Thursday, April 30, 2009

Community

It’s an awful long way to the monastery from where I live. A solid half day’s drive each way. It’s a distance that prohibits frequent visits for me.

There is a small group of Oblates that meet together once a month about an hour from here. The group is part of the fruit of the faithful long-term labors of a Benedictine priest that has recently been transferred to another mission church at the other end of the state.

The basic format for the monthly meeting is saying Vespers before gathering in the church hall for some snacks. For a long time I was quite faithful to attend, I’ve not been to one of the Sunday afternoon meetings in several months. Simply because it’s hard to get there on a Sunday afternoon when there are so many things close to home that call for personal attention.

St. Lawrence is a beautiful and thriving Catholic church. Well over 1200 families. Daily weekday morning and evening Masses. Three Masses on Sunday. A multitude of societies, programs, and activities. There is also a group of Secular Franciscans, one Secular Carmelite, one Sister of St. Joseph, and one Oblate of St. Benedict - me.

There are now around 8,000 Benedictine monks living in monasteries and 25,000 Oblates living around the world. That may sound like impressive numbers. But it really isn’t. I’ve not done the math but the reality of it would reveal just how small and insignificant our percentage relationship is with the population of the world.

As far as that goes, where percentages are concerned, we represent a very small percentage of the Church.

In my own church community I’m only 1 person in about 4,000 people. I’ve done that math. I am .00025 percent of my home church population. Not much of a presence, an important presence nonetheless, though not one that’s taken seriously by the greater popular majority. Outwardly, there’s nothing that really distinguishes me from the rest of the crowd.

In the context formed by these realities, becoming an Oblate of St. Benedict, stepping onto and walking along this primitive pathway, although personally positive in its every aspect, is also a sure step toward isolation and obscurity.

Isolation and obscurity are not my enemies. Far from it. They happen to be right and left shoes that fit my feet well. They don’t pinch. And they don’t rub blisters. They wear with quite a nice fit, considering my personal disposition at this stage in my life.

However, the isolation and obscurity in my own world of oblation do very little when it comes to forming and maintaining genuine, successful community – something that depends upon ongoing, collective, and responsible accountability in the cenobitical traditions set forth by our Sainted Founder. Benedict well understood the necessity of one’s maturity in community before thinking of or daring to embark on an adventure with eremitical characteristics.

It’s kind of obvious though that many of us on the Oblate pathway are left to fend for our selves. It’s a long way to the monastery for many of us. Oblate Chapters are few and far between. Oblates are, for that matter, few and far between in the Church world. Many of us, for all practical purposes, by-pass cenobitical nurturing and go straight to plowing solo in a terribly hard and stony field.

It makes me wonder how many Oblates start this journey with a solemn promise only to throw up their hands and give up because of the lack of dynamics that come only in close community.



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stability

We are, without a doubt, living in a time marked by exponential changes. It’s all around us, changes that have an effect on all of us in one way or another, a lot of blowing and shifting sand in the air.

In my own mind I reckon today’s moral and economic climate as something akin to the dust bowl era - the Dirty Thirties when so many lives were changed, many lost, because of physical climatological changes, Black Tuesday, and the Great Depression that had global ramifications. Will we see such dire degrees of hardship? Who knows.

These modern moral and economic changes may be new to our sated and spoiled times. Even a little trying and scary. I have to remind myself that there is really nothing new about them. They’ve happened before, numerous times over the course of history. Regionally, nationally, and globally. Who’s to say they can’t or will not happen again?

Benedict entered onto the stage of life at such a time in history. The world that he lived in was a big mess of an upheaval - a moral, economic, and political mess. His response to the climate that surrounded him? Leave it. As much as it was possible to leave it. Trade it for a balanced life of prayer, study, and manual labor.

That was 1500 years ago and multiplied tens of thousands are safe at home in heaven after following the pathway marked out by St. Benedict. In these shifting and changing times I can’t help but to feel safe following his fatherly advice, even if it does go against the grain of contemporary thought.

In Benedict’s mind prayer, study, and manual labor are the basic Benedictine ingredients for stability. They sow and cultivate the interior stability of the heart that makes for the possibility of a congenial stability within the context formed by a community of individuals.

The latter stability really isn’t possible without the cultivation of the former personal stability of the heart.

Benedict’s Rule prescribes:

Set times for prayer.
Set times for study.
Set times for work.
Set times for sleep.
Set times for eating.
Set times for leisure.

Joint participation by all community members at the prescribed times. Every day. Without fail. No excuses.

