A Better Understanding of Community

It has taken me much longer to recover from the two surgeries I’ve had. As difficult as it has been, my inability at times to say the Divine Office has caused me more difficulty and pain than the recovery.

Recently, I came to realize that the community I am attached to – St. Meinrad – with all its monks and oblates, has always been taking upon itself the duties to the Divine Office even when I could not.

I am not the community but part of it. When I am sick I must recognize that the community becomes my voice at prayer. Although it may await the return of my voice in the Office, it is not dependent on it. And although my voice must once again take up that same Office, I must remind myself that my brothers and sisters have been praying for me, with me, and even in my place, all along.

My obligation to the community of St. Meinrad also implies that in some small way it has an obligation to me. Through oblation I was brought into the fold, thus allowing me to not only strive to meet my obligations but to also participate in the fruits of others.

Real community is reciprocal. It does not count the cost. I’ve learned a very good lesson about community over the past few months and I’m grateful I did.

It has been a humbling experience to recognize that my voice has been united in the Divine Office with, in, and through my oblate confreres and the monks. And I’m deeply grateful that I have these individuals to rely on when life gets in the way.

Sacramental Participation and the Oblate

Part of any spiritual life is an active participation in the sacramental life of the church. Benedictine oblates are called to this participation in an even greater way because of the offering we made of ourselves to God. Signing our oblate promises on the altar is something more than just a formality!

In a very real way oblates have united themselves to Christ on the altar, not in a sacramental way such as the priesthood, but as a sign that we are called to be deeply conformed to Christ, who gives himself to the Father for the good of the Church and the world. The sacraments are the means to that deeper conformity.

Recently, I have been blessed with being able to conform myself more closely to the suffering Christ as I’ve had surgery a few month ago and as I prepare for another surgery in the next few days. The means for this has been the sacrament of the sick. This sacrament of healing is also a sacrament of conforming one to the suffering Jesus who chose suffering as the means of redeeming the world. The anointing one receives sets the sick individual aside to suffer with, in and through Christ for the good of the Church and the world.

As a convert to the Catholic faith, I’ve know life without the sacraments. It is a dull and boring spiritual life. It is a life that leaves much to be desired.

Although oblation isn’t a sacrament of the church it definitely points to them. It is a way of participating in the offering of Christ to the Father. It is a life which must continually be strengthened by the sacraments Christ gave to his Church long ago.

Failing to participate in the sacramental life of the church is spiritual suicide. It is certainly necessary for any of Christ’s followers. How necessary it must be for those of us who have chosen to dedicate our lives to him under the title of “offering/oblate?”

Enough Said – it’s what we need!

“Let us do what the Prophet says: ‘I said, I will take heed of my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I have set a guard to my mouth, I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence even from good thing’ (Ps 38). Here the prophet shows that, if at times we ought to refrain from useful speech for the sake of silence, how much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 6)

Words can definitely be good but we see that they can quickly turn into evil and sin. St. Benedict reminds us that our words have effects and consequences. We see this happening in our country today. Vile insults and name calling is bad in itself. It has no place in society or the church. It is not nor shall it ever be acceptable.

Restraint in speech must come from all sides. We cannot justify what is being done today simply because we think we are in the right – politically, ideologically or morally. It is better that one keep quit and pray then self-righteously proclaim to the world own goodness and the bad we may see in others.

Our country and our church are filled with this attitude. It has infected many to the detriment of all. One day our words will condemn us and it appears that day is arriving at our doorsteps quicker than we might think.

True conversion of our country and our church starts with us closing our traps so we at least try not to add to the disruption and distress we see around us. Nothing will ever get done if we first can’t shut up.

New Benedict(ines)

We live in a time that is filled with chaos. Truth is replaced by the days latest fad, faith has been lost to the “new age” and life is continually threatened by the culture of death. In a very real way we live in times not unlike St Benedict himself.

To often our society seems to be collapsing in on itself while many “saviors” seek to tell us how we change it. Politics seeks to repair that which it helped tear down while the Church appears to be tearing at its seams through scandal after scandal.

No system can help heal the damage caused by sin. A deep conversion – in the world and the church – is desperately needed and it is my belief that the monastic orders are being called to help usher in a reconversion of the church and the world.

Benedictines helped save western civilization over 1,500 years ago and they are called to be on the frontlines of saving it today.

Our world needs holy men and women who can bring Benedictine values into a world filled with sin and strife. I am confident that this is why we see the Benedictine oblate vocation growing throughout the world.

The church and the world are crying out for a new Benedict which can lead it back to the gospel. Maybe, just maybe this is slowly being done by the great increase of Benedictine oblate vocations we see today. And maybe, just maybe God is calling you to be a new Benedict(ine).

