Thursday, November 27, 2008

Monastic Action

So much of life in this natural world, perhaps even the greatest part of it, is centered in doing. Doing is unavoidable. We will always be doing something. In fact, what we do, how we live and where we go, has a revealing characteristic that really tells on us. What we do defines our preferences in life, whether our mind is on eternal or earthly things.

The Apostle James tells us that faith, unless it is accompanied by action, is no faith at all.[1] God, through divine action, touches our senses in one way or another to enliven faith, an interior unction, within us. We say yes, like Mary[2], to the messenger that speaks to us. We believe the message; we receive the message, even though it doesn’t necessarily make sense to us at the moment.

Christ became a literal reality within the womb of Mary, not because she understood, but because she said yes to the incomparable reality that God is. The idea that Christ chooses to make his residence within us, to reveal himself to others through us because of our interior semblance to him, is, in my own mind, the keynote of Scripture and the message of the Church.

This interior presence is not something merely symbolic. It is as literally real as the human presence of Christ growing in Mary’s Virginal womb. It is revealed, proclaimed, and received in the Great Thanksgiving of the Eucharist – in the real and present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ cloaked in the transformed garments of bread and wine.

His life is given to us. Our life becomes yielded to his in ever deepening dimensions as our personal faith filled response to the divine action that touches our senses. Here, in the realm of deepening our interior dimensions, is where we discover the hard work of monastic action in simple awareness.

This is an unending work, one that is never completed until we are at last standing in the literal presence of the Glorified Christ, the work spoken of by the anonymous fourteenth century mystic whose writing forms the heart of centering prayer and should form the heart of all prayer.

“The simple awareness of my being is all I desire, even though it must bring with it the painful burden of self and make my heart break with weeping because I experience only self and not God. I prefer it with its pain to all the subtle or unusual thought and ideas man may speak of or find in books … For this suffering will set me on fire with the loving desire to experience God as he really is.”[3]

[1] James 2:14-26
[2] Luke 1:26-38
[3] The Book of Privy Counseling, Ch. 14, para. 3