Saturday, June 27, 2009

Holy Wars

It is not my intention or ambition to be an apologist for the Catholic-Christian faith. First of all, I do not consider myself nearly educated enough to take on such a daunting task. In close second place is the conclusion that I no longer thrive on disagreement and argumentation.

Inherent in this first and conclusion is the reality that insists upon the importance of knowing enough about this faith-issue, historically and experientially, to be able to convey its wealth to others whether through spoken or written venues.[1] The same realization, I think, is true regarding Oblation as a lay-member of the Order of St. Benedict.

A person simply must be able to tell their gospel story. The great challenge is to be able to tell it from a middle ground that declines both offensive and defensive positions. This presents a dilemma that, quite honestly, demands generous measures of love and acceptance by all parties concerned.[2] We are, after all, individual pilgrims being led by the One Spirit on a common journey toward an Uncommon Destination.[3]

There is a principle however that has proven itself time and again. It’s simply that the inevitable will always, at some point, inevitably rear its ugly head in one fashion or another, even within the ranks of quite likeminded people. Opinions will differ. Disagreements will arise. Even, perhaps especially, within the ranks of religious expression where controversy has historically resulted in more than a few “Christian” burnings, hangings, and widespread bloodbaths.

It is my observation that even the most liberal forms of ecumenism have polarizing effects that are as handicapping as the forms found in the antithesis of staunch fundamentalism. Polarization always tends to become one of those “I’m right and you’re wrong” things that builds camps surrounded by well constructed and fortified walls of protection.[4]

I suppose it’s one of those unavoidable “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of things that, more likely than not, will be with us until the day Jesus returns. And I suppose it’s one of the things motivating me to study more closely and understand better those earlier times before the schisms that began spiking out the Church into so many opposing camps boasting such an array of controversial theological and traditional opinions.

[1] 1 Peter 3:15-16
[2] RB 53:1-5 may very easily be applied to all relationships.
[3] Ephesians 4:4-6
[4] 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

Monday, June 22, 2009

Personal Re-Formation

Faith is not decided merely by personal ideas or theories, but by what God has taught through his Church. It’s not enough to lay claim to a scriptural verse or two about faith, or about any other scriptural topic, inspired and valid though the verses be. These claims, as necessary and important as they are, must be accompanied by a willingness to accept the larger collective picture that a verse here and there explicitly or implicitly points toward.

Although we do individually possess the heavenly resources to discern God’s will[1] for our lives, what we perceive to be God’s will is best validated by subjecting it to the wise scrutiny and governance of the Apostolic Authority ordained by Christ[2]. Without this scrutiny and governance, something that should always direct toward spiritual maturity and unity in the faith, it is altogether too easy to go running about on well intentioned tangents that accomplish little, or nothing, of either temporal or eternal value.[3]

Not only is this the best validation, it is honestly the safest approach to testing my own personal cognitions. This approach makes two assumptions forthright. The first assumption is that there is such a thing as divinely ordained Apostolic Authority. The second assumption is that my own cognitions, as right as I think they are, no matter how much I cherish and promote them, may not be worth the effort to think them or the paper to print them on.

I’ve not always thought along these lines. The largest portion of my Christian life was lived after something of a Sola Scriptura fashion, a concept that I’ve come to think of as delusional since it denies the necessity of both the Teaching Authority of the Church and the rightful place and understanding of Sacred Tradition. To think that the Church and her legitimately ordained representatives know better for me than I know for myself is something that has come about over this past decade of my life. It involved a lengthy transitional process replete with its own set of difficult growing pains.

This trusting in Apostolic Authority really is not such a contrary thing. Nor is it a selling out of my self to think this way. I was more so a seller of self in my life before Christ and in my Protestant career – seeking the freedom to satisfy my own base urgings, believing this one and that one, following one cause or another, yielding my self to the sway of this denominational interpretation or that one, putting stock in people whose lives possessed not a thread of the kind of authority that Christ invested in the Apostles and in the succession of his appointed Apostolic leadership.

It is quite clear to me now that I have the advantage of retrospect. I was, all along, desirous of and looking for the resting place that Christ had ordained and placed into being. I longed to discover and reenter the realm of faith-expression that gave the early believers in Christ their character and personality, a faith-base that still motivates the historic Church although it seems to be viciously coming under attack by modern influences from within.

I was desirous of and looking for the “missing something” that I did not understand and could not name. How could I have possibly understood? How could I have possibly named something that I did not know anything about?

