A famous monastery had fallen on hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled with young monks, but now it was all but deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer, and only a handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters serving God with heavy hearts. On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a little hut. He would come there, from time to time, to fast and pray. No one ever spoke with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: ‘The rabbi walks in the woods.’ And, for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.
One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and open his heavy heart to him. So, after the morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, as if he had been awaiting the abbot’s arrival, his arms outstretched in welcome. They embraced like long-lost brothers. The two entered the hut where, in the middle of the room, stood a wooden table with the scriptures open on it. They sat for a moment in the presence of the Book.
Then the rabbi began to weep. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hands and began to cry too. For the first time in his life, he cried his heart out. The two men sat there like lost children, filling the hut with their shared pain and tears. But soon the tears ceased and all was quiet. The rabbi lifted his head. ‘You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,’ he said. ‘You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you can repeat it only once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.’
The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, ‘The Messiah is among you.’ For a while, all was silent. The rabbi said, ‘Now you must go.’ The abbot left without a word and without ever looking back. The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them he had received a teaching from the ‘rabbi who walks in the woods’ and that the teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at the group of assembled brothers and said, ‘The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.’ The monks were startled by this saying.
‘What could it mean?’ they asked themselves. ‘Is Brother John the Messiah? Or Brother Matthew or Brother Thomas? Am I the Messiah? What could all this mean?’ They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi’s teaching, but no one ever mentioned it again. As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a new and very special reverence. A gentle, warm-hearted, concern began to grow among them which was hard to describe but easy to notice. They began to live with each other as people who had finally found the special something they were looking for, yet they prayer the Scriptures together as people who were always looking for something else.
When visitors came to the monastery they found themselves deeply moved by the life of these monks. Word spread, and before long people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks and to experience the loving reverence in which they held each other. Soon, other young men were asking, once again, to become a part of the community, and the community grew and prospered. In those days, the rabbi no longer walked in the woods. His hut had fallen into ruins. Yet somehow, the old monks who had taken his teaching to heart still felt sustained by his wise and prayerful presence.
A story by Fr. Francis Dorff, O. Praem from the book A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers: And All Who Love Stories That Move and Challenge by William J. Bausch.