Routine. Balanced routine. Routine that contains only slight seasonal variations. Routine that, like good liturgy, accomplishes more than the mere orchestration of time. Routine that honestly partners with God’s deepest intentions and most intimate desires.

It’s easy, in these modern times, to balk at or even totally dismiss such an ideal life-program as unrealistic. Perhaps an exact replication of it this side of the cloister is unrealistic for most. It is unrealistic for me. At least at this point in my life. It does, however, keep presenting itself as a target to be shot at. Even here in the layman’s world.

But, in their simplicity, the basic principles found in the rings of that target, implemented and applied, are far from unrealistic. Difficult to attain? Yes. Unrealistic and unattainable? No.

Basic Benedictine principles fit themselves quite fluidly and substantively into my workaday life tethering me to the Gospel Anchor. They do, practiced over and over, over time have a definite life-molding effect, showing up more and more not only in the way I think but also in the way I respond to life’s circumstances.

No. I don’t consider myself a master at the Benedictine craft. Far from it. My Oblate Novitiate may be several years behind me now. But I’m still very much a novice in need of the tutelage of the masters. It’s always easier to talk a straight line than it is to walk one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wandering The Straight Line

It’s hard to walk a straight line, to be totally true to God, to my most genuine self, to others. There are so many influences that cut in and run interference against such total self-surrender. Yet, it is to the depths of the pathway of total self-surrender that Christ, setting forth the example, calls humanity.

The liar of all liars though has so filled the world with leasing. He has constructed so many self-satisfying alternative pathways, so many deceptions, so many illusions. Truth can be difficult to see when staggering on paths leading in aimless circles.

When the light of truth does break through the clouds of confusion to present itself, it’s easy to choose some lesser and more inviting counterpart, one less challenging, one that makes fewer demands. We call it compromise. It’s something that none have any immunity to.

Compromise, in the context of spirituality, has nothing to do with choosing between the lesser of two evils. It has everything to do with choosing that which is truest over that which is merely a counterpart, something possessing enough of the truth to look real but, in reality, is only a mere reflection of the truth.

I’ll admit that lesser counterparts can be stepping stones that God uses to lead us, to bring us to something that is more genuine and complete. Equally, counterparts can turn out to be heavy lead weights of our own choosing, toxins in our minds and souls that diminish our sight, grinding tools that dull and blunt our capacities of receptivity.

I think one of the most refreshing things about being a practitioner of Benedictine spirituality is that it affords me the opportunity to avoid so many counterparts that, over the course of my life of struggling to be genuine, kept me from my most earnest desire. Not that I profess advanced degrees of accomplishment. However, the Rule of St. Benedict, and living in the spirit of the Rule, fashion an indelible straight line that I can see and follow.

It’s always there. It never changes or alters its course to satisfy some contemporary whim or fancy of my own. It’s not opaque. It keeps me from swinging wildly at most of the curve balls thrown at me, checks my tangents and tantrums before they get out of control to lead me where I don’t want to go.

It’s apparent to me when I wander off course. And I do wander a bit. I do happen to be a meanderer, something that I accept and am comfortable with. Sometimes I need to wander a little. Wandering a little can really be a healthy thing provided it doesn’t become a bear trap of a destination.

It’s always a simple thing though to retrace my steps and return to walking closer to the straight line that cuts across all the wandering pathways.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Forasmuch

I write.

That’s not all that I do.

Actually, where measurements of time are concerned, I write very little in my course of juggling time. There are a number of other things that occupy time in the days and weeks of my life. More often than not, it’s more than a little difficult to strike a balance where the best, needful, necessary, and superfluous are concerned.

Why do I write? More importantly, why do I write and have the audacity to post what I write on a blog?

I certainly don’t think I have anything cute, unique, interesting, or popular to write. Personally, I think I’m really redundant and out of step with the times we live in.

I have little interest in arguments and really don’t have any axes to grind. I’ve done a lot of ax grinding over the years and I’ve found that grinding axes is a good way to make sparks but usually does nothing more than that.

It’s not that I’m practicing some art form for the sake of garnering popularity, fame, or fortune. I’d rather enjoy my obscure life and at this point, for the life of me, I don’t know why anyone would invest their time reading what I write. Let alone spend money to buy what I write.

Forasmuch.

What I write has something to do with the word that St. Luke begins his Gospel with. His forasmuch was more a recounting of the life of others, of forth-telling an account of the lives of Christ and those immediately impacted by the Shepherd-Lamb.