I was, after all, reared in a Protestant style of formation that left me without a personal frame of reference that would allow me to understand it. It was a style of formation that called into question and refused to recognize the work of the historic Church, the lives and efforts of the rightfully canonized Saints, and one that elevated reforming protesters to a kind of pseudo-heroic saint-like status despite the undeniable and degenerative ongoing process of continual fragmentation inherent in their ambitious reformational activities.[4]

[1] 1 John 2:27
[2] Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 4:11-16
[3] See RB 49:8-10 regarding presumption and vain glory.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 817-818, p. 235

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Intelligent Choice

Though there are multitudes that fall into the category labeled “Unbelievers”, and multitudes that profess to be “Believers” but whose lives and actions betray their profession, I find it hard to imagine how anyone could not believe in God, trust in what he has revealed, and have at least a kindling growing desire to want to live in a way that pleases him.[1]

I realize that it’s difficult in our educated times for the human mind to wrap itself intelligently around realities that can’t be ordinarily seen with natural eyes, around things that are spiritual and heavenly rather than physical and earthly, around things that will ever remain mysteries until we cease to exist in our present mortal form.[2] Some things, though they seem however irrational to the natural mind, simply, even in this life, begin making a lot of rational sense when we stop trying to flee them or explain them away to our own personal satisfaction.

There has never been a time in my memory when I didn’t believe in God. Granted, and I admit this to my own shame, there have been times when I’ve lived as though I didn’t. I’ve never seen God as he is in his being but I have seen, and daily see, plenty enough of his handiwork to convince me that God is actively involved in redeeming humankind despite humankind’s inattentiveness to divine activity.

The same memory reference is true regarding his, and our, archenemy and the league of fallen rogues that he employs to carry out his schemes to destroy humankind. His seething jealousy and hatred of all goodness is real and it behooves us humans to realize that this reality[3] is no myth being spun to scare little children into being good.[4] His schemes are all directed to one end – the agony of eternal captivity and the unending pains of death where the soul never ceases to exist in consciousness.[5]

Perhaps it is na├»ve of me to hold to such simplistic basic ideals. I could as easily deny the grace of God by accepting as truth the ideals of relativism and rationalism that so fill and motivate this modern age. I could as easily consider the accounts of the Old Testament as fables and myths and the poignant words of Christ regarding eternal destinations as mere allegory, fanciful stories, meant to help me get in touch with my better self. I could as easily view The Acts of the Apostles and their Epistles as the fruit of Christ’s overly zealous hearers, people that really didn’t understand Christ’s intentions nearly as well as today’s sated and educated minds are capable of understanding.

There’s a lot that I could do if I chose to. Somehow, though, all the alternative choices, all the alternative lifestyles, all the alternative theological theories, as inviting and promising as they appear on the surface, simply do not resonate with the clearer clarity found in holding onto the unalloyed basic simplicity found in the earlier examples of the historic Judeo-Christian faith and in those that have carefully modeled their lives after them.

This does present some interesting dilemmas and challenges. It’s easy to garner an understanding of the biblical principles that motivated the early seekers of Christ, and not only them but multitudes of believers over the span of the Christian ages. It’s altogether another thing to allow understanding the privileged freedom to mature and become contemporary life-practice.

[1] 2 Peter 3:11
[2] 1 Corinthians 13:12
[3] Ephesians 6:12
[4] Luke 10:18
[5] Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vigilance

Obedience to God and his higher intentions, particularly in this age of decadent disobedience where spiritual authority and personal responsibility toward it have become significant issues, is a difficult theme to wrap our minds around. It somehow conjures up images of tyrants enforcing their dictates upon less powerful others who yield themselves only in a half-willed sort of way to the perceived dictatorial sway out of fear of being discovered.

Living in a half-willed subservience, however, is a miserable way of life. It’s a way of life that leaves open vast plains of room to roam about in self-justification. Its fields are always full of the tares that society appreciates and thinks of as ideals. Each generation of seeds develop and grow into larger crops of degradation, despair, and moral bankruptcy.

Gradually, a half-will dilutes itself further to become no-will towards God’s higher intentions for created beings. Light is shunned and Darkness is embraced. The line of demarcation between the two is not so easily seen in a world where neo-paganism dresses in stylish apparel and speaks its own dialect of Christianeze.

As a follower of Christ, and, in these latter years, a fledgling follower of his servant St. Benedict and other monastic role models of Christ, I must be ever vigilant lest I be found succeeding in mixing within myself the toxic brew formed by blending the ideals of the world’s economy with the ideals of God’s economy.[1] Or, as Cassian puts it, - lest I be found “mixing the injustice of fleshly passion into the divine limitless and the source of all purity.”[2]

It really is a narrow pathway to walk and a narrow gate to enter[3] despite all the efforts made to broaden the path and widen the gate to accommodate human nature. Human nature always seeks ways to promote and justify itself within the framework of its moral dilemma and it salves its reprobate conscience by surrounding itself with like minded others in an effort to hide its own shame.[4]

I think this is one of the reasons that St. Benedict places so much emphasis on the theme of obedience in the Rule. And it’s not something that he dreamed up in his lifetime. It’s a prevalent theme found in the monastic rules and ways of life that he patterned Western monasticism after in the 6th century.

We have to live in this present world. There is no escaping it, even for cloistered monks living behind tall walls in the most remote monasteries. Human nature follows us wherever we go. The challenge that is set before us is not so much one of escaping from the world as it is one of evading and avoiding the fallen nature of the world, a nature that is even more difficult to recognize when its tangled roots penetrate and undermine the historical foundations of the Christian faith.[5]

[1] James 4:4 –
[2] John Cassian, The Institutes, p. 194
[3] Matthew 7:13-14
[4] Romans 1:24-32
[5] Psalm 11:3

Friday, June 5, 2009

Soul Affair

Lauds, according to Benedictine tradition, begins with the Deus Misereatur and the Miserere Mei Deus (Psalms 67 and 51).[1] Their Latin titles may be unfamiliar but it’s hard to escape their familiar basic theme. They contain a plea for God’s mercy because of sin that pollutes the soul, violates God’s higher intentions for created human beings, and places humans in peril of not only eternal separation from God but also a life of emptiness and misery here.

These Psalms, as prelude to the rest of the daily prayers, establish a penitential base that, carried through the day, affects the whole of life. They bring us, if we allow them, to the surest reality of ourselves until we find ourselves, as modern 21st century creatures, standing in the sandals of the ancient Psalmist imploring God’s mercy on our soul on account of our many offences.

It seems rather obvious that the unredeemed modern secular world is unconcerned about this issue of human sinfulness. This is no real surprise. The unredeemed world lives in an on its head false reality anyway. Nor does it really surprise me that the world outside the Church has constructed inroads into the modern Church bringing with it its contempt toward honestly reckoning with the primary issue of the sinful self. Christians, for some reason, want to rationalize away words of warning such as “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”[2] Hell simply doesn’t seem to be a destination to be avoided anymore.

Left unreckoned with, or whitewashed to make it appear acceptable, there is little use in trying to manage the multiplicity of secondary issues that arise by neglect of the primary one. “However high the walls may be that protect a city, and however unyielding its shut gates, it will be destroyed by the betrayal of even that smallest back door. For what difference does it make if the wicked enemy enters the city over its highest ramparts or through its broad portals, or if he does so through narrow and hidden passages?”[3]

Professing the historical faith of the Church does not necessarily mean that one possesses that same historical faith. Personally, I can’t find much contentment in merely talking about the lives of the Saints without also giving myself to attempting to emulate them, if only in faltering attempts, in spits and spurts that reveal to me the depths of my own spiritual impoverishment.

I find myself though, in these fledgling attempts at understanding and emulating the examples of holy models from earlier centuries, growing more and more uncomfortable with any modern day theological notion regarding unconditional grace and mercy. These notions, although quite popular in our modern culture, deface the value of the necessity of cultivating the human soul through the means and works that yielded such holy character in those men and women.

Not that these are ever to be viewed as means and works that earn rights to salvation.[4] Rather, these are divinely designed tools that cultivate the soul in the good works of salvation worthiness represented by faith, hope, and charity – the three essential Theological Virtues and elements of goodness that are made unrecognizable by the action of personal sin.

[1] Monastic Diurnal
[2] Ezekiel 18:4
[3] John Cassian, The Institutes, p. 123
[4] Ephesians 2:1-10

Monday, June 1, 2009

Destiny

I’ve always found change to be a difficult matter to deal with, especially when it has to do with the reorientation of my acquired personal dimensions of theological belief and conditioned lifestyle. I also have a difficult time believing I’m a unique example where this is concerned. I think it is a “one size fits all” kind of hat that comes in a gender neutral style and color.

There is a certain sense of security in remaining comfortable, in clinging to ideals that have enough of the truth in them to make them appear viable and realistic. It’s easy to opt for culturally acceptable ideals - social, relational, and religious ideals - that have enough applied lubricant to reduce heat and hold down friction.

It’s all too easy to choose the options that do little more than lead in tiny small circles, never going far, while always moving. And we think we are getting some place when in all actuality we are going no place.

The road that stretches before the feet of people is a challenge to their heart long before it tests the strength of their legs.[1] It’s easy to faint from fear long before we begin to experience the roughness and rigors of a course that takes us to points and places we’ve never been.

The faith-life, represented particularly in monastic spirituality but practically applicable to the whole of the Christian life, is an adventurous journey. It is one that calls us to fulfill a destiny that stands in stark contrast to the world’s concept of human fulfillment, one that challenges every secular notion of human success. It is one that is not content with building upon the faulty foundations of human whim and fancy.

Our destiny is to run to the edge of the world and beyond, off into the darkness: sure for all our blindness, secure for all our helplessness, strong for all our weaknesses, gaily in love for all the pressure on our hearts.[2]

[1] Walter Farrell O.P., My Way of Life, p. 1
[2] ibid