Friday, November 20, 2009

The Key

Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he drew near. His words on that occasion are still echoing through the corridors of time. “If you only knew what makes for peace.”[1]

During the life of Christ on earth, the religious, political, and economic powers at hand failed to recognize the time of their visitation. The general populace failed in this recognition as well. Their focus was on matters other than the Ideal that epitomized the ideals of faith, hope, and charity.

On that last fateful day, Christ was abandoned by all but his mother and a deeply devoted pitiful few. Anger and rejection gripped the masses of folk that Christ had miraculously healed and fed. The one thought to be their liberator had turned out to be nothing more than a docile lamb. Fear and confusion filled the hearts and minds of his carefully chosen inner circle of disciples driving them into hiding behind closed doors. Peter, the one Christ called Rock and placed over His Church, picked up his nets and went fishing.

Today’s Gospel causes me to pause and wonder.

Has anything really changed over the ages?

Is there any practicality in thinking that lasting and meaningful peace is possible without the Prince of Peace who infuses measures of himself into the lives of believers through the holy virtues of faith, hope, and charity?

There is no way to count the lives that have been changed through the Gospel over the Christian ages. There have been multitudes of life-changes in this regard and these changes continue to occur here and there where souls hungry for the truth accept and receive the living truth contained in the Scriptures. Despite all the diversity of dogma and doctrinal opinions, Christ continues to influence and change individual lives.

What of the second question?

I hardly think that it is and it is not that we don’t have the opportunity and means for it. Christ’s words still echo, calling out to ears that refuse to hear. Christ still offers his image to eyes that refuse to see. “If you only knew.”

It is here, in a world torn by conflict and strife, in a world ripe with injustice and inequality, in a world filled with the antithetical actions that work in opposition against the divine activity of God that I find myself laboring.[2] And I must confess that, more times than not, I perceive this laboring as swimming against an extreme outgoing tide that seeks to drown me in its dark depths – against a secular world that is diabolically opposed to Christ, against my own fallible and susceptible self.

Without the Death of the Victim, a Death that overcame all death, there would be no possibility of salvation for humanity. Christ’s foreknowledge of his suffering and death, the free offering of himself as the Victim, and the presentation of himself as the Model for all victims in all ages[3], something implicitly contained in Benedict’s ideal of conversatio morum[4], form a life-image that is both beautiful but difficult to personally realize.

It is, however, in the personal commitment to self-death and in the personal realization of this life-image that faith, hope, and charity are infused and find their greatest fulfillment.

[1] Luke 19:41-44
[2] RB Prologue 14-17
[3] Philippians 2:1-8
[4] RB 58:17

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Difficult Proposition

The theological virtues - faith, hope, and charity – are integrally and inseparably related. It is through the impartation of the theological virtues, the action of grace that leads to and participates in our profession of faith in Christ, that we receive, enter into, and become the nature of Christ in the world.[1] [2]

The whole of the Christian experience revolves around the relational aspects inherent in the theological virtues, in the divinely infused gift of faith, hope, and charity that works mysteriously within the interior being to form believers in Christ into the image of Christ.

I’m hard pressed to find a time in my cabinet of remembrance when I did not have some degree of assent to the actions of divine reality. It has, granted, been a lifetime of development. I have to admit that the developmental process includes times when I chose exercising my will in resisting the truth.

Alternatives, avenues that are easily chosen through ignorance and often chosen for one reason or another through willful defiance, are alluring and can seem so attractive. There have also been times when my best reasoning, thinking that I was discerning the will of God and living out that direction, brought about a crop of difficult and even victimizing consequences.

Dying to self[3] is a difficult proposition. It is, however, the proposition that presents itself. To be remade and staid in the image of Christ necessarily means losing the image of this self that I, and the world, have and would continue to make of me.[4]

This is not something that I can accomplish in my own strength. Nor is it a conflict won in a few skirmishes. The victory inherent herein is the antithesis of all that is held in esteem by the world’s ideals of success.

[1] Acts 17:28
[2] Ephesians 2:8-9
[3] 1 Corinthians 15:31 A.V.
[4] Mark 8:35

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Waiting


There are times when life's demands are such that it becomes all one can do to

. . . simply breathe

. . . simply rest

in faith,
in hope,
in the charity of God.

Thoughts become a jangled tangle. Words just a string of meaningless incoherent run-on symbols not worth the ink to print them.

And we wait. Doing what we can to simply manage life on its own uncertain terms.

Yet,

it is here.

More than anywhere.

That very life itself becomes a wordless prayer.

That we discover and experience the sustaining grace and mercy of God.

And waiting becomes our expression of the theological virtues.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

And Now Abideth These Three

And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.[1]

They are the foundation of all Christian moral activity giving it animation, providing its special character.

The theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) inform and give life to all the moral virtues. The theological virtues are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being.[2]

I do not recall any of the contemplative writers saying so in so few words, but I am coming more and more to understand, or at least suspicion, that it is the infusion of the theological virtues, accompanying spiritual reading, meditation, and prayer that carry the prepared and receptive praying soul into the desired but fleeting fruit of contemplation. The contemplative state, however, as a gift that challenges intellectual reasoning, can and will defy our best efforts to catalogue, define, or outline steps that it must follow.

Though it may involve multiple stages, the performance of the Christian life (and I use the word performance because living out the tenets of Christianity is indeed a personal performance[3]) is not something arbitrary or guided by chance. This is a performance written and orchestrated by God who knows where we are, considers where we are, and leads every honest searching soul in respect to these personal life-conditions.[4]

Accepting this, how then ought I to live as a follower of Christ on the stage that God has prepared for me?[5] Answering this question is integral to all that I am and all that I do as a Christian, as a Catholic Christian, and as an Oblate in the Order of St. Benedict.

This is the great pressing question that I must continually ask myself.

This is, I believe, also the great pressing question that spans the course of time and comes to bear most heavily on the whole of these turbulent modern times as the most important question imploring an answer. It’s the question that reaches over the obstacles created by borders, hedges, languages, and creeds and has no respect of national origin, sect, or race.

Over the course of the next several posts I will be making a little personal journey of reflective exploration into the values inherent in the theological virtues, virtues and their values that adapt human nature for participation in divine nature. It’s the theological virtues that dispose Christians, in monasteries and in the world, to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity and provides the substance for every human virtue.[6]

Although we exercise disciplines of various sorts and in various measures in the course of our spiritual journey, and although we practices various human virtues in varying degrees and in sundry circumstances, it is through the infusion of the theological virtues, more than anything else, that the soul enters into fellowship with God.

For an increase in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity … let us pray to the Lord.

[1] 1 Corinthians 13:13 A.V.
[2] CCC, 1813,
[3] James 2:14-26
[4] John 15:16-17
[5] 2 Peter 3:11
[6] CCC, 1812

Friday, October 30, 2009

Calm Sailing

A lot of dynamics come to bear on the Protestant soul that is drawn to Catholic Christianity. The dynamics involve both interior and exterior dimensions. This multi-dimensional journey can indeed be quite a crisis of faith, not only for the soul on the journey but also for the host of spectators viewing from up close and far away.