That in all things he may be glorified!

A Life Worth Living

To be set on fire with the love of God – this is what our vocation as Benedictine Oblates calls us to. Everything we do – the promises, the Divine Office, the practices, the Rule – all lead us to the love of God if only we allow His Spirit to penetrate our hearts and souls.

It is to easy to go through the motions of life and this is no less true for oblates. So much of our time is consumed by work, family and friends not to mention the difficulties of illness and the other struggles we meet.

There have been to many times in which I have found myself having said the Office without really knowing what I had just prayed. To many times have I met others without recognizing Christ’s presence in them. And to often I have placed far to much trust in myself instead of God.

My mind and heart are certainly not fully converted from the world. Many times I find myself asking how I should act or respond to a situation with St. Benedict’s Rule as my guide. Far more often I find that the world is still grasping at my heart and I respond in ways that may not speak positively to my vocation as an oblate.

The vocation of being a Benedictine Oblate is one which calls us to seek God – plain and simple. Nothing else really matters. I’m finding more and more that I must slow down and be present to the tools which St. Benedict offers us who wish to follow in his footsteps. Being more present to the Divine Office, continually having before my eyes the promises I made years ago, and keeping the Rule within my heart might not always be easy but it is certainly needed.

The Benedictine way of life is not easy nor should it be. It calls us to rethink just about everything in life and to respond with a generous heart. The thirst for God is never fully satisfied this side of heaven but being a part of the Benedictine family surely helps quench that thirst if we put into practice all that our Holy Father Benedict has instructed us.

May he pray for us on this Feast of Pentecost!

Examen Yourself!

About six weeks ago my spiritual director suggested I start making the Ignatian Examen each night. I’ve been finding myself in a rut when it comes to prayer and he thought this might be a good avenue to take.

The daily Examen calls us to take a look at our day with God. It asks us to sit for a few moments with him to review our day, thank him for the goodness we’ve experienced in it and the sins we may have committed. It’s very much like an examination of conscience yet I have found myself spending more personal time with Christ then I do when I go through just my sins.

I find myself spending more time trying to see where God has been working in my life or at least where he has been trying to work in my life. It requires me to strive to see his presence and grace in every aspect of the day. Many faults and failings might come through yet there are many instances in which I am reminded of how God showed himself to me.

The smile of a coworker, the kind words from a patient, the moment which seemed bothersome all reveal God to me. And then there are the instances in which I may recall where I did not fully live up to the life I am called to both as a Catholic and an Oblate. The rushing through prayer, the forgetfulness of God in the business and chaos of life. Each instance calls me to look with Christ at these moments where I could have cooperated with him better and to make the resolution to do so.

The ending of the Examen asks me to look forward to the next day with all the challenges and all the joys I might experience and to place them in God’s hands. I resolve to do better with that difficult individual or to speak kinder with the one the tests my patience. I resolve to go a bit slower in prayer and to see his presence in all situations and all people that come my way.

How does this relate to my life as an oblate? In a variety of different ways. Making the Examen helps me to see the graces God has given me through my life as an oblate. I have grown closer to God as I strive to live out the monastic idea in my secular life. I find myself each day trying to be not only Catholic values but monastic values into my life and the lives of others. It also helps me to see where I have failed at times to not live up to the promises I made years ago.

I have also found that this time is an intimate moment with God. It allows him in to the humdrum moments of my life and to sanctify them. It allows him to teach me in ways I would never have been taught if my life was not examined.

Although this practice might be “Ignatian” I think it fits quite well into the monastic life. The monastic promise of conversatio morum calls us to a life of conversion and a life of dedication. One cannot grow if that life is not examined in the light of Christ.

Silence – Life for the Soul

Silence is a prerequisite to hearing the voice of God. Actually, it is the only language he speaks. Life is filled with so much noise – iPhones and iPads. Laptops and game consoles fill my life and pull my attention away to readily. In turn the voice of God is pushed out of my life and I struggle at times – like most people – with being able to put them down.

What others call communication I am easily seeing as only distraction. These tools which can be used for so much good are also too readily used for hatred and violence. Speech which very few would have face to face is easily typed out without thought.

St. Benedict reminds us that even good speech should be measured because it can and will eventually lead us into sin: “Indeed, so important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted even to mature disciples, no matter how good or holy or constructive their talk, because it is written: In a flood of words you will not avoid sin.” (RB, 6:3-4).

