Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton

“When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made. Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony. The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what one says. The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter frees inquiry as men fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating. Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, any one can discuss it. The old restriction meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion. Modern liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it.”
                                                                            G. K. Chesterton, Heretics
The above was written in 1904 or 1905; it is as apt today as it was back then, or more so. It seems today that anyone can say anything and expect no consequences. But there are consequences and they are becoming more evident every day.

For the past many years, I would say since the time of the Viet Nam war, political and social dialogue in this county has become more polarized and it seems the point of the debate has become “winning,” not seeking the good of the country. Much less has it been seeking the good. Statements of all kinds, on both “sides” have become more extreme with each passing year. The consequence is that we are getting to the point that no one trusts anything anyone else says. It is becoming impossible to function as a society. This is a severe consequence.

The community envisioned by Benedict is one built on trust. The Rule says, in Chapter 4,

Let the brethren give their advice
with all the deference required by humility,
and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions; 
but let the decision rather depend on the Abbot's judgment, 
and all submit to whatever he shall decide for their welfare.

I wish the wisdom of the 6th century, or even the early 20th century, were more prevalent today.

Even though this may seem a completely un-democratic environment, the passage shows that the basis of the monastic community is a mutual trust that each member of the community will seek the good of the entire community. The monks “shall not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions.” The goal isn’t to win, it’s to seek the good.

Listening to Tradition, Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Do not let those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill you with apprehension. Stand firm, like an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of the noble athlete to be wounded and yet to conquer. (St. Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp 3)

Friday, March 26, 2010

One Smug Kitty

Taken last night during a moment of cat relaxation.Posted by Picasa

Listening to Tradition, The Desert Fathers

The way of humility is this: self-control, prayer, and thinking yourself inferior to all creatures.

                                                                                              Abba Tithoes
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Listening to Tradition, Maritain

To this true God the saint is entirely given. But there are false gods; even, as I shall shortly say, there is a spurious and distorted image of God that can be called King or Jove of all false gods, the great god of idolators. With regard to this god, the saint is a thorough atheist, the most atheistic of men – just because he adores only God. (Italics in original).

Jacques Maritain, The Range of Reason

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Week, March 20, 2010

When I was a Presbyterian living in Texas, I attended a church whose pastor was a very learned, scholarly, and sadly, alcoholic preacher from Glasgow. He had been at that church over 20 years and had preached on every conceivable text from Scripture. A couple of times, toward the end of his tenure there, he would get up and confess, in his still deep Scot’s brogue, that he was tempted to simply read the days text and admit that he had nothing new to add to what he had already preached on many times. He saw no reason to waste everyone’s time. There are times when, facing a blank page, I feel the same way. Could there ever be anything new to say that I likely haven’t already said many times over? However, in the name of obedience and stability, since I have undertaken to maintain this blog, I offer a few comments on the past week.

The Weather

The week began with the first hint of spring so far this year. By mid-week we were having temperatures that I think reached the low 70’s – life was good. Then, reality reasserted itself. Thursday we saw increasing clouds, Friday cold and snow with a 30 degree drop in temperature. It snowed more or less all day. This morning dawned clear, a deep Colorado blue sky, and cold; it was 14 when I awoke.

It often seems no one is happy with the weather in Colorado Springs, with people almost evenly divided between those wishing for constant blizzard conditions from mid-November through April, and those who wish for snow only in the two week period beginning December 15th and ending on New Year’s Eve. I wonder many times why people move to Colorado Springs, it’s as if they had no idea that this area is really high-desert, tending to be a bit dry, but certainly subject to receiving our share of snow, depending upon either El Nino or El Nina conditions in the Pacific. If you don’t like snow and colder weather, ever, this isn’t the place for you.

The Week

I have come close to the end of a very busy time at work. I thought back on Thursday evening and realized I had been “busy” since the middle of December; it seems it was a time of almost constant pressure to meet deadlines and get things done. This period has come close to ending rather abruptly and it’s a bit of a let-down. I have to regroup and reorient myself to establish a routine not driven by pressure but by trying to recognize the important, creative things I now have some freedom to accomplish. This kind of thing, if you are an accountant, is an annual occurrence, but oddly, after a career of almost, well, let’s just say many years, I am just now recognizing. It’s something I seem more attuned to.