It is a journey filled with inexpressible joy, something that I personally liken to the parable told by Jesus about the Prodigal.[1] The implicit life-parallels contained in this parable are striking.

This joy has a deep personal and intimate fullness about it that is more easily experienced than it is described. But, at the same time, the journey is also replete with levels of sorrow and sadness, elements that have a way of creating their own set of defining characteristics.[2]

Rejection is definitely one of the characteristics that earmark the journey of a Protestant into the world of Catholic Christianity, something that is particularly heightened when the one being led on the journey happens to be a Protestant minister. It’s just simply part of the course. Although the pains of rejection have a way of sharpening awareness and firming resolve, it also necessitates practicing generous amounts of forgiveness and living more deeply centered in the love of Christ.[3]

Life’s journey is a course of discovery. I am discovering, along with these telltale marks of natural aging, that I am growing quite the more sentimental and sympathetic as I traverse these proverbial hills and hollows in pursuit of Christ and my own soul’s redemption.

I must admit however that there was a season on this journey when it was easy for me to meet rejection with equal amounts of its kind. Perhaps that was paraptoma on my part, fault that had a way of clouding over a lot of good memories of beautiful relationships and fruitful ministry that found themselves surrounded by camps of other well-intentioned but belligerent forces that caused me much personal hardship.

But perhaps it was also something necessary along that particular stretch of an extremely difficult climb, one that amounted to nothing less than a feat of spiritual, emotional, and even physical survival.

The dire straits inherent in that part of the journey have lost their keen edge. The major storms have abated. Those difficult straits are now more of a historical matter than they are present lived reality. The fabric of my life is yet being woven.

The sun rises in the East and sets in the West, a natural sign filled with profundity. “Live in fear of judgment day and have a great horror of hell. Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die. Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.”[4]

[1] Luke 15:11-32
[2] Romans 8:31b-39
[3] Matthew 5:3-12
[4] RB 4:44-49

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mea Culpa

I CONFESS.

The beginning words of the Confiteor will ever be an incomplete statement of the process of self-examination and, at the same time, the doorway that opens to ever-deepening depths of interior healing and health.[1] It is a process that we are simply never done with, though it is easily set aside, avoided, or rejected for one reason or another, especially in our pressing post-modern culture with its gross overemphasis on individualism and independence.

I do not like to admit my own culpability. Not to myself. Not to anyone else. I am, after all, a human being and I am as susceptible as any other person to the sin of self-justifying pride, the plank that leads only to the inevitable short plunge into an unforgiving sea of self-destruction.[2]

John Cassian, born about 360 and ordained to the diaconate shortly after 400 by John Chrysostom, writes poignantly about the vice of pride, something that is found listed first on the list of the seven capital sins.

“There is no other vice which so reduces to naught every virtue and so despoils and impoverishes a human being of all righteousness and holiness as does the evil of pride. Like a kind of pestilence in its noxious universality, it is not satisfied with disabling one member or one part of the body; instead, it wastes the whole body with its deadly corruption and seeks to cast down and demolish by the most utter collapse those whose place is already at the summit of the virtues.”[3]

Poignant words. Blunt and sharp in the same instance. Words that implore self examination.

St. Benedict[4] cautions against the sin of superbia throughout the Rule. He applies these cautions to every level of personal monastic status: Abbot, cellarer, deans, prior, priests, reader, monks. I must, as an Oblate of St. Benedict, take to heart the wise counsel from “a father who loves me, welcome it, and (work to) faithfully put it into practice.”[5] The context of an obedient life as an Oblate of St. Benedict, housed within the framework of the historic Catholic faith, has defining and refining characteristics that I cannot ignore or slight.

The practical truth of the matter is that none, regardless of their point or position of Christian experience and service, are immune to pride. I am certainly not above it, must own up to it, and include myself in this group of none. Pride, cloaked with its insidious and deceptive nature, has a way of always showing up. It simply has my number, knows how to dial it, and is constantly ringing it up in one way or another.

Cassian tells us that no one can attain the end of perfection and purity except by true humility.[6] Benedict spends quite a few words in the Rule[7] outlining twelve steps in the ladder of humility. It seems to me, despite all the efforts and arguments made to downplay, avoid, and even justify omiting the subject, there is only one legitimate prescription available that can allay the effects of pride.[8]

Perhaps, if I keep taking this prescription long enough, one day I’ll finally slay this dragon named pride that shows up all too often on my doorstep. I can offer no legitimate excuse for opening the door and welcoming him in.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

[1] James 5:16
[2] Proverbs 16:18-19
[3] John Cassian, The Institutes, Twelfth Book, p. 255
[4] c. 480-547
[5] RB, Prologue 1
[6] Book Twelve, XXIII
[7] RB 7
[8] Phillipians 2:5-8

Friday, October 23, 2009

Onus

Daybreak marks the Eastern sky and a Mockingbird is singing its part in the morning chorus. I love this time of day. It’s beautiful.

For a while an owl was hooting down in the bottom. The air is filled with the aromas of autumn’s earth scents. The world of people is waking, at least in the natural sense, and beginning to go about its frenetic course while monks assemble to pray the morning offices in unhurried fashion.

They pray for themselves. They pray for the Church. They pray for me. They pray for the whole world. From a distance I enter into and join in the spirit of prayer with them.

Laud the day. Christ is Risen and the graces of God’s mercies are renewed afresh!

O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.

I’m reminded in today’s Gospel[1] of the partitive nature of the Christian experience, that entering into and living the life of Christ is to choose a life replete with what appears as paradox. But it really is not paradox. There is no contradiction in Pure Peace, in the one who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”[2]

Far be it from the Prince of Peace to be the generating source of division. Yet, in his own words, he tells us that his coming was to announce division. He did not come as the creator or author of division.[3] That’s a project that humanity does well enough at on its own.[4] He came as the Light to penetrate and illuminate the darkness that separates mankind from God. He came to illuminate the darkness that separates humankind from one another.

I have to own up to my own onus where this matter of darkness is concerned. The owning up is much easier though at this point in my life-journey. What, after all, do I have to lose?

[1] Luke 12:49-53
[2] John 14:6
[3] 1 Corinthians 14:33
[4] James 3:16

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moving Beyond The Sesquicentenial Post

To say that the journey of faith is an interesting and challenging journey is perhaps one of the greatest understatements that can be made by anyone. How can it be anything but interesting and challenging? It is, after all, a journey into the heart and mind of God.

It’s a journey that begins with the premise that trusting in God’s ability takes precedence over any ability that I may possess. It’s a journey that takes into graceful consideration my own inability and fallibility. It is a journey of continual discovery, of continual conversion. Then, one eventual day, the journey as we now know and understand it concludes on the same note that it began with.

Then, even and especially then, what seems to be the conclusion of life is only a beginning, a brilliant and new beginning of consummate union and fulfillment in the Very Source of our being. This ultimate union and fulfillment is, I believe, the hope and goal of all believers in Christ regardless of their denominational affiliation.

