did, is an indescribable experience. To have one's ancestral ties open up, to have the sure knowledge of belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and Joseph—what a joy, especially after having given a series of nine talks on Joseph of Egypt to a Carmelite Community one year before! To be assured of health and many vocations to special work in our Father's vineyard was and is a source of the mixed feelings that mark the typical Latter-day Saint: a profound gratitude for all that God has done for me and a deep concern that I have not done enough to further his kingdom and climb that great ascending spiral that keeps opening up to new, exciting vistas.
Encounters with Death
As a Catholic I had gained a sense that the hour of death was a moment of truth, that if I ever left the Catholic Church I would tremble at the hour of death and wish for a Catholic priest to come and administer to me. With heart surgery not many years behind, I twice found myself in the crisis of facing death. On both occasions I was administered to by elders of the Church. On the first occasion I was in Albert Einstein Medical Center with a critical coronary insufficiency. In his concern, the Abbot from my former community flew over to Philadelphia to visit me. On his arrival I indicated my gratitude for his desire to help me, but I was visibly at peace and calm and I voiced what was within me. In his openness he later received me at the monastery where I had opportunity to speak to him of the restored gospel. I thought I detected in him a wistful envy of what I had discovered.
With the clear direction of the Word of Wisdom I found myself making great physical and spiritual progress. My colleagues from the monastery were perhaps most surprised and impressed by my ability to refrain from alcohol and coffee. But the growth in prayer, the new-found interest in scriptures, the rich opportunities to be involved in the callings within the ward, the ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, finally holding the office of elder—these spelled out my real growth.
The experience of the fast and testimony meeting seldom leaves me dry-eyed. To hear brother after brother, sister after sister, reveal God's personal working in their lives is one of the richest spiritual experiences open to man. It was what I sought in monastic community. It is what I found in the community of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It seemed to me I used to have many dreams of what I wished I could be like in following Christ; the principal difference now seems to be that I can do these things through the power of the Spirit. True, it requires a continual covenanting and renewing of covenants with our Father, but the ability to do so is much more readily available.
My Marriage in the House of the Lord
Progress is programmed by love. The highest level of development is dependent upon being sealed for time and eternity in temple marriage. As it was promised in my patriarchal blessing, Mariellen and I went up to the temple the year after my baptism to take out our endowments and have our marriage sealed.
Instead of body and soul being anti-bodies as envisioned by Augustine, the restored gospel explains that all spirit is matter, only more refined. (Again Doctrine and Covenants, Section 131!) Physical love, therefore, is not ignoble (or at least venially sinful). Rather, it is the advanced spirit (God) leading the less advanced (his children) to higher realization.
For years as sociologist and theologian I had probed the meaning of marriage, of sex and love. In the great revelation of the restored gospel given in the endowments, the mystery of man and woman, of love and marriage, of the divine plan of progression to divinization opened to me with breathtaking clarity. The successive covenants with God ending in the eternal covenant of marriage both moistened the eye with joy and sobered the spirit with the awesomeness of the responsibilities involved.
All my life I had been in pilgrimage to the House of the Lord, and now I finally could say: "Lord, you have not confounded me in my expectations. You programmed me for joy, and you have not withheld those things necessary to possess it." What new meaning the pilgrim psalms took on for me!
Some Attractions in the Gospel
1. The universal need to continually develop, even to the point of becoming a God, climbing the path of the ascending, expanding, open-ended spiral originally traced out by our Father.
2. The priesthood of Christ with its great power but gentle persuasive authority and the divine presence it effects in the affairs of men.
3. The centrality of love marking human relations from the family to the ward, from the neighborhood to the international community, where brother is brother in the preexistence and the earthly existence—it not only makes babies cry differently, but makes adults encounter differently.
4. The great vision of love and marriage and its wedding to development and joy; the freeing of the celibate for celestialization.
5. The simplicity, warmth, and divinizing power of the worship that strips away the dross and human appendages and allows communion with our Father and our brothers and sisters in ever-developing measure.
6. The clear vision of the meaning and path through these latter days, so dim before, and now so clearly lighted through the opening up of the meaning of Isaiah and Ezekiel, John the Revelator, and the Mormon prophets and scriptures, especially the Doctrine and Covenants.
I know within me that Jesus Christ stands at the head of this, his Church, and by its medium gives the members the plan and power to become sons of God through eternal progression.
To me Joseph Smith was the most vigorous of the great prophets, who as a young farm boy encountered the whole of Christianity, Protestant and Catholic, and redressed it with the clear and plain truth of the restored gospel as he opened up this dispensation of the fulness of times.
Within me I know that each succeeding president of the Church is indeed a living prophet of our Father in heaven and offers us continuing guidance, revelation, and direction in these days of great perplexity for man.
I witness to these things with joy of spirit in the name of Jesus Christ.
Hartman and Connie Rector, No More Strangers, Vol. 1 p.19