Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bummed out Dude!

I wrote a post with this title earlier today and then I read this from Fr. Stephanos at Prince of Peace Abbey.

Christ ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand
of the Father.He wants us to be with him in glory.That wish fills his prayer in
[the Gospel of John] . . .

This puts what I was trying to say in clearer perspective.

I have struggled over the last two weeks, since the trip to Florida, trying to get my prayer and reading schedule back on track. It’s been shot to pieces, only beginning with some partial recovery on this past Sunday. My reaction has been a typical one for me, frustration and the strong temptation to chuck it all and give up entirely.

I realized on Sunday that that’s wrong. In light of what Fr. Stephanos wrote in his homily, I understand now that what I should be doing is persevering. I should accept that what I am trying for is not some measure of “success” at prayer and lectio, it is faithfulness. There is a goal I deeply want to reach, and I can’t achieve it by giving up on the things most necessary to reach it. I must do what is necessary. I have to keep in mind, “every moment” as St. Benedict says, that I have a destiny that is more than anything I can imagine. It’s really a relationship, and relationships aren’t built by estrangement. Rather, it’s trust and communication and sharing that is at the heart of the matter. My Lord knocks at the door every moment of every day; it’s my job to open it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A False Peace

“Not to give a false sign of peace.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 4)

I grew up a Presbyterian and one characteristic of Presbyterian preaching that I always enjoyed was the penchant for ministers to come up with pithy, easily remembered, sayings that conveyed a basic truth. If you are familiar with Scott Hahn you will have heard plenty of examples of this. One thing I remember him saying is, “Yes, God does love you just the way you are. But he loves you too much to leave you that way.”

Shortly before I came into the Church, I was listening to a sermon and the minister threw out this comment: “If you are having a hard time getting along with someone, pray for that person. You’ll be surprised how much you will change.”

I think that’s the point Benedict is trying to get across in Chapter 4 of the Rule. You might think the obvious meaning here is more like, if you’re not getting along with someone, don’t let them think you’re taking it. Let’em have it! But no, Benedict didn’t get to be a saint thinking like that.

As I reflect on this sentence, I think Benedict is telling us to look to ourselves when faced with difficult relationships. He wants us to ask ourselves what we are doing to improve the situation. Or better still, what have we done to make the situation worse? He doesn’t want us to be holding a grudge against anyone after the sun goes down. We should deal with these things right away.

Another lesson that might come from this little bit of the Rule is that we shouldn’t pretend to get along with someone when we don’t. We don’t want to just try to get along enough so that we don’t have to face the problem. He wants us to face the issue and do our best to resolve it.

It all comes back to what I heard in that sermon. We need to pray for the people in our lives who we find difficult to get along with, and hope that, somehow, God will change us.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stability


Sit in your cell as in paradise;
put the whole world behind you and forget it;
like a skilled angler on the lookout for a catch
keep a careful eye on your thoughts. From St. Romuald’s Rule

I just returned from a business trip to Orlando (yes, it really was a business trip). It was the first time I have been out of town for perhaps 3 years and I learned a lesson in stability.

A little background. For a Benedictine monk, stability means more than simply living out one’s life in the monastery of which he is a member. It means a kind of perseverance, an inner commitment to live the life of a monk no matter the circumstances. It means, once committed to a task, that you see the task through to completion. It means not giving up on a particular circumstance just because it is unpleasant or difficult, not running away. In short, it means “sticking with it”, not with grim determination, but with joy.

With this in mind, I have to say that my recent trip was a total, absolute, unadulterated failure. Due to the disruption in routine, prayer was impossible, spiritual reading, not to mention lectio non-existent. I found myself experiencing little outbursts of impatience and temper due to the miserable treatment one receives from the airlines today as a matter of routine. I simply fell to pieces.