It’s really a shame, considering that the whole of Christendom shares in this single hope and goal, that so many wedges pry Christ’s Body apart. A lot of wedges have been cast since the Reformation. Not just wedges that separate Protestants from Catholics, but also wedges that separate Protestants from Protestants.

Christian people have their differences of opinions about certain matters of faith and doctrine. Maintaining and furthering differences of opinions has a way of necessitating the forging of larger and heavier wedges. It’s wise to remember that the deeper a wedge is driven into a block of wood the harder it is to remove it. Even if it is removed it always has a way of leaving behind a gaping scar.

Hammering wedges is not on my list of intentions. Christ’s Church is already badly fractured and scarred enough. But, at the same time, I cannot but speak and write objectively and with integrity about my own personal faith journey, one that was for a lot of years deeply involved in the Protestant faith realm before my conversion to Catholicism.

This was a conversion that did not happen in an instant. It wasn’t a change made in haste. It came only after years of study, prayer, and discernment. It came only after a long season of “counting the cost.”

I owe a lot to my former life as a Protestant and I give credit to every teacher and mentor that I had along the way. I consider, at this point in my faith journey, that the sum of the various parts of my Protestant experience were preparatory for the day when I, with my Baptist background wife beside me, would be confirmed in the Latin Rite.

This journey of faith, in many respects, has only just begun. It’s a journey replete with all the inherent aspects of a life-long love affair. It’s not a fickle romance based on infatuation and changing emotions. It’s deep, soul and marrow deep. It involves the intellect but transcends the capacities of intellect to anticipate and enter into Divine Mystery where faith becomes unclouded sight, where I am better able to “see as I am seen” and “know as I am known.”

So here’s a toast to all the miles and memories that reach back to the days of my earliest memories. And, looking ahead at the miles that are hidden within the misty Cloud of Unknowing, I follow the toast with a prayer looking forward to God’s continued grace and guidance.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Spiritual Discernment

Discernment is not always a pleasant process. It’s also a process easily complicated by attempting to inject what I think is in my best interest, what will suit my own preferential desires, or even what I think is God’s will, according to my own perceived and conditioned notions, into the process.

The process of discernment is something very fluid and its outcome, quite often, can be far different from what one may think. The involved fluidity can be something of a challenge, especially when we are conditioned to think in concrete and systematic terms, terms that can place personal limits on the illuminating capabilities of the Holy Spirit.[1]

It was a stark and numbing reality that I awoke to. Although it was a quite sudden awakening, it was predicated by a long road littered with the debris of multiple personal crises arising from the process of trying to faithfully serve God in what I honestly understood to be my vocation in life as a Protestant minister.

For all my best efforts and personal sacrifices, despite all my best efforts and sacrifices, the road in my rear-view wasn’t a very pleasant sight to behold and I no longer possessed the emotional and spiritual stamina to keep riding the waves of disaster that beat against the shore of my life. I simply could not keep doing what I was doing and accruing what I was accruing.

I didn’t see a pathway when I consciously stepped off the road that was familiar to me. It was, in fact, more like blazing a trail through the brush and bramble. I did not know where I was going and had no idea or inclination that the trail that I was blazing as a mere act of survival would intersect with monastic spirituality, solitude and contemplative prayer, and the Catholic Church. But I was satisfied in knowing that I was going.

Discernment is a process that bears its precious fruit over time. Its fruit blossoms and develops “in the going.” It has its moments of epiphany, those little rays of brilliance that penetrate our hearts and minds to give us hope. The process of discernment takes us into ourselves to show us where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. It offers us opportunity to grow deeper in our understanding of ourselves. It takes us out of ourselves to help us better understand God and his will for the life we’ve been given to live in this present world.[2]

“All sorrow, hardship, difficulty, struggle, pain, unhappiness, and ultimately death itself can be traced to rebellion against God’s love for us.”[3] My own rebellion. Other’s rebellion. It’s really a simple but nasty matter.

I, for the most part, credited the cause and fault of the multiple crises to others. It was, after all, from others both in marriage and ministry that the leaping flames of disapproval reached out to singe my heart and blacken my emotional skin. At this point now, in the course of my life, I can own up to my share of the causes and faults that worked covertly deep within my ill-prepared self.

And, more honestly, pray ... forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

[1] Romans 8:7
[2] Phillipians 3:15-16
[3] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 267

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Religious Dissension

It really is something of a spiny horned dilemma, one that centers itself in the issue regarding the bread and the wine offered on the altar – in its presentation by the priest, in its consecration and sanctification by the High Priest who comes miraculously and mysteriously to inhabit the bread and wine, and in those who are able through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation to share in the reception of the true and living Body and Blood of Christ.

There are, quite naturally, other issues that arise out of this primary one. One of the most significant of them is the ideal that governing spiritual authority was vested in Peter and the other apostle-bishops, and subsequently in those upon whom they laid their hands in ordination.[1] Rejection of Apostolic Authority in the priesthood, the priestly spiritual lineage of leadership traceable back to Peter[2], along with the spiritual authority vested in him by Christ, opens a proverbial Pandora’s Box filled with divisive moths that eat away at the very fabric of the leadership model ordained by Christ.

Authority, of any kind, is a major issue with a lot of people. Especially in this age of independent thinking and living. It’s important to remember that the antithesis of authority isn’t freedom. Far from it. The antithesis of authority is anarchy and when anarchy is the rule of the day nobody is free. Everyone lives in fear, even its promoters and proliferators. The worst possible form of anarchy is the one that births schismatic spiritual dissension.[3]

It is, in my mind and understanding, a climate of spiritual dissension that affects all of us in the realm of modern Christendom. A lot of it appears on the surface to be well-intentioned dissension. But even well-intentioned dissension has a way of getting out of control. It has a way of side-stepping and ignoring historical Church norms and, in their place, fashioning its own sets of congregational and independent norms that more readily allow for individual preferences and human expressions.

The sad and dangerous reality about these replacement-norms in the realm of Christendom is that all of them incorporate the Scriptures as their source to justify their being. The Holy Scriptures, in the multiplicity of their denominational usages and independent interpretations, have sadly become the single greatest tool used by the Enemy to fracture and divide the Church. I hardly think that religious dissension was Christ's holy plan for his Body or God's intentions in giving us the Scriptures.

All of us who take on the nature of Christ, through belief in and profession of him as Savior and Lord, are called to become bearers of the Light.[4] This is a tremendous task and responsibility, one that is exacerbated by the reality that we live in an inherited climate of hostilities created by the fruit of several centuries of religious dissension.

[1] 1 Timothy 4:14
[2] Matthew 16:18-19
[3] RB 1, The Kinds of Monks
[4] Matthew 5:14-16

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ecumenism

Ecumenism.

It’s an interesting word. It’s an especially interesting word to bring up on the heels of the last quote from the 1955 Manual For Oblates where we are encouraged to pray for the extirpation of heresies and schisms.

The word ecumenism does have a nice ring to it.

Ecumenism, as an idea and as a movement, boasts of being an endeavor to unify. It offers something in the way of a remedy for the fractured brokenness that realistically characterizes the multi-denominational church world. Relationships can be built with others of differing doctrinal mindsets. Bridges can be built through inter-religious dialog with religions differing from the Judeo-Christian faith.

