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


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.