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

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Conversification

It’s one thing to profess that I am something. It’s altogether another thing to become and to be that something that I profess to be.

I admit a certain infatuation that bloomed when I first began to explore monastic expressions of the Christian faith. There was an attraction, a drawing of sorts, something that made a lot of sense to me. Monastic spirituality offered, and still offers, a stable spiritual climate in a world filled with all the changing currents and turbulence generated by centuries of divisive denominational development.

Exploration tends to be a romantic thing, an inviting thing. It is also a very purposeful thing whose invitational challenge is often too great a hurdle to surmount for most people in our modern age of preferential ease and convenience. As vast and varied as this exploration’s field may be, its focal point is very small and refined. It’s not somewhere “out there at some point in time.” It’s always “right here and right now,” another shiny facet of its challenging multi-dimension.

It’s easy for infatuation to fade away like yesterday’s sunset. Unless efforts at self-abandonment are taken to deepen infatuation into maturing love, the immediate thrills of infatuation will soon become like memories of other romances and endeavors that didn’t work out. Though I have sure and worthy guides, I am largely responsible for my own “labor of obedience.”[1]

My own conversion, something that develops in my own interior regions before it surfaces in exterior realms, must be given priority and right of way lest it become sidelined, or worse, altogether derailed.

“More than mere sentiment urges the preservation of the terminology converse brothers, the more happily chosen term of a former age, in preference to today’s use of the more prosaic lay brothers. Conversi described those who had turned to God. Every Benedictine worthy of the name has done so.”[2]

[1] RB Prologue 2
[2] Bernard Sause, OSB, The School Of The Lord’s Service, p. 116, 1947

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pockets Of The Soul

Turn us then,
O God our Saviour.
And let thine anger cease from us.

There is no doubt about it. It is a sure reality and happens many times every day. Even the most well lived life, where the natural sense of life is concerned, must eventually come to an end.[1] Not just the most well lived life, but also the life that is pillaged by a lack of concern for eternal affairs.

There is another sure reality. Not a single material garnered good can follow with us as we pass through the gateway of the grave where the eternal grandeur of heaven awaits the faithful and eternal sorrow awaits the faithless, perverse, and disobedient.[2]

There is really nothing morbid or morose about contemplating the final rite of passage that all of humankind must experience. It is, in fact, something that the founder of our Order recommends as a daily exercise of reflection and recollection.[3] What, after all, is the purpose of this temporal physical life if it is not considered a brief preparation for the unending life that is to come once we pass through the transparent veil?[4]

In a moment, in a “twinkling of the eye” as the Apostle says, one by one or altogether at the Parousia, we meet the One who examines the contents of the pockets of our souls. And what will be found in them? Treasures that will commend our souls to eternal paradise? Or sand that will garner reproof and possible rejection from the place of eternal rest and peace?[5]

God’s mercy and grace, granted, is efficacious and far reaching. His alone, despite our best theoretical rationalizing, is the ultimate and final say. His judgment alone will measure the degrees of my obedience or disobedience to his revealed will.

Where admission into eternal glory is concerned, it would be inordinate for me, as a sincerely believing Christian, to live in abject fear of the eventual moment that I should be living to embrace. It would, at the same time, be inordinate for me to put aside the “fear of hell.” I cannot be satisfied with a mere “getting in by the skin of my teeth” attitude, an attitude that seems to be prevalent in the mixed bag economy of contemporary Christian culture.

I cannot dismiss my sinful condition. I must accountably embrace it as part of my own personal reality, as part of the greater reality at work in all of humankind. In accountably embracing it, I come to know and understand my sinful condition. In knowing and understanding is born the will to change and the courage to make amendment.[6]

[1] Hebrews 9:27
[2] Romans 14:10-12
[3] RB 4:47
[4] James 4:14
[5] 2 Corinthians 5:10
[6] RB, Prologue 36

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Living In The World

Creating and maintaining a personal environment that is conducive to the goals of the monastic expression of Christian experience is not an easy proposition. Here, in the world outside the monastic enclosure, life is pockmarked by a myriad of demanding inconsistencies and variables, a continually changing dimension where the institution and actualization of the discipline of monastic expression finds itself constantly challenged.

It is, however, within the challenges of this changing dimension that I endeavor to lay claim to the scriptural life-ideals and historic traditions prescribed by St. Benedict and those holy examples whom he emulated. It is here in the midst of the madness that compels a world living on its head that I endeavor, as an Oblate of St. Benedict, to enter into the discipline and peace of Benedictine spirituality - something that I’ve discovered to be both a curative and a preventative for my own spiritual ills.

I do this, first of all, for the sake of my own salvation and sanity and, secondly, as a piece of the fruit growing from this planting, to present to that portion of the world, represented by my own concentric circles of influence, something of a model for living that is representative of its parent model.[1] I have to often remind myself that people are examining my life before paying any attention to what I am saying. The Master of Montecassino said so much of himself.[2] How can I think otherwise about myself?

I think it is an understatement to say that this is a terrific task. Its largeness, at least in my opinion, lies in the Benedictine aspect of pursuing a continual, deeper, and more complete conversion toward Christ-likeness – a code of life that seems to be foreign to the minds and lifestyles of modernites drawn by the attractive influence of amoralistic humanism.

To choose to genuinely and objectively live “as Christ” in this world, one that is diabolically opposed to the ideals inherent in Christ’s life among us, may not necessarily mean a sudden and bloody end to us. There are, thankfully, still civil laws about such as that. We do set ourselves up though and it does, however, involve embracing the degrees of white-martyrdom that are certain to ensue experientially embracing, as totally as humanly possible, the life-example of Christ and that of his disciple St. Benedict.[3]

After all, not all people are people of faith. And, for that matter, fewer and fewer people of faith have any understanding of Benedict’s monastic spirituality.

[1] Guidelines For Oblates of St. Benedict, Constitution, para. 4
[2] RB 2
[3] Luke 23:31