Relationships, communication, understanding and acceptance are all important dimensions of life in the pluralistic world of religious faith. But, for all the effort, can ecumenism ever serve as the vehicle that achieves Christ’s deep desire reflected in his priestly prayer?[1]

Personally, from the little corner where I live out of my own experiential frame of reference as a Protestant convert to Catholicism, I hardly think that it can. Not in an ultimate fashion. Not in a fashion that will become the catalyst for the conversion of the long list of ancient “other than Christian” religions. Not as the means that will bring all the “separated” Protestant brethren back into the sheepfold of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Ecumenism, as with every other item and issue that concerns my life as a Catholic believer and as an Oblate of St. Benedict, comes down to one simple matter. It is simply a matter of legitimate spiritual authority. Not only a matter of legitimate spiritual authority. But of personally yielding to its Christ given position in His design for the Church.

For me as an individual, mere mental assent in these matters without a total life response is a sure and compromising course leading toward an ever deepening emptiness full of self-deception.

Somewhere, somehow, there simply has to be a final and definitive voice of authority that can herald an authoritative yea or nay. I find this voice of authority in the Supreme Pontiff and his bishops and priests as they rightly divide the word of truth[2] and its accompanying traditions that keep my own interpretations of it from going askew and leading me into anathema. I also find this voice of authority in the Abbot of St. Bernard Abbey where he leads the monks and Oblates in the way of the Gospel set forth by St. Benedict and contained in the Rule.

Ultimate and absolute spiritual unity cannot exist without ultimate and absolute spiritual authority. We can have plenty of individualism and denominationalism without it. We can have plenty of lively and meaningful inter-personal and inter-religious interaction without it. We can do plenty of altruistic good works without it. There is a lot that we can have and do without it. But the one thing that we cannot have or achieve without ultimate and absolute spiritual authority is true, ultimate, and absolute spiritual unity.

This presents something of an unavoidable predicament, one of those inescapable horned dilemmas. No matter how we dress it up, pare it down, or rationalize it.

[1] John 17 (particularly verses 20-21)
[2] 2 Timothy 2:15





Thursday, October 8, 2009

Out Of The Wilderness

A dear friend, serving as a fellow Protestant clergyman, showed me his copy of New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton almost a decade ago. He handed the book to me, opened to chapter 3, and asked me to read. I had never so much as heard of Merton and had no idea that he was a deceased Catholic, Trappist monk, and priest.

I read the first paragraph while standing in the middle of the parsonage living room. Merton’s words warmly massaged my sore bruised heart. I sat down on his living room floor, continued reading the chapter, and experienced something of a challenging infusion of peace and grace that, unbeknown to me at the time, marked the beginning of my journey out of Protestantism and into the world of Catholic faith.

I live daily with thanksgiving for that providential landmark, etched into the fabric of my soul, at a crossroad that was dry, windswept, and otherwise noted for quite an assortment of interpersonal relational hostilities.

Ten years ago I would have scoffed at the notion of converting to Catholicism. Nothing in my Christian lineage supported such a notion.

I was reared in Calvinism in a small independent Bible Church. As a young man in my twenties, after a hard romp in the world, I crawled out of the pigsty and sensed a calling to ministry. I enrolled in a denominational Bible College that was staunchly opposed to the Catholic Church and, for that matter, every other denomination. Upon graduation I was ordained as a minister in that denomination. The latter years of my Protestant ministerial career found me preaching and pastoring in the independent charismatic arena.

I had become, for all practical purposes and in all signs and appearances, a Protestant in full bloom.

It’s not my intention to scathe the realm of Protestantism. That is not my purpose in life as a Catholic follower of Christ. Nor is it an inherent aspect found in the Rule of St. Benedict[1]. Oblates of St. Benedict are directed to live with an ecumenical orientation.[2] It was, however, out of the world of Protestantism, that I providentially found my way home to the healing fullness of the Catholic Church, St. Benedict, and St. Bernard Abbey. It is a fullness that has definite distinguishing characteristics that Catholics and Catholic Oblates are encouraged not to lose.

I’ll admit that all of the aforementioned does have a way of objectively coloring the way I see and address the bigger picture of Christianity and the Church. It is a picture that helps me see that it is altogether too easy to lose a sense of mindfulness about where we are at the moment - a sense that takes into consideration the direction we are heading and where we have come from. To have this lack of sense in a natural wilderness setting means that we are lost and our very life could quite possibly be in jeopardy.

How can the Christian faith-journey parallel be considered any different? Especially considering the tremendous disunity created by all the fissures, fractures, and factions that, once begun, have continued to multiply themselves over time into such a vast wilderness of divided doctrinal opinions.

“Let them (Oblates) pray earnestly for the triumph of holy Mother Church, for the spread of religion, for the extirpation of heresies and schisms, for the conversion of infidels, for the repentance of sinners, for the perseverance of the righteous, and for the relief of the souls in purgatory.”[3]

[1] St. Benedict, the Rule, and monasticism do happen to be of the Catholic orientation.
[2] Guidelines For Oblates Of St. Benedict, Section A, para. II
[3] .27, Statutes And Declarations Of The Oblates Of St. Benedict, contained in the Rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Religious, granted March 24, 1927. Manual For Oblates, St. John’s Abbey Press, p. 18, © 1955

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pathways Of Contradiction And Hope

Quite a number of years, investigating and pondering the roots and history of monasticism, predicated the day that I eventually knocked at the door of St. Bernard Abbey, an event that coincided with a parallel journey of beginning RCIA[1] classes at St. Lawrence Catholic Church.

These parallel paths first appeared as paths of contradiction. And they are. They contradicted much of what I had been taught as a Protestant believer. They also appeared, bizarre as they may seem to intellects groomed to oppose them, as paths of hope in a deep and dark forest crisscrossed with so many trails and the echoing voices of a confusing chorus of denominational and independent criers.

I could not though, for the spiritual life of me, once my weary pilgrim feet had started walking these parallel paths, turn aside or cease the journey. This journey, replete with certain pending costs in regard to personal relationships, was far too important. Its dividends were far too valuable to trade for less valuable tender.

The voices of the criers in the proverbial woods no longer appealed to my ears. The many crisscrossing paths were no longer inviting and held no attraction to my eyes. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist had become real to me. The need for the authority vested in Apostolic Succession had become real to me. My own deepest personal need, after decades of professing Christ and serving him as a Protestant minister, had become real to me.

It was in the realization of my own deep personal need and the means[2] to satisfy my own deep hunger and thirst that I also began to realize my vocation in becoming a layperson in the Catholic Church and in becoming an Oblate of St. Benedict.

Though I’ve known Christ throughout most of my life, I found my spiritual Mother in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Mother Church established by her Son. In the monastic way of spirituality, particularly through St. Benedict, the Holy Rule, and a daily horarium of prayer, lectio, and manual labor, I found an effective, time proven, and unchanging way[3] to live the Gospel Ideals in this crazy and fractured modern age.