Me? My forasmuch is more of a means of working it all out in this modern setting without losing or diminishing its historicity, without watering it down to make it contemporarily relevant and palatable to my 21st Century tastes. It’s a meager attempt at understanding and making application of it all without getting lost in a labyrinth where some proverbial Minotaur waits to gore and stomp me to death.

Yeah. The Minotaur of mythology is one ugly dude. Hollywood has created some horrific images as well. The images of mythology and modern science fiction have a way of making it easy for us to downplay the reality that we are engaged in a spiritual war, fighting against a very real fallen entity. The Minotaur, however, that we fight against is no myth.

And the real one doesn't present himself as mean and ugly.

I can think what I want, write what I want, in private. But it’s an extremely dangerous thing to lead anyone astray by thoughts and words. There are others, maybe not a lot of others, trying to figure it out, working things out in their own forasmuch, fighting a daily battle against a beastly enemy.

I see responsibility and accountability as integral aspects of this meager forasmuch of mine, parts that cannot be left out, especially when I dare to step into a public venue where innocent souls are apt to stumble across thoughts and words expressed by me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Epiphanies

Faith defies conditioned mentality. It challenges educated intellect. Faith issues an invitation to believe. Belief sends forth the challenge to change pre-conditioned thought patterns and lifestyles.

Change is a hard thing.

I fear it. I avoid it. Even small changes because I know that small changes set motion into action, motion that possesses a building potential, motion that will, if allowed to build, move me out of my chosen comfort zones and into zones that are much more radical than I would choose on my own.

Miracles and mysteries.

Realities difficult to believe.

Realities difficult to grasp with the mind alone.

Myriads of miracles and mysteries on the pages of Holy Scripture and in a lived life of wonderment and wandering.

Evidences of poured out graces that my heart desires to believe while my mind wrestles with arising questions like ...

Why does the Immaculate Conception and Virginal Preservation of Mary present problems in the minds of people?

Or the Apparitions of Mary?

Or the thought that Christ inhabits, in actuality and not merely symbolically, the hosts of bread and wine that can be consecrated on the Altar only by the consecrating hands of those given the authority to do so through Apostolic Succession?

No. Please don’t think that I’m trying to be an argumentative apologetic. I’m not. I’m discoursing with myself on matters that concern me. Telling my own story. Honestly. Sincerely. Unalloyed. No pretenses. These are questions that I ask myself in my own wandering wonderment.

I’ll admit that Marian doctrines and the doctrine of Apostolic Succession are, for Protestants, hard pills to swallow. I know this first hand, in the first person. I, too, was a Protestant Fundamentalist that argued hard and long against anything that remotely resembled Popery and ancient Catholic belief. I, too, was a victim of the degenerative breakup that fractured the Church into so many small divisive factions.

Then one day, during an extremely difficult season in my life, a time when I was finally bruised enough and open enough and searching for spiritual hope and meaning in the midst of my own mess of Protestant confusion, I met Christ’s mother. Not in the literal sense. I’m not so fortunate.

The meeting was more in the form of an epiphany - something undeniably real, something that I could no longer deny. Like meeting Christ by faith in the power of the Spirit and knowing his undeniable reality.

And in meeting Mary I realized, as the ancients professed, that she is truly Theotokos. The Mother of Christ. The Mother of God. The Mother of the Church. My own Mother whom I had never known because, without first knowing her, without first wanting to know her, I had written her off and rejected her.

It’s hard to describe the mix of elation and shame that I felt in the first moments of that epiphany, something closely akin to that first born-again experience where I met Christ as Savior.

She loved me. Despite myself. She loves me still. As only a mother, as only the Mother, can love.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Begin Again

It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like to not believe.

Oh. There have been times in my earlier life when I lived as though I didn’t. Thinking back, those were the hardest and saddest times in my life. Particularly in my late teens through my mid twenties. The allurements of an existence that leads only to life in the pig pen.

There have been, too, shorter seasons over the course of this life of mine where the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity have been seriously neglected. Devotional discipline has slipped more than a bit. Flat. Bottomed out. Holes in my bucket.

Transparency is a dangerous thing. It is, however, the most honest thing, the only thing that makes for true health. To live an opaque life is to live a life of lies. Always hiding. Always covering up. Always disguising. Always putting forth some kind of false front. But who is willing to risk the inevitable rejection that comes with living transparently?

I admit that most folks that know me really don’t know me. They see only what they can see, only what they are allowed to see. I try to live a transparent life but most of the time, with most of the people that I associate with, the business of being social gets in the way of real, honest transparency. If they did really know me, I wonder if their appraisal of me would be the same.

