Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Obedience in September

I haven’t posted much this month, it has just seemed a hectic time and I have been trying just to maintain some level of sanity. I haven’t needed additional activities.

The result is that I haven’t written much about obedience as I had planned. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought much about it, I have. The thought has even crossed my mind that not posting here regularly is a violation of both stability and obedience, but we won’t go there.

The idea I keep returning to, when I think of obedience, is attentiveness. Being obedient involves listening, paying attention, to the necessities of the moment. It means being aware of what is going on life and doing what needs to be done in that moment. This can be at times easy or very difficult, even involving sacrificial acts of love. But, at heart, every proper response to the moment is an act of love. As such, it leads us closer to God. Failing to make the proper response to the moment is a act of disobedience and leads us away from God.

The difficult part is that, every day, I seem to be presented with new and challenging opportunities to practice obedience. It seems worse because now I’m aware of the need to practice being obedient and I am not one for whom that comes naturally. I tend to procrastinate, or, worse, to fall back on thinking I know better than another the right thing to do to solve a problem. I simply don’t like having to follow the lead of others. But, I’ve been trying to change that this month.

So, if nothing else, perhaps my focus on the idea of obedience this month has provided some benefits, at least to those co-workers and family members who have had to deal with me. And, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be more obedient to my commitment to post here a little more regularly. I don’t know if that helps you who might read this or not.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Obedience

For no reason other than to impose a little order in my study of Benedictine spirituality, I decided over the next two or three months to focus on one topic important in monastic spirituality each month. This month, the topic is obedience.

I chose this first because, for me, it’s one of the more difficult things to deal with in Benedict’s Rule. None of us likes to lose control of our lives to another. We are told here in America that we’re free and should be able to do whatever we want “as long as no one else gets hurt.” A silly idea, but quite predominant. We like this least of all in spiritual matters, we insist strongly on freedom of conscience.

Too, I’ve read what a number of prominent Benedictine authors have written on the topic and many seem to down play the authoritarian side of this monastic vow. When I started to make notes to myself about this I wanted to too. I wanted to rationalize and say, “Well, it doesn’t mean you have to obey someone or you're under their thumb, it really means (name your option here).

Yet, it’s pretty easy to see that we all live under some form of obedience. Those of us who must earn our living day by day and care for a family have bosses, customers, subordinates, husbands, wives, children who demand our time and attention. It’s not a foreign concept to any walk of life. Then too, in the typical small, enclosed monastic community, not having the authority figure of the abbot and allowing each monk to do his own thing when and where and how he pleases would soon result in the end of the community. It would be nothing but chaos, confusion and eventual dissolution.

I have to conclude that there is an aspect of submission to authority which the monastic vow of obedience encompasses. It’s an ordinary part of every human life and Benedict is the master at seeing the ordinary as the path to the extraordinary.

Benedict also does nothing to hide the difficulties involved.

LISTEN carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father's advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
Sometimes, being obedient is a labor, it’s something that must be worked at day in and day out. Benedict sees disobedience as sloth, not for the indolent. Because of the distasteful connotations, however, obedience has gotten a bad name; it’s very little understood, and less sought after or, even, expected. A better understanding of this fundamental Benedictine ideal is much needed, especially by me. Thus, the rest of this month is devoted to it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why?

One thing I keep asking myself, in order to stay focused on the ultimate goal, is why am I doing this? In other words, why do I want to become an oblate and why am I puttering away at this blog?

The answer to the first question is and has remained clear in my mind. I don’t want to be a monastic; I’m sure most folks who are oblates feel the same way. For me to try to pretend that I am one would be crazy making, at best. But, I (and all baptized Christians) share one goal with those who are living in the monastery, I want to be a saint. This is the goal of every Christian, no matter the particular vocation one is following. That’s not an easy thing to do these days, but trying to adapt and follow St. Benedict’s Rule is something that helps tremendously.

It should be remembered that salvation is not the result of something we do; it is entirely the result of God’s grace in our lives. It is a free gift. But, there are some things we can do to better open ourselves to that gift, and Benedict outlines most, if not all of them in his Rule. Some are difficult and, at first blush, almost distasteful: obedience, stability, humility. Others may seem a bit easier, lectio, the prayer of the hours, silence, solitude. Yet, either way, it’s a complete package. And the real genius of Benedict is that he shows how to incorporate all these things in the everyday routine of our lives. He shows that salvation is not found in superhuman ascetical or mystical practices, but in the ordinary.

I want to become an oblate because it would help me formalize Benedict’s wise instruction as a part of my life.