One bright spot, albeit too brief, was a side trip to St. Leo’s Abbey which is just northeast of Tampa. From reading John Cassian’s Oblate Blog, and a brief discussion with a lady at the Abbey that I believe to be an Oblate there, I learned they are in the process of redecorating the Church. They have done a very nice job – it looks great. The pictures, below, don’t really do it justice. But, the remarkable thing, something immediately noticeable at any Abbey, was the silence. It was the deep silence that can only come from a placed steeped in prayer. This was true even though the monastery sits not far off a well-travelled highway and next door to a university, St. Leo’s. It was a real relief to be able to spend just a few minutes in that place, after the noise and bustle of a hectic business conference and just being around Orlando. It gave me a slight recharge of the batteries; just enough to get me home with some small semblance of sanity left.








On the trip home, I had time to set and reflect on the experience and I immediately thought of Romuald’s Little Rule. I had new insight into the value of “sitting in your cell.” There is, indeed, a real wisdom in what he is saying, because it’s almost impossible to go out into the world and find anything but disruption if you are trying to live by St. Benedict’s Rule. There is a real reason why Benedict prized stability so highly. If you don’t believe me, just jump on a plane and head for Orlando.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Have a Nice Day

Have a good day!
And the Lord, seeking his laborer

in the multitude to whom He thus cries out,
says again,
"Who is the one who will have life,
and desires to see good days" (Ps. 33[34]:13)?
And if, hearing Him, you answer,
"I am the one,"
God says to you,
"If you will have true and everlasting life,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips that they speak no guile.
Turn away from evil and do good;
seek after peace and pursue it" (Ps. 33[34]:14-15).
And when you have done these things,
My eyes shall be upon you
and My ears open to your prayers;
and before you call upon Me, I will say to you,
'Behold, here I am'" (Ps. 33[34]:16; Is. 65:24; 58:9). (From the Prologue to the Rule).

Most of us have a good idea of what it means to have a good day. Sometimes, it means that everything seemed to go our way; we had no major difficulties, the weather was great, our boss loved us, we had a day off, we won the lottery, whatever. But, it seems from this short section of the Rule, that’s not what Benedict thinks of when he asks us if we wish to “see good days.”

Benedict says that those who wish for good days will follow just a few simple rules:

1) Keep your tongue from evil;
2) Turn from evil and do good;
3) Seek peace and pursue it.

While Benedict may seem completely out of step with what most people would consider to be a good day, in fact, I think he’s on to something. What is Benedict talking about? I think Benedict is getting to the heart of the matter. If we truly seek “good days”, what we are seeking is something deeper than the experiences of any particular day. He’s trying to tell us how to have good days when everything we touch turns to ca-ca, the weather is lousy, our boss hates us, and we are down to our last dollar in the bank. He wants us to build the interior resources we need to look at every day we are given as a “good day.” I mean, just look around. Everywhere you turn, on the news, in the street, it seems no one is keeping their tongue from evil. It seems that’s all we hear. Conversations nowadays seem to rapidly degenerate to personal name calling and vituperation if any remotely controversial topic, such as Christian faith, comes up. And who is seeking peace? Is it peaceful to have a car pull up next to you with the stereo blasting so loud you can’t hear yourself think? Is there anywhere you can go that you’re not bombarded by someone trying to get their particular message through above all the surrounding din? Are these things really part of a good day?

My own experience has shown me that, when I do indeed guard my tongue, that alone makes things go a lot better. I don’t say negative things, which improves not only my own attitude, but the attitudes of those around me. It makes things much easier. I know that being around people who are always talking others down, or being negative makes the task at hand much harder. It makes social gatherings that much more uncomfortable. It’s just bad news.

I also know that there is much going on just in the media that I need to insulate myself from. It’s hard to turn on any program on TV without being confronted squarely with evil, and constant exposure to evil, even fictionalized evil, leads one to become inured to it. You become desensitized and it becomes much harder to detect the next time you see it. If you have any doubt, just watch a 1950’s sitcom and see if you can tell a difference in the tone of what is displayed.

The heart of what Benedict is saying is, “seek peace.” That’s what all these steps add up to. By focusing on the good in our thoughts and in our speech, by carrying out those thoughts in our actions, and by seeking times of silence and prayer, retreating to our “enclosure”, we are taking positive steps to ensure that all our days are good days.