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Last November I traveled to the mountains of Vermont to meet the only Carthusian monks in North America. For two days, they welcomed me inside the walls of the monastery and described the life of silence and solitude they pursued. To address an outsider was an interruption for them, the first time in many years they'd allowed one to happen. The visit had been prompted by two lay members of the Carthusians's board, but what sealed the visit, what secured the monks's agreement, was something else: They read and admired First Things.

To have the men and doings of the Carthusian way described to the public was a chancy matter. The order is famously reclusive. The monks care nothing for worldly goods and attention. When they die, they're buried in a grave with no name or date, only a plain wooden cross to mark the spot. It took the creator of the film Into Great Silence twenty years to obtain permission to begin his project of profiling the monks at the Grande Chartreuse in eastern France.  

First Things, though, struck them as trustworthy. Only a publication that observed the sacred would be acceptable to a nine-hundred-year-old religious order whose statutes insist on strict fidelity to the tradition, with no concession to modern times. It gives me no pleasure to say that First Things is one of very few popular magazines in the United States that do not bow to the spirit of the age. Our country would be much better off if the public square were not so naked. At First Things, one is free to say so, which is usually not the case in the rest of the media world, and hardly ever the case in academia, where I worked for twenty-five years before joining the magazine. Even as the editors and writers address the messy details of U.S. politics and cultural decay, the transcendent remains as a source of hope and an object of prayer.

It is hard, sometimes, to maintain this faith in the twenty-first century, when the world impinges on individual souls like never before. In the shadow of Mount Equinox, the world goes away, and there were moments when I envied the monks their isolation and quiet. But the battle to preserve the sacred in some form or fashion in human affairs must be fought. I wish it weren't a battle, but the hostility that God-fearing Americans face every time they surf the TV channels, peruse their children’s public school materials, and observe American elites in action makes it a fact.

At First Things we carry on. You do, too, every time you read the magazine and donate money to support our work. Let me assure you of the commitment of editor R. R. Reno and the staff. We are in this all the way, dedicated to a better culture and politics under the guidance of faith. Please help us. Your contribution is not just a financial gain. It is an inspiration.

Mark Bauerlein is a contributing editor at First Things.

Image by Petar Milošević, licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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