Lectio Divina

The art of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) is an ancient monastic practice that we are called to participate in as oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey. St. Benedict instructs his monks in this practice (Rule of Benedict, 48) and allots quite a bit of time for it. But what exactly is Lectio Divina and how should we put it in to practice?

Much information can be found online about how to practice Lectio Divina. Formulas have been created as to how one can go about putting it in to practice – “Reading, Meditation, Prayer and Contemplation” is the typical steps one tries to take when doing Lectio Divina, yet we are not bound to this form.

Some may wish to go through an entire book of the Scriptures while others may feel more comfortable taking the readings from Mass. Personally, my desire is to sit with one book of scripture and go through its entirety. Currently, I am in the Book of Isaiah.

My practice of Lectio Divina has been a struggle. I am not one who likes to follow set rules and or steps, hoping that the Spirit will speak to me through it all. Maybe this is a little pride on my part of maybe it is simply my attempt to pray as I can and not as I can’t.

As I sit with the scriptures I slowly read the passage before me. Throughout the reading there may be a word or a phrase which stirs my soul or prompts me to stop at that moment. I am reminded of one instance in the Gospel of John when the word “alone” stuck with me for quite some time. That simple word lead me to a place in prayer that I can remember to this day.

As I continue to read what has been placed before me I try to remember that this is a conversation I’m striving to have with God. In the Divine Office it has mostly been me who speaks or Christ who speaks through me. In Lectio Divina I am to listen for a response. It’s not so much an active listening. For me it is more passive. The moment I try to hear what God wants me to hear, the more I seem to get in the way of it all and silence God’s voice. Simply being present to the word which is read allows me to be more receptive.

When stirred by a word or phrase I then sit with it. I allow it to sink a little deeper in to my mind and soul and allow a response to come forth from within. Again, the moment I try to think my way through it is the moment Lectio stops being what it needs to be for me. Being passive and receptive is extremely necessary for me when it comes to practicing Lectio Divina.

After allowing that word or phrase to sink in I strive to respond to God in whatever way seems appropriate at the time. That might be praise, adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, or all of the above. It might be a moment to also sit and allow my response to be silence. Again, striving to be passive and respective is necessary here for it is God who is really at work during Lectio Divina. I’m simply here to receive that which He wishes to give me.

As someone who likes to try and control everything I find myself a little vulnerable during this time. That may be why Lectio Divina has been so difficult for me. Numerous excuses come to mind as to why I cannot practice Lectio today. Putting off Lectio Divina has been the biggest defect in my vocation as an oblate and it is something I most certainly need to work on.

Sitting here writing on this topic has not been easy and I’m not so sure that I shared much about my experience with Lectio Divina, or at least not so much that was really helpful. Advice that I recently received on this topic keeps coming to mind, “be faithful to Lectio, it is an important part of monastic life.”

Maybe we accomplish more with Lectio Divina not so much by where we end up but through the journey it takes us on when lead by the Spirit of Christ. May He helps us all to keep this practice which is so important to the vocation we have been called to!

Transitus of St. Benedict

The life of St. Benedict was an ordinary one. This is something he most certainly desired. Ordinary in the best of ways of course. I’m sure that Benedict never wanted to form a monastic community and most definitely not an Order. His desire was simply to follow Christ and that he did!

More then fifteen hundred years have gone by and yet the Church and the world remembers the life and name of this humble monk. Thousands continue to strive to live the life laid out by Benedict in his little Rule and find great honor in being a part of the Benedictine family.

What comes to mind most for me on this Solemn Feast of the Transitus is that I must remember that simple and ordinary acts – when united with Christ – can change the world. St. Benedicts life proves that.

Time and again we see within the Rule that Christ is found in the humble and ordinary things in life – service in the kitchen (RB, 35), care of the sick (RB, 36), food and drink (RB, 40). The “tool for good works” (RB, 4) is a laundry list of ordinary things which we must strive to do for God’s glory and the good of others.