Is there any conclusion from any of this? I keep thinking of Chapter 31 of the Rule, “Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer.” Benedict begins that chapter with the following:

“As cellarer of the monastery, there should be chosen from the community someone who is wise, mature in conduct, temperate, not an excessive eater, not proud, not excitable, offensive, dilatory or wasteful, but God-fearing, like a father to the whole community.”

 As the accountant, the “business manager” or “cellarer” of the company I work for, I believe I should strive to live those qualities that Benedict sets out in the Rule. Being mature, temperate, not offensive, means accepting the circumstances in which I find myself on a day to day basis. Not only accepting, but seeing the gift in the moment, whether it’s in a Rocky Mountain spring snow storm and the beauty of its passing, or a transition from a time of much activity to one of a slower pace, each moment is a gift that is too often taken for granted. Benedict would want that from each of his monks.

I think he would appreciate the point of a story my father, also a Scot born near Glasgow, used to tell as he got older. He went to the doctor, yet another Scot, complaining of a cough. The doctor examined him, asked him his age, and said, “Ach, Willie, gae home and be glad you’re able to cough.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

Listening to Tradition, Thomas Merton

Our God also is a consuming fire. And if we, by love, become transformed into Him and burn as He burns, His fire will be our everlasting joy. But if we refuse His love and remain in the coldness of sin and opposition to Him and to other men then His fire (by our own choice rather than His) becomes our everlasting enemy and Love, instead of being our joy, will become our torment and destruction. 
When we love God's will we find Him and own His joy in all things. 

Merton, Thomas, New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions, 1961, p.124

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Listening to Tradition, The Desert Fathers

Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.

St. John Climacus

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good Stewards

I was in the doctor’s office the other day waiting for my appointment and picked up a car magazine, Car and Driver, to be specific, to while away the time. I don’t often read car magazines, I haven’t subscribed to any in years, even though I am a bit of a car nut. I grew up in Detroit after all. The first story I spotted was a column by David E. Davis, whom I have always enjoyed reading simply because he is a good writer.
Davis’ column started on cars his family had owned when he, too, was growing up in Michigan, I remember mention of a 1939 DeSoto, which does date Mr. Davis a bit. However, he soon turned to the topic of last year’s “Cash for Clunkers” program. When I realized that, I almost flipped the page; I’m getting more than fed up with political news and stories at the moment. Still, I read on and Davis was making a good point. He pointed out that, while he was growing up, used cars were something of a blessing (he didn’t use the word, but it was implied) for his family. Used cars represented affordable transportation that would not otherwise be available to them. He points out that, for many families around the world, not just in the U.S., used cars represents the same blessing, the opportunity to have enough mobility to travel greater distances to find work, having the freedom to move beyond the limits of a village or small town, or just the expansion of markets beyond those limits. If new or only slightly used cars were all that was available, those benefits would be lost. 

The “Cash for Clunkers” program, by taking thousands upon thousands of perfectly good autos off the road, needlessly denied them to people who could benefit from their use. It was hugely wasteful. Reading this, of course, I thought immediately of St. Benedict. What would he say about that? One way to know is to turn to The Rule. In Chapter 32, he writes:

Chapter 32: On the Tools and Property of the Monastery

For the care of the monastery's property
in tools, clothing and other articles
let the Abbot appoint brothers
on whose manner of life and character he can rely;
and let him, as he shall judge to be expedient,
consign the various articles to them,
to be looked after and to be collected again.
The Abbot shall keep a list of these articles,
so that as the brothers succeed one another in their assignments
he may know what he gives and what he receives back.
If anyone treats the monastery's property
in a slovenly or careless way,
let him be corrected.
If he fails to amend,
let him undergo the discipline of the Rule.
Benedict is pretty clear on how monastery property is to be treated, they should be “looked after . . . to be collected again.” He also says, “if anyone treats the monastery’s property in a slovenly or careless way, let him be corrected, if he fails to amend, let him undergo the discipline of the Rule.”

Destroying useful tools, and as much as I hate to say it, an automobile is a tool, deserves correction, even punishment. What does it say about us, as a society, that we condone such wanton waste?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Listening to Tradition, Staretz Silouan

“Love takes to itself the life of the loved one.

The greater the love, the greater the suffering of the soul.

The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge of God.

The more ardent the love, the more fervent the prayer.

The more perfect the love, the holier the life.”

Staretz Silouan

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Listening to Tradition, William of St. Theirry

"We have an obligation not only to love each other but also in our love to make ourselves as loveable as possible so that it is easy for our sisters and brothers to love us."