And I endeavor to do this in relationship with the monastic community at St. Bernard’s and with other Oblates living outside the cloister. This is a relationship that readily assists in keeping me from my own easily accomplished errors in interpreting the Gospel to meet my own fickle and changing moods and desires.

A life given to the practice of holy obedience and conversion of life, when viewed in the context formed by monastic spirituality running alongside the framework authoritatively provided by the governing Church that is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic[4], is something far removed from any ideas of a life hedged by religious subservience. Its perimeter and bivouac host a spiritual freedom filled with its own characteristics that are more easily experienced than explained. It is a freedom easily resisted, neglected, or taken altogether for granted.

The labor of holy obedience and its subsequent fruit of conversion of life is honestly the only means available to deliver me from my own sloth of disobedience.[5] So I do my best, as an Oblate, to keep the monastic pathway under my feet. And, when I do wander off the path, it doesn’t take long for the brambles and briars to get my attention.

[1] Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults
[2] John 6:22-69
[3] 1500 years of usage surely deems something reliable.
[4] The character of the Church as defined by the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
[5] RB Prologue 2

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oblate Retreat 2009

I almost didn’t go. Mostly because of the anxiety generated by vehicle problems and family concerns. There was something of a mean mental thing going on that insisted that I needed to stay home. But, at the same time, there was something deeper and compelling whispering in my spirit - a voice that’s easily overlooked or ignored.[1] I yielded to the whisper and made the 300 mile trip to the Abbey for our Annual Oblate Retreat.

Expectations? Of course. How could there not be? But too many expectations can ruin spontaneity and surprise so I’ve learned to be cautious with them. Suffice it to say that I’m always deeply blessed through spending time with my monastic family. Praying the offices in choir. Listening to the conferences presented by the conference leader. Being in community for a few days with monks and other Oblates. Listening, as St. Benedict says, with the ear of the heart.[2]

I also anticipated the opportunity to visit the grave of Father Thomas O’Connor, something that I’ve not been able to do since he died. I became an Oblate through Father Thomas in the late latter years of his life. He was quite an example of faith to all that knew him.

Father Bede Marcy OSB, our newly appointed Director of Oblates, served as our retreat conference leader. Unlike Father Thomas, whose life and ministry as a priest was near its end, Father Bede is much younger and recently ordained to the priesthood.

It wouldn’t be appropriate to compare their dynamics, to hold one man up against the other. It is, however, of interest to note that Father Thomas was reaching the end of his priestly road when I came along knocking at the door of the monastery. Father Bede is beginning his. These particular points in life’s journey present their own valid individual sets of dynamics, dynamics that are never out of place or out of time in God’s greater plan.

There are differences in these sets of dynamics and we need the differences to be whole and complete as a community. We need the elderly grandfatherly wisdom and presence of those who have long walked the way of St. Benedict. And we need the youthful vigor and vitality of our brothers and priests who are stepping in behind them to not only keep the Benedictine fires burning inside the monastery but to also hopefully kindle these fires in the hearts of a younger on-looking generation.

We had five conferences over the course of our retreat weekend. The themes of the conferences were 1. Wasting Time With God, 2. Waiting For Christ To Burst Forth, 3, Watching For Providence, 4. Wanting To Love, 5. Walking In Faith.

Father didn’t speak with lofty high in the sky platitudes. There was no hardcore academia that could possibly pass over anyone’s head. There was only direct but gentle “toward the heart” spiritual direction making practical and usable application of Scripture and the Rule. Father Bede’s conferences dealt with the heart of what it means to be Benedictine and what it means to live in the world as the Benedictine face of the monastic community.

Hopefulness. I think this is one of the words that best defines the sense of being that I came away from the retreat with; a renewed sense of hopefulness and an even firmer resolve toward my vocation as an Oblate of St. Benedict. The other word is purposefulness, a renewed sense of purpose, that my life as an Oblate of St. Benedict has personal and collective definition and purpose within the Benedictine community that I'm part of and in the world where I live outside the cloister.

[1] Mark 6:31
[2] RB Prologue 1

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transition

It’s a beautiful sight. At least I think it is and it’s something that a few of us have been waiting all summer to see.

The blossoming goldenrod is one of the early signs that summer has nearly past us by and is finally standing on its last leg. Refreshing cooler weather is on its way. Judging by the timing of the goldenrod we should have our first frost around the second week of November. That’s an early frost for us.

It is a sign of relief for those of us in the Deep South where winter poses hardly a day inclemently harsh enough to keep us hunkered down next to a hot fire. We do have some days that keep us looking out the window. But they generally involve looking at the rain coming down.
Don’t get me wrong. It gets plenty cold. Cold enough to be miserable if you aren’t dressed for it and the high humidity generated by the prevailing southerly winds complicates the matter. But it’s not the kind of hard cold that sets in before Thanksgiving and lasts until the spring thaw. It’s not the kind of cold that makes freezing to death the likelihood.

Occasionally, only extremely occasionally, things will set themselves up in the atmosphere in such a way that we’ll see a little sleet or maybe a snowflake or two. In all my years though I can recall only one winter here that was cold enough to freeze the ground and set enough ice on small shallow ponds that was thick enough to support the weight of man. That snap busted a lot of water pipes in this land where most do-it-yourself folks trenched their water lines in just under the sod.

In the natural world we are experiencing a transition, one, I’ll dare to say, is going by unnoticed by the weakened masses involved in their busyness of synthetic artificiality.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Following Spiritual Direction

I live more and more with a purposeful sense of direction and responsibility toward the self that I am. It’s a multi-faceted sort of thing taking quite a lot into consideration.

This multi-faceted nature does however focus primarily upon developing my own perceived spiritual vocation, something carefully discerned, promised solemnly in spoken word and signed by my own hand before Christ, and celebrated by the monks that form the actual nucleus of my greater spiritual family.

Having said this, I also have to admit, when it comes to all the structural elements that are characteristic of monastic life, even those minimally prescribed for Oblates, I am far from the model of Oblate perfection.

It was not, however, a model of perfection that I offered on the Altar at the monastery. It was the struggling self that I was and am that was offered. It was this same struggling self that was accepted by Christ and by my monk brothers.

At the center of this life-path I’ve discovered the particular element of “this works for me.” I am able, with the aid of Sacramental means, to rationally assess and embrace the self that I am, replete with my shortcomings and failures, without bludgeoning myself or walking through life harnessed like an ox to a sled load of guilt. In accepting my own imperfections as part of the process of grace, I am also able, most of the time, to view less critically the imperfections of others.

The process of grace is not, however, something that is self-excusing or so individualistic that I discover myself to be living a life of spiritual or religious anarchy, something that I’ve come to conclude, after decades of being a willing participant and promoter thereof, is the greatest problematic condition fracturing the Body of Christ into so many splits, schisms, and sects.

I am no longer fighting against the spiritual and religious norms foundationally established in Christian antiquity. I accept them. I also accept the legitimate Apostolic Authority given to safely guide me in my faith-journey. These are no longer my personal conflict and it’s altogether difficult to describe the freedom found in finally giving up the strife of that long fight.