There’s something extraordinary about the ordinary when done in Christ’s name. This is the essential teaching of the Rule which is the life St. Benedict lived. I think this feast should remind us that God is calling all of us to make simple and humble acts into a gift of prayer and praise which will resound throughout history. I’m not so sure that those acts will be remembered 1,500 years after we’re gone from this earth but neither did Benedict!

I pray that St. Benedict will help us to make our own transitus (crossing) into a life which sings the praises of God in every action we take up in His name.

Holy Father Benedict, ora pro nobis!

Gritty Holiness

Too often we read about the flowery side of the spiritual life where everything is roses and all is easy if only done for God’s glory and the good of the Church. Many biographies of saints give the impression that these holy men and women were somehow born that way and that miracles abounded throughout their lives.

This false notion of spirituality has done more harm then good in my opinion. It lowers the Christian religion into a myth or fairytale which seems just within ones reach yet never close enough. It’s a religion that somehow seems made for others and not myself.

The tales of saints performing miracles with every breath they took, levitating off the ground in rapturous prayer most certainly isn’t something I’ve ever experienced or seen. This certainly isn’t to deny the miraculous which Christ can and does work through his holy ones. It’s simply the realization that for most of us this simply isn’t the case.

So let’s be honest. Spirituality is tough. At times it can seem like a long and arduous process which has no end in sight, for the moment one catches a glimpse of the Divine He disappears.

“Love thy neighbor” many times is met with “try not to kill him today” because as we all know human weakness abounds!

More often then not our desire to sit in silence with the Divine Office is overruled by the exhaustion we experience from the endless needs of the day. Lectio Divina is pushed away by that one last email that needs to be responded to. The moment we can catch our breath no time is left for those things which we wanted or needed to do all along.

There are endless things which pull us away from our spiritual lives. This is nothing new. Most of us are not called to live out our lives in the desert contemplating the life of Christ or healing in mass those who seek our guidance and help. Like most, we simply strive to do our best and hope that we find God in the process.

Holiness isn’t something you find in books and it certainly isn’t like many of the depictions we see from long ago – at least not in the ways they were described in their literary form.

True holiness is the parent who does their deeds with the greatest amount of love they can muster. It is the nurse who prays for their patients even after they were cussed out and spit upon by them. True holiness lies in the prayer that is a sigh of exhaustion from the work done for the kingdom versus the Ave Maria that was offered up 150 times in Latin.

Give me the saint who tells me he’s been beaten down by the rigors of life yet tries to love God over the one who seems to have had nothing but sweetness in his life. Give me the saint who says, “today God I praise you with my sleep” versus the one who neurotically tries to find security in rules and regulations. Give me the saint and the spirituality that shows me the muck and grime and filth one gets upon oneself when carrying the cross and while striving to help others carry theirs.

Holiness is gritty and grimy and sometimes downright nasty when we get into it simply because it’s about being fully human in a world where we’re called to share in the Divine.

St. Benedict reminds us that God is both in the Divine Office and the kitchen utensils. Holiness is found in the praise of God and in the simple chores of the day. When we work with our hands and get the filth of the world upon us, “that is when they are truly monks.”

Benedict knew that one has to get a little dirty to touch the face of God.

We Are But Dust!

Today’s celebration of Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are but dust. The ashes upon our foreheads are called to be provocative and to call to mind what lies ahead for each of us. As we strive to grow closer to Christ through our vocation as Benedictine oblates we must meditate upon the great wisdom St. Benedict has provided us.

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.” (RB, 49)

As Christians we celebrate these 40 days with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving but as oblates we are reminded that each day of the year is to be a time for these most holy practices. The extra practices the Church calls us to take up during this season should become common in the life of any Benedictine, each in his own way.