The reason to blog is to share the wisdom I find in Benedictine spirituality with those who may not be familiar with it, or may never even have heard of it. I probably will never reach very many people, but even if I am able to help just one reach their goal it will have been worth it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A False Impression

I may have given a false impression with a post I did recently. I am still heading in the direction of formally becoming an oblate at Prince of Peace Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that I think will become my spiritual home. I am not considering the Lay Cistercians.

I do enjoy reading many of the early Cistercian texts, but there has been one test that I have always kept in mind in trying to differentiate between the various types of monastic spirituality. It is, if I had had a vocation to enter a monastery, what kind of monastery would it be? The answer, for many reasons, always comes down on the Benedictine side. This was confirmed after our retreat in June of this year to Prince of Peace Abbey.

So, if they'll have me, I hope to become an oblate there.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

From a Letter to the monk Adam

by St. Bernard of Clairvaux

To make this principle clear, we must note that some actions are wholly good; others wholly evil: and in these no obedience is to be rendered to men. For the former are not to be omitted by us, even if they are prohibited [by men]: nor the latter done, even though they are commanded. But, besides these, there are actions between the two, and which may be good or evil according to circumstances of place, time, manner, or person, and in these obedience has its place, as it was in the matter of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was in the midst of Paradise. When. these are in question, it is not right to prefer our own judgment to that of our superiors, so as to take no heed of what they order or forbid.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Longing to see God

A Meditation by William of St. Thierry


“MY HEART HAS TALKED of you my face has sought you. Your face, Lord, will I seek. Do not turn away your face from me; do not shun your servant in wrath."

It seems surpassing boldness and effrontery to make comparison between my face and yours, Lord God! For you see and judge the hearts of all men and, if you enter into judgment with your servant, the face of my iniquity can only flee before that of your righteousness.

But if, in order to excuse and help my poverty, you should grant me burning love and humility, then let them flee who hate I, for my part, should not flee your face.
For love is very daring, and humility fosters confidence. I am not conscious of these virtues in myself, yet I a vow myself your friend. For, if you ask me: “Do you love me" as you asked Peter, I shall say plainly, I shall tell you boldly:" Lord, you know all things, you know I want to love you. And that is as much as to say: "If you ask me the same thing a thousand times, I shall as often make the same reply: You know I want to love you" And that means that my heart desires nothing so much as it desires to love you."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Miscellaneous Ramblings on the First of September


I’ll offer a bit of self-congratulations regarding the general silence both here and over at my photo blog, Colorado Shots. I’ll try to pass off to you that I’ve been very Benedictine in spirit and, having nothing to say, have kept silent. I won’t say anything that might lead you to believe I’ve just been lazy or anything like that, oh no. But, since I can’t seem to maintain enough decent concentration to do a single, focused post, I’ll hit on a few topics of recent interest.

+ + +

I have had a spot of ill health that has set me back a little. About a month ago, I went to the dermatologist with a spot behind my ear that was somewhat open, bleeding, and a bit painful. He did a biopsy and it was a basil cell carcinoma and had to come off. This was done last Friday under what is called Moh’s surgery where they take one layer at a time until the cancerous growth is removed. It took two rounds and some 18 or so stitches to close it up. It knocked me for a loop for a few days, but I’m getting back to normal. My right ear is now pinned back ever so slightly; I think it an overall improvement.

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I’ve been doing a good bit of reading on monastic spirituality recently and it suddenly came to me that such reading has been focused on Cistercian and Trappist writers. I’ve read a book by the late Abbot Francis Kline, one by Abbot Andre Louf. I am also a big fan of Fr. Michael Casey, an Australian Trappist and am about to begin reading William of St. Thierry’s Golden Epistle, a book I’ve dabbled in recently. I’m beginning to wonder if I am, indeed, called to become a Lay Cistercian, it’s too big a coincidence. I’ll offer a little background on why I am wondering about this.

I was born a Presbyterian and for 5 to 10 years prior to my coming into the Church, I was quite active in First Presbyterian Church in El Paso. I was ordained a deacon and, during the last year of my term, became Moderator of the Board of Deacons. One of my duties was to present a 15-20 minute meditation on some spiritual topic. After my term was over, I one day went back to those meditations and, to my very great surprise, I had chosen passages almost exclusively from Catholic authors as the theme of each one of them. It was a bit of a shock, but it got me thinking. Hmmm.

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There was a story in the paper this morning about the death in a car accident of a high school hockey player from one of the local high schools. He had graduated in 2008. There was prominent mention that grief counselors had been made available to both staff and faculty at the high school. It didn’t say anything about priests or ministers which might have been the preferred route back in my high school days, if the high schools did anything like that at all. They didn’t. I think the reason is, they probably assumed most staff and faculty had regular contact with either a priest or minister and didn’t have much need for a psychologist. It’s just another example of how things have changed.