Nor do I necessarily feel the urgency to labor as a defensive apologetic or to follow a course that leaves me lost in the Wilderness of Eclecticism. I do though find it is rather difficult to communicate the values inherent in this life of faith without honoring their Christ-given Source and the clear streams through which they have flowed to finally reach the needy dark and murky waters of these modern times where we find ourselves.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Bigger Bowl Of Rice

Max was a strange fellow. I met him in Germany in the early 70’s.

He wore stripes on his sleeves, Staff Sergeant Stripes, and had earned them through time and service in the armored cavalry in Viet Nam. He somehow managed to make an MOS change when he found himself stationed in Germany and secured a transfer into the Military Police.

I liked Max. A lot. Despite the fact that his several tours of combat had affected him direly. It had turned him into one of those people who, if war could go on forever, would have been at home in the middle of it. Now that it was over, he was like a fish out of water. At least in the MP’s he was afforded the occasional opportunity for a little hand-to-hand, even if it was against fellow Americans, G.I. fights and brawls usually occasioned by too much imbibing at the EM Club or in the civilian establishments in town.

Despite the psychological damage caused by several tours of combat, Max had a genuine humanness about him. It was this, not his war stories, stories that came out only when he was plenty lubricated, that I remember most about him.

I remember him talking about a conversation that he had with some of the impoverished old Vietnamese folks over there. He had asked them their opinion of the war. The response of the old people was really quite profound in its simplicity. Their response was, “If the North wins, we eat rice. If the South wins, we still eat rice.”

Today’s economic-political theatre, at least where the life that I live is concerned, isn’t so far removed from the S.E. Asia theatre and Max’s old folks a half decade ago. It simply doesn’t matter who’s at the top of the pile. It doesn’t matter what political insignia they wear. Honestly, the way I see and understand them, neither big business or politics have my best interest in mind. Both make promises of a bigger bowl of rice. But, when it comes down to it, I’m still the one sweating in the muddy water.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Notes Of Change

I’ve never read the Koran. It’s something that I’ve never felt any need to do. I do, after all, have the Holy Scriptures that predate the Mohammedan text. The Holy Bible, from my earliest childhood until now, has been and remains the single most important influence upon this feeble life of mine.

So I have to rely on what I see going on, on the lived out reality of the issue as it is portrayed in history and in the present day workings of today’s civilizations.

Based on these observations, albeit observations made from my own Christian biases, I am unable to think too favorably about Islam as a religion. I see it more as a system of human subservience that, historically and now, moves and governs through conquest and domination.

But, at the same time, I have to admit that Christians have used the Bible to the same end. So, in defense of my own faith-group, I don’t have any stones to throw at the Mohammedans. I’m only trying to peacefully live out my faith in Christ and pray for the grace to persevere until my last breath.

An awful lot is being made these days about the influence of Islam in this country’s “highest” office. A lot of Christians are angry. A lot of Christians are afraid. I am neither of these about this matter. Nor do I profess or desire to sit on either side of the line that is graphically drawn between the Republican and Democratic parties.

Where all this is concerned, I have to step aside from the heat and debates and live as a non-combatant. It’s simply that I find it impossible to honestly intercede for the dire needs of the world while, at the same time, covertly or overtly despising and condemning those for whom I am praying.

Personally, as only one of several notes being played on the instrument of change, I find this issue rather interesting in the life of this seething smelting pot that, dismembered as it may have always been after one fashion or another, is called the United States. These issues serve to remind me that faith in Christ is not predicated by the changing political and economic schemes of any national social unit.

These changes, those presently manifested and any that will appear on their falling tide, do not possess the strength or weight to curb or crush Christianity. They may, indeed, present some challenges in the public realm of faith-life, in outward displays of superfluous personal preferences and opinions. But, with history as teacher, even the most extreme times have a way of exciting interest and reviving vitality in the life of the Church.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Guilt By Association

Advances in technology have a two-fold effect upon humanity. We are, in the same breath, softened by the ease of life they present and dulled to more essential realities. The very good that these advances could afford, for all practical purposes, circumvents what could be and turns it into the means and motivation for greed and its first-cousin pride.

I’m not an economist or political analyst. But it seems to me that the farther along we move as a social human race the further we get from the core and organic ideals set forth by Christ, the ideals exemplified by so many Saints whose lives passed muster for Canonization. Not only these, but also the multitude of unknown saints whose lives of quietude now form the vast choir singing the Song of Salvation to this generation.

This is my opinion and in the midst of my opinion I discover myself as one among many others. Guilty!

It happens to be a contrary sort of guilt, one that I find forced upon me at every turn by the maddening march made by the progress of sated civilization. The march has gained so much momentum that its flow has a telling effect, something that is terribly difficult to stand against or save myself from. Its germs have been so well propagated and released that none are immune to their contagion in this modern economy.

Not even, perhaps especially, those who are finally able to recognize, name, and fight against the germs that infect their soul. The Seven Deadly Sins, or The Eight Principle Vices defined and so well outlined by Cassian in The Institutes, have become the common lifestyle practices of society as we now know it, one that will not be satisfied by its lusts even when empery has been totally achieved.

Summer is almost gone. A number of signs in nature indicate an early frost. We were in a terrible drought this time last year. Not so this time around. The few rows of fall crops planted in the garden are up and doing nicely and the soil is so wet from rains that I can’t get in it to plant the rest of our winter garden.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stepping Out Of Vogue

“But for him who would hasten to the perfection of that life there is the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leads a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not a most unerring rule of human life? Or what book of the holy Catholic Fathers does not loudly proclaim how we may come by a straight course to our Creator? Then the Conferences and the Institutes and The Lives of the Fathers, as also the Rule of our holy Father Basil – what else are they but tools of virtue for right-living and obedient monks? But for us who are lazy and ill-living they are a source of shame and confusion.”[1]

Outside the realm of Catholic literature, and the examples that produced it, there is pitifully little in the world of modern Christendom that focuses on solitude and the contemplative dimension that accompanies it.

It’s really no surprise that those who embark on the adventure of living contemplatively in solitude are viewed by the larger society as strange and out of step with the times. Even within the context formed by modern Catholic culture, with so much of its emphasis on activities to keep the faithful engaged and busy in the life of the Church, as good and needful as these may be, solitude and contemplative living seldom get an honorable mention as a viable way of life.

It’s not such a bad thing to be out of step with these modern times. However, a vocation to solitude and contemplative prayer, perhaps especially in a lay capacity, is a difficult challenge to actualize in this present complicated economy. Monastic spirituality simply isn’t vogue in the 21st Century. Though we are never surrounded by large crowds of like-minded pilgrims on a common journey, we are not alone or engaged in something onerous.

Neither are we are pioneering something new. The pathway was hewn out of the rough and hard terrain by faithful men and women long before we happened upon the slight traces that caught our attention and invited us upon this faith exploration, to this journey back to the very heart and soul of the Christian experience.

Benedict begins the Holy Rule with a simple but hard word. “Listen.”[2] Herein is found the greatest difficulty challenging modern human minds attuned to the myriad stations playing pleasurable and inciting music that drowns out the tunes heard best in silence and solitude.