Yeah. I’ve come an awful long way to get to where I am in my faith life, in my awareness of my self, in my awareness of God. It’s been quite a journey. One that involves a great deal of self-crucifixion, one that I’ve realized is a journey of always beginning. Any point of arrival is never the destination. It is only another calling, another invitation to self-crucifixion.

I must admit that I’ve never been able to completely escape the old self. The life that I lived as a young man embedded thoughts and haunts deep within my mind that simply refuse to leave me. I could easily consider myself the worst example of a believer.

Maybe I am.

Maybe we all are.

But I choose, instead, to think of myself as one of the most prime candidates for grace, a soul that recognizes his own need for the deep working action of continual conversion in his life. It is my own need that compels me to keep returning to the place where I am served the True Life that comes to me in the form of bread and wine.

Not that I merit such a privilege.

Not that any effort of mine earns me a right to such a Divine Gift.

But that He calls me.

He calls me every time to lay down all that is my self and start anew, begin again, be born again, in Him.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

I believe.

Despite my foolish self.

Intensely. Intimately.

I am moved deeply within the fabric of my being because I believe.

I’m elated at the thought of being accepted by God.

I’m humbled at the cost paid to ransom me from my personal imprisonment and eternal death sentence.

Why do the heathen so furiously rage together?
And why do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth stand up.
And the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed
.[1]

Some despised him.

Some laughed at him.

Some gloated over their supposed victory.

It’s interesting, in a sick sort of way, how some things haven’t changed. Even after two millennia.

He’s still despised.

He’s still laughed at.

Untold millions live their lives gloating over their sins and sinful choices.

Crucified.

The Light that came and walked among men was physically extinguished and darkness, literal darkness, replaced the light of the noonday sun as a sign of the grief felt in the heavenly realm.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
[2]

It is more than a little distressing to look at the condition of the world that we live in, at all the spiritual darkness that seems to prevail in its efforts to hide the Light of Life. But I’m really not surprised at any of it these centuries away from those years when Christ walked among us and taught us how to live.

He that dwelleth in heaven will laugh them to scorn.
The Lord will have them in derision.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath,
And vex them in his sore displeasure
.[3]

Presumptuous?

Maybe.

But.

If the Scriptures were correct in foretelling the Messianic arrival in the first place, then it makes sense to accept the truth that things as we know them will have a point of culmination where Divine Retribution will be justly administered to its due recipients.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

[1] Ps. 2:1-2
[2] Jn. 1:4-5
[3] Ps. 2:4-5

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Old Dinosaur

I really can’t help myself. I just happen to be one of those people that seem to be moving backwards in a number of ways. No. I’m not ready to give up my micro-wave oven or hot showers and air-conditioning or return solely to bi-pedal locomotion. I’m simply not quite that radical.

I am, however, tired of being duped. Somewhere along the way I grew weary of being simply carried along, tossed about by all the contrariness created by howling winds and crashing waves. I’ve ceased, for the most part, putting my trust in promises of security made by morally compromised contemporary modernity.

Yeah. I’ll take a chance on being labeled a cynical dinosaur. Even cynical old dinosaurs have a constitutional right to their opinion, popular though it may not be. I’m not really cynical. I prefer to think of myself as analytically critical. That has a nicer ring to it.

As an analytical critic, something that I do not charge a dime for, I happen to be of the opinion that society has no new problems. We have only old problems exacerbated by the inordinate desires and affections of these modern times, problems that affect us personally, nationally, and globally - age old problems hidden inside clouds of deceptive hype that we’re encouraged to accept and go along with as the proper moral standards for the 21st Century.

Yeah. I can see myself in the reflective mirror.

Maybe I do resemble a large lizard. But this old dinosaur needs more to graze on than the low growing emptiness created by progressive modernism.

I need the depth and ballast of objective truth that takes into consideration the long, drawn out, trial and error processes that are indelibly laid down in history, in both secular and Church history, history that reveals a lot more than equity, justice, and fairness on the part of its purveyors.

The simple truth sets people free. So said Christ.

The truth, the real truth, will also make you angry enough to refuse to continue playing the political game, personally participating in the plans of men, supporting divisive systems that serve only to advance selfish goals and ambitions that are fueled to a blazing flame by human pride and greed.

It’s amazing how insidious and deceptive these two cardinal sins are, how they so easily infiltrate even our most earnest and holiest endeavors.

Pardon me. No. I’m not preaching at you. I’m talking to my own fool self.

It was Pilate that met Christ’s testimony with the age old question that is still bantered from the lips of self-excusing mankind. “What is truth?”

Yeah.

This does open that old proverbial can of worms.