Entering Deeply Into This Week

Holy Week has begun and it calls us to delve a little deeper into the liturgy of the Church so that we might experience with Christ the saving events done by him so long ago.

The only response to this week can be silence so that we might better understand and participate in the pascal mystery that plays out in the Liturgy of the Hours and Masses of this week.

The Church is at her best when she proclaims Christ in her liturgy and this time shows her beauty more then any other.

Holy Week calls us to experience with Christ the triumph of Palm Sunday, the fear, pain and anxiety of the passion, the loneliness of laying in the tomb, and the great joy of the resurrection.

More then any other time of the year we should seek to enter deeply into the mysteries the Church offers us in her liturgy. The great cosmic drama of the pascal mystery envelopes our souls if only we allow the liturgy to play out in and through us.

May Holy Week lead us ever closer to Christ!

All Guests Are Christ. No Exceptions, No Excuses!

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB, 53)

This saying from St. Benedict’s Rule is one of the more famous. Many who know the Rule have heard of it and those who strive to live the Benedictine life know that hospitality is a very Benedictine quality. St. Meinrad Archabbey takes its name from the martyr of hospitality and seeks every day to provide this care to all who enter her doors.

A time like ours has a great need for hospitality. Endless news cycles tell us why we should reject the orphan, the immigrant and those not like us. Anger and fear have become virtues which hide behind the banner of Democrat and Republican. Instead of being for things we are told or even demanded to be against everything.

Those of a different color, religion, and sexual orientation are looked down upon by many who seek to make themselves feel better simply because they can say, “At least I’m not that.” And the very foundation of life is threatened by those who idolize their “rights” without considerIng the right of those who wish to be born.

Our world more then ever is in need of the Benedictine charism of seeing Christ in everyone. No distinction or qualification can be made when receiving those that come into our lives. Who they may be, what they may have done, or where they might be going is irrelevant to us if we strive to follow St. Benedicts way of life.

What surprises me more then anything is the vitriol one sees on the internet especially when coming from those who claim Christ as their savior and St. Benedict as their father. Bending over backwards, they claim that it is their duty to teach others the “truth” while living lives of hate. Praising God and condemning others in the same breath, they show the shallowness of their faith which hides behind rules and regulations that make them feel safe.

What they and others fail to understand is that as Christians we are not called to play it safe or stay within our own little boundaries in the hope of growing closer to Christ. The Benedict Option is to see all as Christ.

We are called to be challenged to see Christ in everyone – the sinner, the saint, the refugee, the illegal immigrant. We are called to see Christ in the man or woman who is living and dying with HIV/AIDS, the addict who has overdosed for the tenth time on heroine, and the woman who sells herself so that she may feed her children. We are called to see everyone who comes into our lives and the lives of others as Christ living and dying, rejoicing and in sorrow, and we are asked to respond with love. Our presence is what is asked of us. Our judgment should be reserved.

ALL GUESTS are to be received as Christ. The key word in that simple phrase is ALL. It makes no distinction and leaves no room for you or I to determine who we can or cannot allow in, for the moment we shut the door on another is the moment we slam it in Christ’s face.

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.

Conversion to the Monastic Life

Last week we took a look at the promise or vow of stability which all Benedictines make. Today we will take a look at “Conversatio Morum” or “Conversion to the Monastic Life”.

The promise of Conversatio Morum flows out of the promise of Stability. As stability has bound us to a particular community, conversatio morum binds us to a particular way of life. The monastic way of living first begins with a monastic way of thinking. Although oblates do not typically live within the monastic confines we are called to live out the monastic life in a different way. This does not mean that we are called to be little monks or nuns in the world, but we are called to bring monastic values into the places we find ourselves in.

Conversion to the Monastic Life calls us to see life, people and events through a different lens. Instead of simply seeing work as drudgery, we are asked to see it as building up the Kingdom of God. Instead of seeing superiors as an annoyance we are asked to listen for the voice of God. In a disposable society we are called upon to treat the kitchen utensils as something sacred (RB, 31) Workacholics are reminded that “nothing is to be preferred to the work of God” (RB, 43) and community life takes precedence over individuality.

For most of our lives we have been formed in the ways of the world. The promise of Conversatio Morum calls us to take a different look at created things and the situations God places us in. It calls us to see with sacramental eyes as we search for God in the ordinary and mundane. The world would have us see the negative and banal yet Conversatio Morum leads us to see God’s grace in every moment of life.

After we begin to experience a conversion in our way of thinking we are inevitably lead to change our habits. We begin to see Christ in every one we meet. The “useless and ordinary” become means of serving God and others. Prayer is not simply confined to a moment in the day but extends through all our thoughts and actions.

The tools which lead us to fulfill our promise of Conversion to the Monastic Life are those traditions laid out in our monastic communities and the Rule – Liturgy of the Hours, fasting, lectio divina, hospitality, etc… In practicing these “monastic habits” day in and day out we will begin to form a different mindset which leads us to become more “monastic” in our daily lives. If it seems as though this is simply living out the Gospel in all its fullness, you are correct. Benedictine life is a life of striving to bring the Gospel message in a radical way into the ordinary and mundane moments of our existence. Conversatio Morum is the way in which we strive to do that.