[1] RB 73:2-7
[2] Prologue 1

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Solitude

“Walking up and down in Bardstown outside Krogers, in the cold, saluted by man, woman, and child. I thought that never, never could I make sense of life outside the monastery. I am a solitary and that is that. I love people o.k., but I belong to solitude. It was so good to get back and smell the sweet air of the woods and listen to the silence.”[1]

Although easily perceived as one, I’m honestly not an anti-social person. I am happily married and enjoy life with my wife. In my work I am engaged with people on a day to day basis and I find it rather interesting that so many of the people that I work for want to sit and chat with me about more than lawn care nuances, despite my being often soaked with sweat and covered with lawn debris.

Although I garner an income from my labor, what I do is also a platform for sharing life in the Gospel, with a Benedictine orientation, in a theologically non-threatening way. Canned evangelistic tactics and proselytizing have no place in this venue. It does, however, bring about numerous opportunities to encourage people to simply trust God when the winds of life blow contrary. The solitary nature of my outdoor work also provides me with plenty of opportunities to pray for people while I am physically working on their lawns and shrubbery.

For these opportunities, and for the income, I say thanks be to God. It’s a pretty neat deal.

Merton’s journal entry on December 13, 1958 strikes quite a harmonious chord with me. He was searching for something when he entered Gethsemani, though I hardly think he could have verbalized it so well early on in his monastic career. But he found it, embraced it, and lived it. Solitude. Both interior solitude and eventually the solitude of his hermitage in the woods.

It took quite a number of years for me to finally recognize and embrace my own solitary nature. I ran from it for most of my life and in my younger years my running put me into a lot of troubled waters. Jonah wasn’t the only one to see a whale’s innards. His literally. Mine proverbially. But a whale just the same.

Once my whale finally literally deposited me on my face crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness, I busied myself in active ministry roles that I perceived to be vocations. Even so, I was always struggling interiorly with something that I couldn’t name, and struggling with it within the context of faith traditions that had, long ago, renounced it as a viable means of Christian faith expression.

Solitude had no name in my young, tender years. But it definitely had a friendly face and form. Though I had experienced it often as a child growing up on the small family farm, I grew so estranged from its reality that solitude became beyond my recognition and embrace.

[1] Thomas Merton, A Search For Solitude, p. 239

Friday, August 21, 2009

Good Beans

Following God’s will for one’s life is not as simple as deciding what brand of pre-ground and pre-packaged coffee gets brewed in the pot each morning. Inevitably, if one is dire in their pursuit of their simple interest in a living and vital union with God, the pathway will lead to the fields in the higher regions where grows the choicest beans.

It’s not the easiest walk to reach the high fields, and reaching the high fields is only the initial steps involved in a lengthy process. Fruit in the basket is a long way from the finished product in the cup.[1] The greatest care can be taken in picking, fermenting, and drying the fruit only to have it wasted by bad roasting, careless blending, or diluting it with fillers to stretch it out and make it go farther in the consumer world of marketplace.

I suppose, for most, that it really doesn’t matter what’s in their cup. I also suppose that it’s a good thing that everyone’s cup isn’t empty. In the large and small scheme of things we are where we are when we happen to be there. Or, as I heard one wise sage on the prairie often say regarding his understanding of God’s will, “we get what we get when we get it.”

Being roasted in God’s oven is, in itself, a hot, lengthy process. It’s a pretty good analogy but it is an incomplete one. It doesn’t take into account the grinding that follows. Or the perking. It doesn’t consider the possibility, or the necessity, of being re-formed and re-sent through the whole process again and again.

This bean, the bean of my own self being fashioned into the image of Christ, is a bean that is never fully finished in this life. It is, in one and the same breath, the most important and most easily neglected process inherent in every human life.

[1] Matthew 13:44-46

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wrestling A Hard Saying

Today’s Gospel reading[1] is, for me, probably the most haunting few verses in the Bible. The reading concludes:

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

Yeah. I know all the rationalizations and justifications that follow the proverbial ‘BUT’ that is so easily regurgitated when these words fall upon our eyes and ears. It does seem to be an extremely hard standard - to trade a wealth of material possessions for a life of material poverty.

The standard imposed on this fellow by Christ seems to be made even less palatable when held in the light of the modern day prosperity doctrines that have been proliferated during the past century. Yet, for all the resistance and argumentation, here is an individual upon whom this standard was imposed. Who can authoritatively say that Christ does not still impose this standard upon individuals as their measure of obedience in following him?

It seems rather obvious that living in poverty does not instill holiness in a person. It also seems rather obvious that wealth and prosperity generate their own distinctive and deceptive brands of impoverishment, things that are perhaps more dangerous and debilitating than possessing absolutely nothing in this world except the promise of the fulfillment of the desire for everlasting life in the eternal world.[2]

It’s a hard saying and I wrestle with it in this world that keeps me sticking my nose to the grindstone for the sake of scratching out a meager livelihood in this sated and inflated economic setting, a setting not of my personal choosing. It seems, where this setting is concerned, that we have all been taken captive to Babylon with hooks in our jaws.

Yet, despite the challenging hardness of Christ's words, it’s more than interesting to consider the strides that have been made for the Kingdom of God over the centuries by men and women who took Christ literally at his word, even when accepting his word meant challenging the setting of their time.

[1] Matthew 19:16-22
[2] Mark 8:36

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Day Well Spent

There will always be no shortage of things that need to be done. Work is, for us, something of an unending thing, especially this time of year. Bookkeeping and lawn care are two worlds apart but they share one thing in common – when you get it all caught up, if you ever do, come Monday you start all over again with the same old pencil pushing or sweat generating grind.

No complaints. It’s that grind that allows us to pay the bills and maintain some slight modicum of a modest standard of living in this crazy economy.

There comes a point, however, when the best thing anybody can do is to simply spend a Saturday doing something that you want to do. Leave the home chores undone. Forget the honey-do’s and getterdone’s. Just hop in the car and burn a tank of gas.

No. That doesn’t sound like the “green” thing to do. But it can flat buy a break from the grinding routine that’s always exacerbated by the daily sub-tropical thunderstorm activity that sets itself upon us this time of year.

We took the slow route meandering our way across country to the Conecuh National Forest in Covington County. We could have gotten there faster but zipping along on the Interstate isn’t our idea of a Saturday leisurely drive. The CNF has been on our radar screen for some time now, particularly the Conecuh Trail with its 20 mile loop and its several shorter trails.

The terrain is characteristic of the canebrake, dense sub-tropical forest, maintained by the good folks at the Forestry Service. There are a generous amount of campsites, both primitive and full-service and, at first glance, I can’t imagine the place being overrun by tourists. No sandy, white beaches and salty surf. No noisy theme or water park.

Don’t look for any fancy dining establishments. We’re talkin’ a fur piece out in the country. We can, however, recommend the Blue Lake CafĂ©. Great cheeseburgers. Drinks are quart sized and served in wide-mouth mason jars. No. Crickets are not on the menu but are available for fishin’ folks.