It is difficult for us oblates to find silence in the chaotic world we live in. My day at work is spent in talking to patients and coworkers. Communication is not only needed but excellent communication is required for the safety of others. By the time I hit the road for home I am exhausted from speaking to others and try to remain in silence on the trip home. This is not only a moment of respite for me but also an opportunity to prepare myself to speak again but this time in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The nights are spent in more silence as I try to read for a few hours but even this is not true silence. At times I find this too pulling me away from prayer and instead filling up the mind so that random thoughts might not cross it.

Because of my need for a greater time of silence I have begun visiting Christ more frequently in Eucharistic Adoration. It seems to be the only place in which I can be present to nothing other than Him. It is a time in which I can simply be without having to do and I have found it to breathe life into my soul.

These cherished moments of adoration are not spent in reading or much prayer. In all honesty when I see others reading in the adoration chapel I’m a bit annoyed. If Jesus were physically in front of me would I pick up a book to find something to say to him or would I simply speak? That’s my thought on it but I recognize that others have their reasons too.

When I do not find the time for silence I recognize it in my daily life. More agitation and anxiety creep in and instead of peace, chaos pervades. St. Benedict is wise in instructing his followers for the need of silence, not only to avoid sin but to be more present to God and to others. If we cannot speak by our actions then maybe we should also keep our mouths shut.

Jesus, I Trust In You!

Divine Mercy is the consequence of all we have celebrated in the Lenten and Easter Seasons.

The wounds of Christ show the world that sin and death do not have the last word.

Divine Mercy Sunday calls us to ask ourselves how we are alike and unlike the God of mercy. Do we forgive and not hold grudges? Do we go out to seek those who have sinned against us or do we constantly complain about the wrong that has been done? Do we sow peace or discord? Are we patient or are we quick to judge another’s sin?

St. Benedict calls his followers to practice “the tools of good works” in Chapter 4 of his Rule. These works are an extension of God’s mercy in the world. If we want to know how we are to follow Christ then all we must do is put them into practice.

If we wish to gauge how close we are to Christ we can reflect upon how well we practice these tools. They will be difficult and at times will call us to grow in ways we never knew were needed, but St. Benedict reminds us in the end of that same chapter that we should, “never despair of God’s mercy.” (RB 4, 74)

If mercy is the “greatest attribute of God” (St. Faustian), then it is an attribute we must constantly seek to cultivate within ourselves that we might share it with one another.

Jesus, I Trust In You!

Let Us Comfort Him

Feet have been washed, Eucharistic love has been instituted and Life is preparing to die. Jesus is arrested, Peter denies, and the world condemns. Great silence falls over the Church and the world as the tabernacles are emptied, Christ is imprisoned, and a Mother’s heart breaks.

This night is filled with a sense of wonderment, anxiety and pain. What will come tomorrow but the death of Him who gives life to the world? Our Lord sets in prison with the thoughts that tomorrow all sin will rest upon His shoulders.

Thorns which He created crown His divine head. Men which He will redeem spit in His face. Friends He has loved pretend they do not know Him. And yet His heart is full of love.

A restless night it will be. Worries for His Mother rush through His mind. Feelings of betrayal break His sacred heart. I AM thinks for a moment what it feels like to become NOT.

Sitting with Him in silence, our hearts are full of sorrow. Nothing can console us or His Mother. No sorrow has ever come upon earth like His sorrow. Tomorrow all shall be consumed in divine love, but tonight the weight of it all comes crashing down.

Jesus, let us spend this night with you if only to comfort you.

Notre Dame, pray for us!

Today the Church and the world have suffered a great loss. The Cathedral of Notre Dame has been decimated by fire. The loss of this great edifice is a reminder to us that all can be lost in a brief and unexpected moment.

It is especially difficult for this to happen during Holy Week. We inevitably have to ask ourselves why God allowed this to happen and why at this time? Although there may be numerable human explanations, we as people of faith must try to go deeper and understand why God willed or allowed this to occur. What is he saying to us? Maybe he is suggesting that in these troubled times within the Church and the world we need to turn to Our Lady all the more!

Our Lady (Notre Dame) is the surest and quickest way for us to grow closer to Christ. It is she who calls us time and again to focus on those things which are important. She reminds us that at times we must endure great pains in the hope of being cleansed of sin.

Notre Dame always leads us on the path of conversion, always assures us that we are loved, and always reminds us what the pascal mystery is about – suffering, death, and resurrection.

If we turn to her, if we pray to her, if we keep her close to our hearts we will know that although at times we must endure suffering, it will never have the last word. The edifice might stand tall while the insides are gutted but this is so that it might become a more worthy dwelling place for that which makes it holy – the Trinity.

The voices of many Parisians heard this night singing the Ave Maria reminds us that in great tragedy and seeming defeat, we must turn to Our Lady who never fails.

Notre Dame de Paris, pray for us!