Stability as Your Guide

“When he is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.” Rule of Benedict, 58

Stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience. These are the three promises an oblate makes when he gives himself over to God. These promises make up the foundation of how one lives their vocation out as a Benedictine oblate. But what exactly does it mean? What exactly does living out the promises look like in the daily life of an oblate?

Living ones vocation out as a Benedictine oblate can take on many different forms. The way in which I strive to live out my vocation can be quite different from others even within my own monastic family. The Rule of St. Benedict allows for such diversity and is one of the reasons why it has lasted for over 1,500 years. In the next few posts I intend to speak on the three promises of stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience and how I strive to live them out as an oblate.

The promise of stability stands in stark contrast to a society which seeks pleasure and fulfillment in quick fixes and happiness that is just a click away. Stability, the first of the promises made by any Benedictine, requires us to plant our roots in the community we find ourselves in, whether at home, work, or society in general. Stability is the promise that forces us to look at our surroundings and strive to see God there. It asks us to look for God in the here and now and not in some distant future where we think all shall be better.

At times we may find ourselves being irritated with those who surround us. We may find the way things are done to not be in our liking or taste and we may very well find ourselves being challenged by those we are called to love. Our gut reaction is to flee because this is the path of least resistance. This allows us to not have to get into the thick of things and face them as they are. The promise of stability shows us that God has placed us with these people, in these situations, and challenges us to grow in love. We are not called to change the world to our own wishes and needs but to love in the midst of all trials.

Stability also asks me to continue on the journey when I find the monotony a bit to much. I reminds me that I should not look for external excitements which might stimulate my desires at the moment but will produce very little fruit. It calls me to stick with the path I have chosen and to reap the benefits of the Benedictine life which has been lived out by thousands before me.

And in the life of an oblate stability also requires me to have a greater focus on my family, whether it be in single or married life. Those God has chosen to place before me are those which will help me to grown in love. Committing myself to a greater acceptance of who they are and who they are not will allow me to grow to love them as God loves them. When the going gets tough, as it inevitably does in life, I am called to stick it out and work through the difficulties that present themselves simply because in the end I recognize that the challenges of life and of others will lead me to a greater acceptance and love for all human life.

In a time in which people and places are disposable, stability asks me to see them how God sees them – as gifts which call me to holiness. It might not be easy but that’s not the point. Nothing worth having in life is ever easy.

Although it can seem constraining at first, stability is actually quite liberating. It takes away the need to look elsewhere for happiness and reminds me that it is to be found exactly where I am at and with the people God has chosen to place in my life.

Making the Rule Personal

The Rule of St. Benedict is the foundation or guide which aids us in living out our vocation as Benedictine Oblates. The beauty of the Rule is that it can be adapted to different times and places and provides the opportunity to have different expressions of Benedictine life.

As an oblate I certainly cannot follow the Rule as monks or nuns do but I can strive to implement it as best I can in my circumstances of life. Both the Rule and St. Meinrad Archabbey have given me the foundation as to how I can best live out my life as an oblate but I came to see that a personal rule was needed. This personal oblate rule would better help me to put into practice how I want to live out my vocation as an oblate. It is more of a guide on how to live out the spirit of the Benedictine vocation in my circumstances of life.

Although I believe that this be a working document and will take a little more time to complete, I also believe that it is a good start. I have debated on whether or not to share it here but have come to the decision to do so simply because it allows me to put it out there in the Benedictine online universe of the web and obtain feedback from others who are also striving to live out their vocations as Benedictine oblates. I also hope that in some small way it might be able to promote in others the desire to live out their lives under the Rule of St. Benedict.

In following the example of our Holy Father St. Benedict, I have tried to make sure that there is nothing too harsh in this rule. It is my hope and prayer that it will allow me to put into practice the guiding principles of the Benedictine way of life. I look forward to any suggestions and experiences other oblates may have on how they are striving to live out their vocations. Sharing this with the community is part of the process of being a Benedictine. In doing so I only hope that my life can be more enriched through the experiences of others.

Rule of Life

• Liturgy of the Hours

– Lauds, Vespers, Compline, Office of BVM Saturday morning

• Rule of Benedict

– Read daily and study more in depth when possible

• Lectio Divina

– Daily

• Sacraments

– Mass: as often as possible

– Confession: at least twice a month

• Presence of God

– Strive to be in Gods presence always, pray before beginning work and after, practice contemplative prayer

– See God in others, especially the sick and the poor

• Fasting

– Abstain from meat and snacking on Wednesdays and Fridays. Bread and liquids only on Ash Wednesday & Good Friday.

• Devotions

– Office of the Dead for each monk who has died

– Divine Mercy Chaplet and Devotion

– Mary’s Fiat Office from the Little Office of the BVM replaces Saturday Lauds

– Eucharistic Adoration: at least once a month

• Monastic Practices

– Monthly Hermit Day

– Annual retreat with review of how I am living the Oblate way of life

– Renewal of Oblate Promises: January 16th (Anniversary of Oblation), March 21st (Transitus of St. Benedict), July 11th (Feast of St. Benedict), November 21st (Presentation of Mary)

– Find a confessor/spiritual director

– Discern an apostolate

– Silence: stop using cell phone and all electronic devices after 6pm. Decrease television use and strive to use speech for only good. Proper attention should be given to conversations that are unnecessary or deemed inappropriate.

– Hospitality: to receive all guests as Christ, whether at home, work or in society.