It seems to be a quiet place visited by people interested in getting away from all the hustle and bustle – a great place to tow our vintage ’73 Sprite, hike some trails, and breathe some air. And the 30 acre fishing pond bids me to drown a few crickets.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Holy Dis-Ease

There is a large gulf of difference lying between contentment with the here and now and the recognition of it. Both contentment and recognition involve degrees of acceptance, however different their respective fruit.

Recognition, and its developing fruit, pierces the lie inherent at the heart of so much of the insanity that fills the world. It also strikes a hard, punishing blow at the world inside my interior dimensions where my own corrupting imperfections originate.[1] It’s only as I begin recognizing and grappling with the workings within this personal dimension that I am able to more clearly distinguish their effects in the world outside of and around me.

Commenting on “the desire of advancing to eternal life urgeth them,” Father Sause wrote,

“For the monk, as for the ordinary follower of Christ, there is no progress that does not tend toward an everlasting union with Christ. The whole plan of monasticism is as simple as that, for it is the perfection of the formation of solid and true Christians.

It is only at death, of course, that the monk’s supernatural life, life in Christ, is to receive its perfection. But in his sojourn on earth it is already part of his very being. To be true to his calling he lives for Christ. He constantly seeks to express that union by works of love, performed out of a desire for an increasing intensity of union. Zeal, motives, action all bespeak a spiritual restlessness.

The monk who is content with the here and now is a contradiction in terms. He has failed to grasp St. Benedict’s plan.”[2]

It seems rather obvious that the world outside the monk, or garnering the comforts, luxuries, and gratifications of the world, is not the monk’s driving life-motivation. The way of the world, at least in principle, is left behind, traded for the higher calling represented in the monastic vows. The monk’s desire becomes a lifelong daily adventure in furthering an ever deepening union with Christ, a course in life that, when conscientiously persued, is never completed inside or, more especially, outside the monastic enclosure.

[1] Matthew 15:19
[2] Rev. Bernard A. Sause, O.S.B., The School of the Lord’s Service, p. 160

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Faith In The Fire

Jon Meacham’s article[1] was more than interesting. I can’t say that it was really illuminating. It was, if anything, more of an affirmation of things that I’ve come to believe, or at least suspect, after observing the trends that have led to where we are today as citizens of the 21st Century.

The trends show no sign of abating. They have, at least in my observation, strengthened to the point of becoming the social norms of our modern society. Reality is what it is and it’s rather evident that the modern democratic state isn’t too concerned about what the Church thinks about matters of faith and morals.

Some Christians are dismayed at the state of things. Change is, after all, something that is difficult to accept, particularly this order of change. It’s rather obvious that Christianity, or those versions of it that were important in the lives of the English speaking men and women who braved the process of coming to settle in this country for the sake of religious freedom, has had to make room for a growing assortment of other faith traditions and life orientations.

“A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”[2]

Is this a crisis “threatening the very heart of our culture” or an opportunity for a more genuine and historic expression of Christian faith?

I don’t personally find this so threatening to my Sacramental Christian faith and Oblate Promise. What I do find in it is motivation to pursue more deeply and persevere more intently in what I believe and experience in the grace of Christ that transcends the agendas of politics and economics, two realms that both God and Satan seem to generously employ in their service in ways that leave me with little, if any, determining influence.

A genuine Christian identity is not determined by the popular politics, economics, and social norms of any given cultural age as if it was a marionette dancing at the ends of these three temporal strings. Despite our preference for friendly governments, plenty of cash in our pockets, and a citizenry that espouses our own personal views, the practice of the faith embodied in Christ and taught by the Apostles is well equipped to flourish even under the most hostile political, economic, and social conditions.

[1] The Decline and Fall of Christian America, Time Magazine, April 2009
[2] R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, quoted by Meacham in the article.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Voices Of Ruins

Although impressive, it wasn’t the evangelistic fervor of St. Patrick that made the greatest Celtic impression on me. Patrick did some extraordinary things and I mean not to detract from or make little of his faithfulness. Worthiness of his Sainthood is obvious. There were, however, multitudes of other Celtic saints, some canonized and others not.

It was the Celtic hermit-monks that made the greatest impression on me - a large crowd of souls whose names will forever remain unremembered. Though most of their names have long been forgotten, a few rocky ruins of their hermitages, and other ruins of their monastic surroundings, remain as a testimony of their devotion and commitment to wholeheartedly turn to God once the light of God penetrated the pervading darkness of their times.

Only after a lengthy exploration of Celtic monasticism did I visit my attention upon the hermits of the desert, people whom my Protestant professors insisted were well intentioned but quite deranged. In looking into the lives of these pilgrim followers of Christ, I find it difficult to consider them deranged. Devotion and commitment to God motivated the Desert Fathers and Mothers to abandon the comforts of civilization and make their hermit-homes in remote desolate regions. Their sole purpose in life was to prayerfully seek God.

Such devotionally heroic acts are difficult for our 21st Century minds to grasp. Our air-conditioned and pillow-mattress rested minds have a way of immediately focusing on the physical hardships endured by the Celtic coracle riders and the desert basket weavers. Our “practical” nature insists that such heroism isn’t possible in our day. It also insists that it isn’t necessary in these illuminated times.

We are, after all, a modern society and turning to God in our modern times is something that we do according to the social climate and economic conditions of our times. Are we not supposed to orient our spiritual lives in such a way that we don’t lose contact with the world that we are hoping to save? Doesn’t the world need us so badly that we can’t afford to abandon it? Besides, unless we cooperate with the world, how are we supposed to maintain what we’ve accumulated and keep acquiring more. We are, you know, supposed to be industriously good stewards.

That, at least, is the general direction most of the basic modern arguments tend to go. Even the Church, in its maturing intellect, has determined that vocation to the religious life is not the only sure means to avoiding the pains of hell. That is a comforting thought although it has created a tendency to downplay the historical and present importance of turning to God through the means and disciplines of monastic spirituality.

I suppose there is some merit to these self-defense arguments. I find it kind of funny though, now that I’ve joined the ranks of the Centrum Silver crowd, how weak and feeble these arguments are becoming.

“If it is permitted to judge from the principles of the Holy Rule, one may reasonably believe that if St. Benedict were among his followers today, he would insist even more than does the Holy Rule on ‘the hard and rugged things’ because the forces that tend to keep one from God are so numerous, and powerful, and ubiquitous. It is certain that he would correct many present-day ‘broader interpretations of the spirit of the rule’ as out of harmony with the purpose he set for himself: to make men share in union with Christ.”[1]

These words come to us from over 60 years ago. The forces described by Father Sause have not diminished. To the contrary. The pervading darkness of our times is even more intense and even more accepted by a sin sated modern society.

Despite the arguments, the testimonies of the hermit-monks, and the testimonies of multiplied generations of cenobitical monks and religious sisters living out their vocations within monastic cloisters, toll loud and clear like steeple bells. These tolling bells can only be interpreted to say … “there is more.”

[1] The School Of The Lord’s Service, Rev. Bernard Sause O.S.B., p. 132, © 1947