“During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (RB, 49)

Prayer is the foundation of our lives.  As oblates we express this the most through the Divine Office.  Fasting calls us to give up those things which are not in conformity with our calling as oblates or which hold us back from fully living out our vocation. Almsgiving asks us to give of ourselves to the community we find ourselves in, whether family life, work life or the monastic community we are attached to.

These activities are not ends to themselves but means in which we strive to live out our lives as Benedictine oblates. They are nothing extraordinary but take the ordinary measures we practice in Lent and make them a part of our daily lives.  We do this in the hope of sharing in the joy which comes with the Easter Season both on earth and in the life to come.

“Everyone should, however, make known to the abbot what he intends to do, since it ought to be done with his prayer and approval.” (RB, 49)

Our prayer and sacrifices count as nothing and can even be counted as “presumption and vainglory” if we take them upon ourselves without the approval of the one placed over us with Christs authority, found in the Abbot.  Too often we want to do more then what our strength allows us to and through imprudence we might find ourselves taking on more then we can handle. This is not sacrifice and conversion but the sin of pride. St. Benedict does not allow us to fall in to this trap by reminding us to place all things at the feet of obedience.  It is through our obedience that we can be assured of Christs blessings on whatever we may do.

Our lives as Benedictine oblates should remind us and others that God has taken us from the earth and created us into something beautiful for Himself. Lent is simply the path we must trod which leads us to the eternal celebration of Easter in the beatific vision.  Ash Wednesday lets us begin this path by first reminding us the by ourselves we are but dust.

May the prayers, fasting and almsgiving of all Benedictine oblates give praise to Him who has seen fit to love us, these simple piles of dust.

On Obedience

Over the past few entries I have tried to share a little of my understanding of the promises one makes when they enter the Benedictine community as an oblate. We first looked at stability and then conversatio morum, and today we shall look at obedience.

The promise of obedience may seem daunting at first. But in reality obedience is really about being open to how God wants to work in our lives. Instead of looking upon obedience as a command to be fulfilled we are called to see within it the way in which Christ is calling us to live out our vocations and be open to His grace.

More often then not we tend to seek out situations and people who are most agreeable to ourselves. We do not like chaos or confrontation for life is hard enough as it is. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this. It is the path of least resistance, yet in the spiritual life as in most of life, nothing good comes easily.

Each day we come across situations and people who call us to stretch and grow. We find ourselves too tired to pick up the Liturgy of the Hours after 8 or 10 hours of work even though we know we have promised under obedience to do so. Just when we get comfortable at work with the project we are doing we are called upon to leave that behind and do something else. After long hours of work and finally putting the kids to bed a parent may be able at last to take a moment to themselves for prayer but are interrupted two seconds after beginning. More often then not this leads us to a life of frustration but when we look at all situations and people in our lives as a call to obedience and the will of God we may be able to see it through the eyes of faith and respond with an appropriate amount of love. But we must always remember that, “This very obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliance with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness.” (Rule of Benedict, Chapter 5)

As oblates we are not so much called upon by an Abbot or immediate superior to fulfill a command of obedience but our work life and home life brings us ample opportunity to hear Gods voice and follow through on what He brings to us each day. The situations and people that are placed before us become the voice of God who calls us to make an act of faith that it is He who speaks to us in the ordinary and mundane situations of life. Even in moments that might not make much sense to us we are called upon to see Gods presence and and hear His voice. Love then compels us to respond and obey.

For me obedience must first begin with listening. I cannot obey if I have not heard the command. This can be a struggle at times because Gods voice is not so obvious and it takes a lot of humility to believe that He is speaking to us through the common situations and people in life He places in our way.

Obedience is a dialogue between God and man. We speaks to us through the people and situations of our lives and we respond to Him as best we can. If we are open to the commands of God then we will most assuredly grow in love. But if we fight against struggle against His commands we can be confident that our lives will be filled with a constant grumbling which leads to frustration and pain. Obeying leads us to a life of peace and freedom. May God help us to hear His voice and respond as best we can.