William of Saint Thierry, Cistercian Father

Monday, March 8, 2010

Going Deeper

(Back in January, before my first round of colds and bronchitis, I thought I’d write a little about how going a little deeper in Bible study has, at times, helped me in lectio. Being sick has postponed this effort, but in trying to build a habit of stability, I decided to finish it. All sources quoted here are from my Logos 4 Bible study software.)

 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;

38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,

and if he shrinks back,

my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:32-39 (ESV)

There have been times in my life that I received a gift, a rather subtle blessing, that I didn’t fully appreciate until some time afterwards. Usually this isn’t in the form of a present or something physical, rather it takes the form of an opportunity, or a chance acquaintance, or some unexpected and even inconvenient event impinging on my very well laid out plans that represents a turning point. Sometimes, even after a few years, and only when I look back do I recognize the significance of the gift in my life. 

I think that’s the point the writer of Hebrews was trying to make to his readers. One thing that almost always happens when I sit down to read a Bible passage is a particular word will seem to jump off the page. Usually that’s because the word seems out of place, an odd expression of an idea the authorsis trying to get across. In this passage, the word was “enlightened.” The writer is trying to encourage his readers to persevere during a time of renewed persecution. They are having doubts that becoming Christians was ever a good idea. They’d gone through persecution at the start of their Christian walk, stood strong, seemed to have overcome, when, low and behold, it was starting all over again. They weren’t sure they could take it anymore, they‘d had enough. This passage was meant to remind them that they had already experienced the worst, been helped by each other, and survived.

But there’s an unusual expression here, the writer asks them to remember “when you were enlightened . . .” He didn’t say, as we would today, when you accepted Jesus, or when you came to faith, he said “when you were enlightened.” I wondered why, and what meanings that word might have that might be important to understand. So I turned to my Logos 4 software.

First, I found the dictionary meaning of the word:

enlightened adjective


1 : freed from ignorance and misinformation 〈an enlightened people〉〈an enlightened time〉

2 : based on full comprehension of the problems involved 〈issued an enlightened ruling〉1)

This already is helpful, because when the dictionary says “freed from ignorance” I get the connotation of something not done by oneself but with the help of, perhaps, a wise teacher. Still, I wondered what other sources might say, so I looked at a couple of commentaries.

illuminated—“enlightened”: come to “the knowledge of the truth” (Heb 10:26) in connection with baptism (see on Heb 6:4). In spiritual baptism, Christ, who is “the Light,” is put on. “On the one hand, we are not to sever the sign and the grace signified where the sacrifice truly answers its designs; on the other, the glass is not to be mistaken for the liquor, nor the sheath for the sword” [Bengel]. 2)
I’m not sure I understand the meaning of the last part of this quote, but, again, baptism is a sacrament that we receive when we become Christians. This isn’t something we do by ourselves, but in the community of believers.

Finally, I looked at the Jerome Biblical Commentary, which also mentions baptism.

when you had been enlightened: A reference to baptism (cf. 6:4). 3)
The lesson I gained from just this little research is that the writer of Hebrews was reminding his readers that, when they became Christians, it wasn’t something they chose to do and could just choose to undo, like joining some social club. He was implying that this enlightenment was something they were given as a gift from God. It was, in reality, a grace and not something they could easily turn their backs on, for to do so would be to reject God’s gift.

The study of this one word has been on my mind for most of the last month or two, because so often I forget how great a gift it has been in my life when, through almost a fluke experience, something I attached no importance to whatever when it occurred, I came back to faith after more than 20 years. It was a gift, one I don’t care to throw away.

1) Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

2) Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Heb 10:32). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

3) Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. (1996). The Jerome Biblical commentary (V 2, p 400). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Listening to Tradition, Bernard

“He who labours as he prays lifts his heart to God with his hands.” Bernard of Clairvaux

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Listening to Tradition, The Desert Fathers

When a man walks in the fear of God he knows no fear, even if he were to be surrounded by wicked men. He has the fear of God within him and wears the invincible armor of faith. This makes him strong and able to take on anything, even things which seem difficult or impossible to most people. Such a man is like a giant surrounded by monkeys, or a roaring lion among dogs and foxes. He goes forward trusting in the Lord and the constancy of his will to strike and paralyze his foes. He wields the blazing club of the Word in wisdom.

St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters