Sometimes I get thoughts from so far out of the blue that they must be from the edge of time…or beyond. This is just another way of saying that the Holy Spirit is not limited to my personal agenda of what I would like to think about (meditation) but allows me once in a while to push toward His agenda (contemplation).
I don’t speak for the Holy Spirit, I just take dictation.
Here are some thoughts in my recent Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5). Like all my Lectio sessions, they seem to build on one another and are all liked together at a high enough level.
ONE: Everything has a beginning and an ending in the physical and mental universes. Remember, I use the Rule of Threes (one reality with three separate universes) hypothesis. It helps me dissect reality into manageable concepts, so my poor brain can approach the Mystery of Faith (notice, I said approach, not comprehend). I asked the Holy Spirit why that was important, and He told me that using only the physical and mental universes (the World) is not enough to propel individuals to Heaven.
TWO: Everything was going as planned and then Adam and Eve stepped in and threw off the resonance of that plan. Dissonance entered the world a.k.a. Original Sin, the archetypal explanation of why humans do such crazy things with their powers of human reasoning and freedom to choose that which is against their nature (apologizes to B.F. Skinner). From that point in our collective evolution or maturation to today, we are born into the world in a state of alienation from God, even though Christ died for all of us. As individuals, we must claim our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father and live out our lives with Christ as our Principle of the way, the truth, and the life. This is important because it is this Christ principle that enables those marked with the sign of the cross to enter into the next level of human evolution, the spiritual universe. It is so unlike the first two universes, even though this is where we live and learn and love and die, that it is more like the opposite.
THREE: The spiritual universe is not just the anthesis of the physical and mental universes, it is the synthesis. Christ makes all things new each day. Some see this and some don’t have a clue. Christ is the solution to the Divina Equation, admittedly one that most people don’t or can’t solve because they don’t hold the correct assumptions about Christ.
FOUR: Christ did not leave us a guidebook to follow, but empowered those around him to write down their ideas about what it means for each of us to prepare to live now on earth so that we might fulfill our destiny in the next level of evolution, one that begins with Baptism on earth for each of us and ends in the Love of Christ forever.
FIVE: From the moment of Baptism, we are strangers in a foreign land (earth). We prepare for the trip to the Kingdom of Heaven where we can enjoy our Lord’s joy along with all the others who die in the sign of Peace.
SIX: YouTube has accounts of Elton Musk having SpaceX ships that take us to Mars and beyond. There is talk of travel at light speed to escape the earth and its limitations. When we enter the spiritual universe through the energy of God, we begin astronaut training to use a crude analogy. We begin training in how to live in a condition beyond human reasoning and does not correspond to anything we experience on earth. We are asked to love others as Christ loved us as our only task while we live. I don’t know if there is a containment field in Heaven where we live out those authentic experiences of God’s love and mercy toward us, but I am not worried. Reflect on this passage from St. John, Chapter 14. Read it slowly three times. (I don’t usually use quotes to prove anything as much as for you to read the whole passage and allow you to listen to the Holy Spirit with the “ear of your heart.”)
Last Supper Discourses.1* “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith* in God; have faith also in me.2In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?3* And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.a4Where [I] am going, you know the way.”*5Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”6Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth* and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.b7If you know me, then you will also know my Father.* From now on you do know him and have seen him.”c8Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father,*, and that will be enough for us.”d9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?e10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.f11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.g12Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.h13And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.i14If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.
The Advocate.15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.j16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always,k17the Spirit of truth,* which the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.l18I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.*19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me because I live and you will live.m20On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.n21Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”o22Judas, not the Iscariot,* said to him, “Master, [then] what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”p23Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.q24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.25“I have told you this while I am with you.26The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.r27Peace* I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.s28* You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away, and I will come back to you.’t If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.29And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.u30I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world* is coming. He has no power over me,31but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. Get up, let us go.vhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/14
SEVEN: Christ did not leave the Apostles a book to describe what to do going forward, He left a second advocate to show us and be with us as we journey to tomorrow. Contemplative practice is just allowing those prayers and good works to place us in the proper focus to be present to Christ and the Holy Spirit. Lay Cistercian practices are not ends in themselves but lead us to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) each day. It is the Christ Principal that is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory…forever. We humans tag along with Christ in humility and hopefully, obedience to God’s will, in the Hope that we will be in Heaven what we aspire to on earth.
I admit that this Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) idea is as far out as the edge of time, but so is the Holy Spirit. Imagine how Jesus felt when, as the Son of God the Father, he knew all that is but could not easily convey this love to humans. In this sense, Jesus had to learn how to teach others about what is beyond a human capacity to appreciate. He chose parables (Matthew 13) ad similes (the kingdom of heaven is like…) to get across what it not only is but what it feels like. He took what humans know and pushed it a little to what they did not know by reason alone. The phrase of Christ in Philippians 2:5-12 about emptying the nature of God has flown over my head for most of my life. Now, I think it means that the divine nature of Jesus would not infuse the human nature of Jesus with pure knowledge. Christ was like us in all things but sin by taking on our nature. The only way that makes sense to me is that this “emptying” (kenosis in Greek) means God did not let his divinity diminish what his humanity would or could experience about the human condition that he would have to challenge. What would be the price Christ paid for our redemption if it was a done deal and just a gentleman’s agreement to come down, be born as a human, and then die a natural death? Philippians 2:5-12 makes a point that Christ had to suffer. Imagine how difficult that would be for Jesus to be both God and man at the same time. This emptying must be the power of God, the same power that the Holy Spirit used to overshadow Mary, that kept the humanity of Jesus pure and integral. In my Lectio on Philippians 2:5, I experienced the following thoughts.
Teaching About Prayer. 5 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. 7* In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.*8 Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/6
5. GOD’S DIVNITY HAD TO PROTECT CHRIST’S HUMANITY SO THAT JESUS COULD EXPERIENCE WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN, EXCEPT FOR SIN.
Did Jesus have to learn about how to love profoundly? I am no theologian but my sense is yes, his humanity was like us in that we learn progressively and not with infused knowledge. Human behaviors for Jesus had to be experienced, emotions had to be felt and what is good from what is bad had to be tested, all like us, except in Christ there was no sin. When Jesus was frightened or confused, Mary and Joseph helped him to be strong. When he cut himself and felt pain, he bled and had to heal just like us. When he suffered rejection and the disappointment of rejection by those closest to him (Peter, Judas, and other followers) he had to endure humiliation without retaliation and transform hatred into love for all. This is a part of what it means to love others as Christ loved us. Christ endured his suffering so that, no matter what we experience in life, be it depression, cancer, even death itself, He has overcome it with his Resurrection and Return to the Father.
6. JESUS’ PRIVATE LIFE BEFORE HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY WAS SPENT IN LEARNING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN AND CHOOSING GOD’S WILL OVER THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE WORLD.
7. HAVING GOD AS A BROTHER AND FRIEND CAN TEMPT US TO THINK JESUS IS JUST HUMAN. Don’t forget! Jesus has two natures (divine but also human). These two natures are one because of the power of God. Just as Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, her human nature raised to its ultimate perfection that any human can attain, so Jesus is overshadowed by the same Holy Spirit, but with this important caveat. Mary is not two natures, only human. Jesus is two natures. We don’t know and maybe can’t know what it is like to be divine nature, even though the power of the Holy Spirit gave us adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. This is why I like the passage in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:5-12. I selected this as my personal center and spend all my time writing blogs and doing Lectio Divina on this one astonishing act of complete abandonment (kenosis). St. Benedict states in his Chapter 7 of the Rule on the steps to attaining humility that the first one is Fear of the Lord. Humility is the key to recognizing who you are in the sight of God and obeying the command of Christ to love one another as He loved us.
8. IF GOD DID NOT ALLOW HUMANS TO BE GENUINELY FREE TO MAKE CHOICES AND THEN TO ACT ON THEM, EVEN IF THEY ARE SINFUL AND REPREHENSIBLE, THERE WOULD BE NO FREE ACT. This freedom is the ultimate hands-off by God to see if we can choose what is right over what is easy based on our thoughts that we are god. I had the thought in this Lectio Divina that only God could empty Himself to the extent that he gave humans the power to be stronger than even God, in the sense that God doesn’t force us to do either good or evil. He trusts us that the Scripture, His grace, the Son that He became human nature to show us how to love, is enough. My grace is sufficient, He says. Ultimate freedom exists in the context of trust and hope that those with the responsibility of choice will choose that which God says will fulfill them as humans in their next level of evolution, the Kingdom of Heaven. This new life, the New Jerusalem, begins when Christ accepts us as sons and daughters of the Father and, in turn, proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior of all reality for all time. All of this so that our Faith informed by reason can continue to choose that Christ is indeed Messiah, Son of God and that by believing in Him, we might have life forever. John 20:30-31. It is this constant giving back to God of the power, honor, and glory due to Him and not us that we fulfill the last dimension of our human evolution. We don’t covet the power for ourselves; we don’t hide our good works that come from Christ under a bushel basket but allow it to shine forth, not as anything we do, but to glorify our Heavenly Father, the light that enlightens our small light. We do join with Christ as our Mediator and Advocate in Heaven that through Him, with Him, and in Him, all praise, honor, and glory be to the Father.
My Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) took me to this place recently, asking a series of questions, which, of course, only the Holy Spirit had the answers. It is like playing Spirit Games with my second Advocate (Jesus is numero uno). I am going to write it down just as I received it and you try to answer them. In Lectio, I always get the questions from the Holy Spirit in meditatio and get answers (as I “listen with the ear of the heart”) in contemplatio. The answers don’t always come as fast as I would like because I have the impatience of a human in a state of Original Sin. The key is to keep coming back each day, passionately, relentless in humility with Christ. I offer to you what I myself received, in no order and without comments.
When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God,* I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.a2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.b3I came to you in weakness* and fear and much trembling,4and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom,* but with a demonstration of spirit and power,c5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.d
The True Wisdom.*6Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.7Rather, we speak God’s wisdom,* mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,8and which none of the rulers of this age* knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.9But as it is written:
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.11Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.13And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.*14Now the natural person* does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.15The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment* by anyone.16For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.ghttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/1corinthians/2
Read the Gospel of St. John very slowly and let this beautiful passage permeate your being.
The Vine and the Branches.1* “I am the true vine,* and my Father is the vine grower.a2He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes* so that it bears more fruit.3You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.b4Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.5I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.6*c Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.d8By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.e9As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.f10If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.g11“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.h12This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.i13* No one has greater love than this,j to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends,* because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.k16It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.l17This I command you: love one another.mhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/15
When you think that all of this Jesus stuff is just too incredulous to believe, you are correct, if you only live in two universes (the physical and the mental). With the Christ Principle as the answer to the six questions of life that everyone must seek and answer correctly, we are blessed indeed. These six questions are;
How much does all this cost? EveryTHING you have.
Be sure to read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict every day.
My Lectio Divina topics as applied to the “Lectio” phase have gone from me choosing the small phrases to ponder to letting go in favor of the Holy Spirit challenging me to make it fit with Philippians 2:5, my personal center. The results are always beyond my wildest expectations and have led me to the last phase of my life, that of seeking how I fit into whatever God gives me to consider. In the early part of my life, Faith was like sitting in a comfortable chair and dozing off now and then. Now, Faith is like putting on the breastplate and helmet to fight the hidden enemies that seek to derail my Lay Cistercian resolve. One such temptation is jealousy. In ancient mythology, Loki was jealous of Thor and the resultant behavior was dissonance rather than resonance.
Jealousy sometimes gets a backstage press report to its first cousin, Pride, and Envy. When I think of Jealousy, I remember that Lucifer, the Archangel that fell from grace, due to pride, and experienced temptations of jealousy that preceded the fall. Jealousy of someone else has to do with self-esteem. In the spiritual universe, Jealousy predates any of the sins. It is true in Genesis 2-3 for Adam and Eve. It is true for you and me. When I am jealous, I want to be like someone else. I always remember looking at my grading lists in High School to see where I was ranked among the two hundred persons in my class. I kept looking at those at the top of the report and wishing I could trade places with them. My grades were atrocious in High School. While jealousy might not seem a big deal in the physical and mental universes, Jealousy in the spiritual universe paves the way to weaken my resolve to do good because I focus on what is not real and unattainable for me. Lucifer must have been Jealous of God for a long time before he just quit.
I love this passage from St. Paul describing the charisms of being a follower of The Master.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues* but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.a2And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.b3If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.c4* Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.f8* Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.9For we know partially and we prophesy partially,10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.11When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.12At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.g13* So faith, hope, love remain, these three;h but the greatest of these is love.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/1corinthians/13
For a Lay Cistercian, conversion of life is about small wins and small losses. St. Paul asks us to get rid of those qualities of our false self to, as St. Benedict writes in Chapter 4 of his Rule, “to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” If jealousy is a roadblock, take it down.
When thinking about my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) subject, the concept of starting over came up. Usually, I just slough it off as if it were an unrelated piece of the puzzle and I didn’t know where it fit. This time, I thought of my own life and how there are patterns in my observations about reality that somehow make sense as I get older.
My life is all about starting over from zero. That is not completely true because, even if I begin each day as a new one, I am not the same person as I was at the end of that time. What changes are the intangibles, the way I interact with people and situations that come my way, the center of my being (Philippians 2:5) against which I measure if I am doing God’s will or my own, the Cistercian Way, which is a way for me to sustain my struggle against mediocrity and the temptation to seek my own will and not God’s. My life is a series of segmented growth rings, like those in a tree. In my case, I notice that the move to entirely new situations with new beginnings, new relationships, new skills, and new awareness. Let me elaborate.
BIRTH: The First Beginning
You can have a new start until you have had your first start. For me, that was on September 24, 1940, when my parents gave me life and I was born into the world. It is interesting to me to look back at that event from the perspective that my mom and dad received life from two others, just as I did. If you take that back far enough, you end up with the first life on earth, and before that is nothingness. However, this is not the physical universe, which has a beginning and an end, but the nothingness of the divine being, which, along with somethingness (Alpha and Omega) makes up all that is. My birth was just the reconfirmation of the birth of the universe going from that which has no beginning and end to that which has a beginning and an end. What may sound too philosophical (my wife calls it living in la-la land), is actually the mega-paradigm in which all life must find itself existing. As a human being, I have two things that separate me from all other living things. I know that I know and I can choose what I can choose. My human nature has reason to allow me to peer into the future and to see my destiny as going beyond just my death. The Christ Principle allows me to now only know how to do that but gives me the strength to choose what is correct to fulfill my human destiny, designed to live in a place foreign to my normal perspective of time and matter.
I have seventy or eighty years to discover the answers to the six questions or foundations of human existence, which, coincidently, is also the same questions I need to reach Heaven.
What differs is the World (secular society with no god except itself) provides answers to those who only live in two universes (the physical and the mental ones) whereas the Christ Principle has the answers to the divine equation of all reality, the physical universe, the mental universe, fulfilled by the spiritual universe. To discover both the authentic questions and answers, each of us must choose to answer them. In my experience, there are only two possible ways to answer these six questions.
A. Reality has only two universes. The first way is to use what the world says is important through reason, logic, mathematics, science, and the assumptions that come from believing in only the physical and mental universes. These are the languages of the world. We use language to communicate.
Lest you think me too radical, I do not propose that this first way is wrong, so much as it just doesn’t answer the six questions that allow me to solve the divine equation. I wrote a blog some time ago with the title The Place Where Steven Hawking Could Not Look. My purpose was not to discount in any way science or physics but to put forth the proposition that reality in its totality consists of more than that which we can observe with the languages of science and psychology. This assumption leads me to the second way I use to ask and answer the six questions of life.
B. The Unity of All Reality with three universes. My assumption is that Christ became human (Philippians 2:5) to tell us (knowledge) the way, to show us the truth (love), and to first practice what it means to be an adopted son or daughter of the Father (service). This third universe is one of free choice, we must want to join it. Then we must use the gift Christ has given us to sustain us in those seventy or eighty years we have to discover the solution to the divine equation. Some people see that, while others have no idea, and still, others don’t care at all. There is a catch to the third universe. It is the opposite of both physical and mental universes of the secular world. With the physical and mental universes, the laws of nature and human intervention determines reality moving from simplicity to complexity. Since the spiritual universe is God’s playground, He sets the rules and principles, one of which is the Christ Principle, that from which and through which and in which all reality has its fulfillment. In this scenario, everything moves from complexity to simplicity. God is Love. God just is. Read Ephesians 4.
Unity in the Body.1* I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,a2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love,b3striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:c4* one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call;d5one Lord, one faith, one baptism;e6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.f
KNOWING: I began learning and reacting to my environment immediately. The template for knowing is to go to school beginning in Kindergarten and moving up as life dictates. I had to begin my formal education at some point. Learning what it means to be a human also began with my awareness of the dignity of the human person, as taught to me by the Catholic Church. Going through Grade School and High School and into College, I learned about the various languages that would or could help me with my career (mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, English, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, literature, philosophy, music, poetry, cosmology, metaphysics, Scripture, Theology, Sacrament Theology, History, Morality, Pastoral Education, to name a few). Every time I began high school, college, theology, summer school, or doctoral courses at Indiana University, I had to begin from zero once again.
CAREER: Over the course of my lifetime, there have been many work changes. From full-time ministry to US Army Chaplain, from management trainer to multiple jobs after retirement. Each time, I started from zero: Zero seniority, starting salary, zero knowledge of the politics of the office (who works and who just talks).
RETIREMENT: Retirement is starting over in a big way. No friends from work call, no deadlines to complete, no office intrigue, and the feeling that all you have left in life is drinking ice tea and watching the Weather Channel for excitement.
DEATH: Death is a new change for humans. You most definitely begin again, if you believe in an afterlife. If you don’t, you just die (and then face whatever fate awaits you).
THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE AND STARTING OVER
Earlier, I spoke of those who believe that the words of Christ are true and that are three universes, one beginning with Baptism and ending in Heaven…forever. I offer you some of my reflections on the impact that Christ has made in my Lay Cistercian approach to having in me the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
The Christ Principle is pure energy, pure thought (The Word), pure love, and pure service. There is but one God, and, incredible as it may seem, God wants all humans to share in the joys of Heaven, as their human capabilities and capacities allow. Cistercian contemplative practices and charisms focus on growing that capacitas dei (capacity to know, love, and serve God on this earth so that we continue to share with each other that joy in heaven).
As you can tell from this brief reflection, to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) means we seek first the kingdom of heaven and all else falls into place. This is my personal quest, a journey to forever that is not without its roadblocks and false starts, but one shared by my advocate friends, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Each day is an opportunity for me to make all things new again. Each new Cistercian practice is a tool to allow me to enter into the presence of Christ and be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. I look forward to starting over with Christ because it is always a new way to be with the one I love. The thing about starting over with Christ is you never begin from zero. I am the sum of my experiences and opportunities to love others ad Christ loves me. And you know what? I take all that with me to Heaven, not what I gave to God but however, he has blessed me.
Praise to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who will be at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
In business, politics, and yes, even in religion, there are abrupt changes that occur, ones that alter the trajectory of history and completely overturn existing patterns of stability and routine. A new manager comes in and the organization stops to catch its breath as new alliances must be forged, new policies created or ratified again. Everything is in a state of flux.
That just happened in politics with President Trump coming into office. It was no longer Republican against Democrat to see who has more power, President Trump was a new paradigm shift that left both political parties without their traditional alliances. There was dissonance rather than the comfort of resonance.
In religion, any one of them, they are impacted my a new person in charge. In the Catholic Church, those who hold that the law is the Faith are upset when a Pope Francis emphasizes love and charity are normative.
The Joseph Factor is something I coined a long time ago when I taught management theory to managers who did not want to be there. This is the story of Joseph in the Scriptures. It has to do with one of the most radical statements in all of the Bible. You know the story. Joseph was sold into slavery and became the Chief Operating Officer of Pharaoh, Inc. “Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph,* rose to power in Egypt.”
Jacob’s Descendants in Egypt.1These are the names of the sons of Israel* who, accompanied by their households, entered into Egypt with Jacob:2* Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;3Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin;4Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.5The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants* was seventy.a Joseph was already in Egypt.6Now Joseph and all his brothers and that whole generation died.b7But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They multiplied and became so very numerous that the land was filled with them.*
The Oppression.8c Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph,* rose to power in Egypt.9 He said to his people, “See! The Israelite people have multiplied and become more numerous than we are!10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase;* otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave the land.”11Accordingly, they set supervisors over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor.d Thus they had to build for Pharaoh* the garrison cities of Pithom and Raamses.12Yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians began to loathe the Israelites.13So the Egyptians reduced the Israelites to cruel slavery,14making life bitter for them with hard labor, at mortar* and brick and all kinds of field work—cruelly oppressed in all their labor.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/exodus/1
THE JOSEPH FACTOR AND THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE
With one change of position, Joseph became expendable to Pharaoh because he grew up and had no appreciation for what went before. That reminds me of what I observe happening to our Catholic communities these days. When the Church is the center of a person’s life, they build on rocky ground. That is why so many of my relatives and friends who are second-generation Catholics fall away from the Faith. I heard a saying when I was a Freshman in High School (1955) that went something like this: Faith must be caught before it is bought. Funny how those innocuous sayings stay hidden in the cobwebs of my mind and then burst out decades later. All the more strange because I can’t remember if I took my medicine this morning.
Since the governance of the Church uses fallible humans to govern, mistakes are bound to happen. New people mean new alliances, new power structures, new goals, what becomes important is not what went before, and whom should you trust.
In my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), I reflected on how Jesus was the new Joseph for the Jews of the time, those expecting a Messiah to save them from their temporal bondage and slavery. What they and people today look for is someone to make life easier for them, to give them an easy path to Heaven instead of the rocky road they are on. Just because your road is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. Christ our true Savior, is “the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow.” The new Pharaohs of today come and go. Christ is there for all time. The Psalmist says “Do not put your trust in Princes.” Our trust must be in God alone.
The Judgment of the Nations.*31f “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,32g and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.35h For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’37Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’40i And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’41*j Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42k For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’44* Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’46l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU ARE A JOSEPH OR A PHARAOH?
Here are five questions to ask anyone to separate those who seek their own gratification rather than Christ.
Read Matthew 22:36 and Deuteronomy 6:5
You are not me; I am not you; God is not you; and remember, human, you are not God. –mc
I can explain to you what I know about contemplative practice that comes from the Cistercian spirituality of the monks and nuns from the year c.1090 AD in ninety seconds. However, it takes more than a lifetime to know, love, and serve God using that interior approach to loving others as Christ loved us.
This is a contemplative way of thinking, of acting, of loving, of praying which stresses seeking God internally in silence and solitude, using prayer and work, but always in the context of the gathering of community.
Erich Fromm, in his book, The Art of Loving, makes the case that love is not a natural product of being human but must be learned by doing. He goes on to suggest that there is authentic love and unauthentic love and that we must work to cultivate this most precious of human qualities.
I have tried to encapsulate a definition of contemplative practice as I know it to be from the Lay Cistercians, only to realize I can’t fit anything into such a tiny hole. All I can do is describe it as I know it today.
MY REFLECTIONS ON THE LAY CISTERCIAN WAY
The Center for Contemplative Practice uses Cistercian spiritual tools and techniques to enter the place where no one wants to go — the inner self. The Art of Contemplative Practice is a mindset that chooses to see reality in three’s: the physical universe, the mental universe, and the spiritual universe. This is the divine equation that enables humans to use science, philosophy, religion, and spirituality to ask and answer the six questions each person must resolve to move from dissonance to resonance in life:
What is the purpose of life?
What is the purpose of my life within that purpose?
What does reality look like?
How does it all fit together?
What does it mean to love fiercely?
You know you are going to die, now what?
It is only with the spiritual universe that these six questions may be answered, the divine equation. The spiritual universe is available to all but requires a choice to enter. The answers to these questions come from God and are the opposite of what the world says is important. The physical and mental universes ask the questions but the spiritual universe provides the answers, but ones you might not expect. Not everyone gets this divine equation correct. The measuring stick for truth lies outside human reasoning to encompass the ontic possibility of the manifest ability of all beings. Access to this truth is free to everyone but requires the key. This key is the Christ Principle, that from which and into which all reality emanates, the God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Human reasoning cannot unlock what cannot be conceived. Faith informed by reason allows humans to die to self in order to discover the Mysteries of Faith while one earth and so pack for the journey to tomorrow.
One of those lessons I have had to learn over and over is struggling against my human nature (the world) when I attempt to attain mastery over my struggles to be an adopted son of the Father. I wish is was not a struggle but it is, never ending, always present, and with only the promise that “my grace is sufficient” for all the failures and false promises I make to Christ.
I bring this up because this is the latest Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) at 4:45 a.m. today. I asked why I, Lord, can never reach my goal of loving others as Christ loves us? Why do I have to begin each day anew, taking up my cross for this day, trying to wait for the Lord to come to me? Why do I practice the practice of Lay Cistercian spirituality each day, day in and day out, when attaining something new? My answer, as it always does, comes from the same Spirit that overshadowed me with the question. My only part in this is to keep my mouth shut and write down as much as I can remember. I am not very good at that but learning more each day.
ORIGINAL SIN AND THE PROCESS OF BECOMING HUMAN
Here are four effects of Original Sin not taken away in Baptism.
I. WANTING INSTANT GRATIFICATION
I think of the movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder) and the scene with Barucka Salt. Wanting something and wanting it now is a condition of original sin and one at odds with silence and solitude (with stillness). Watch the scene on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pqsy7V0wphI
My temptation in Lectio Divina or any Cistercian practices is to get up, get on, get over, and get out. “Let’s get through this because it is taking too much time (for what, I have no idea).” This is the struggle to slow down, like the song says: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So0ZrTwf8vI Rather than just being a waste of time, wanting silence and solitude is all about being present to Christ and listening with “the ear of the heart.”
Slow down your prayers. Listen to the monks as they chant the Liturgy of the Hours. They slow WAY down for a reason. The purpose of prayer, and prayer, is not to complete the prayer and make God happy, but rather to slow down, reach resonance in the dissonance of Original Sin around you, and sit down with Christ as a brother, friend, savior, Son of God, and messiah.
Slow down your life. Life has its own pace. You can’t live faster than time allows because we exist in the context of Original Sin. We only live in a succession of NOW’s, where we use our reason and choices to move to another NOW moment. This happens so quickly that we don’t freeze-frame the moment. Our choices have consequences. Original Sin means I exist in the condition of the corruption of matter and mind, two universes that are not evil in themselves but corrupt in the sense that everything dies, moves from what it was to what it will be. Everything is our life experience, every single thing, has a beginning and an end. Perhaps this is what we must begin each day as though it were the only one we ever live.
Focus on what is important. If winning the Lottery is the purpose of your life, your train has already left the station. Original Sin, because we live with the effects, seeks to imprint its default values of the World on us. The choice is clouded by Original Sin, that inexorable pull to seek our own self satisfaction. Taking up the cross daily and denying self to allow Christ to grow in capacity in our hearts, is useless and meaningless.
Baptism takes away the sin of the world. This is the sin of Adam and Even and the sin for which Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to the Father in reparation. Everyone is born with this Original Sin in their lives. Only Baptism takes away the sin of the world, but there is a catch. We have to live out whatever time we have left with the effects of Original Sin (pain, suffering, being a victim of the sins of others, having to struggle with keeping Faith alive in our hearts with Christ’s help). Those who are Baptized are now adopted sons and daughters of the Father. There is sin after Original Sin for the faithful, but Christ forgivess our sin and lack of faith through the Church and in our hearts and makes all things new, over and over and over, until we die. Death changes us into sons and daughters of the Father. Our purpose is to lead a life of Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, to love others as Christ loved us. Our reward is determined by Christ in our particular judgement when we die. We are judged according to our works, says St. Paul.
God’s Just Judgment.1* Therefore, you are without excuse,a every one of you who passes judgment.* For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.2We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true.3Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?b4Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance?c5By your stubbornness and impenitent heart,d you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God,6e who will repay everyone according to his works:*7eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works,8but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness.f9Yes, affliction and distress will come upon every human being who does evil, Jew first and then Greek.10g But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, Jew first and then Greek.11*h There is no partiality with God.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/romans/2
II. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SEXUAL AS A HUMAN BEING?
This effect of Original Sin is the strongest urge we have, that invisible tingle in our stomach every time we encounter another person, the automatic response when we see someone beautiful in body, mind, or even spirit. We want to possess that quality and as such them. This is coveting and a core warning of the Ten Commands. To covet is an urge we have from moving from animality to humanity. That urge does not change when we are Baptized, but we are given the tool to focus on the true meaning of love. Parameters are set: fornication, adultery, incest, Beastiality, trafficking in human slaves, and pedophilia, are urges which we are all capable of but must struggle to keep focused. Baptism does not take away these urges, which the Devil uses to seduce us into think are okay as long as no one is hurt. Baptism gives us the power to resist these urges and reorient them to a higher purpose. It is with Christ’s help that we can go against our natural inclinations to move to a higher level. We, humans, are not animals, nor are we just humans. Because of the redemption of Christ we live on a yet higher level, the kingdom of heaven on earth where we await our destiny in heaven. Cistercian spirituality, with its emphasis on seeking God daily, is a good way that I use to try to combat the illicit urges of my human nature to be worthy of being an adopted son of the Father. Some days are better than others.
If you view, as I do, reality having three separate universes, humans belong to that first one, the physical one as well as the second one, the mental universe. Humans share the physical universe with all other matter, energy, living things. We evolved from this physical universe to the next one, the mental one. We did this because all reality contains God’s DNA at creation, moving from singularity to complexity.
The only rules in the physical universe are natural ones, those that exist without the intervention of humans. The rules in the mental universe are more complex. Humans have reason for a reason as well as the ability to make independent choices for good or bad. We still experience the pull from our animality, particularly with procreation and sexual urges, but our mental universe tempers them with reason. Humans enact laws that suit their pleasure or political persuasion. Some are good, while others are bad for humans.
Then, there is the third universe, one that is voluntary, one where God accepts us as acting as adopted sons and daughters. This universe is one where Jesus became one of us to show us which way to go that is correct, what the truth is, and how to live a life that will enable us to fulfill our destiny as being sons and daughters of the Father. Some people see this, others do not. Baptism, in this context, takes away the sin of the world (Original Sin) but the effects still remain. I have accepted Lay Cistercian spirituality as a way to live out whatever time I have left. Other authentic ways exist (Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit, Augustian, Basilian, etc…). Lay Cistercian spirituality is not for everyone. I have to keep my energy high to overcome the effects of Original Sin that mitigate against my seeking God each day.
I can not be a sexual human being (don’t trip on the double negative). The question becomes,
“What does it means to be fully human, including sexuality, in all three universes?” What is authentic sexuality as God intended it? Doesn’t God limit me in being created in His image and likeness? All these rules about what is authentic love and what is false love seem overwhelming and contradictory. It all goes back to my choice to be an adopted son of the Father, as experienced by Baptism. Original Sin means that, after my Baptism to remove the Original Sin, I fail often in my attempts to measure myself against the love that Christ had for us. (Philippians 2:5). Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict for a great examination of what Lay Cistercian spirituality should be. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/ The Sacrament of Penance renews that Baptismal commitment I made to keep Christ as my Principle, my Center. When I stray, and that happens a lot, the Sacrament of Forgiveness and Reconciliation re-focuses me on Christ. Christ set up these seven ways to make all things new so that He Himself could provide the grace I need to persevere on my journey. The Church is a gathering of gathered believers in heaven, on earth, and in purification that is inseparable from my individual seventy or eighty years on this earth.
III. THE STRUGGLE TO FOCUS ON MORE THAN TEN SECONDS
Contemplative Lectio Divina is all about moving within to be in the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The techniques of silence and solitude shape the external reality around you so that you might more fully focus on the interior (listen with the ear of the heart). Because we all live in a condition of Original Sin, we humans find it difficult to focus on anything for more than a few seconds. Those who have these gifts innately are fortunate, usually the scientists and deep thinkers. For the rest of us, we must endure The Art of Contemplative Practice by working to develop this skill. This takes time and requires a constant focus on your center (Philippians 2:5) to ease into a longer and longer meditation. The feeling deep within you to pack up your bag and get out of the chapel during Lectio Divina is part of the transformation that must take place to move from false self to your true self (capacitas dei).
IV. THE STRUGGLE TO SEEK YOUR COMFORT LEVEL
Nothing about being a true follower of Christ is comfortable. Do you think taking up your cross daily and following Christ comes without passion? Two kinds of passion: Christ underwent a Passion as part of the Death and Resurrection Atonement for our sin. Christ also had a passion, a single-minded focus on his mission from the Father. St. Paul says Christ became sin for us to save us from being held hostage to the effects of Original Sin. Those effects of Original Sin are still with us and don’t go away just because you say “Jesus is Lord.” The struggle to be spiritual is one that entails constantly living in a condition where the World wants us to stop believing in the way, the truth, and the life, and instead replace it with what is comfortable. It is the fight to keep your spiritual head above water by doing what is right versus what is easy. The cross is no dead symbol that athletes and movie stars hang around their necks with gold chains to convince themselves they are righteous, but a sign tattooed on your soul, a reminder that you must love others as Christ loved us. If your Christ is one that does not suffer for the sins of all humanity, then you may have a Christ made in your own image and likeness, comfortable but hardly a redeemer.
FIVE DAILY HABITS OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL LAY CISTERCIANS (my opinion only)
Dependence on God.*25n “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?26Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?o27Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?*28Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin.29But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.30* If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?31So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’32All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.33 But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides. 34 Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
2. EAT THE BREAD OF HEAVEN (John 6)
The Bread of Life Discourse.22* The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left.23* Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks.24When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.25And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”26Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.27Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life,* which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”l28So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”30So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?m31* Our ancestors ate the manna in the desert, as it is written:n
‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”32So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.o33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”34p So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”35* Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.q36But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe.r37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,38because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.s39And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day.t40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”u41The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,”42and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?”v43Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring* among yourselves.w44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him on the last day.45It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.x46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.y47Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z50this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”a52The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”53Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.54Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.57Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.b58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”59These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
3. LEARN FROM ME FOR I AM MEEK AND HUMBLE OF HEART
The Gentle Mastery of Christ.28* “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest. 29*p Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Plea for Unity and Humility.*1If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy,2complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.a3Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,b4each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.c5Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,*
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.*
7Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;*
and found human in appearance,e
8he humbled himself,f
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.*
9Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name*
that is above every name,g
10that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,*
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,h
11and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,*
to the glory of God the Father.i
Obedience and Service in the World.*12j So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.*13For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.k14Do everything without grumbling or questioning,l15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,* among whom you shine like lights in the world,m16as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.n17But, even if I am poured out as a libation* upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.o18In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.
4. WITH CHRIST, MAKE ALL THINGS NEW (Revelations 21)
The New Heaven and the New Earth.1a Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.*2I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,* coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.b3I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.c He will dwell with them and they will be his people* and God himself will always be with them [as their God].*4He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”d5The one who sat on the throne* said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”e6He said to me, “They are accomplished.* I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.f7The victor* will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son.g8But as for cowards,* the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”h
5. THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT (Matthew 22)
The Greatest Commandment.*34i When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,35and one of them [a scholar of the law]* tested him by asking,36“Teacher,* which commandment in the law is the greatest?”37j He said to him,* “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.38This is the greatest and the first commandment.39k The second is like it:* You shall love your neighbor as yourself.40*l The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
When I think of humility, I try to be humble about it. Realizing who I am in the sight of God reinforced my personal center, “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5). At the same time, I am so insignificant in the larger scale of humanity, yet I am the only person who can say Jesus is Lord, with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is not a dichotomy as much as synchronicity.
The fear of the Lord is the first step in the Rule of St. Benedict’s Chapter on Humility. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-7-humility/ For me, it is a daily, sometimes even hourly challenge to choose Christ over the world. Pride has a way of sneaking up on me and seducing me with false promises. The great deceiver is one who counts on my struggle with being humble to tempt me with other options that don’t include the love of Christ.
I have wondered about what it means to fear the Lord. Is it being afraid of God because He is powerful and we are weak? Does it mean God is a punisher of those who do not keep His commandments, one to be avoided at all costs because he is so frightening?
This weeks funeral of H.R.H. Prince Philip was the occasion for me to have a thought about fearing the Lord in terms of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. I asked God to be merciful on Prince Philip, the Queen, and me. When I looked at the funeral, I saw Her Majesty sitting alone grieving in the choir stalls of the Chapel. She is just like all other human beings, I thought, yet she goes through the same grief that all of us do. Then, it occured to me that seeing her is like fear of the Lord. What does this fear feel like? She is like us but not like us because of her title. This is how I think fear of the Lord can make sense.
I must remind myself that, even when I ask God for his blessings on me, or when I take Christ into my heart in the Eucharist, Jesus is God, or the Christ (anointed one). Humility is my awareness that God is God and I am me, that I am not God. This fear is more like respect like we have for Queen Elizabeth II. Humility helps me to place God number one, with all else falling into place.
PLAYING WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
In my last Lectio Divina, the Holy Spirit asked me if He could play a game with me. You can imagine my surprise during this meditation. How do you play a game with God the Holy Spirit? I don’t know if all this happened because I had been watching a basketball game earlier, but I said, “Why not?” The Holy Spirit told me, “Here are the rules: everyone wins; there is only one rule, “love God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36) Here is the game. I will give you the question for you to consider, then give you the answer, if you complete your part of the game. I asked what part of this game is mine. The Holy Spirit answered, “Listen with the ear of your heart.” It does work, this game I played with the Holy Spirit because I realized that these are God’s games, not the one I usually play on god, which is my game. Humility is the key to being in the presence of God and just being happy to listen.
Old people do weird things. At least in my case, I like to look at the obituaries on my St. Meinrad Alumni website. http://www.saintmeinrad.edu It beats watching the plastic flowers grow in my office.
This may be morbid, but I like to look up those who have passed from this life to the next one and see their accomplishments. Obituaries are all about touting what the deceased has done in their lifetime, but rarely, if ever, looks at their life as having ups and downs.
Reflecting on my Lectio Divina today, my own life came into thoughts and what my obituary would look like. Not one that was written by someone else, read and then forgotten, but one that I wrote and reflects what really was at the core of my life that I want to pass on to my loved ones, you. Here it is, unorthodox as it may be.
OBITUARY OF MICHAEL F. CONRAD
If you are reading this, it means I have died. More correctly, my body is no more, but my life has changed, not ended, and I continue it in Heaven if I am judged to be worthy.
As the world sees it, I have been a complete failure in terms of success and accomplishment. As a management trainer, I never rose above the level of instructor, although I applied to be a manager over twenty-one times. I was not good enough, or, if truth be told, I was probably deemed too old. I never made a lot of money, although I earned more than my dad did, and he was a public school teacher and coach. I spent sixteen years as a Catholic priest, pastor, teacher, and US Army Chaplain but left to seek greener pastures. I found out that the pastures I sought were greener because more manure was on that side of the fence. It seems that everything I tried to do was a failure. To be honest, my life is not a complete waste except in the measurements of the world. I have been accepted by God as an adopted son of the Father on September 29, 1940, and have been given gifts to help me service the journey to forever. Along the way, I was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest and became a pastor, US Army Chaplain. I was Laicized by Pope Benedict XVI and petitioned and was accepted as a Lay Cistercian by Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist). I wrote 65+ books on contemplative spirituality (www.amazon.com/books and type in A Lay Cistercian’s Lectio Divina Series) plus a blog on contemplative practices, more specifically Cistercian spirituality as I know it (https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org)
Along the way, I have unraveled the divine equation, the six questions each of us must ask and answer before we die. The questions come from my ability to reason and the choices I make for what is authentic about reality. If I get the correct answers, I can fulfill my potential as a human and an adopted son of the Father. I have discovered that Christ alone has the answers to these six questions. Nothing is secret about them. In fact, they are always right in front of my face all along. I just did not see them. They are:
What is the purpose of life? Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36
What is the purpose of my life within that life? Philippians 2:5
What does reality look like? The physical universe, the mental universe, and the spiritual universe
How does it all fit together? The Christ Principle is the answer. John 12:32
How can I love fiercely? John 13:34
You know you are going to die, now what? Seek first the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 6:33
I leave behind my treasures, a wife, Young Soon Conrad, a daughter, Martha Michelle Conrad, plus one brother and four sisters. My parents have gone before me, marked with the sign of Faith (the cross), and await me. I take with me the treasures that are God’s, not mine. My last words are Psalm 27. Praise to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
During our Gathering Day for Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) last month, new Lay Cistercian novices were asked to profess their desire to enter the Novitiate while old novices were asked to make one year promises to be faithful to the Lay Cistercian covenants as Juniors. I am always impressed with the way the Holy Spirit speaks through each of us.
Our topic of discussion was based on Thomas Merton’s book, The Waters of Siloe, Chapter XII.
“The question was: Merton Writes, “Everything in the Cistercian life, every detail of the Rule of St. Benedict, was ordered and interpreted and understood in relation to that one end: perfect union with god (Page 208). What do you think “Perfect union with God” means? How would you describe it to someone? To a child?”
This question about explaining it to a child is one that made me think. Here is what I share with my Lay Cistercian colleagues. I don’t know with perfect union with God is intellectually. This is due to who God is and the tools I have to reach a perfect union. I would talk to a child as a mother would(or the child in each of us) using this language.
Come and sit on my lap and let’s talk. You were asking about how you know God loves you. Let me show you. It is cold outside, don’t you think? I love you so much, that I can’t even express it. That is how God feels. He uses me and your dad to show you how much He cares about you. When I think of how much God loves me, I think of the both of us sitting here in the rocking chair and God wraps both of us in a warm blanket of love, the kind of blanket that is toasty warm. I have a cozy feeling when I feel God’s arms wrapped around me like I do with you. God tells me not to worry about anything. He will take care of me so that I can take care of both of us. That love from God is such a good feeling that I want it to continue forever. It will and it does.
May it be so.
Although it has been over two years ago, I still remember it vividly as though it were yesterday. A group of us gathered together to say Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Rosary, then then Eucharist at 9:00 a.m. We came together as we could on a consistent basis for several years. During that time, I met several of these men and women on a deeper level when we shared the stirrings of the Holy Spirit with each other after the Eucharist. In particular, George Unglaub, recent convert, his wife, Vanessa, at that time in discernment to join us in the Catholic tradition of those who practice having in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) each day, was absolutely rooted in the one concept of “seeing Jesus” in, with, and through reception of the Eucharist. What is remarkable about George is that he did not suffer fools gladly and was a bit of a ladies man before his conversion. Now, all George could talk about was what Jesus did for him, when he went into the tiny chapel at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Tallahassee, Florida, and just sat there seeking Jesus. What he found changed his life, for sure, but it also changed the lives of his wife, Vanessa, and certainly my own. George was 83 when he died, surrounded by those who surrounded themselves with Christ as their Lord and Savior. When I think of George these days, I am reminded of St. Paul who was nearly struck by lightning and woke up singing the beauty of the resurrection, or St. Augustine, who was a bit of a rake before his conversion (thanks to the prayers of St. Monica) but focused on the love of Christ who was broken on the cross for broken humanity on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Moments with St. Michael is my tribute to George and Vanessa and how, through their journey of Faith and Love meandered down the path of righteousness with all us proclaiming Jesus Christ is Son of God, Messiah, and that believing in his name, we might all have eternal life together in Christ. (John 20:30-31)
Today, at 2:33 a.m., after my bathroom break, I fell back asleep as is my normal routine, asking St. Michael the Archangel, my namesake and in whose name I was dedicated to Christ on September 29, 1940, The Feast of Michael and all Angels, to put a good word in for me with Jesus. I never presume to control or shape the conversation with St. Michael, things just pop into my head (actually my heart) and I just lay their with my mouth open wondering where it the world that popped into my mind. Here is my latest Moments with St. Michael (with George as my Master of Ceremonies).
My question this time was: If humans cannot look upon the face of God and exist to tell about it because God is pure Love, how can we stand in the presence of God, much less be happy in an existence that has no bearing on the life we have just departed, one of matter, space/time, energy, and has a beginning and an end?
St. Michael: Michael, my lad, do not let your heart be troubled at what you are incapable of knowing, loving or serving in God’s Kingdom. Here is God’s problem. If God, whose nature is so beyond belief and the human experience, that to glimps God as He actually exists would fry your neurons, how can you ask someone to want to fulfill their destiny as humans in a condition where none of the physical attributes that make us matter, time, energy as we know it, exist so that we could relate to them? That is why Jesus came, to save humans from an existence of only seventy or eighty years, and to share with them Love to the extent that each one is capable to receive it as a human. The Christ Principle is the One who lifts up all peoples to Himself, to protect them from the dangerous harm of looking into the Sun without special glasses, to keep their souls, minds, and bodies at their peak, to fulfill the next step in their human evolution, from human to adopted son and daughter of the Father.
Michael, Christ is everything as the way, the truth and the life. If you don’t worry about what you will be in heaven, that might cause your human intelligence to say all of this is meaningless, but if you apply the sign of contradiction (the cross) and have Faith that the words of Christ in Scripture are true, then you will survive to be here with all of us. As we speak, I stand guard at the Gates of Heaven with my flaming sword, the fire of purification. I also stand with you and those who seek my aid to resist the temptations of Satan, the great deceiver, who seeks to keep you from your destiny. I ask you to stand with me in unity with all those of the Church Militant who await their particular judgement before Christ.
Michael, some of the Mysteries of Faith you will never grasp, nor are you capable of knowing. What you can know is how to love others on earth as Christ loves you. That is at the heart of what being a child of God means. Don’t worry. The Blessed Mother, the Saints, the Martyrs, all those have called upon the name of the Lord are one with Christ who makes all things new again and again…forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
Maybe you do not, but I keep wondering why I have to continue my practice and practice of trying to love God each day with all my heart, with all my strength, and with all my mind, plus my neighbor as myself, and nothing happens. I do my Cistercian practices as faithfully as an old buzzard who is 80 years old can, and it sometimes seems as though I am just waiting my time. Is my goal unattainable? Am I living in La-La land, as my wife thinks? If my contemplative practice is so good, why does God not answer me instead of allowing me to wait in that hidden room in my heart and keep thinking that I am in my Physicians’ waiting room? Why can’t I reach what I seek each day? There you have it. I face the struggle each day, just as surely as Christ had to face himself in that last temptation from Satan in the Garden of Gethsemani, “Not my will but your will be done.” All of this has to do with my human nature’s desire to put a cap on a thought or finalize any activity. Achieving what we seek for the moment is our nature’s default. That is called fulfillment. What Christ was asking the Father is a human default, the result of Original Sin. Let this cup pass from me. As I see it, He was saying, “Do I really have to give you the last drop of my blood to make restitution for the sin of Adam and Eve? My human nature has doubts about going through all this suffering for those who don’t even believe in me. ” To a much less degree but no doubt in the same feeling, I say this many time I go to Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Rosary, Reading Scripture, Liturgy of the Hours, spending time in the presence of Christ in Eucharistic Adoration. I say, “I don’t see how just saying prayers bring me into the presence of Christ? I feel like I am wasting my time focusing on Christ through the Holy Spirit when I could be watching First Things First and Get Up, my favorite sports programs” (I have given up watching calumniating national news channels.)
Silence and solitude, both Cistercian charisms, are forged on the crucible of my nature which is a contact battle for who is stronger. This is why prayer is a struggle, a good battle if I conquer my human nature in favor of my life in Christ, a bad one, when I am weak and do not wait patiently for God to overshadow me with the warmth of his presence.
Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict has tools for good works that I think of often when I am tempted to be more like me rather than take up the burden of my cross each day and follow the footprints of Christ. These behaviors are not ends in themselves but are only a means to an end. The End, in this case, is also The Beginning, The Alpha, and the Omega.
20 Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way;
21 the love of Christ must come before all else.
22 You are not to act in anger
23 or nurse a grudge.
24 Rid your heart of all deceit.
25 Never give a hollow greeting of peace
26 or turn away when someone needs your love.
27 Bind yourself to no oath lest it proves false,
28 but speak the truth with heart and tongue.
29 Do not repay one bad turn with another (1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9).
30 Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently.
31 Love your enemies (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27).
32 If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead.
33 Endure persecution for the sake of justice (Matt 5:10).
34 You must not be proud,
35 nor be given to wine (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3).
36 Refrain from too much eating
37 or sleeping,
38 and from laziness (Rom 12:11).
39 Do not grumble
40 or speak ill of others.
41 Place your hope in God alone.
42 If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself,
43 but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.
If you wait for God to be present to you with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength, you will eventually, as I have, come to the embarrassing realization that Christ has been sitting next to you, waiting for you to be aware enough to sit there in the stillness of your being and wait. Your waiting is itself a prayer.
I may be making a grand assumption that you have read my blog on TAKE TIME TO READ TEN SENTENCES. I want to see if you can read ten sentences that may be life changing, then you might take time to read JUST ONE sentence, one that you have selected as the core of what makes life worth living.
If you could choose just one sentence or phrase as the center of your life and focus on that center with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength, would it change you for the better, or just make life interesting.
Write down your one sentence. Have a passion about it so much so that you would trade or sell all the money in your bank, all your houses, your cars, your inheritance to posses and keep it (having and keeping something are different sets of skills). What would that center be?
This is the second, in what I consider are the six fundamental questions each human must ask and answer to reach fulfillment (now and in heaven). The six questions are:
If you do have the Christ Principle as your center, all your actions, your motivations, your goals, are all informed in, with, and through Jesus. In this context, being a Lay Cistercian makes so much sense, since my whole focus is on moving from my false self to my true self uses Cistercian practices and charisms (as I know them).
One of my more reckless endeavors in Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) is to say to the Holy Spirit “I am here, what is on your mind?” This has a risk associated with it because my the capacity and the capability for me to assimilate and accumulate pure energy from the Holy Spirit is extremely limited. Perhaps that is why St. Thomas Aquinas gave up trying to comprehend and contain the fullness of who God is and just tried to believe with all his mind, all his heart, and all his strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5).
We, humans, want everything right now. Actually, it takes a lifetime to learn how to love in human terms and to practice the art of contemplation in spiritual terms. Some of us get it and some never do. Impatience with results is a distraction when I am trying to meditate and hopefully move on to contemplate.
TEN SENTENCES THAT WILL TAKE ME A LIFETIME OF SEEKING TO UNRAVEL ITS MYSTERY
If you read these ten sentences and think about them, do they do anything to bring you closer to having in you the mind of Christ Jesus?
May you experience the joy of Christ being raised from the dead as did the Apostles and followers on that moment in time that opened to our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. Although this event happened or didn’t happen, if you should be one of those who do not believe Jesus is Son of God, Savior, all reality is now centered around the Christ Principle as purpose and meaning for humans. Humans now had the opportunity to reach another plateau of their natural progression, that of fulfilling the failed attempt of Adam and Eve to be friends of God and heirs of His Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is the result of Christ taking on our human nature, becoming sin, as St. Paul says, the ransom for many, the way, the truth, and the life. All we individuals, who only live seventy or eighty years, if we are strong, have to do is enter this kingdom of heaven on earth using our free will and sustain ourselves against the minefields set out to entangle us in our own weaknesses and folly by Satan and his minions.
The Christ Principle is the Son of God made human through the power of the Holy Spirit in a vessel so pure and spotless for a human, that God overshadowed this person with grace to extent that her humanity could not hold another drop of the divine presence. She was Mary and her response is the type of all responses made by all others after her, “Be it done to me according to Your Word.”
The Resurrection is the ultimate sign of contradiction and makes no sense if God became one of us only to just show us how to die a death that is brave in the face of being wrongly convicted of a political crime. It does make sense if you apply the Christ Principle, which says that all reality may be understood with the Rule of Opposites. Three concepts in my book entitled The Three Rules of the Spiritual Universe, are that the world does not know the answers to the six questions humans need to ask and answer themselves to attain the fullness of their human nature.
The Rule of Opposites is that the six questions we must all answer before we die is not possible using only the logic or science or philosophy or psychology that the world provides. It is only with the spiritual universe, the sign of contradiction that we can answer these six questions correctly. The six questions are:
What if, like skeptics who think there is a great conspiracy by early believers, there is no resurrection?
There is no purpose beyond what is meaningful for you.
You should get all you can out of life, while you live.
Death is the end, not a phrase of transformation.
All this spirituality about Lay Cistercians is just la-la land.
There is no hope for anything beyond the grave.
Everything you believe about the Trinity, the Church, Contemplation is so much make-believe.
Faith is a myth.
Love is measured by you not something outside of yourself.
We say we are saved by Christ by his passion, death, and resurrection. Saved from what? Whenever I use the Christ Principle as my measurement for these six questions, I get answers that do not make sense in terms of what the world says is true. This contradiction actually makes sense as answers to these six questions of human nature.
My hope is that the words of Christ to his followers are true.
Three things we humans are conditioned to do because of Original Sin are:
I have noticed these tendencies in myself some time ago, but it is only when I began to discover the contemplative side of my being that the change has become noticeable. This change is the application of Cistercian practices (as I know them) to how I perceive the whole realm of the Sacred. The change is almost imperceptible except for the behavioral change in how I think, what my priorities are, how I have slowed down life to, as they say in the slogan, “smell the flowers.”
The Parousia is the end result, the terminus of all efforts on earth to be with Jesus in Heaven. It is the Second Coming of Jesus, the resurrection of the body we recite in our Creed, the fulfillment of what it means to be human, and the full circle from Garden of Eden through the Garden of Gethsemane to the Kingdom of Heaven. My particular journey from false self to true self in the Christ Principle, has been one of minute changes, baby steps, as I practice each day to seek God where I am and as I am. As I wobble down the pathways of whatever I confront each day, it is like taking a nap and then waking up to a world where I am not the same person, although I only see life as one day at a time. Here are a few observations about my current behavior that I am convinced is due to the silence and solitude of trying to approach life from a contemplative point of view.
I AM MORE AWARE OF THE SILENCE AND SOLITUDE OF CONTEMPLATION AS I ENCOUNTER IT. I moved from taking an hour or more to place myself in a situation where I might experience silence and solitude (no phones, no talking with others about anything, or no watching television or YouTube) to being content to use what time I do have and make still my heart just to be present to Christ and await the Holy Spirit. I am learning to say less and listen more “with the ear of the heart” as St. Benedict bid us do in his Prologue to the Rule. I have not mastered it yet, nor will I even do so, but I am now more aware of what is going on around me.
I DO NOT THINK OF CISTERCIAN PRACTICES AS ACTIVITIES TO BE ACCOMPLISHED AS MUCH AS OPPORTUNITIES WHERE I AM PRESENT TO CHRIST AND LISTEN. I am more aware that life is not about filling holes with STUFF but with the Christ Principle.
I DO NOT WORRY ABOUT ABOUT A TIME TO DO THIS OR THAT CISTERCIAN PRACTICE, ALTHOUGH I FIND I AM PRAYING MORE THAN EVER. The change here is that the whole day becomes an opportunity to seek God in whatever comes my way (or doesn’t).
I CAN SEE JESUS IN THAT WHICH IS HIDDEN OR INVISIBLE. The problem with invisibility is you can’t see it. I am in the process of becoming more and more aware that what I have done in the past is linked through, with, and in the Christ Principle of the NOW to what I hope will come about in the future. I am reflecting more and more on my past failings and using this to try to transform how I act NOW. I can’t redo the past, but I can learn from my mistakes and ask God’s mercy on my faults and failings. I am not sin-centered but love-centered more and more. I am not there yet, but am aware of much more of the transformational processes at work within me due to just being in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I actually feel the overshadowing which envelopes me like a warm blanket and keeps me toasty warm.
I AM MORE KEENLY AWARE THAT IT IS NOT I WHO TRANSFORMS MY SPIRIT BUT THE HOLY SPIRIT IN SILENCE AND SOLITUDE MAKING A NEW PERSON CARVED IN THE IMAGE OF CHRIST. I realize that I must continue to be faithful to the promises I made in my Cistercian promises to Christ. That new person, the person I am being transformed into is ever so subtly inching toward the Second Coming. I am aware of more, I see Jesus more in daily living, like a souse who loves their significant others each hour of the day, what propels me forward is the desire to be with Jesus now and in the future in heaven, that permanent state of love and peace, the Parousia.
I DON’T WORRY ABOUT BEING CISTERCIAN IN PRACTICE AS THE TERMINUS, BUT RATHER SEEK GOD BY PRACTICING OVER AND OVER HOW TO LOVE CHRIST IN CISTERCIAN PRACTICES AND CHRISMS, THOSE THAT BRING ME INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD, THEN LET GOD JUST BE AND I LISTEN WITH THE EAR OF THE HEART. THIS IS COSMIC RESONANCE AND ITS RESULT IN THE CANTICLE WE RECITE IN THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS ON SUNDAYS. Chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel has a powerful insight into how all creation, including me, praises God by just being. Read the Canticle three time: First time read it for meaning; the second time, read it slowly realizing all creation love the Christ Principle just by being what they are created to be: the third time, pray these words that you become one with the totality of all that is in a hymn of praise and “glory to God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages.” –Cistercian doxology. I have included the whole text so that you get the context of this Hymn of Creation.
The Fiery Furnace.1King Nebuchadnezzar had a golden statue made, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, which he set up in the plain of Dura* in the province of Babylon.2He then ordered the satraps,* prefects, and governors, the counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the officials of the provinces to be summoned to the dedication of the statue which he had set up.3The satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provinces’ officials came together for the dedication. They stood before the statue which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.4A herald cried out: “Nations and peoples of every language,5* when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, you must fall down and worship the golden statue which King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.6Whoever does not fall down, and worship shall be instantly cast into a white-hot furnace.”7Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, the nations and peoples of every language all fell down and worshiped the golden statue which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.8At that point, some of the Chaldeans came and accused the Jews9to King Nebuchadnezzar: “O king, live forever!10O king, you issued a decree that everyone who heard the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, and double-flute, and all the other musical instruments should fall down and worship the golden statue;11whoever did not was to be cast into a white-hot furnace.12There are certain Jews whom you have made administrators of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have paid no attention to you; they will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”13Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and sent for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were promptly brought before the king.14King Nebuchadnezzar questioned them: “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you will not serve my god or worship the golden statue that I set up?15Now, if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue I made, whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, then all will be well;* if not, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter.17If our God, whom we serve, can save us* from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us!18But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”19Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with utter rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual20and had some of the strongest men in his army bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He cast them into the white-hot furnace.21They were bound and cast into the white-hot furnace with their trousers, shirts, hats, and other garments,22for the king’s order, was urgent. So huge a fire was kindled in the furnace that the flames devoured the men who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into it.23But these three fell, bound, into the midst of the white-hot furnace.
26“Blessed are you, and praiseworthy,
O Lord, the God of our ancestors,
and glorious forever is your name.
27For you are just in all you have done;
all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right,
and all your judgments proper.
28You have executed proper judgments
in all that you have brought upon us
and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors.
By a proper judgment you have done all this
because of our sins;
29For we have sinned and transgressed
by departing from you,
and we have done every kind of evil.
30Your commandments we have not heeded or observed,
nor have we done as you ordered us for our good.
31Therefore all you have brought upon us,
all you have done to us,
you have done by a proper judgment.
32You have handed us over to our enemies,
lawless and hateful rebels;
to an unjust king, the worst in all the world.
33Now we cannot open our mouths;
shame and reproach have come upon us,
your servants, who revere you.
34For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever,
or make void your covenant.
35Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
36To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.
37For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation,
brought low everywhere in the world this day
because of our sins.
38We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.
39But with contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bulls,
or tens of thousands of fat lambs,
40So let our sacrifice be in your presence today
and find favor before you;
for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.
41And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we fear you and we seek your face.
Do not put us to shame,
42but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.
43Deliver us in accord with your wonders,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord:
44Let all those be put to shame
who inflict evils on your servants;
Let them be shamed and powerless,
and their strength broken;
45Let them know that you alone are the Lord God,
glorious over the whole world.”46Now the king’s servants who had thrown them in continued to stoke the furnace with naphtha, pitch, tow, and brush.47The flames rose forty-nine cubits above the furnace,48and spread out, burning the Chaldeans that it caught around the furnace.49But the angel of the Lord went down into the furnace with Azariah and his companions, drove the fiery flames out of the furnace,50and made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it. The fire in no way touched them or caused them pain or harm.51Then these three in the furnace with one voice sang, glorifying and blessing God:
52“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestors,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
53Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.
54Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
55Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
56Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.
57Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
58Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
59You heavens, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.a
60All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
61All you powers, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
62Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
63Stars of heaven, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
64Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
65All you winds, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
66Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
67Cold and chill, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
68Dew and rain, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
69Frost and chill, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
70Hoarfrost and snow, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
71Nights and days, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
72Light and darkness, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
73Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
74Let the earth bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
75Mountains and hills, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
76Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
77You springs, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
78Seas and rivers, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
79You sea monsters and all water creatures, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
80All you birds of the air, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
81All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
82All you mortals, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
83O Israel, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
84Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
85Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
86Spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
87Holy and humble of heart, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
88Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
For he has delivered us from Sheol,
and saved us from the power of death;
He has freed us from the raging flame
and delivered us from the fire.
89Give thanks to the Lord, who is good,
whose mercy endures forever.
90Bless the God of gods, all you who fear the Lord;
praise and give thanks,
for his mercy endures forever.”
Deliverance from the Furnace.91Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered.92“But,” he replied, “I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”93Then Nebuchadnezzar came to the opening of the white-hot furnace and called: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out.” Thereupon Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire.94When the satraps, prefects, governors, and counselors of the king came together, they saw that the fire had had no power over the bodies of these men; not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them.95Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.96Therefore I decree for nations and peoples of every language that whoever blasphemes the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be cut to pieces and his house made into a refuse heap. For there is no other God who can rescue like this.”97Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.98* King Nebuchadnezzar to the nations and peoples of every language, wherever they dwell on earth: May your peace abound!99It has seemed good to me to publish the signs and wonders which the Most High God has accomplished in my regard.
100How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders;
his kingship is an everlasting kingship,
and his dominion endures through all generations.b
I AM MORE CONSCIOUS OF THE GREEN OF THE TREES AND THE PASSIONATE COLORS OF THE SUNSET THAN BEFORE. I DON’T TAKE FOR GRANTED THE BLUE SKY, THE VARIETY OF GREEN TREES, THE ORANGE TREE IN MY FRONT YARD, OR THE SMELL OF THE NEW DAY AS I BEGIN TO SEEK GOD THAT DAY. ALL GIVE GLORY TO THE FATHER.
As I inch forwards toward Point Omega for me and the Alpha and Omega in the Christ Principle, what is important are not THINGS at all but the power of love as demonstrated by the Resurrection and Ascension.
On this Good Friday, my reflections wander through the great love Christ had for us to lay down his life for us, we who can’t even keep watch with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Humans, wounded by Original Sin, are redeemed by God becomeing one of us to do for us what we could not do because of our human nature. The price for this redemption was a sacrificial offering, the fulfillment of the sacrifice of Abraham, the completion of the Forty years wandering in the desert, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us to show us the way, the truth, and the life. And even when we humans were given the Ten Commandments, we worshiped the Golden Calf instead, we mocked did not heed the prophets to repent of our sins, we even killed the Son of the Father whom He sent into the world to show us how to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father. When Christ needed us the most, we were found asleep three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ keep tell us us to pray that we not enter into temptation, but true to our nature, we slept through it all. Christ died on the cross as a ransom for many, but only John and his Mother and friends were weeping at the foot of the cross. After his death, he appeared to many, including the Apostles and disciples cowering in fear and without hope in the Upper Room. Jesus, once more, left his Real Presence for us in the form of the Second Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to guide and energize those remnants who would be faithful to try to love others as Christ loved us. Without Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us, we lose our Faith no matter that we believe. The power of the Resurrection exists each and every day we seek God as we are, wherever we are. We lower our eyes to the dust from which we all came, not daring to look upon the one we have all crucified with our sleeping and failure to accept Jesus as our Savior, Messiah (John 20:30-31), asking only that Jesus, Son of David, to have mercy on us all, sinners. The resurrection happens each time we rise above this apathy we have created by choosing self over God. This resurrection is my chance today to rise above my slugglishness and preoccupation with putting me before I first seek the kingdom of heaven this day. Each day is a resurrection. Each day is an opportunity for me to rise above my false self to move, every so silently and slowly to God, with God’s own energy as my reward.
Here is prayer on this Good Friday that I received this morning. It is not mine, but given to me as I contemplated on the sign of the cross, the contradiction of the world, the promise of our future glory. I would ask that you read this three time, each time more slowly than before. The first time, read it for the words; the second time, pray it that God may be merciful to you and your loved ones; the third time, think Church Universal and pray for all of humans that God will be merciful and forgive the foolishness of our human nature and bring us the peace and love of Christ to share with others around us.
The passion and death by itself would be enough, but the resurrection and ascension of Christ to the Father completed the cycle and bring resonance to the dissonance of Adam and Eve (all humanity). In the section that follows the Litany, make sure that you listen to the Exultet Jam Angelica, the ancient song of the Joy that comes from waking up to the Spirit in each of us so that we can proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father. When you feel Easter in your heart as did the Apostles in the Upper Room, you have placed God in his rightful place as way, truth, and life. That in all things, may God be glorified.
THE LITANY OF MERCY AND REDEMPTION
Jesus, Our Savior, stay by our side as we weave our way down the path life has given us. We beseech you, hear us.
Lord of Love, we repent of our sins and ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be with us each day as we seek to do your will. We beseech you, hear us.
Lord of Light, we seek to love others as you loved us. Give us your life-giving energy on our way this day. We beseech you, hear us.
Emmanuel, God with us, we ask your forgiveness for our sins of neglect and laziness to praise you each day as we can. We beseech you, hear us.
Lord of our minds and hearts, may we sit next to you on a park bench in the middle of winter and just be with you to listen in the stillness of the snow. May it be so, Lord Jesus.
God of mercy, may we have in us the mind of Christ Jesus to flood our hearts with your Holy Spirit and call you “Abba”, Father. May it be so, Lord Jesus
God of mercy, we ask mercy on your Church for its sins against those who do not believe as we do, against innocent children by fallen clergy, against the coverups by those who seek what is easy rather than what is right. Be merciful to us, O Lord.
THE REWARD OF THE RESURRECTION
The depth of your Lenten conversion will be the reward you experience in the joy of the Resurrection. Reward always comes at the end of a period of challenge, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and denying oneself to follow Christ each day. If you do not feel the joy of the presence of Christ as you moved from your false self to your true self, maybe you did not move at all. The price Christ paid for redemption was to suffer, die, and return with humanity as a gift to the Father in reparation for the sins of Adam and Eve. If we should follow Christ, should we do no less in our hearts?
THE EXULTET JAM ANGELICA
Listen to the ancient song of deliverance with the “ear of your heart”. (St. Benedict’s Prolog to the Rule)
Here is a wonderful YouTube from the place where I went to school, St. Meinrad Archabbey, Indiana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmx-LA4kadQ This is the Exultet, the Easter Song of Joy. Listen to it and savor the words.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4cXnHTUCY4
May the Peace of Christ be with you. This is not the peace that the world gives but the presence of Christ’s love in us and through us to our unique world. Here are a few of my reflections as a result of my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5).
OTHER SITES YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT Here is a wonderful YouTube from the place where I went to school, St. Meinrad Archabbey, Indiana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmx-LA4kadQ This is the Exultet, the Easter Song of Joy. Listen to it and savor the words.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4cXnHTUCY4 Joyful Easter!
My picture of Scripture is one of a series of love letters to humans, telling how much God wants us to be with Him in Heaven as our terminal state of being. Sometimes, I think of Scriptures are presenting a frightening picture of the consequences that a human has as a result of abandoning hope and accepting darkness instead of light in their heart. I can still remember sitting in the back of the Church, reading my Scripture about the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ and coming across this passage in St. John’s Gospel. It is only four words long but caused me to have goosebumps.
I want you to read this passage from St. John’s Gospel five times. Each time, slow it down from the previous one. Each time, focus on just one point of how it relates to where you are spiritually or in terms of your contemplative journey. I have bolded the passage that I think is one of the most terrifying in all of the Scriptures. Do you agree? Think about other terrifying passages.
The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet.*1 Before the feast of Passover,* Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.a2The devil had already induced* Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper,b 3 fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God,c 4 he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. 5* Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feetd and dry them with the towel around his waist 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”e9Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”10Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed* has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.”f11 For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”g 12 So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? 13 You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.h14 If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.i16 Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger* greater than the one who sent him.j17 If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.18 I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.’k19 From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM. 20 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”l
Announcement of Judas’s Betrayal.m 21 When he had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.23One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,* was reclining at Jesus’ side.n24 So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. 25 He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?”o 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel* after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. 27 After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”p 28 [Now] none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor.q 30 So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.
Heresies are not something I write about very often, in fact, I would not be writing about this topic at all except that it presented itself to be at 2:30 a.m. this morning as part of my Lectio Divina. My Lectio Divina has always been Philippians 2:5. This morning I waited for Christ to stop by to chat, and thus the topic. I don’t control those topics, but I like to push deeper to discover what might be hidden.
At first, it seemed like this topic was like falling down the rabbit hole as in “Alice in Wonderland,” gradually, as they most always do, questions pop forth. Such questions are: What is heresy? Why should I worry about something that doesn’t mean anything? What are the characteristics of the heresy of the individual? What can I do to keep from being seduced by this insidious thought process? Am I a heretic?
What is heresy?
I used the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one of my favorite sources for meditative reading, outside the Scriptures, to find out what it means to be a heretic. I offer you this quote in its entirety for your Lenten meditations. Read it at least three times. The Christ Principle is the one core against which all reality is measured. Look it up for yourself at: https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church
LIFE IN CHRIST
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND”
THE FIRST COMMANDMENTI am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.3
It is written: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”4
2084 God makes himself known by recalling his all-powerful loving, and liberating action in the history of the one he addresses: “I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The first word contains the first commandment of the Law: “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve him. . . . You shall not go after other gods.”5 God’s first call and just demand is that man accept him and worship him.
2085 The one and true God first reveals his glory to Israel.6 The revelation of the vocation and truth of man is linked to the revelation of God. Man’s vocation is to make God manifest by acting in conformity with his creation “in the image and likeness of God”:There will never be another God, Trypho, and there has been no other since the world began . . . than he who made and ordered the universe. We do not think that our God is different from yours. He is the same who brought your fathers out of Egypt “by his powerful hand and his outstretched arm.” We do not place our hope in some other god, for there is none, but in the same God as you do: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.7
2086 “The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD.'”8
2087 Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. St. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith”9 as our first obligation. He shows that “ignorance of God” is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations.10 Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him.
2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:
Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.
2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”11
2090 When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God’s love and of incurring punishment.
2091 The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:
By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.
2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).
2093 Faith in God’s love encompasses the call and the obligation to respond with sincere love to divine charity. The first commandment enjoins us to love God above everything and all creatures for him and because of him.12
2094 One can sin against God’s love in various ways:
– indifference neglects or refuses to reflect on divine charity; it fails to consider its prevenient goodness and denies its power.
– ingratitude fails or refuses to acknowledge divine charity and to return him love for love.
– lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.
– acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.
– hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments.
2095 The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity inform and give life to the moral virtues. Thus charity leads us to render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice. The virtue of religion disposes us to have this attitude.
2096 Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve,” says Jesus, citing Deuteronomy.13
2097 To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the “nothingness of the creature” who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name.14 The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.
2098 The acts of faith, hope, and charity enjoined by the first commandment are accomplished in prayer. Lifting up the mind toward God is an expression of our adoration of God: prayer of praise and thanksgiving, intercession and petition. Prayer is an indispensable condition for being able to obey God’s commandments. “[We] ought always to pray and not lose heart.”15
2099 It is right to offer sacrifice to God as a sign of adoration and gratitude, supplication and communion: “Every action done so as to cling to God in communion of holiness, and thus achieve blessedness, is a true sacrifice.”16
2100 Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. . . . “17 The prophets of the Old Covenant often denounced sacrifices that were not from the heart or not coupled with love of neighbor.18 Jesus recalls the words of the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”19 The only perfect sacrifice is the one that Christ offered on the cross as a total offering to the Father’s love and for our salvation.20 By uniting ourselves with his sacrifice we can make our lives a sacrifice to God.
Promises and vows
2101 In many circumstances, the Christian is called to make promises to God. Baptism and Confirmation, Matrimony and Holy Orders always entail promises. Out of personal devotion, the Christian may also promise to God this action, that prayer, this alms-giving, that pilgrimage, and so forth. Fidelity to promises made to God is a sign of the respect owed to the divine majesty and of love for a faithful God.
2102 “A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion,”21 A vow is an act of devotion in which the Christian dedicates himself to God or promises him some good work. By fulfilling his vows he renders to God what has been promised and consecrated to Him. The Acts of the Apostles shows us St. Paul concerned to fulfill the vows he had made.22
2103 The Church recognizes an exemplary value in the vows to practice the evangelical counsels:23Mother Church rejoices that she has within herself many men and women who pursue the Savior’s self-emptying more closely and show it forth more clearly, by undertaking poverty with the freedom of the children of God, and renouncing their own will: they submit themselves to man for the sake of God, thus going beyond what is of precept in the matter of perfection, so as to conform themselves more fully to the obedient Christ.24
The Church can, in certain cases and for proportionate reasons, dispense from vows and promises25
The social duty of religion and the right to religious freedom
2104 “All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it.”26 This duty derives from “the very dignity of the human person.”27 It does not contradict a “sincere respect” for different religions which frequently “reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men,”28 nor the requirement of charity, which urges Christians “to treat with love, prudence and patience those who are in error or ignorance with regard to the faith.”29
2105 The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. This is “the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.”30 By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them “to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and mores, laws and structures of the communities in which [they] live.”31 The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church.32 Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies.33
2106 “Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits.”34 This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order. For this reason it “continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it.”35
2107 “If because of the circumstances of a particular people special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional organization of a state, the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom must be recognized and respected as well.”36
2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error,37 but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.38
2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a “public order” conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner.39 The “due limits” which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with “legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order.”40
2110 The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion.
2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.41
2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of “idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” These empty idols make their worshippers empty: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”42 God, however, is the “living God”43 who gives life and intervenes in history.
2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”44 Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast”45 refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.46
2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.”47
Divination and magic
2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.
2118 God’s first commandment condemns the main sins of irreligion: tempting God, in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony.
2119 Tempting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed. Thus Satan tried to induce Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple and, by this gesture, force God to act.49 Jesus opposed Satan with the word of God: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”50 The challenge contained in such tempting of God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt about his love, his providence, and his power.51
2120 Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us.52
2121 Simony is defined as the buying or selling of spiritual things.53 To Simon the magician, who wanted to buy the spiritual power he saw at work in the apostles, St. Peter responded: “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!”54 Peter thus held to the words of Jesus: “You received without pay, give without pay.”55 It is impossible to appropriate to oneself spiritual goods and behave toward them as their owner or master, for they have their source in God. One can receive them only from him, without payment.
2122 The minister should ask nothing for the administration of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by the competent authority, always being careful that the needy are not deprived of the help of the sacraments because of their poverty.”56 The competent authority determines these “offerings” in accordance with the principle that the Christian people ought to contribute to the support of the Church’s ministers. “The laborer deserves his food.”57
2123 “Many . . . of our contemporaries either do not at all perceive, or explicitly reject, this intimate and vital bond of man to God. Atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time.”58
2124 The name “atheism” covers many very different phenomena. One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time. Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be “an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history.”59 Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. “It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man’s hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth.”60
2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion.61 The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. “Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.”62
2126 Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God.63 Yet, “to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God. . . . “64 “For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart.”65
2127 Agnosticism assumes a number of forms. In certain cases the agnostic refrains from denying God; instead he postulates the existence of a transcendent being which is incapable of revealing itself, and about which nothing can be said. In other cases, the agnostic makes no judgment about God’s existence, declaring it impossible to prove, or even to affirm or deny.
2128 Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience. Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.
2129 The divine injunction included the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man. Deuteronomy explains: “Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure. . . . “66 It is the absolutely transcendent God who revealed himself to Israel. “He is the all,” but at the same time “he is greater than all his works.”67 He is “the author of beauty.”68
2130 Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.69
2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons – of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new “economy” of images.
2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.”70 The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone:Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.71
2133 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).
2134 The first commandment summons man to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him above all else.
2135 “You shall worship the Lord your God” (Mt 4:10). Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment.
2136 The duty to offer God authentic worship concerns man both as an individual and as a social being.
2137 “Men of the present day want to profess their religion freely in private and in public” (DH 15).
2138 Superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic.
2139 Tempting God in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony are sins of irreligion forbidden by the first commandment.
2140 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the first commandment.
2141 The veneration of sacred images is based on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. It is not contrary to the first commandment.
3 Ex 20:2-5; cf. Deut 5:6-9.
4 Mt 4:10.
5 Deut 6:13-14.
6 Cf. Ex 19:16-25; 24:15-18.
7 St. Justin, Dial. cum Tryphone Judaeo 11,1:PG 6,497.
8 Roman Catechism 3,2,4.
9 Rom 1:5; 16:26.
10 Cf. Rom 1:18-32.
11 CIC, can. 751: emphasis added.
12 Cf. Deut 6:4-5.
13 Lk 4:8; Cf. Deut 6:13.
14 Cf. Lk 1:46-49.
15 Lk 18:1.
16 St. Augustine, De civ Dei 10,6:PL 41,283.
17 Ps 51:17.
18 Cf. Am 5:21-25; Isa 1:10-20.
19 Mt 9:13; 12:7; Cf. Hos 6:6.
20 Cf. Heb 9:13-14.
21 CIC, can. 1191 § 1.
22 Cf. Acts 18:18; 21:23-24.
23 Cf. CIC, can. 654.
24 LG 42 § 2.
25 Cf. CIC, cann. 692; 1196-1197.
26 DH 1 § 2.
27 DH 2 § 1.
28 NA 2 § 2.
29 DH 14 § 4.
30 DH 1 § 3.
31 AA 13 § 1.
32 Cf. DH 1.
33 Cf. AA 13; Leo XIII, Immortale Dei 3,17; Pius XI, Quas primas 8,20.
34 DH 2 § 1.
35 DH 2 § 2.
36 DH 6 § 3.
37 Cf. Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimum 18; Pius XII AAS 1953,799.
38 Cf. DH 2.
39 Cf. Pius VI, Quod aliquantum (1791) 10; Pius IX, Quanta cura 3.
40 DH 7 § 3.
41 Cf. Mt 23:16-22.
42 Ps 115:4-5, 8; cf. Isa 44:9-20; Jer 10:1-16; Dan 14:1-30; Bar 6; Wis 13:1-15:19.
43 Josh 3:10; Ps 42:3; etc.
44 Mt 6:24.
45 Cf. Rev 13-14.
46 Cf. Gal 5:20; Eph 5:5.
47 Origen, Contra Celsum 2,40:PG 11,861.
48 Cf. Deut 18:10; Jer 29:8.
49 Cf. Lk 4:9.
50 Deut 6:16.
51 Cf. 1 Cor 10:9; Ex 17:2-7; Ps 95:9.
52 Cf. CIC, cann. 1367; 1376.
53 Cf. Acts 8:9-24.
54 Acts 8:20.
55 Mt 10:8; cf. already Isa 55:1.
56 CIC, can. 848.
57 Mt 10:10; cf. Lk 10:7; 2 Cor 9:5-18; 1 Tim 5:17-18.
58 GS 19 § 1.
59 GS 20 § 2.
60 GS 20 § 2.
61 Cf. Rom 1:18.
62 GS 19 § 3.
63 Cf. GS 20 § 1.
64 GS 21 § 3.
65 GS 21 § 7.
66 Deut 4:15-16.
67 Sir 43:27-28.
68 Wis 13:3.
69 Cf. Num 21:4-9; Wis 16:5-14; Jn 3:14-15; Ex 25:10-22; 1 Kings 6:23-28; 7:23-26.
70 St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto 18,45:PG 32,149C; Council of Nicaea II: DS 601; cf. Council of Trent: DS 1821-1825; Vatican Council II: SC 126; LG 67.
71 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,81,3 ad 3.
A LAY CISTERCIAN REFLECTS ON THE HERESY OF THE INDIVIDUAL
Why should I worry about something that doesn’t mean anything? What are the characteristics of the heresy of the individual? What can I do to keep from being seduced by this insidious thought process?
One of the unintended consequences of being in the presence of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is that we think we speak for everyone else instead of just me. The Holy Spirit has given authority and legitimacy to those who speak for the whole Church Universal. I use three filters through which I measure the authenticity of my inspirations from the Holy Spirit. Hopefully, with humility and obedience to the words of Christ to the Apostles about the authority to bind and loose, I only offer any ideas as my opinions only. Not that they are not from the Holy Spirit, but that I am only a leaf on the tree of life and not a branch, or the trunk. Christ is the vine and we are all branches. These are the four filters through which I try to fit all of my Lectio Divina meditations, all my readings from Scripture, all my ideas that may be at the fringe of orthodoxy.
It must be Scripturally based. The problem with most Scripture citations is that each person reads it from the perspective of their life and faith experiences. Where most disagreement happens is with the meaning of Scripture.
It must be consistent with early Church theologians. The very early Church had a big problem when bringing the message of Christ to not only Jews but also Gentiles and pagans. Granted that theology and the study of God have advanced from when these people lived in the first and second centuries. It is the Church Universal addressing questions of how the followers of Christ must act, both then and now. There must be a continuity of truth between Scriptures, Early Commentaries of what it means to be a follower of Christ, and my personal insights into how I approach each day as one where I seek God with no conditions.
It must be consistent with the Ecumenical Councils throughout the history of the Church. The Catholic Church Universal is a battered, old warhorse who has been through countless battles, been wounded and thrown off the path several times, but always brought back to authentic truth by the Holy Spirit and the martyrdom of the Saints.
It must be consistent with Catholic Catechism. Being Catholic is not about keeping rules for the sake of rules or even praying your way to heaven, but Christ left us ways of acting and how to pray that we must do to keep our Faith sustained. If I find out that some of my wacky ideas don’t fit into what Christ taught, I change. I don’t ask Christ or the Church to change to conform to what I think. https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church
There is only one command Christ left us what we should worry about:
The New Commandment. 31* When he had left, Jesus said,* “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 [If God is glorified in him,] God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once.r 33 My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.s 34 I give you a new commandment:* love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.t 35 This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/13
The heresy of the individual is linked to a genuine humility of mind and heart and the inability to accept obedience from anyone except yourself. During this Lent, we are all challenged to die to self. Part of what that means is to slow down your life, curb your conspiratorial tendencies to find out people who are trying to overthrow your ideas, and just love others. In the room of your heart, there is no room for Christ and heresy. Conversion of morals means you constantly move from your will to opening up your heart to the will of Christ. It takes Faith and is not for the faint of heart. It is the way, the truth, and the life.
During this intense time of introspection before the celebration of our delivery from death to life with Christ, it is important to ask the question, What does your Jesus look like? I have never seen the face of Jesus, nor have I seen the face of my great grandfather, but they are a real part of my heritage. We all make up a visual representation of who Jesus is based on our assumptions (those hidden beliefs that shape how we view reality). Your Jesus will look a lot like you and your life experiences. If you have paranoid tendencies, so too will be your Jesus. If you think everything in life is out to get you and that all institutions are just in it to make money and defraud you of your money, this is how you will see Jesus. My point is: whatever is received, is received according to the disposition of the one who receives it.
My Lectio Divina today (this morning at 2:35 a.m.) took me to a place I have never been. I was thinking of a family situation I am experiencing where someone has been seduced by YouTube conspiracy theorist blogs into believing all that nonsense. What I noticed is that their notion of Jesus changed with the addition of these assumptions. I asked myself what is going on and came up with a few plausible explanations.
If a person becomes deluded into a conspiracy mindset and places that at the center of their lives, everything they think about must be seen in terms of that center. The world becomes full of one group trying to overthrow another group. The Vatican is seen as totally corrupt and totally out of touch with their reality (it actually is out of touch with the reality they hold is true). All priests are pedophiles. All physicians are out to make money at the expense of their patients. All police are corrupt and on the take. All Paranoia is unchecked and not balanced with human reasoning so all their concepts of relationships are ones of others taking advantage of them. Physicians are only out for money and the pharmaceutical companies only want to make money at the expense of those too poor to afford their products. Politicians decry all the billionaires wanting money but fail to see their own failures. The list of paranoia goes on and on.
I have taken some quotes from a website (https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/paranoia-and-delusional-disorders#:~:text=Some%20identifiable%20beliefs%20and%20behaviors,to%20relax%2C% 20or%20are%20argumentative.)so you and I can read the same thing. You make your own conclusions about all of this.
“Symptoms of paranoia and delusional disorders include intense and irrational mistrust or suspicion, which can bring on sense of fear, anger, and betrayal. Some identifiable beliefs and behaviors of individuals with symptoms of paranoia include mistrust, hypervigilence, difficulty with forgiveness, defensive attitude in response to imagined criticism, preoccupation with hidden motives, fear of being deceived or taken advantage of, inability to relax, or are argumentative.
The cause of paranoia is a breakdown of various mental and emotional functions involving reasoning and assigned meanings. The reasons for these breakdowns are varied and uncertain. Some symptoms of paranoia relate to repressed, denied or projected feelings. Often, paranoid thoughts and feelings are related to events and relationships in a person’s life, thereby increasing isolation and difficulty with getting help.”
Each human has reason and the ability to choose what makes sense for them (within limits). When someone is seduced by the allure of the conspiracy view of reality, it becomes “we” verses “they”. If we apply the notion of religion and particularly the words of Jesus in Scripture, this approach to thinking has a Jesus that looks very much as though he is a conspiracist. The lenses through which the paranoid person looks at Jesus become one where Jesus and the person are the same. There is no accountability against the way, the truth, and the life. What that means for someone who possesses this destructive way of thinking is that what they think is not the Christ Principle, guided by Faith informed by Reason, but one of their own imagination and which fits their image and likeness. Since this likeness is corrupted by false thinking, their Jesus comes paranoid just like them. Read from the second letter of Peter, Chapter 2.
False Teachers.*1There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves.a2Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled.b3In their greed they will exploit you with fabrications, but from of old their condemnation has not been idle and their destruction does not sleep.c
Lessons from the Past.4* For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus* and handed them over to be kept for judgment;d5* and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, together with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the godless world;e6and if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah [to destruction], reducing them to ashes, making them an example for the godless [people] of what is coming;f7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man oppressed by the licentious conduct of unprincipled people8(for day after day that righteous man living among them was tormented in his righteous soul at the lawless deeds that he saw and heard),9then the Lord knows how to rescue the devout from trial and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,g10and especially those who follow the flesh with its depraved desire and show contempt for lordship.h
False Teachers Denounced.*Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to revile glorious beings,*11* whereas angels,i despite their superior strength and power, do not bring a reviling judgment against them from the Lord.12But these people, like irrational animals born by nature for capture and destruction, revile things that they do not understand, and in their destruction they will also be destroyed,j13suffering wrong* as payment for wrongdoing. Thinking daytime revelry a delight, they are stains and defilements as they revel in their deceits while carousing with you.k14Their eyes are full of adultery and insatiable for sin. They seduce unstable people, and their hearts are trained in greed. Accursed children!15Abandoning the straight road, they have gone astray, following the road of Balaam, the son of Bosor,* who loved payment for wrongdoing,l16but he received a rebuke for his own crime: a mute beast spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.m17These people are waterless springs and mists driven by a gale; for them the gloom of darkness has been reserved.n18For, talking empty bombast, they seduce with licentious desires of the flesh those who have barely escaped* from people who live in error.o19They promise them freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption, for a person is a slave of whatever overcomes him.p20For if they, having escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of [our] Lord and savior Jesus Christ, again become entangled and overcome by them, their last condition is worse than their first.q21For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment handed down* to them.r22* What is expressed in the true proverb has happened to them,s “The dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A bathed sow returns to wallowing in the mire.”
What is real may or may not actually be real, since those YouTube conspiracy ideas are received by someone we call pussilanimous (faint of heart) and coveted as true despite evidence to the contrary from their reason. Here are some of the conspiracy ideas I have encountered over my short lifetime.
LENT AND CONVERSION
When anyone talks about conversion, it is precisely moving from being self-centered to being Christ-centered that is at their core. When you put in a conspiracy mentality as your center, then what follows is the results of your core values. To convert, you must be a penitent person seeking always to move from self to God. Attach yourself to a godly person, if you want to be godly yourself. Be humble and obedient to the will of God rather than serving your own self-interests. Flee from the conspiracy theorists and from watching this garbage on YouTube. What you watch with your eyes, you treasure in your heart. That is why someone addicted to pornography has a heart full of treachery and why those with a paranoid view of Christ think the world is going to end.
Don’t create a Christ in your image and likeness, but rather have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. Ask for mercy and forgiveness for a mindset that centers around falsehood and deceit.
Original sin affects everything we do as a human. Baptism takes away Original Sin, the Sin of the World, but we still must live out the consequences of living in a condition where everything has a beginning and an end. I reflected on this corruption of our nature in terms of the six questions each person must ask and answer to move on to the next level of our collective journey, to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father. My Lectio during the last three sessions has been about sin, specifically being a penitential person during Lent. My problem has been, I don’t go around sinning every day, yet every day, I need God’s mercy for my inability to love with all my strength (Matthew 22:36). This is a blog about the need to take up the cross each day and follow Christ, to seek God’s mercy on me a sinful person in reparation for past sins, to gain grace to continue the journey. The conversion of life (conversio morae) is at the core of one who lives a penitential existence with Christ as the center.
Easter is a time of great rejoicing. For those gathered together in the peace of Christ, it is a time to celebrate the victory of Christ over death and the default of Original Sin. Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit is a sacramental sign that death has no more power over us. Easter must take place in each of our hearts as well as in the context of the Church on the feast of the resurrection. My Lectio Divina meditations of late have taken on a dark tone, much like dark love. Dark love means there is a price to pay for love, sometimes painful, often with outrageous sacrifices of patience and forgiveness. Dark love is the passion and death before a resurrection takes place, the price that Christ paid for restoring resonance to a dissonant reality, the opening of adoption as brothers and sisters to Christ, the Son of God, Savior.
As I reflect on my Lectio today (Philippians 2:5), as I do each day, what comes to mind is a macro approach to one of the core questions humans must answer: What is the purpose of life? This is not as easy as it sounds, because, each individual has to answer at least six questions to find out the answer to that question of purpose. Humans find themselves alone in the arc of existing species, alone able to reason and ask and answer why something is, alone in being able to choose that which is against their nature, to choose that which is opposite of what their human reasoning tells them makes sense. Such is the story of salvation. The liturgical season is the complete life of Christ, like the mysteries of the Rosary, like the stations of the Cross, like the Liturgy of the Hours, like the Eucharist and sacrament of reconciliation. The collective gathering of believers comes together to join you and me with the context of the Christ Principle so that we might grow more towards Christ and less towards our mere human selves. What does not make sense in the world (one which is governed only by the physical and mental universe of each individual) makes perfect sense with the Christ Principle, the sign of contradiction, moving beyond reason alone, the default of original sin, to explain that the purpose of all creation is love.
Lent is a time of purification, one that allows us to burn away those encroaching default tendencies of original sin (not the same as temptations to be god from Satan) but the effects that we all inherit as part of being human. The genius of Genesis is to show how God lifts up humanity to have hope after the fall from grace. The effects of original sin are still with us today, making us vulnerable to false prophets, false teachers, ways of thinking that put the individual at the center of all reality. Ironically, the individual is the center of all reality, at least for seventy or eighty years while we live. What our option is, due to the saving redemption of Christ, is for us to have the opportunity to proclaim the purpose of life? What we place at our center is our god. It may be the true self or the false self. Whatever we place at our center, we must work constantly and consistently to keep ourselves from resisting the effects of original sin which pulls us back into a world view without God. That is why we have to take up our crosses daily, pray our Cistercian practices faithfully in season and out of season. We are literally placing our fingers in the dike to keep out the water each day we live. That is why we must call upon the Lord to be with us as we struggle with the effects of original sin. On top of that, Satan tempts us, using our vulnerability of human nature to his advantage. Here are some of the temptations we all face from Satan as we continue to run the race.
Enter the one variable that does not mutate, original sin. It is the condition of being human and what that means physically, mentally, but also spiritually. Original sin is invisible. The problem with invisibility is you can’t see it. Original sin is like oxygen and you are a piece of iron. You think you are strong and will last forever, but oxygen, relentlessly and without seeming to do anything but be itself. Without maintenance, iron will rust and eventually break down. Christ provides the tools we need to keep original sin at bay. (Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict) We must still do the work to keep ourselves clean, but we can survive. There is no conveyor belt on which we jump on when we are born and jump off when we die. The effects of original sin are with us, even if Baptism redeems our nature by God lifting us up to be sons and daughters of the Father. In this context, there are six temptations of the effects of Original Sin that impact the six choices we must make to sustain ourselves as we live out whatever our life has in store for us.
I. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — What is the purpose of life?
Each one of these questions, plus obtaining the correct answers, builds on the one preceding it. Here is what we have so far.
We all experience this because we are human. Baptism takes away Original Sin and opens us up to the opportunity to combat the effects of being human. Jesus became one of us to open us up to being adopted sons and daughters of the Father. There is a catch. We have to live as a pilgrim in a foreign land until we die. This first temptation is about what to place as the purpose of life itself. All our choices have consequences and this selection is no different. What you place here affects the remaining five choices because they build on one another. Not all choices that use “god” words are transformative.
We can either choose what God tells us is the purpose of life, or we can make up one that suits our convenience. If we use the world as the norm, then everyone that has the right to an opinion is correct and there is no truth, only what the individual thinks is true. To choose God means I accept that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here is the secret to choosing a purpose in life. This choice is a paradox like so many choices in the spiritual universe. It is a great priority.
When I abandon myself to the will of God as an adopted son or daughter of the Father, like Mary, I make a free choice that God is number one and all else makes sense in terms of that one principle. This is the purpose in which God chooses me to be an adopted son (or daughter) of the Father.
12This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.i13* No one has greater love than this,j to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends,* because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.k16 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.l17 This I command you: love one another.mhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/15
II. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — What is the purpose of your life?
Each one of these questions, plus obtaining the correct answers, builds on the one preceding it. Here is what we have so far.
Again, the default for human existence is to replace God with you as the center of your world. If the first temptation was to replace you as the god of the whole of reality, this second temptation is to make yourself god over what you control, your world.
This is the two-world choice (hypothesis, if you prefer) of which St. Paul stresses. The choice here is that you must make a choice to fit into God’s playground and His rules or to create your own playground with your rules that apply to you and everything else in reality. It is about you controlling who plays in your playground. Original sin is the condition where we are lead to follow the path of least resistance, that of the individual as the center of morality.
The True Wisdom.*6Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.7Rather, we speak God’s wisdom,* mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,8and which none of the rulers of this age* knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.9But as it is written:
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.11Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.13And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.*14 Now the natural person* does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.15 The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment* by anyone. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord, to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.g.”https://bible.usccb.org/bible/1corinthians/2
III. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — What does reality look like?
Each one of these questions, plus obtaining the correct answers, builds on the one preceding it. Here is what we have so far.
This is the third temptation of Original Sin, one that Satan exploits because of the corruption of our nature and the effects of being human. The first one is to choose either God or you as the center of all reality. The second temptation is to the kingdom of heaven first and all else will be lived in terms of that choice of God’s will. This third temptation is to choose a reality that either has physical and mental universes or three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual). Once more, Original Sin is the default with its effects ever-present to seduce us into thinking that words are similar in not only sound but in meaning. This is the temptation to see reality as only having two universes (physical and mental). The other choice for us is difficult, one which doesn’t make sense entirely with human reasoning. It is to see reality with three distinct universes, (physical, mental as well as spiritual). This third universe is only entered by invitation (this invitation was extended to all humans with the resurrection of Christ from the dead). There is a caveat beyond having to choose this universe to enter it (Baptism), which is, like the Tower of Babel story about the confusion of tongues, this universe is turned on its head, a sign of contradiction just like Christ. What is up in the world (physical and mental universes) is answered in this macro equation by the opposite of what the world thinks. The spiritual universe answers the question of what reality looks like, but with a caveat. What is real is this kingdom of heaven is the opposite in the sense of being opposed to what the world says is important.
Reflect on this paradox during this time of penance and humility. Humility and obedience to God’s will by loving others a Christ loved us, is the healing and nourishing place of silence and solitude that is our retreat during times of doubt and frustration at what some of the people in the Church are doing in the name of Christ. Christ provides us with the answer to this question also. Are you beginning to see a pattern? The resurrection opened up the gates of heaven to those who follow Christ in humility and truth. Because Christ set the example and walked the way of the cross, suffering pain and giving up his life on the cross for the ransom of many, we walk that same path in our unique way, sometimes veering off the road, often stopping because the load is too heavy. Christ won’t walk our path for us but will join with us as we seek God daily in whatever comes our way.
The Rule of Opposites is at work in one reality that has three separate and distinct universes. https://amzn.to/2ORGlWa Let me explain. To get to this third universe, Jesus had to become one of us to show us that the kingdom of heaven is the answer to the question of what reality looks like. The Kingdom of Heaven begins immediately for the individual upon reception of Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit. It continues to fulfillment after we die in the hope of the resurrection with Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven on earth began with Jesus fulfilling the Messiah’s prophecies, dying on the cross and rising with all humanity so that they can enjoy Heaven forever as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. The true fulfillment of what it means to be human is the next step in our evolution from the animal through human to adoption as God’s friend. All the same, humans are and can never be God. Only Christ and the Blessed Mother, who is not God but was lifted up to her intended potential as an adopted daughter of the Father while she was still on earth, are exceptions to this rule. The rest of us must live our seventy to eighty years on earth searching for purpose, seeking our personal center, living as though there are three universes and not just two, to fulfill our destiny.
As Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit paleontologist, and futurist describes in his book The Phenomenon of Man, our destiny is to see reality as moving from a beginning to an end with Christ as the Omega, as well as the Alpha. https://amzn.to/30MmRow Too outlandish? Of course, because in this temptation, the default of original sin is to think of reality as having only two universes (physical and mental). The three universes concept does not make sense to the world and is a stumbling block for science and non-believes because it does not make sense without the Christ Principle. Scripture, says St. John 20:39-31, are the stories about Christ to allow us to come to believe that He is the Son of God and the Messiah and that believing we might have eternal life in His name. It is the choices we make that define who we are, not our abilities. The problem for humans is we don’t just make one choice and then forget about it until we get to heaven. We must struggle each day with those consequences of Original sin, the pain, the fact that we only live for seventy or eighty years, if we are strong. This question is answered by Christ, which I have termed The Christ Principle.
If you look up into the sky, you will see millions and millions of Suns (and that is just the ones whose light has reached us). Each of these Suns has planets or rocky balls of gas around them. Science has provided the human mind with a grand scale of things in terms of distance and quality. What is out there is simply beyond anything our minds can comprehend, yet it does exist. If you think of each of those stars in the sky as separate universes, each having millions and millions of Suns, each with trillions of planets out there, the scale dwarfs our ability to even conceive is existence. Now, with everything that is, The Christ Principle is and has always been true not just for earth but for all those universes of universes. The Christ Principle is so that we humans might evolve to the next stage of our development, that of Spiritual Apes. Our destiny as humans is not for this earth at all, it is to be lifted up to the next level of existence, one that we could not attain without God reaching down to us (a human term) to enable us to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
All matter, all time, all energy, everything that we know or experience has a beginning and an end. We are called by God’s DNA contained in all reality to move to a higher level of awareness, one that does not make complete sense to our human reasoning but more so for the human heart. How do you know that this is the way reality is? How do you know it isn’t?
CONTEMPLATIVE READING RESOURCES TO HELP YOU MOVE FROM YOUR FALSE SELF TO YOUR TRUE SELF
The Six Thresholds of Life. https://amzn.to/3cDbdlk
SPIRITUAL APES: Our Journey to Forever, Volume 1 https://amzn.to/3eEfbgb
SPIRITUAL APES: Our Journey from Animality to Spirituality, Volume 2 https://amzn.to/3tnpCsJ
SPIRITUAL APES: Our Struggle to be Spiritual, Volume 3 https://amzn.to/3vuQicP
IV. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — How does it all fit together?
The problem with human reasoning alone is that by asking the wrong question, we get wrong answers. In each of the questions above, presuming they are the correct questions to ask about being human, wrong answers will not allow us to proceed to the next question. For example, if I choose fame, fortune, and adulation as the purpose of all life, that won’t get me to the next questions. Why? The answers to all of these questions come from God, not from human reasoning. The answers to all these questions are paradoxes and also signs of contradiction. The way to open up the human mind and heart to reveal the treasures God has for us is by humility and obedience to God’s will. We say, “For thine is the power, and the glory, forever and forever.” It is only when we realize that abandoning everyTHING that the world holds of value that we gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven where we gain the treasures awaiting us as adopted sons and daughter of Our Father Who Art in Heaven.
How everything fits together is itself a paradox. The answer is, it doesn’t, and yet it does. Each of the three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual) are separate yet one, just as the Trinity is one nature but three distinct persons. Like the popular notion of “A Theory of Everything” proposed by science, the only way there is one universe is to allow each universe to be what it is. Religion is not Science; Science is not Spirituality. Each exists independently of each other and so do not compete. Rather than smoosh everything together into one universe, each one is unique and has it own purpose as well as measuring stick. The three are one.
The physical universe is what is, the mental universe, allows humans to know the physical universe plus the mental universe and asking the questions:
The spiritual universe is the Christ Principle giving us the answer to these six core questions of life. It is not that the World does not give answers to these six questions, it does. They provides answers that lead to a meaningful life while you live on earth. The spiritual universe, The Christ Principle, answers these questions that lead to a fulfillment of what it means to be human while you live on earth, and provides you with the energy you need to move to the next level of human evolution, an adopted son or daughter of the Father capable to living in a dimension beyond time, matter, physical energy, gravity, and the properties of matter. Because we humans are incapable of knowing, much less existing in such a condition beyond our experience, we call that Faith. It is because of the Christ Principle (Philippians 2:-15) who gave us a way to behave that we lead us to what is in store for us, that we call Hope. Again, because of Original Sin, we are not evil at our core nature, but merely prone to a choice of self or God with many things that come our way. In this season of Lent followed by Easter, we reflects again and again on the six questions of life all humans must ask and answer correctly to get to Heaven.
V. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — How do you love fiercely?
Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, is one of my favorite authors. In part, because he taught me that love is not something humans know how to do automatically or from their nature. It is an art, he says, that must be learned. He goes on to describe what authentic and inauthentic love is. After re-reading his book, I kept asking myself the question “Is Contemplative Practice an art also?” It occurred to me the reason we must work to be spiritual (Remember Genesis and the effect of the fall in Chapters 2-3?) was due to the effects of Original Sin. We bear the indelible sign of the cross on our souls for a reason. Like the tattoos of Auschwitz concentration camps, we carry that sign as a remembrance that we must work to keep Satan from gaining sway over our choices of good or evil.
Like an ice cube out of the refrigerator, our spirituality is subject to the room temperature of Original Sin. We live in the world so we don’t notice it because being in the physical and mental universe keeps us alive, but it also means we must work to continuously move from our false self to our true self, or risk atrophying Faith.
Only the spiritual universe, which is life in Christ answers these six questions with the correct answers that lead to the fulfillment of our human nature. The questions are asked by our human reasoning but the answers come from the divine equation, not from this reality. The answers are otherworldly, not just out of the universe, but from the Kingdom of Heaven, which is beyond space, time, matter, energy, science, philosophy.
This is where the contemplative practice is so helpful. It is a constant and daily practice of practices (Eucharist as food for the spirit, reading Scripture as transforming, making all things new through penance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, moving from self to God through Liturgy of the Hours and Lectio Divina, reading St. Benedict’s Rule, especially Chapter 40. These practices are not ends in themselves but serve to put us in contact with Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. With St. Paul, we can say:
When humans put God number one, there is no number two. Everything, in reality, is in resonance and not in dissonance as it was with the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus, our Christ saved us by giving his life as a ransom for many to the Father. Resonance is once more restored, with an important caveat. All we need to do is to love one another as Christ loved us.
VI. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD: You know you are going to die, now what?
This question has to do with putting together the previous questions correctly and accumulating the answers that lead to this sixth and last question each human must ask and answer before they die. Let’s review.
One of the reasons God had to become human nature was to give us the answers to these six questions of life. the ones that enable us to fulfill our purpose as human beings. Having reason and the ability to choose, Original Sin is the archetypal story of how humans have not made good choices when left to their own devices. All choices have consequences, and in the case of our prototype parents, Adam and Eve, the consequence of sin is death, not just for them but for all humans. Genesis is a powerful and descriptive tale of human weakness and the consequences of that action of wanting to be god. It is as real today as it was then. The Christ Principle is one that provides authentic answers to the critical questions of life. These answers are not from what the world thinks is a purpose but what God tells us, and through Christ, shows us the way, the truth, and to live that life. For someone who does not recognize nor even know what they don’t know, it is a place where all of us are afraid to look, the interior realm of the kingdom of heaven. Because we have been saved, God has given us adoption and thus the ability to expand our capacity to know, love, and serve God and others in this life, so we can be happy in the next. (Baltimore Catechism, Questions 6). Consistent with the effects of original sin (we have to work for a living, we suffer pain and death), we must constantly challenge the forces of decay and time and replace our false selves with all things new.
The effects of Original Sin challenge the kingdom of heaven but don’t conquer it unless you do not recognize the Christ Principle. This is the struggle we all face when trying to replace or refurbish our Faith with the energy of God. As humans, we have all been conceived in this condition of decay and rust. It is automatic, to the point of being a default. It is like the grass in your front yard. If you don’t mow it, it will get out of hand and become a mess. It takes work to be spiritual. That is what it means to take up your cross daily and follow Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. What was his way? The road to Calvary, fraught with temptations to stop his mission to be a ransom for many. We put on Christ, each day when we do Cistercian practices to enable us to have in us the mind of that same Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5). Day in and day out, the effects of Original Sin silently mitigate our intentions to love others as Christ loved us. To be a Christian, in this deepest, contemplative sense, is to be in constant vigil mode to be watchmen or watchwomen against human nature itself. This is the struggle of taking up the cross each day and following Christ. We trod our own path each day but, now, because Christ loved us first, we have the doors of heaven open to those who recognize that their destiny is tied up the Christ Principle.
Satan uses our human nature and our human weaknesses to interject temptations (choices that are not God’s) into daily living. This battle is why contemplative practice must be more than just reciting prayers, even seven times a day as in the case of Liturgy of the Hours. The pull of original sin is inexorably strong, like a starfish surrounding its prey, gradually increasing pressure, if not saved. Salvation is not just a one time event that happened during the time of Christ. Christ left imperfect and sinful members to carry on the struggle to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) in each age. In fact, for each one of us, we constantly fight the good fight against the forces of Satan and the consequences of Original Sin. Those who persevere are saved each and every time they choose Christ over their false selves. Cistercian prayer must fit into a way of living that is creating opportunities for you (and in the case of others, a community) to be present to Christ in order to listen with the ear of the heart to the Holy Spirit. (Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict)
Catholicism is more than just a catechism and pronouncements from various councils, it is recognizing and sustaining Christ in each and every day as your center, number one in your life. It is a way of living out humanity with faith, hope, and love, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians. And the greatest of these is love. Love, not as the world gives, peace not as the world says it is, but our hearts touching the heart of Christ, which is at the right hand of the Father.
Humility and obedience are not just words that the world uses to separate individuals from God. Jesus came to show us that is by renouncing our personal will and replacing it with whatever God says is good, obedience is not lording it over one gender or another, one race or another, one nationality or another, one political party or another. Love unites us all in, with and through our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. In his name, we have eternal life, if we but obey God and not the world. John 20:30-31.
Like Jesus, it is only when we empty ourselves of all those vices of our false self that we can approach the Father, through Christ, and ask for mercy for forgiveness for our sinful tendencies. Not that we are sin-centered or always go about committing moral sin, the challenge for a contemplative approach to spirituality is to recognize that I am a penitential person each day until I die. I bear the mark of the cross on my soul, the sign of contradiction, I must work to fend off the subtle seduction of Satan to be god by choosing my will over God’s.
From right now until I die, I make a profession or promise as a Lay Cistercian to always have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) throughout the day. My prayer time is not an hour or set period, although I do pray during set times. Rather, it is my awareness that I am in a process of becoming more like Christ and less like me each day. Some days are better than others. Some days I have setbacks and must re-gain control over my life and make all things new through Christ. It is my journey and just because my road is rocky doesn’t mean I am on the wrong road. No road is wrong with Christ walking beside you, like he did with the disciples at Emmaus, teaching them about how he fulfilled the prophets and prophecies of Israel.
When I am present to Christ, he teaches me through Scripture, Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Eucharist Adoration, through the work I do in writing this blog and my books on contemplative practice, in sharing my ideas with others and identifying the Holy Spirit in what they say back to me.
LOVING OTHERS IS A CONSTANT PROCESS USING THE TOOLS CHRIST HAS GIVEN ME
If you have read this blog up to this point, then you know that I am using the six questions of life to answer what Christ has taught us about temptation and original sin.
I don’t have sinning at the top of my “to do” list. Why must I remain vigilant in prayer and fasting not to fall into temptation? My answer is the sinful condition which is the world and its empty promises and allurements to be god. I must keep myself in good spiritual condition to confront the every day effects of Original Sin. Like someone who goes to the gym, I must exercise my spiritual life or lose it. Christ will never abandon me, as he will always keep the covenant of New and Old Testaments, but I am the one who fails. I need the constant energy of God in me to survive to the end of the race. That doesn’t happen without work.
I don’t speak for anyone but myself. My time left will be spent packing for the trip to forever. I realize that heaven begins for me right now if I am aware of it. Sitting on a park bench in the middle of winter waiting for Christ is all I try to do in my Lectio Divina. I am so energized and excited about what my two advocates (Christ and the Holy Spirit) are telling me, that I can’t write it down fast enough.
Here is my “to do” list of what I hope to continue now (or later on in heaven).
NOTICE: Some URL books are linked to my Amazon Associates account and I receive credit when someone chooses to purchase them.
In this time of slowing down to catch up to the Christ within us, Lent provides each person with their own unique way of sorting out those false narratives that drag us down from seeking the true Christ to ones that fit our emotional responses to how we look at what is around us. What sounds like a mouthful of marbles speaking is actually one of the keys to making all things new, again. It is the seductive and sophomoric failing of human nature to belong to a group, any group. We have a deep seated fear of being alone and so belonging to some group tends to make us more secure than being our in the woods alone.
Remember that you have been chosen by God to be an adopted son or daughter of the Father so you can claim the inheritance bought by the precious blood of Our Lord on the cross. The Mystery of Faith is one that says we don’t quite know what is in store for us in Heaven but because Christ loved us first, we know that heaven is love. One thing heaven is not is a group of factions. During Lent we need to get rid of those factions and put on the new self in Christ.
Read what St. Paul tells us about moving from the old self (factions) to the one (One Lord). I encourage you to read it three times, very slowly. The first time, read it for the words and the flavor. The second time, read it to see how factions can be insidious pieces of glass in your shoes. The third time, read it with the idea that you must put on those things that move to Christ and away from factions, in particular. I have added the notes at the end of this Scripture for your convenience. This is my Lenten reading which I share with you. Notice the seven unities in verses 1-6. St. Paul provides us with the behaviors we must follow to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) https://bible.usccb.org/bible/ephesians/4
Unity in the Body. 1* I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,a2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love,b3 striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:c4* one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call;d 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;e 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.f
Diversity of Gifts.7 But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.g 8Therefore, it says:
“He ascended* on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.”h 9 What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? 10 The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. 11* And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,i 12 to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,* for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,* to the extent of the full stature of Christ,j 14 so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.k15 Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head,l Christ,*16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.m
Renewal in Christ.* 17 So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds;n18 darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart,o19 they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.p 20 That is not how you learned Christ,21assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, 22 that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires,q 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,r 24 and put on* the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.s
Rules for the New Life. 25 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another.t26 Be angry but do not sin;u do not let the sun set on your anger,*27and do not leave room for the devil.v 28 The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work* with his [own] hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.w 29 No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.x 30 And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.*31All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.y32[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.z
* [4:1–16] A general plea for unity in the church. Christians have been fashioned through the Spirit into a single harmonious religious community (one body, Eph 4:4, 12; cf. Eph 4:16), belonging to a single Lord (in contrast to the many gods of the pagan world), and by one way of salvation through faith, brought out especially by the significance of baptism (Eph 4:1–6; cf. Rom 6:1–11). But Christian unity is more than adherence to a common belief. It is manifested in the exalted Christ’s gifts to individuals to serve so as to make the community more Christlike (Eph 4:11–16). This teaching on Christ as the source of the gifts is introduced in Eph 4:8 by a citation of Ps 68:18, which depicts Yahweh triumphantly leading Israel to salvation in Jerusalem. It is here understood of Christ, ascending above all the heavens, the head of the church; through his redemptive death, resurrection, and ascension he has become the source of the church’s spiritual gifts. The “descent” of Christ (Eph 4:9–10) refers more probably to the incarnation (cf. Phil 2:6–8) than to Christ’s presence after his death in the world of the dead (cf. 1 Pt 3:19).
* [4:11] Concerning this list of ministers, cf. 1 Cor 12:28 and Rom 12:6–8. Evangelists: missionary preachers (cf. Acts 21:8; 2 Tm 4:5), not those who wrote gospels. Pastors and teachers: a single group in the Greek, shepherding congregations.
* [4:13] Mature manhood: literally, “a perfect man” (cf. Col 1:28), possibly the “one new person” of Eph 2:15, though there anthrōpos suggests humanity, while here anēr is the term for male. This personage becomes visible in the church’s growing to its fullness in the unity of those who believe in Christ.
* [4:15–16] The head, Christ: cf. Col 1:18 and contrast 1 Cor 12:12–27 and Rom 12:4–5 where Christ is identified with the whole body, including the head. The imagery may derive from ancient views in medicine, the head coordinating and caring for the body, each ligament (perhaps the ministers of Eph 4:11) supporting the whole. But as at Eph 2:19–22, where the temple is depicted as a growing organism, there may also be the idea here of growing toward the capstone, Christ.
* [4:17–24] Paul begins to indicate how the new life in Christ contrasts with the Gentiles’ old way of existence. Literally, the old self (Eph 4:22) and the new self (Eph 4:24) are “the old man” and “the new man” (anthrōpos, person), as at Eph 2:15; cf. note on Eph 4:13.
St. Paul provides what we should do, but it that what happens when we live out our lives in the world? Here are some ideas about factions and what they mean to me as I trod through the minefield of everyday living.
Imagine placing factions as your center rather than the One Lord. The outcomes of such an switch are:
The wages of sin are death. Life is the reward for those who get rid of all factions. There are no factions in heaven, only Christ. Lent is a time to take stock of how factions in my life pull me down rather than lifting me up to make all things new. Factions are very subtle temptations to be god. Get rid of the insidious virus of factions, if you want to continue to die to yourself so that you can properly sit next to Christ on a park bench in the middle of winter and just hang out.
Once again, re-read what St. Paul says about the rules we should assimilate into our hearts each day, but certainly during this Lenten season of penance and prayer.
Rules for the New Life. 25 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another.t26 Be angry but do not sin;u do not let the sun set on your anger,*27and do not leave room for the devil.v 28 The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work* with his [own] hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.w 29 No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.x 30 And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.*31All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.y32[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.zhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/ephesians/4
To move from false self to new self in Christ Jesus, be aware of factions and get rid of them all. There is no room for sin and Christ in your house, now or in heaven.
A LAY CISTERCIAN LOOKS AT HOW FACTIONS SPLIT THE UNITY OF CHRIST
One of the hidden factions that the devil uses to tempt us to break off from Christ is to think that I am alone in my spiritual journey and not part of a group of other Lay Cistercians. I break off from the interaction of the Holy Spirit with each Lay Cistercian member and only listen to myself. This faction has no growth, and with me as the only way, truth, and the life. How boring that is.
The Devil loves to seduce humans into going against God, then laughs heartily at the offender as being so gullible and weak that he missed out on the purpose of life.
I thought about how the Devil might dissuade me from having in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) the center of my life. I thought about how he doesn’t make direct assaults on my Faith but puts up little and seemingly insignificant options for me to consider to make my center wobble and maybe derail. The Devil can’t make me do anything because of my free will, but neither can God. I must freely choose one way or the other. The problem is what way leads to fulfillment as a human and what way leads to death?
Here are a couple of temptations that I have experienced and which you may find of interest.
TEMPTATION ONE: It is foolish to die to oneself so that you can rise with Christ to make all things new.
Satan knows how to use those elements of my spirituality to sidetrack me from doing God’s will and replace it with my own. Each day, I start the day asking God to never let me out of his sight (which is impossible, but I must remind myself of it). Saint Michael’s Prayer is one I saw each day to remind myself that help is there for those who ask for it. The temptation suggests that I should choose only those things pleasing to me, those feelings and emotions that seem to fulfill my destiny such as power, fame, fortune, adulation from others. Christ comes to tell me something unpleasant. Namely that I must take up my cross daily and follow the way, the truth, and the life. This choice of dying to self to rise to Christ only takes place in the spiritual universe. Our human nature (physical and mental universes only) does not accept the notion of the cross, of leading a penitential life, of adding a spiritual dimension to what the world says is important.
TEMPTATION TWO: Speaking for the Holy Spirit
Just because I receive energy from the Holy Spirit in my Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration does not mean that I speak for the Holy Spirit. One of the big mistakes we all make is thinking that the Holy Spirit is our personal wireless phone to the Father. Because of this, the Devil suggests to us that we should require others to follow what the Holy Spirit tells us to do. I have particular knowledge of this temptation because there is a voice that tells me all the time that I must be important if the Holy Spirit talks to me. In truth, it is the Holy Spirit that is important because I keep my mouth shut and listen.
TEMPTATION THREE: My god can beat your god
This temptation pits those whose belief is more on who is the correct church than those who preach the Gospel in season and out of season with patience and kindness. You become the judgment of God over others. You are the final arbiter of who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. God looks a lot like you and certainly sounds like you.
TEMPTATION FOUR: Making your political party god
During this past political season, all political parties are guilty of playing god. The party platform is the Ten Commandments, the political officials are proselytizers of the gospel of their politics. People’s Faith is based on politics rather than the Gospel and they actually hate others and wish them evil. The Devil takes particular delight in this sin of factions and hatred. (Galatians 5)
TEMPTATION FIVE: Being a Catholic Priest or Minister or Rabbi means you can make the rules for others but don’t have to keep them yourself.
This is the sin of clericalism, that of laying burdens on others that you yourself don’t keep. I am speaking specifically of those chosen to be priests, ministers or rabbis rather than Laypersons, although this does apply to individuals who think the Holy Spirit gives them the right to be right (correct). See Temptation Two.
Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. 1a Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, 2* saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. 4b They tie up heavy burdens* [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. 5*c All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6*d They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, 7 greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ 8* As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. 10 Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. 11e The greatest among you must be your servant. 12f Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/23
TEMPTATION SIX: My spirituality is better than yours.
For Lay Cistercians, the application of this temptation is to think that you are somehow special over others who have different ways of centering themselves around the Christ Principle, such as Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Jesuit spirituality. There is only one Spirit, one Lord, one Baptism. The Devil uses those nefarious human weaknesses of wanting to sit at the abbot’s table, the right hand of God, as did the Sons of Thunder. In humility, as each of us measures ourselves against Christ, we all come up short and must continuously convert our minds and hearts to be more like Jesus and less like our false selves.
TEMPTATION SEVEN: No one can tell me what to believe or what to do with my body.
Humans have reason for a reason, as well as the ability to choose what is good, or in some cases bad, for themselves. This temptation from Satan works on our egos and is that faint whisper that no one is good enough to tell us what to believe. This is a subtle temptation to deny the sign of contradiction that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The World is the default for decision-making in this temptation. No Church, no Pope, No Bishop, No Abbot or Abbess, No Superior or Supervisor who is authorized as the visible head of Christ on earth, can tell me anything. I answer to no authority higher than my own ego. None of this religious stuff makes any sense, especially dying to self to rise with Christ to a new life (again and again).
TEMPTATION EIGHT: My choices about right and wrong are mine alone to make. I always choose what is easy over what is more difficult and demands sacrifice. When I am god, no one can tell me what is right or wrong because I make the rules. Adam and Eve fell into this trap from Satan and we all fall in and out of it as we make our way through the minefields of choices. Choice defines who we are.
TEMPTATION NINE: Belief makes something true. Here is a very sophisticated temptation. Faith comes from God in the form of the energy that helps enlighten us and allow us to love others as Christ loved us. Belief is a human response to that Faith. I saw a statistic recently from Bishop Robert Barron in his YouTube on the Eucharist that stated that 70% of Catholics in a Pew Survey did not believe in the real presence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzCPu_lEhe8&t=223s In my thinking, Eucharist, the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ, separates the remnant of those who believe in the sign of contradiction from those whose experience of Christ is like reading a good book.
Belief of all those who ever lived in Jesus as Lord will not make the Eucharist present in the host and precious blood of Christ. Only the authority of Jesus through the Apostles down to us today makes it so. The temptation of the Devil is to seduce those who have been Baptized to marginalize the Eucharist as so much magic and hocus-pocus. The Devil is influential but not powerful. He works around the edges of our weakenesses and unbelief. He counts on humans to be human, to slack off of practicing fidelity in prayer and sacrifices for others. He works the margins of the effects of original sin, as he did with Adam and Eve.
TEMPTATION TEN: There is no such thing as temptation.
In our modern times, we are tempted to discard all old-fashioned thinking in favor of becoming a more perfect person through psychology and self-help gurus. If the Devil can convince us that there is no temptation, no resurrection, that Jesus is not the Messiah, or we don’t have to do all those rules made up by dirty, old men who prey on the weak and take advantage of their power to seduce others, he is home free.
Unfortunately, some of the Faithful will succumb to this temptation whose choices may bode poorly for their Faith in the future. In this time of Lent, I pray first for me, that I may not enter into temptation, then for others in the Church, that they might see what is really going on in the battle between Satan and Christ with our souls being the stage on which all of this plays out.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
Jesus left us several stories and activities that we should do to make him present to us. Clearly, Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ, the fulfilment of the Last Supper, is paramount among ways to seek forgiveness and ask for God’s mercy. Additional ways to practice being in the presence of Christ are: Liturgy of the Hours, recitation of the Rosary; reading Scriptures with meditation; Lectio Divina. When we receive the Lord’s Prayer together, two great ways to make all things new are: Eucharist and Reconciliation.
One of the consequences of being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit as I make my way through the potholes of life as a Lay Cistercian is being more aware that I must slow down my thinking that my worth is due to the activities I use to fill the holes of my lonliness and lack of productivity. Lectio Divina must have a productive outcome for me to be successful. I must complete Liturgy of the House to be considered holy and a good Catholic. Holiness depends upon how many prayers I say and if I do all the Cistercian practices each day with maximum devotion.
The reality is shocking, even to me as I think I am praying and praying my way to salvation. The slow opening of my heart to the Holy Spirit has opened Pandora’s box of light, but not ones that are evil or demonic. Being more able to sense the presence of Christ with the Holy Spirit in each person I meet has given me a perspective of being a perennial penitent, one who only asks for Jesus, Son of God, Savior to have mercy on me. One of the great help, dare I say tools, to help me is Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. I try to say it every day with maximum conviction. Some days are better than others, but, it is a living.
I recommend that you use the checklist of those tools that St. Benedict says will allow us to be in the presence of Christ. I find these items a checklist or an examination of conscience that I use at the end of the day to measure myself against those behaviors and holy actions that Christ says will help me move from my false self to my true self. I will share with you the steps I use before receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is when I meet Christ face to face in the person of the priest. I prepare to meet Christ by listening to Him with the ear of my heart, as St. Benedict counsels in his Prologue to the Rule.
1 First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, 2 and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27).
3 Then the following: You are not to kill,
4 not to commit adultery;
5 you are not to steal
6 nor to covet (Rom 13:9);
7 you are not to bear false witness (Matt 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20).
8 You must honor everyone (1 Pet 2:17),
9 and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16; Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31).
10 Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23);
11 discipline your body (1 Cor 9:27);
12 do not pamper yourself,
13 but love fasting.
14 You must relieve the lot of the poor,
15 clothe the naked,
16 visit the sick (Matt 25:36),
17 and bury the dead.
18 Go to help the troubled
19 and console the sorrowing.
20 Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way;
21 the love of Christ must come before all else.
22 You are not to act in anger
23 or nurse a grudge.
24 Rid your heart of all deceit.
25 Never give a hollow greeting of peace
26 or turn away when someone needs your love.
27 Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false,
28 but speak the truth with heart and tongue.
29 Do not repay one bad turn with another (1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9).
30 Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently.
31 Love your enemies (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27).
32 If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead.
33 Endure persecution for the sake of justice (Matt 5:10).
34 You must not be proud,
35 nor be given to wine (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3).
36 Refrain from too much eating
37 or sleeping,
38 and from laziness (Rom 12:11).
39 Do not grumble
40 or speak ill of others.
41 Place your hope in God alone.
42 If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself,
43 but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.
44 Live in fear of judgment day
45 and have a great horror of hell.
46 Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.
47 Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.
48 Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do,
49 aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.
50 As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual father. 51Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech.
52 Prefer moderation in speech
53 and speak no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter;
54 do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter.
55 Listen readily to holy reading,
56 and devote yourself often to prayer.
57 Every day with tears and sighs confess your past sins to God in prayer
58 and change from these evil ways in the future.
59 Do not gratify the promptings of the flesh (Gal 5:16);
60 hate the urgings of self-will.
61 Obey the orders of the abbot unreservedly, even if his own conduct–which God forbid–be at odds with what he says. Remember the teaching of the Lord: Do what they say, not what they do (Matt 23:3).
62 Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are, but first be holy that you may more truly be called so.
63 Live by God’s commandments every day;
64 treasure chastity,
65 harbor neither hatred
66 nor jealousy of anyone,
67 and do nothing out of envy.
68 Do not love quarreling;
69 shun arrogance.
70 Respect the elders
71 and love the young.
72 Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ.
73 If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.
74 And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.
75 These, then are the tools of the spiritual craft. 76When we have used them without ceasing day and night and have returned them on judgment day, our wages will be the reward the Lord has promised: 77 What the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).
78 The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
A WAY TO SEEK GOD’S MERCY THROUGH THE SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION
POINTS OF LEARNING AND ENLIGHTENMENT
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What is hell like? This is not a topic that raises to the level that I would think about but it did come up in this week’s Lectio Divina meditation (Philippians 2:5). I have not experienced Hell because I have never been there (nor have I ever been to Heaven). I think it is significant that Christ did not tell us what heaven or hell actually is, mainly because we probably would not comprehend it with our human nature. What Christ did tell us is what Hell is like. Matthew 25 He also did that with the concept of heaven. Simili est regnum coelorum.
RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT THE DAMNED
We can only know anything about heaven or hell that is consistent with our human nature. This means I uncover bits and pieces about hell in as much as I have the capacity to relate my current experiences of human living with what I consider Hell to be. Here are some feelings that are common to me that might apply to the Hell of my imagination. Imagine this feeling…forever.
In this period of Lent, all of us must sit in that backbench at church, head bowed, daring not to look up at the crucifix, saying all the while, “Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.” St. Benedict asks us to reflect on heaven and hell and the consequences of it. He writes this in Chapter 4 of his Rule.
If you are a successful politician, a physician, a charismatic preacher, a military enlisted or officer, one who is convinced that there is no god but you, what does it profit you, if you have all the money, fame, adulation, and power, but miss the point of life? Lent is a good time in silence and solitude to re-convert yourself to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) If Christ is number one, there is no need for a number two.
I can still remember driving US 41 south of Vincennes, Indiana as I traveled to Evansville, Indiana. There was one spot in the road where I had seen an abandoned two-story house, one like I saw in horror films with large windows perched hill on a hill. I bring up fear here in the sense of terror, an emotion was so strong with me that, as I drove by this spot, I would not dare to look up at that house for fear I would see a figure looking back at me. It was the closest I ever come to being terrified. But that is not all. This fear gripped my imagination so much that as much as I struggled not to look, there was also the fear that, if I did not look, I might not see someone in the window.
I thought of this example of fear as I did my most recent Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5). St. Benedict’s Rule also came to mind in my meditation (with contemplation there are no words or images), especially his Chapter 7 on humility. St. Benedict gives a Ladder by which we might ascend to humility, steps to take. The first step is fear of the Lord. He writes:
The first step, then, of humility is if one set the fear of God always before his eyes andhttps://www.solesmes.com/sites/default/files/upload/pdf/rule_of_st_benedict.pdf
altogether avoid forgetfulness, and be always mindful of everything that God has ordered and
always ponder over life eternal, which is prepared for those that fear God; and how hell will
consume, for their sins, such as despise God; and if he keeps himself at all times from sins and
faults, alike of thought, of the tongue, of the eye, of the hand, of the foot, or of self-will; and
moreover, hasten to cut away the desires of the flesh.
During this time of Lenten recollection about who I am, who God is, and what that means, I think the “fear of the Lord” is most appropriate. Fear in this context is not being afraid, but more respect and acknowledment that God is not me. Jesus became human nature just to show us that, with the limitations of physical space, time, energy, and matter, we can never really know God as He is, but only as we humans are with our languages where we try to communicate with each other and find meaning. Jesus came to give us a language which we could even be adopted sons and daughters of the Father, that of love, the center of who God is. God invited us, through Christ, to place Himself as our center which would compel us to love one another as He loved us, but also to be adopted by divine nature. In the first instances of humans interacting with God, Adam and Eve, our prototype ancestors, failed to recognize that they are not God but there to know, love, and serve God in their lifetime and be happy with God forever (Baltimore Catechism, Question 6).
Fear of the Lord is wanting to look at what it means to God but being unable to grasp its meaning fully. What we have is to use only what we have, our human reasoning, our freedom to chose what we reasoned, with the five senses we have with the seventy or eight years we have to discover what it means to be human, not what it means to be God.
God knew we humans could not even begin to grasp what it means to be God, so He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to tells us, but more importantly to show us what to do to walk through the minefield of human imperfect and not hurt ourselves. Our Blessed Mother, Mary, the first disciple, point us in the right direction when she tells those at the Wedding Feast of Cana, to “do what he tells you.” Humility is the only way to relate to Jesus, and Jesus is the only way to relate to the Father.
LAY CISTERCIAN CONVERSIO MORAE
A key component of conversion is moving from the false self to the true self in Christ. We can’t even do that unless we have in us the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5). The great kenosis or emptying of self by God of His divinity to make room for his humanity (apologies for the very poor analogy) can only be appreciated by this charism of God, humility. The only way that even makes sense to me, and it may or may not be correct, is to feel how it would be for God to be so powerful and intimidating that His divinity would crowd out the possibility of Jesus ever making a free choice, consistent with being made in the image and likeness of God. Yet, God was fully present in Christ and yet allowed the humanity to experience all the effects of Original Sin without sin. The fear was real fear, the pain was real human pain, the doubts were real doubts, the templations to replace God with the Devil were real, the pain of Lazarus’ death was real, the anger of those who bind others with rules that they themselves mock, is real. All of it, so that I can say “Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father through the Holy Spirit.”
I have given up trying to define this fear of the Lord, but rather now try to relate those human exeriences about fear, humility, emptying of self to increase God, as I am, where I am. That is another way for me to seek God every day.
My Faith is a process of daily converting my false self which only seeks my own satisfaction rather than including God as my center. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but only the beginning.
In my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) today, I wondered about who Jesus is. I think this is part of the mystery of Faith, that probing of the human heart to try to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our strength. Each day, I must begin my quest anew, seeking God where I am and as I am. Each day, I try to find ways to be near the real presence of Christ, physically, mentally, and spiritually through the Cistercian practices of Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, contemplative prayer. You know what? I have never even met Jesus face to face or know what he looks like. I only know him through others, such as the Saints and how they have tried to move from self to God. Jesus knew this discrepancy would occur for those in the future, so He gave us the Advocate to be with us as he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father (images for our human understanding, not God’s). Jesus was in the upper room and had an encounter with Thomas to prove a point. That point was meant for us to give us confidence that, even if we have never seen or met Christ, we know Him through others (the Church, our friends, neighbors). Read this story three times, each time slowing down to delve into what the Holy Spirit is telling you.
Thomas. 24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 Now, a week later, his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”p 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28*q Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29* Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? r Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/20
What a wonderful illustration of how to see Jesus. Scriptures are one way to see Jesus, so is receiving the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist, as is the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. All the Cistercian practices are there for me to use in order to see Jesus. All it takes is for me to believe that Jesus is present to me.
When thinking of Jesus, each of us has a different picture of who Christ is because of where we have been in life and what we choose for our future. That doesn’t mean each person is wrong but it is also true that we won’t know for sure until we see him face to face, just like Thomas. That is dying in the Hope of the Resurrection. It is not a mental conundrum to solve but anticipation of future glory.
THREE APPROACHES TO SEE JESUS
If it is true that each one of us “sees” Jesus differently because of our reason and the choices we make, then there are at least three approaches to how humans think about Christ, each with their unique assumptions about what is true. It is also true that, if I choose the wrong Jesus, I will miss the point of the Christ Principle and end up with Christ the Philosopher, Christ the Social Worker, or merely Christ the son of Mary. I use the word “approaches” because within each person’s Jesus, there are at least three (maybe you know of more) approaches into which we all might fit. These approaches all have their criteria, their assumptions hidden beneath the surface, Although they all use the word “Jesus” what they mean might be radically different. I urge caution when looking at these words of Faith. What follows are my thoughts about how I differentiated between approaches.
THE DETAILS ARE IN THE ASSUMPTIONS
Assumptions are those often hidden premises that each one of us holds that inform what we believe and how we believe it. They are the learned lessons of our lives that we have assimilated into our behavior and help with the choices we make. This is why many people can look at the life of Christ and see different things. The assumptions we make inform the choices we select. The choices we make have consequences for additional assumptions that move us forward. We get rid of some assumptions and accept others in their place. When you read my three different ways to see Jesus, remember that I view it from my assumptions.
I. THE HISTORICAL JESUS: Studying about God without God as your center.
This is a movement or an approach to seeing Jesus that looks at Scripture from the viewpoint of historical veracity; what is true must be historically proven. If there are inconsistencies in Scripture, it proves that those books are in error. What is left after passing through this gauntlet of historical beatings is the true Jesus. https://www.cs.umd.edu/users/mvz/bible/bible-inconsistencies.pdf Looking at the apparent contradictions in all books of Scripture, the natural conclusion is that all of this is just made up by overzealous followers who foisted the myth of the resurrection on gullible followers. If you believe this, your world view of religion takes on a juridical and scientific approach to what is real.
The Jesus Seminar is one of these movements. If you strip away all of the contradictions and assumptions about Christ based on the subjective Faith of followers, what you have left is a good man who gave us some inspirational ways to act in life. John Dominic Crossan is one of the chief proponents of the Jesus Seminar approach. What you choose to believe has consequences both intellectually and spiritually in how you view reality.
Another very popular author is Dr. Bart Ehrman. A former clergyman who examined the Scriptures and writing of the early Church Fathers and concluded that all the Jesus information was Misquoting Jesus (the title of one of his popular books). He is currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a prolific author and apologist for the historical Jesus approach to seeing Christ. This approach is one that dismisses Faith at all in favor of reading the texts of Scripture strictly for what they tell you (or don’t tell you).
Watch what Bishop Robert Barron says about the Jesus Seminar and the implications for those who choose to believe its assumptions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRgkG9QxGC0&list=TLPQMDIwMzIwMjGxC0wT_0CM0w&index=2
AN END USER REFLECTS ON THE HISTORICAL APPROACH TO JESUS
I am no theologian, nor scripture scholar, nor do I consider myself an expert in anything academic. I do consider myself a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian who comments on life as it is quickly passing by, like looking out at the countryside on a Canadian Pacific passenger train. In this context, I offer you two observations about the Jesus Seminar and those who are academically teaching about the Scriptures and Jesus while being agnostic/atheists (like Dr. Bart Ehrman). If all Christ was to me was the object of study, like learning academically the Jesus of Scriptures and early Church struggling to find out who Jesus is, then I would look upon the notion of the historical Christ with some interest. It is not of interest to me because I see it as cotton candy– tastes good but there is no nutrition. Here are some results I took from Wikipedia about the Jesus Seminar and some of their assumptions. You be the judge of its merits. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Seminar
A. FIRST OBSERVATION: WHO DO PEOPLE SAY I AM?
Seeking the real Jesus is nothing new, despite the academic challenges of the Historical Jesus approach. Read what Matthew 16 has to say about who Jesus is. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/16
The Demand for a Sign. 1*a The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, to test him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2* He said to them in reply, “[In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red’; 3band, in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times.] 4c An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”* Then he left them and went away.
The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.5d In coming to the other side of the sea,* the disciples had forgotten to bring bread. 6e Jesus said to them, “Lookout, and beware of the leaven* of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7* They concluded among themselves, saying, “It is because we have brought no bread.” 8 When Jesus became aware of this, he said, “You of little faith, why do you conclude among yourselves that it is because you have no bread? 9f Do you not yet understand, and do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many wicker baskets you took up? 10g Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you took up?11How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12Then they understood* that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Peter’s Confession About Jesus.* 13h When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi* he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14i They replied, “Some say John the Baptist,* others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16*j Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18k And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20*m Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
The First Prediction of the Passion.*21n From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he* must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.o 22* Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 23p He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
The Conditions of Discipleship.*24q Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,* take up his cross, and follow me. 25r For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.*26What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?”
Contrast the above passage with what I copied off of Wikipedia about the Jesus Seminar. I don’t want to put false words in the mouths of those who believe differently than me. My conclusions and assumptions are certainly different. If you continue to read further down, you will find a second opinion, one based on the effects reading the Historical Jesus approach had on me.
The Jesus Seminar has come under criticism regarding its method, assumptions, and conclusions from a wide array of scholars and laymen. Scholars who have expressed concerns with the work of the Jesus Seminar include Richard Hays, Ben Witherington, Greg Boyd, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Luke Timothy Johnson, Craig A. Evans, Paul Barnett, Michael F. Bird, Craig Blomberg, Markus Bockmuehl, Raymond Brown, James D.G. Dunn, Howard Clark Kee, John P. Meier, Graham Stanton, Darrell Bock, and Edwin Yamauchi.
Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten has been sharply critical, saying “The Jesus Seminar is the latest example of a pseudo-scientific approach that is ‘dogmatically’ opposed to basic Christian dogmas, popularizing in the public mind Harnack’s view that an unbridgeable gulf exists between Jesus and the church.”
Without trying to be too simplistic, I want to add my own observations about the characteristics of the Acts of Jesus contained above. Whenever I think of academics and great thinkers who spout their expert opinions about Jesus or the meaning of the Gospels, I am reminded of Mrs. Murphy. What follows is a blog which I wrote about the enduring influence of Mrs. Murphy on my thinking. The late Aidan Kavanaugh, O.S.B. was one of my professors of sacramental theology back in the 1960s. He would speak of Mrs. Murphy as one who knew more than all the academics combined.
THE ENDURING EXAMPLE OF MRS. MURPHY
My first exposure to Mrs. Murphy, a fictionalized, archetypal character used by Father Aidan to ground the academic theologians in the practical expression of Liturgy as the Body of Christ in the local community. She lifted up all the cares, worries, successes, and challenges of the day with Christ to the Father. I remember him saying about Mrs. Murphy that she is the little old lady in the backbench of Church, eyes closed, faithfully praying to God with all her soul. This lady, said Father Aidan, knows more about the meaning of Faith than all the sophisticated theologians and academics combined. She brings all her struggles and aspirations and lays them at the feet of Christ in humility, simplicity of words, fidelity to the love of Christ, seeking only to be in the presence of the Holy Spirit. At the time, this example just passed right over my head, like so many of the other ideas I encountered. Being in Father Aidan’s class was like taking a sip of water from a fully functioning fire hose. So many wonderful and scintillating ideas were presented in such a modest way that I found myself struggling to catch just a gulp. I remember Mrs. Murphy because it has taken me a lifetime to flesh out the significance of what Father Aidan was trying to communicate. It has been only in the last six or seven years that this image has even begun to make some sense to me. My inspiration came from the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in their monthly Gathering Days. Being from Tallahassee, Florida, my drive to the monastery once per month was five hours away in Atlanta, Georgia. I very slowly came to see what Father Aidan was alluding to in his avatar of Mrs. Murphy. It is time I take to place myself in the presence of Christ, in the presence of my fellow Lay Cistercians on gathering day, that makes me open to the Holy Spirit in community. Liturgy is the expression of this living body of Christ which culminates in the Eucharist but which is sustained in the local Gathering in the name of Christ. I am very slowly coming to expand my Faith horizon from Church as someplace I go to for the Sacraments to actually believing that I am the Church wherever I am and that, joined with others of like persuasion, we offer our whole day as a sacrament in our search to find God wherever we are. Spirituality becomes not just those times where we formally pray in silence and solitude. However, that much more significant is the time we take in our whole day joined with our community of Faith. All of this joined to the Church Universal as the acceptable sacrifice of our lives in with and through Christ to the Father’s glory through the power of the Holy Spirit. Practicing the five Cistercian charisms of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community is how I have come to address Mrs. Mruphy’s challenge of simply being in the presence of Christ and listening. St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., great Doctor of the Church, has this written about him: “One day when Thomas Aquinas was preaching to the local populace on the love of God, he saw an old woman listening attentively to his every word. And inspired by her eagerness to learn more about her God whom she loved so dearly, he said to the people: It is better to be this unlearned woman, loving God with all her heart, than the most learned theologian lacking love.” https://www.azquotes.com/author/490-Thomas_Aquinas
THE IMPLICATIONS FOR MY BELIEF
Anyone can believe anything they want. There is a reason we have reason and the ability to choose what we reason. It is also true that we are defined by our choices and not our knowledge or abilities. For me to choose the approach to Jesus without Faith would be like trying to get fresh fruit from a long dead orange tree.
Thomas. 24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”o 26 Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”p 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28 *q Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 * Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? r Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Conclusion.* 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.s 31 But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.t“John 20:30-31
B. SECOND OBSERVATION: MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH THE HISTORICAL JESUS
I learned most of what I know about Jesus from the Scriptures. Most of what I learned from Scriptures I studied from an academic point of view. This is the WHAT and WHY of Scripture but was definitely academic. This next observation results from listening to the Great Courses series of two DVDs by Bart Ehrman, Ph. D. entitled The New Testament. https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/new-testament There is also this DVD on the Historical Jesus. https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/historical-jesus
My interest in Dr. Ehrman is one of admiration for his scholarship and the sheer volume of his commentary about the New Testament and the Early Church. He had a Ph.D. and taught at The University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina. I was impressed, much like I would be if I had leukemia (which I did) and went to a physician I did not know and placed my total trust and faith (human faith) in his opinions and ideas. He came from a background of Pentecostal preaching and believing and achieved fame for his insights into Scriptures. What I failed to notice, in my admiration and sheer joy at finding someone who cast a discerning shadow on Christ was that, along the way, he lost his faith in Jesus as Savior. In my opinion, what was left was cotton candy, tasting sweet but having no nutrition for my body.
THE TEMPTATION TO CHANGE MY CENTER
When I listened to his DVD on the New Testament, I found myself physically strange in my whole thorax, like something had just invaded my body from what was there before. I became lethargic and had terrible thoughts about the words of Christ to me as being fake and fraud as perpetrated by those disciples who want to believe what Scripture actually did not say about the resurrection and Jesus as Son of God, Savior. I had, what I call, Spiritual Depression and what St. John of the Cross and other mystics call the dark night of the soul. I remember the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness as I challenged my center. This went on as long as I continued to listen to this DVD, enchanting and seductive in its approach because it seems to make sense to my mind, but my mind and heart were definitely at war. Being the simple thinker that I am, I wondered what in the world was happening to me? It was like taking a very strong sleeping pill and being in a fog, being hostage to a foreign ideology that was creeping ever so silently to cover my world with its thick syrup-like drippings, as in the Sherman Williams logo that has the world being covered with paint.
Perhaps some in the Historical Jesus approach would say that I was just suffering through the withdrawal syndrome or demystification of all this phony, religious, pity piety built up by its followers over the years. Like waking up from a coma, I reaffirmed by Faith in the living Christ, Son of God, Messiah, as St. John mentions in John 20:30-31 and called upon the name of the Lord to have mercy on me, a sinner. Almost immediately, I re-consecrated myself to my Lay Cistercian promises to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Immediately, my worries were banished as the fog of unbelief lifted, and I began to assess what had happened to me. What did happen?
THE STRUGGLE TO BE SPIRITUAL
I had dipped just my toe in the seductive pool of unbelief, the concentrated orange juice of doubt and hopelessness. Like Adam and Eve, I had just been visited by the serpent of delusion and doubt, the one who espouses jealousy and revenge, the one who tempts the faithful to lose their center (Christ) and, when they do, laughs at them for being so gullible and spineless and escorts them into the Hell of their own design.
I thought back to one of the books I had written (I am probably the only person that has read it) which speaks of the struggle or the battle to be spiritual. https://amzn.to/38lbLee I read this Scripture from Paul in https://bible.usccb.org/bible/romans/10. Whenever you read the inspired words of Scripture the Word is present in your mind the heart. You can become what you read, with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The way to conquer the temptations of unbelief is to sit next to Christ on a park bench in the dead of winter and wait patiently to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Read this passage three times. The first time for the words, the second time for meaning, the third time read it as one who needs the redemptive love of Christ to crowd out (capacitas dei) false teaching and restore the resonance of the Resurrection.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on their behalf are for salvation.a 2 I testify that they have a zeal for God. Still, it is not discerning.b 3 For, in their unawareness of the righteousness that comes from God and their attempt to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to the righteousness of God.c 4 For Christ is the end* of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith.d 5* Moses writes about the righteousness that comes from [the] law, “The one who does these things will live by them.”e 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says,f “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will go up into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) 7* or ‘Who will go down into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”g 8 But what does it say?
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”h
(that is, the word of faith that we preach),9for, if you confess* with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.i10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.11For the scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”j12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.k13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”l
II. THE CREATIONIST APPROACH: Seeing Jesus only through the eyes of Faith.
If the Historical Jesus approach is one which denies Faith while crafting their picture of what Jesus was, then the Creationist Approach is the opposite of that. On the surface, it seems like a reasonable approach to who Jesus is, just like the Historical Jesus approach. The assumptions of the approach are that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God and therefore without error. If they are without error, then what the Scriptures tell us must be taken literally. You can determine how old the world is by tracking the timeline of the Old Testament and tell when the end of the world is by looking at the Book of Revelations. It is all there for those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. All of this is backed up by science as they propose it, verified by those with advanced degrees and honors.
AN END USER REFLECTS ON THE CREATIONIST APPROACH TO CHRIST
I have a problem with this view of Christ. After all, I am actually a creationist because I hold that God created everything with a beginning and an end. What complicates things for me is that various positions hold that Scientific advances don’t support a strict biblical interpretation of Creation in Genesis. In this “Faith alone” version of how to look at Scripture, everything in Scriptures must be true because it came from God. “The Science alone” approach says that nothing in the Scriptures is true unless it can be proved to be historical, e.g., there is no resurrection. Where I find myself is somewhere in the middle between two perceived poles of thinking.
Science is to be encouraged to be what it does best, use the tools designed by human ingenuity to make discoveries that increase our knowledge and quality of life. Rather than at odds with the “Faith only” approach, there should be some resonance between them. I don’t see that, at least not fully, at least not using their assumptions. The “Faith only” approach is not so much wrong as it does not consider the advances of science or the advances of biblical scholarship. This approach uses Faith as a lens through which it makes assumptions that it thinks is justified. I am using creationism to look at Christ, although the controversy is actually about evolution and how the world was created in the beginning. In the chart below are the main types of rational theories about creationism. I use them because, when looking at Christ, there can be different ways to view anything religious, and the disagreement is rampant.
When I looked at all the various ways to see religion, and thus to see Christ, I am struck by how different each position is based on their assumptions. My own position about how I use the Scriptures to look at all things Jesus is to fall back on the rocky road of belief in Christ as it has come down to us through twenty centuries of people trying to claim their way is the right way. Actually, I think that is the wrong question, and wrong questions always give wrong answers, if only slightly off track.
In the first example, that of the Jesus Seminar, academics took a poll of those that thought that Jesus fit into various categories of actual historically verified Scripture passages or where they made us to suit the penchants of followers having blind Faith. I find that taking a poll on anything is good for only the group in question and for the timeframe in which it was administered. First of all, Faith is not based on any belief system or the belief of any individual, but rather on the source of that Faith. Faith is also not just an intellectual contruct of any system of propositions.
“The main general types are listed below.
|Humanity||Biological species||Earth||Age of Universe|
|Young Earth creationism||Directly created by God.||Directly created by God. Macroevolution does not occur.||Less than 10,000 years old. Reshaped by global flood.||Less than 10,000 years old, but some hold this view only for our Solar System.|
|Gap creationism||Scientifically accepted age. Reshaped by global flood.||Scientifically accepted age.|
|Progressive creationism||Directly created by God, based on primate anatomy.||Direct creation + evolution. No single common ancestor.||Scientifically accepted age. No global flood.||Scientifically accepted age.|
|Intelligent design||Proponents hold various beliefs. (For example, Michael Behe accepts evolution from primates.)||Divine intervention at some point in the past, as evidenced by what intelligent-design creationists call “irreducible complexity.” Some adherents accept common descent, others do not.||Some claim the existence of Earth is the result of divine intervention.||Scientifically accepted age.|
|Theistic evolution (evolutionary creationism)||Evolution from primates.||Evolution from single common ancestor.||Scientifically accepted age. No global flood.||Scientifically accepted age.”|
The Jesus using Science only is not so much wrong as failing to see that reality has three universes and not just two (physical, mental, and spiritual). My brain just won’t allow me to see Jesus through these two lenses of reality. The Jesus using Faith only is not so much wrong as incomplete and does not take into account human progress in science and literary criticism.
MY ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT LOOKING AT FAITH WITHOUT SCIENCE AND REASON
The Rejection at Nazareth.1a He departed from there and came to his native place,* accompanied by his disciples. 2* When the sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! 3b Is he not the carpenter,* the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4*c Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” 5 So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,* apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
III. THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE APPROACH: Jesus is Son of God, Savior.
All of this leads me to reaffirm my belief in my traditional bedrock of Faith and belief, the Church. This third way, and again, I remind you that this approach is my assumption about reality, is Faith informed by Reason.
Faith comes from God’s energy and grace. Our ascent to this is a belief, collectively in the Church and individually in proclaiming that Jesus is Son of God, Savior. In this approach, I don’t try to defend or prove anything. It is all about having in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). In this way, I find the truth and the life to lead a life centered on coming to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Messiah and that by believing in that name, I might have eternal life forever. John 20:30-31.
My only worry is that I might lose my center to the temptations of the flesh (Galatians 5) and succumb to the false promises of the Devil. They are subtle indeed, and He is a Wiley One, as Adam and Eve can testify.
THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE
Here is a YouTube about Christ from Bishop Robert Barron. My words don’t seem to convey what is in my heart about the Christ Principle. Bishop Barron and the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen capture my thinking best.
AN END USER LOOKS AT THE JESUS PRINCIPLE (My assumptions)
MY SUMMARY ASSESSMENT OF HOW I APPROACH JESUS, SON OF GOD, SAVIOR
Each day, I find I must choose to be a follower of Christ, trying to love others as He did us. Each day, I come up just a little short and must continuously use contemplative practices daily to keep my faith from atrophying. I look at the first approach, learning about Jesus without the assumption that there is no God. My mind and heart both tell me that this is just not right, given what my faith relationship with Christ tells me. I can’t, and therefore I won’t go with this assumption. The second approach, that of Faith without the input of science and other languages that describe reality, I share somewhat. I have a problem with looking at the Scriptures as telling us how the heavens go rather than showing us how to go to heaven. Again, the assumptions use words such as “Creation,” “Faith,” each weighted with what the end-user believes to be true. That there are so many contradictions in the Scriptures only assures me that I am on the right track. The third assumption is one of simplicity and complexity at the same time. This approach is in development (capacitas dei) by using the Cistercian charisms and practices of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community. The Church is my collective mother, housing all those signed with the cross and having Jesus as their center. My mother envelopes me in a blanket of Faith, the Faith of the Church, the same church full of sinners and saints, all moving from Alpha to Omega, as Teilhard de Chardin pointed out. Here is a prayer from Teilhard de Chardin.
“Glorious Christ, you whose divine influence is active at the very heart of the matter, and at the dazzling centre where the innumerable fibers of the multiple meets: you whose power is as implacable as the world and as warm as life, you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; it is to you to whom our being cries out a desire as vast as the universe: In truth, you are our Lord and our God! Amen.” (The Mass on the World, 1923, XIII, 131-132)
In the end, St. Paul says in I Corinthians 13, there are three things that matter. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/1corinthians/13
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.g13* So faith, hope, love remain, these three;h but the greatest of these is love.
God gives me three gifts to help me see Jesus on my journey. The first one is Faith, which comes from God and empowers me to be an adopted son (daughter) of the Father. The next gift is Hope, the reaching for that which I cannot possess, the gift that is the Holy Spirit overshadowing me with God’s own energy. Lastly, there is Love, the greatest of the three gifts because it is the product of the God equation (3=1). This is the mathematics of Being, beyond human capability and capacity to possess it, a Being100% of its nature, and whose value is pure energy, not a human statistic.
I stand before all of this in silence and solitude in the stillness of my being and say, Let it be done to me according to your Word. Forever.
Today in a few hours, the Lay Cistercian community of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) http://www.trappist.net, will meet for their monthly Zoom Gathering Day meeting. I would like to share with you some of my preparations for that meeting. In Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) I place myself in the presence of Christ and don’t ask for anything other than to be with him, the source of my being. This quiet confidence envelopes me in a blanket of peace where I can rest in the kingdom of heaven, without worries, although I have worries, without problems, although I most certainly struggle with my “thorns of the flesh” each day, all the while trying to place and keep God as my Center.
I recommend the homilies from the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) for your Lenten devotion. I used the homilies of Dom Augustine (abbot), Fathers Gerard, and Peter Damien, as the bases for my preparation for today’s Gathering Day. I hope you will take this opportunity to listen to them (and in the future). Short. Poignant. Inspiring. http://www.trappist.net/homilies
Read this passage from Psalm 84 three times. Pray to the Holy Spirit to overshadow you with knowledge, love, and service. First time for the words; the second time, emphasize verse 2 and continue reading the rest of the Psalm with this verse as your focus; read it trying to feel the emotions of the Psalmist who pines for the courts of the Lord; the third time, read it very slowly, pausing after each stanza ends to think about what you just read.
One particular thought I share with you, one that I have not thought about often if never, I can’t remember. It is the phrase from Psalm 84, one which I pray in the Liturgy of the Hours. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/psalms/84
For the leader; “upon the gittith.” A psalm of the Korahites.
2 How lovely your dwelling,
O LORD of hosts!a 3 My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.b
My heart and flesh cry out
for the living God. 4*As the sparrow finds a home
and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
My home is by your altars,
LORD of hosts, my king and my God! c 5 Blessed are those who dwell in your house!
They never cease to praise you.
6 Blessed the man who finds refuge in you,
in their hearts are pilgrim roads.7As they pass through the Baca valley,*
they find spring water to drink.
The early rain covers it with blessings. 8They will go from strength to strength*
and see the God of gods on Zion.
9 LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
listen, God of Jacob.
Selah 10*O God, watch over our shield;
look upon the face of your anointed.d
11Better one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere.
Better the threshold of the house of my God
than a home in the tents of the wicked.12 For a sun and shield is the LORD God,
bestowing all grace and glory.
The LORD withholds no good thing
from those who walk without reproach.13 O LORD of hosts,
blessed the man who trusts in you!
* [Psalm 84] Israelites celebrated three pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem annually. The Psalm expresses the sentiments of the pilgrims eager to enjoy the divine presence.
* [84:4] The desire of a restless bird for a secure home is an image of the desire of a pilgrim for the secure house of God, cf. Ps 42:2–3, where the image for the desire of the pilgrim is the thirst of the deer for water.
* [84:7] Baca valley: Hebrew obscure; probably a valley on the way to Jerusalem.
* [84:8] Strength to strength: pass through outer and inner wall.
Which is more efficacious, to give up a Hersey’s chocolate bar (with almonds) for Lent or to nourish your inner self with the power of the Holy Spirit?
We are defined by our choices. The choice we must make is between something that is easy and what is right.
TYPES OF DWELLING PLACES WHERE I SEEK GOD EACH DAY
One of my favorite Scripture passages is the one where God tells a frightened Elijah the Prophet to go to a cave and He will pass by. This passage has great importance for contemplative practice. We listen to God with the ear of our heart, as St. Benedict tells us in the Prologue to his Rule. In I Kings, 19, Elijah describes his situation as he waits for the Lords to come: “11c Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD;* the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake;12after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.”
It is in the elegant simplicity of a whisper, barely audible, that God speaks to Elijah. During this Lenten season, we might think all God has to do is wait for us to call and he will come at our beckoning.
My own expectations are often that I take time out of my busy schedule to make a holy hour or read Liturgy of the Hours, and I think that satisfies God. As I seek God every day, I look for him in the signs of a chapel’s majesty or before the Blessed Sacrament when I practice penance by praying the Scriptures, but he is not there. I try to follow my Lay Cistercian practices in silence and solitude by doing Lectio Divina diligently, but he is not there. With humility and obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit, I ask God where he is and why it is so difficult for me to hear him? What is wrong with you, God? No answer. I find myself alone, sitting on a park bench, rather ruffled that God is not passing by as He had said he would. There is a deep cold in the woods, and snow covers the landscape. No sounds. No birds chirping. The wind picks up, and I feel its icy breath on my face and tighten my scarf around my face so my eyeballs won’t freeze. I think that I must be absolutely crazy to think that God would tell me he would be here and then not show up, He who is present to all reality from before there was time. Faintly, competing with the sound of the wind is a word, ever so soft and delicate. I hear the word, Michael. I focus on this sound, and I can hear it only in the innermost silence of my heart. “Michael, where were you? I was afraid you would not stop by to see me?” “Jesus, is that you?” I say. “Of course,” says Jesus, ” I have been since before there was time. I have been waiting for you to show up.” I think of St. Thomas and how embarrassed he must have been when Jesus told him to stick his fingers in the wounds in his hands and side. All he could say and all I can say is My Lord and My God. During Lent, I realize that I must practice waiting for my heart to slow down to be able to listen with the ear of my heart to the real presence of Christ next to me. I must re-convert my false self, again and again, to listen and keep my mouth shut so that I can hear the whispers that come to my heart.
The following passage is that of Elijah, one to prefigure Christ. Read it three times as your Lenten reading, even though it is lengthy. The first time, read it through as you would normally do. Next time, pick out one idea that sticks out in your mind. The third time, read it asking the Holy Spirit to elaborate on how this one idea of yours can help you listen with the ear of your heart to the faint whispering of Christ.
Lent is a time for profound reflection. Lent is a time for profound listening. St. Benedict tells us to “listen with the ear of the heart.” Here is a not-so-simple idea on which you should ponder.
Go to http://www.divineoffice.org. Read the Invitatory prayer. Reflect on this prayer three times.
First, read it for the words; next, read it for the meaning and select one idea that sticks in your mind; next, read it with that one idea in mind and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about it.
Faith is like a blanket that overshadows us to allow us to call God “Abba”. This gift from God provides us with the indelible sign on our souls that we are marked as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are saved from the fulfillment of living and then dying with no real purpose in between. Once we ratify that Jesus is Lord, it is only the beginning of taking up our cross each day and following Christ. Our humanity is rescued from oblivion by the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the resurrection and ascension to the Father now as one of us, our mediator, our translator between a divine nature we can never grasp with our human reasoning and choice, our friend
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A NEW CATHOLIC?
I am not a good one to answer this question, although I did take the total instructional preparation to be an Anglican, a few years ago. I chose not to join the Anglican Church because I would have to give up more than I would receive. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the tradition of the Church are the reasons I re-committed myself to having in me the mind of Christ Jesus, using my Catholic heritage. I will be ever so grateful to have met so many dedicated and spiritual Anglicans. For that, I am a better person. I can give you some ideas on which you can reflect, and you might want to add your own in the journal space provided. The word “convert” has special significance because it is a call you have accepted to convert your life to be more like Christ and less like the World. Christ gives you Faith but won’t live your spiritual life for you. The Church gives you guidance but won’t make the decisions for you. That you must do by yourself.
I have come to open up my ego to just being present to Christ each day through the Church Universal.
THREE STAGES OF MATURITY FOR NOVICE CATHOLICS
With the Christian Rite of Initiation for Adults (RCIA), the Catholic Church does more than a decent job of preparing the mind and the heart to be a disciple of Christ before Baptism or profession of faith. Where we could improve, in my view, is ensuring that the mind and the heart receive the practices and charisms needed to move forward on their journey to Forever. The following stages are based on my Lay Cistercian journey, including discernment, Novice, Junior, and Finally Professed. You might have different terminology or stages.
DISCERNMENT: The RCIA you just attended is a period of discernment where you allow the Holy Spirit to permeate your mind and your heart so that you begin to love others as Christ loves us.
NOVICE CATHOLIC: Making a profession of Faith in the Church Universal with other members of your local church community of Faith is just the beginning of your process. Now, you must learn the tools and charisms of what it means to be Catholic, or you will lose it. It will dry up for lack of water. There is so much, not only to know about Christ but skills of how to love as Christ loves us, using silence, solitude, work, prayer, in the context of community, that you soon realize, that all Catholics all novices for the rest of our lives, always becoming more and more like Christ and less and less of the world. Ideally, it would be nice to have a mentor during your first year of the profession. Like a godfather or godmother, this person will pray for their brother or sister for the two years and contact with them once per week to be a spiritual guide and mentor.
Novice Catholics should try to pray a Morning Offering each day, (60 seconds), attend Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each day,(60 seconds), pray Lectio Divina privately once a month or more, and to sign up for a parish ministry for no more than one year, then back off. These are small goals for all Novice Catholics. So, what happens to you when you do not meet these goals? No penalties, you talk about it with your Mentor, if you have one, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive God’s grace to make all things new, and try again. The more you want to be in the presence of the one you love, the more you will be able to expand Christ in you and deflate your false self.
JUNIOR CATHOLIC –After the first year, a deeper practice of your Faith is needed to build up your strength and sustain you each day, just as someone needs to go to the gym to tone up or build stamina. Can you imagine a Pro Football player not being a regular in the weight room? Muscles can atrophy if not used; likewise, your Faith can wither. We can’t have a mindset of growing deeper in the love of Christ without help. I recommended that the Junior members meet every month for a short meeting (you may use some of these exercises as topics for the meeting). Lay Cistercians, for example, promise to attempt to meet every month to learn, pray, in the context of a community that stresses silence and solitude to convert the false self into the true self. We call that a Gathering Day, a day of prayer, learning how to love, and sharing with the monks in Liturgy of the Hours and Cistercian topics of transformation from self to God.
Junior Catholics should promise to practice seeking God with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their strength, and love their neighbor as themselves. After two or three years, Junior Catholics may apply for Professed Catholic status. People who choose to do so and are accepted by the parish council as faithful to seeking God are formally prayed over by the Priests and Parish Council and commit to the local church.
LIFETIME--: A disciple is one who is now tested in the ways of living as a pilgrim in a foreign land, one who tries to love God with all their mind, all their heart, and all their strength and their neighbor as themselves, for the rest of their time on earth. (Matthew 22:37) Service may mean doing something with the love of Christ for your neighbor in addition to contemplating the heart of Christ next to your heart in prayer. This is a unique and additional commitment to the Practicum above in that you commit yourself to a regular schedule of practices and activities that will lead to your conversion of life.
Discipleship, in my case, means I promise to love God with my whole heart, whole mind, whole strength and to love my neighbor as myself.
I do that by practicing the Cistercian practices (silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community) so that I can daily convert myself to that of Christ. St. Paul says It so well in Philippians 3:7-16. Read it and think about the power of fierce love that St. Paul has for The Master.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,[a] the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ[b] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Pressing toward the Goal
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;[c] but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[d] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[e] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[f] call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
This is the level of permanent commitment. Not everyone needs to be a disciple nor does it mean you are better than anyone else. It does mean you make a public profession of Faith to ratify the commitment you made at your first profession of Faith before the local community.
For any new novice to the Faith, and believe me, all of us are novices compared to the wonders and riches Christ has awaiting us through contemplation in this lifetime and Heaven in the next, this passage is one in which I take great comfort and peace when life gets a little dicey.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW THE SKILLS YOU NEED TO KEEP FAITH FROM ATROPHYING.
Back to the ice cube analogy. What happens to an ice cube if you leave it out on the kitchen counter? It will melt and return to room temperature. Now, it is no longer ice but water. A Baptized person who has accepted Christ as the center of his or her life, no longer lives in a world of room temperature but must keep their ice cube from melting. I think this is an excellent way to look at Original Sin, the room temperature into which we were all born, and how it slowly erodes your Faith if you do not actively keep your ice cube from melting. That is why good works are necessary for stabilizing and maintain faith. You must work to keep your ice cube frozen, not just get on the conveyor belt of spirituality and go through life without struggle. Christ tells us this over and over. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Forgive others as you would be forgiven. Love your neighbor as yourself. Catholicism is all about learning to love others as Christ loves us.
St. Benedict realized this in his Rule, Chapter 4, Tools for Good Works. Get over the idea that you can buy your way to Heaven or Good Works alone will get you to Heaven. Wrong questions have wrong answers. St. Benedict established a way to form a School of Love to help us DO spirituality.
If I can make any recommendation for you, it would be this: with all things spiritual, you must always look deeper than what at first might appear to be real to you. This is a book about not only thinking about what is deeper in Faith, called the Mystery of Faith, but how to get there. Another book, WAYS TO APPROACH THE MYSTERY OF FAITH WITHOUT FRYING YOUR NEURONS: A Lay Cistercian, reflects how to approach the Mystery of Faith for those who wait before the Blessed Sacrament, goes into depth about the Mystery of Faith and how this concept can dramatically improve your spiritual awareness as a Catholic.
TEN SURE WAYS TO LOSE YOUR FAITH
TEN SURE WAYS TO MAINTAIN THE VITALITY AND EXUBERANCE OF YOUR FAITH
THE LAY CISTERCIAN CONTEMPLATIVE APPROACH TO SPIRITUALITY IS ONE WAY TO APPROACH THE MYSTERY OF FAITH IN SILENCE AND SOLITUDE
I have made a choice to grow even more specific in my growth in this school of love by applying for and being accepted by Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) Abbot to practice the Cistercian Way of approaching life. I am and will always be a professed novice.
Read the document Lumen Gentium, the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.
http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html I don’t find this an easy read but an inspiring one. This is the current thinking of what it means to be a member of the Church.
Without the Christ Principle, through whom and in whom all life has its being, you will be looking at religion through secular eyes. The words are the same, but the meaning is different. The Jesus Seminar is an example of learned and extremely talented men and women who teach Scripture without God, but as historical events, some of which are true and some spurious. But, that is another blog, entitled, Whose Christ do you follow?
The title of this blog is not my own, but the topic of Bishop Robert Barron’s YouTube Sunday sermon this week. I recommend that you subscribe to his YouTube channel.
I find that my Lectio Divina meditations are informed by my latest experiences, grounded, of course, in my Lectio of Philippians 2:5. Today, Bishop Barron’s insightful thoughts about Abraham and the sacrifice of Issac, his only son, to God stoked the fires of thought about my center and what is important in my life. In my book, The Place No One Wants to Look, I write of the importance of having a center, that one value, highest good, as Bishop Barron would say, above which there is no other. https://amzn.to/3r2ru9J My center is Philippians 2:5. “…have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” It is the capstone, my highest aspiration in this life, and one which I hope to carry on into the next. I want you to read what Bishop Barron has to say about the most difficult choice any of us have to make. I found it a confirmation of what has been at the very center of my being. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-kQ2w97eN4
What is your center or highest good? Lent is a time to take stock of what is important in your spiritual life and check your priorities. If your priority is not God (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36), it is time to make all thing new once again.
One of the Holy Spirit’s insights that have pricked my otherwise routine retirement is that I must search for God each day where I find him and as I find him. If I choose God as the center of my life, I have to work to keep Him centered. I call this the Rule of Revolving Centers, one due to Original Sin’s effects and why I have to pray each day for God to have mercy of me, a sinner. Contemplative practice takes work and is not for the faint of heart. With Christ, all things are possible. https://amzn.to/3syxsPH
What is your center? If it is not God, what do you place there?
Lent is a profound time of introspection and conversion. Introspection, in that we must re-measure ourselves against the one command Christ left us: to love one another as he has loved us. Christ alone can make all things new in the heavens and on earth. Introspection without conversion leads to the danger of thinking that you don’t need Christ, only your opinion as to what is new or not. Read this passage from revelations three times. Once for meaning; once for linking this to how you love others as Christ loves us; and once in silence and silence without any agenda other than what the Holy Spirit tells you. Read slowly and prayerfully.
The New Heaven and the New Earth. 1a Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.* 2 I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,* coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. b 3 heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.c He will dwell with them, and they will be his people* and God himself will always be with them [as their God].* 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”d 5 The one who sat on the throne* said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”e 6 He said to me, “They are accomplished.* I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.f 7The victor* will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. g 8 But as for cowards,* the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”hhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/revelation/21
Everything that is has a beginning and an end. In my book, The Christ Principle, I set forth six paradigm shift that emanates from God automatically just because He is. I think of it as God’s DNA, because all reality moves from simplicity to complexity then back to simplicity again in, with, and through Christ. All reality moves from God who has no beginning and an end through matter, time, energy, life, the evolution of the species of humans, the revolution of the corruption of matter by the passion, death, and resurrection, sustained by the Holy Spirit in the Church Universal until all returns once again in the Christ Principle. It is a cosmic strategy that uses natural processes, human nature, and then divine nature to make all things new. For God, all of this is a moment in time (even this is not correct, but we humans need to have some way for our nature to begin to appreciate the love God has for us).
A LAY CISTERCIAN LOOKS AT MAKING ALL THINGS NEW
For much of my lifetime, my spirituality assumed that it took a lifetime to achieve, so I have time to fritter away my purpose on things that are not central to my existence. I have slowly begun to shift my thinking from a lifetime to just living each day for what it is as I seek God. I couldn’t be happier with that switch. Here some other ways that I have moved from my false self to my true self, ones that I must reaffirm each day with the Christ Principle.
Contemplative practices are praying each day as I can, not as I think I should. I am actually praying more because I understand that, although I don’t think of Jesus each moment, I do switch my thoughts to how much Christ loves all of us. I want to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) at each opportunity. When you love someone genuinely, you want to be with them as much as possible. You don’t feel fulfilled unless they are somehow part of your daily routine. I remember Brother Michael O.C.S.O. teaching us about the quality we need to be contemplative. In addition to silence and solitude, he mentioned balance. Staying anchored to reality is important to my spiritual maturation. I am conscious that I can lose my faith without humility and obedience to God’s will for me this day.
The New Testament gives us the blueprint or the WHY, WHAT, AND SO WHAT of our Faith. The next period in our collective journey is that of the Church Universal. It exists of all those who are gathered together to celebrate the death of the Lord until he comes again (Eucharistic Prayer). It is the HOW that fulfills the WHAT and WHY of Christ. At each age, and most especially because I live out my life in that space of sixty to seventy years, I am here to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with God in the next. (Baltimore Catechism, Question 6)
Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each day.
Receive the Sacrament of Penance. If you have not been in the presence of Christ for confession during the past year (or longer). Go and make all things new. Better still, get into a penitential habit of receiving this Sacrament frequently. Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.
Lent is a time of reassessment and change. We move from our false self, imprinted with the effects of Original Sin to being free from the hostage to death. During your time of profound reflection in Lent, here are some thoughts I had from my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) on the idea, “If I made just one change, what would be the impact on how I look at reality?”
JUST ONE THOUGHTS
If you just thought about the Christ Principle as the reason why you exist, what would be the behavioral consequences? For me, Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life that leads to heaven. My challenge is to place myself in His presence as much as possible using Cistercian practices and charisms and soak up whatever He wants me to have. I thought about what that “soaking” would feel like as I sit on a bench in the dead of winter and wait for Christ to sit down next to me. After a while, I realize that Christ had been sitting down long before I got there and was just waiting for me to empty myself of my false self to begin to transform to my new life using the power of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t consider myself a religious zealot or fanatic, one whose passion is trying to get others to his or her notion of who Christ is. Rather, in silence and solitude, in the stillness of my heart, I seek God without words or ideas, or human concepts. Religious charlatans of all denominations seem to be full of the Holy Spirit but are only full of themselves. Follow me, they chant, and you will be saved. The Christ Principle is the only true way to salvation. There is no easy way to heaven but the cross. Resurrection without the cross is shallow and will not fill the hole left in the human heart from the sin of Adam and Eve. The World does not have the power to save us, only the love of Christ can fill that big hole left by Adam and Eve.
When I went outside yesterday to take out the trash, I noticed the clear, blue sky, inhaled the crisp air (crisp for Florida, that is), the felt the afternoon sun on my head and neck. It felt good. I thought about how this toasty warm Sun is like sitting next to Christ on the park bench and just soaking up goodness. Humans are so compulsive that we must always be doing something to feel like we justify our existence or are productive. I call that filling holes, and if we don’t have holes in our lives (death in the family, work, power, money, and religion), then we manufacture them so we can fill them. St. Augustine said it succinctly when he stated: our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.
We must be busy to be worth something in the eyes of the World. In the eyes of God, we are worth many sparrows, and the reason why Christ became human was to suffer and die to redeem us from the hole of death to be able to rise again as an adopted son or daughter of the Father. The Christ Principle is the one point into which all reality, physical, mental and spiritual, flow, and all reality finds purpose and justification. One thing you will never find Lucifer doing is giving up his life to redeem us from the hole of death. He wants you to give up your life for him and then laughs at you because you were so stupid not to choose God over evil.
WHAT WOULD YOU BE LIKE, IF YOU…
26Now a week later, his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”p27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”28*q Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”29* Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? r Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Conclusion.*30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.s31But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.t https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/20
Lent is a period of reflection, a purification of all those false attitudes and ways of thinking that will keep me from realizing the importance of the Resurrection of Christ and its implications for me as I search for God each day.
Lent is a time of cleaning. The sinful and terrible choices that I have made I now identify and try to replace with those of the Spirit (Galatians 5). I may not even realize that I have fallen into bad habits or failure to love others as Christ loved us. This is the beauty and wisdom of the Sacrament of Penance. A sacrament is a holy meeting place facilitated by the Church Universal to keep me from becoming my own God. I measure myself, not by what I think is moral or acceptable behavior, but by what Scripture holds as the norm for believing.
The Sacrament of Penance uses our heritage of moving from false self to true self, a conversion opportunity for me to declare that he is the Son of God and Messiah and that believing in him, I might be happy with Him now and in heaven. The Church provides me with the context against which I measure my behavior to convert my actions to become more like Christ. St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4 has a list of tools for good work that not only help my mind to convert to Christ but demands my behavior follows my belief. These are only tools and not the end-results of my actions.
The priest is the Church in this Sacrament and a visible mediator that takes a Christ we cannot see, but so are you also the Church. The priest holds us accountable for our actions and gives us the opportunity for Christ to give us grace for the next part of our journey. This is conversio morae with the core against which we measure ourselves as the Christ Principle, which is the sign of contradiction. All Sacraments are instituted by Christ to give me grace through, with, and in Christ to the glory of the Father.
Conversio Morae or my struggle with having in me the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5) is not something that happens just one time and then I can get on the conveyor belt of painless behaviors until I die. Far from it, I begin each day anew, not using the day before as having finally converted my life to Christ and now I can go about my business. Each day is a lifetime. Each day I must search for ways that I might love others as Christ loved me. The way I convert my life each day is by denying myself, taking up my cross daily, and following Christ. It is not meant to be easy and Christ won’t carry my cross. Like Joseph of Aramathea, he will help me lift whatever comes my way each day. Come to me, Christ insists, and I will give you rest for your soul.
The Gentle Mastery of Christ. 28* “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest. 29*p Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/11
DO YOU HAVE PROFOUND BELIEF IN YOUR FAITH?
Faith comes as a gift from God. Belief is our response to that gift by saying, “Be it done to me, according to your Word.” Do you need to convert your love to that of loving others as Christ loved us? Answer these four questions in the stillness of your heart?
Do you believe that Jesus is profoundly present, body and blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine? If you believe that is true, compare your behavior with Matthew 25.
The Judgment of the Nations.* 31f “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32g and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35h For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40i And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41*j Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42k For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44* Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ 46l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
* [25:31–46] The conclusion of the discourse, which is peculiar to Matthew, portrays the final judgment that will accompany the parousia. Although often called a “parable,” it is not really such, for the only parabolic elements are the depiction of the Son of Man as a shepherd and of the righteous and the wicked as sheep and goats respectively (Mt 25:32–33). The criterion of judgment will be the deeds of mercy that have been done for the least of Jesus’ brothers (Mt 25:40). A difficult and important question is the identification of these least brothers. Are they all people who have suffered hunger, thirst, etc. (Mt 25:35, 36) or a particular group of such sufferers? Scholars are divided in their response and arguments can be made for either side. But leaving aside the problem of what the traditional material that Matthew edited may have meant, it seems that a stronger case can be made for the view that in the evangelist’s sense the sufferers are Christians, probably Christian missionaries whose sufferings were brought upon them by their preaching of the gospel. The criterion of judgment for all the nations is their treatment of those who have borne to the world the message of Jesus, and this means ultimately their acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself; cf. Mt 10:40, “Whoever receives you, receives me.” See note on Mt 16:27.
* [25:32] All the nations: before the end, the gospel will have been preached throughout the world (Mt 24:14); thus the Gentiles will be judged on their response to it. But the phrase all the nations includes the Jews also, for at the judgment “the Son of Man…will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:27).
* [25:37–40] The righteous will be astonished that in caring for the needs of the sufferers they were ministering to the Lord himself. One of these least brothers of mine: cf. Mt 10:42.
* [25:41] Fire prepared…his angels: cf. 1 Enoch 10:13 where it is said of the evil angels and Semyaza, their leader, “In those days they will lead them into the bottom of the fire—and in torment—in the prison (where) they will be locked up forever.”
* [25:44–45] The accursed (Mt 25:41) will be likewise astonished that their neglect of the sufferers was the neglect of the Lord and will receive from him a similar answer.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/25
How radically would your life change if you had this phrase at the very core of your being: Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus? (Philippians 2:5) If your behavior has not dramatically changed, then this may not be as important to you as you might claim. What do you need to change to convert your behaviors to reflect the love Christ had for us?
Do you truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Savior? (John 20:30-31) Action is the product of belief. What do you do to show that you believe Christ’s resurrection is real now?
Do you live your life as though each day is a new opportunity to seek God where you are and as you are? Why not?
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO CONVERT YOUR LIFE TO CHRIST?
During Lent, I try to use Lectio Divina as a way to become a more penitential person, being more humble and obedient to the will of God each day. One of my Lectio meditations (not at the level of contemplation) is on the subject of giving. I think of my core Lectio Divina saying (Philippians 2:5): “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” I think about how giving God is and how I am so very far from what I should be.
TWO DIMENSIONS OF HOSPITALITY
The thought struck me that almsgiving and any type of giving have two dimensions. First, it makes me happy to give to others. In a way, my reward for giving is the good feeling I have in my stomach that I have made someone happy, that I have helped others somehow. When I notice people around me giving to others, something is missing here, even being generous to a fault. Giving as one who does it because they love to give others is common even among pagans and non-believers. When one receives the adoption as a son or daughter of the Father at Baptism, this is a gift from God to each of us. We are bid to do the same. When someone who is signed with the mark of the cross gives, they have all the feelings and emotions of giving to others as do their secular counterparts, but they do it in the name of Christ.
St. Benedict stresses hospitality in Chapter 53 of the Rule. Christ is the difference between what secular society thinks of in hospitality and those who have in them the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) Read this chapter for yourself.
1 All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). 2 Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims. 3 Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. 4 First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace, 5 but prayer must always precede the kiss of peace because of the delusions of the devil. 6 All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. 7 By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them. 8 After the guests have been received, they should be invited to pray; then the superior or an appointed brother will sit with them. 9 The divine law is read to the guest for his instruction, and after that every kindness is shown to him. 10 The superior may break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it is a day of special fast which cannot be broken. 11 The brothers, however, observe the usual fast. 12 The abbot shall pour water on the hands of the guests, 13 and the abbot with the entire community shall wash their feet. 14 After the washing they will recite this verse: God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple (Ps 47:10). 15 Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.
The second dimension is much less celebrated; it is the art of receiving gifts from others. I have seen people close to me want to pick up the check when taking friends to dine to the point of actually squabbling over who should pay. It can get quite heated in the verbal jousting over who pays. Some people love to give but react negatively when someone tries to give a gift to them. As in the first dimension, receiving can be either secular or spiritual. Here are some thoughts I had about the quality of receiving.
If I am marked with the sign of the cross, I want to allow others to be generous with me. That does not mean I seek gifts, but rather see the humility to recognize that the one giving to me needs that to increase Christ in them. I want to be conscious of what is going on.
I offer my thanks to others without much fanfare. In the Eucharist, the Sign of Peace is probably not understood as something important, but you should take another look. The peace of Christ is not the absence of strife but the presence of love. When you share Christ with one another, the Christ in your heart embraces the heart of Christ in the other. You not only give the peace of Christ to someone else, but you receive it back with Jesus being present.
Receiving is the precursor to having the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist in your heart and mind, to once again commit yourself to Jesus as Lord and Savior. You receive Jesus into your heart, but you also give your love to the Father through, with, and in Christ with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict once a day.
One of the concepts that help me to grow in the capacity of Christ in my heart is that of the Church. I use to think of the Church as being a body of rules and prescriptions that I had to believe in order to make it to heaven. Now, I just see that as a kickoff point for what is actually a quite sophisticated and ingenious way for Christ to take his command, “to love one another as I have loved you,” and make that real in each age for all races, for all genders, for all nationalities. What follows is an excerpt from my new book on The Art of Contemplative Practice: A Lay Cistercian reflects on a compendium of skills needed to move from self to God.
THE RANDOMNESS OF GOD IS GREATER THAN ALL THE INTENTIONS THAT HUMANS COULD CONCEIVE
During his lifetime, the era of Christ is characterized by God becoming human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Humans were just not going in the right direction in the Old Testament. They needed to be re-directed toward a more catholic approach to salvation, including everyone using the lessons found in the Christ Principle. Jesus came to save us from going in the wrong direction and giving us the WHAT about how to become adopted sons and daughters of the Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for us from before the physical universe existed. If Jesus is the WHAT, then the extension of his presence in the physical and mental universes is the HOW, or the practice of those Christ Principles, every day. The minefield through which all humans must pass is called Original Sin or how to control the human condition in each of us to rise up to our potential as adopted sons and daughters of the Father and not descend into our animality past, which is not our nature. In this context, Christ founded his Church, the gathering of those who try to make the Christ Principle as the center of their lives, to DO those activities that will enable them to fulfill their human potential. The unbroken link with Christ is the Church Triumphant (those who have died in the peace of Christ and now enjoy the heaven that they have discovered on earth), the Church Militant (those still living and struggling to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus each day with the energy of the Holy Spirit as Advocate), and finally, those who get a second chance at redemption or anyone God chooses to give another shot at loving others as Christ loved us, the Church Purgative or Penitential. The Church Universal is only made up of living human beings, ones who have varying degrees of awareness of how to love God with all their minds, with all their hearts, and with all their souls, and their neighbor as themselves. This multi-dimensional Church has three bodies but only one head, consistent with the Holy Trinity’s template (one divine nature with three distinct persons). This template is one that I use to look at one reality from three distinct universes of conditions, the physical universe, the mental universe (only humans were raised up to this level of existence), and the spiritual universe (only those Baptized with water and the Holy Spirit are raised up by God to be humans who are adopted by God to live forever.)
As an individual human being, far fetched as it may sound, you are the center of all reality. Don’t think of this center as being like the center of a bulls eye on a target, but rather the purpose of all reality from the time that time began to when you were born in original sin. Everything that is, the physical universe, the fact that humans have the ability to reason and make free choices, the insertion of God into the human situation to help us with WHAT we should do to be with God in heaven, and finally the foundation of the Church as mother to nourish me and protect me from the violence of the human condition, gives me a chance to live and fulfill my destiny as a human being.
As Erick Fromm writes so succinctly in his book, The Art of Loving, humans are not born with love, they must acquire it. Not all notions about love lead to authenticity. Some lead to the corruption of the human person. We must not only master human love, which is the purpose of being human but also master the art of loving others as Christ has loved us. Christ did not just come down and say, “Do this or that, then die, leaving us orphans. He showed us how to conquer our temptations and seek God each day. He also told his followers and through them those who would gather together to DO what he said, that He would be with us as we journey in our particular and unique paths to that final gathering in heaven. The Art of Contemplative Practice means doing those activities and behaviors that allow the presence of God to influence the way we treat others and respect ourselves. The Cistercian Way is how I have chosen to express this desire to be in the presence of Christ through Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Annoting of the Sick. I use this approach to spirituality because it is one which I am most familiar.
THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE IS ALL ABOUT JESUS BEING THE CENTER OF ALL REALITY. THE CHURCH IS ALL ABOUT WHAT CHRIST CAN DO FOR YOU NOW AS YOU SEEK GOD IN YOUR DAILY LIFE.
The Church is the occasion for the Holy Spirit to overshadow you with faith, hope, and love if you know what is going on. Liturgy is a collective way that the Body of Christ approaches God the Father through, with, and in Christ in unity with the Holy Spirit. The Church is “doing” what Christ left us to practice. The Church is there joined together with God’s DNA that contains the building blocks of contemplative practice moving through each successive age just for me to be able to say, “Jesus is Lord.”
As I try to live my purpose in life to seek God each day (Philippians 2:5), I use the following six questions as a focal point to help me stretch beyond what is comfortable so that I can find deeper meaning in three areas where it takes skill to move forward. These six questions form the core or bedrock of my contemplative practice.
THE SIX QUESTIONS EACH PERSON MUST ASK AND ANSWER BEFORE THEY DIE
MASTERY NOW AND FOREVER
When you are accepted by God as an adopted son or daughter, your journey to Forever is just beginning. Like everything we do as human beings, it takes work. When you ratify your Faith, you begin to pack your bag for life with God forever. Love in the spiritual universe is not automatic; you must learn how to love others as Christ loved us. The Church becomes the school of charity to help each individual and gatherings of individuals to love. I have chosen to express or make this love real while I live with the Rule of St. Benedict, specifically with the Cistercian approach to contemplative practice. This book assumes that contemplative practices and skills don’t automatically appear magically from some invisible force like love, contemplative practices, and skills. There is an art to contemplative practice, one that demands discipline and mastery. This mastery will never be fully reached in this lifetime of trying to love God with our whole mind, our whole heart, and with all our strength. It is the time that we take each day to seek God as life unfolds, using, in my case, Cistercian practices and charisms to make sense out of reality.
One of my concerns about conversion is the “one time is enough” syndrome. We are saved by the blood of Christ in His sacrifice on the cross, so we just get on the conveyor belt to behave, do what we want, then get off in Heaven. What is lacking in this approach is an appreciation of Original Sin and of humility and obedience needed to take up our cross daily and follow Christ as we meet Him each day. Being a follower of the Master is work, a daily battle against the ever-encroaching effects of Original Sin on our belief. Another of my concerns is that we don’t teach our members how to move from self to God each day, only an intellectual encounter with keeping the rules and obeying what the Church says is true. Don’t mistake that last statement as abandoning the role of the Church through the ages. “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” I am saying that Christ gives us the WHAT and WHY to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus, but show us HOW. The Church should be the instrument or help us with good works to move from self to God. Refer to St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/ Don’t forget that these good works are not ends in themselves but are only tools that lead us to increase Christ in our hearts. Christ is the terminus of all that we do, not the Church. Our reformation must be to increase God’s capacity (capacitas dei) in us by using the help and prayers not just of me, but in union with all those gathered together in one faith, one, lord, one baptism. The local Church becomes the occasion where I meet Christ. The church is a gathering of believers who help me and, together with me, move more and more towards the love Christ expressed for us by dying on the cross for our sins.
The context in which all of us practice these sixteen skills we call The Church. I love the analogy of the Church Universal as Mother. A mother protects her children from harm and ensures that they are fed and their wounds and bruises are soothed. A mother knows the failures and faults of her children but is always there with them as they get up from their foibles and fallacies. A mother is a moral compass for their children to admonish them when they need it all the while expressing unconditional love. The Church Universal is about sustaining how to love Christ through our heritage and authority from the Apostles. As an individual who has a limited lifetime to learn how to love as Christ loved us, I am the Church particular to transform first myself and then, through me, to those I meet in my brief lifetime. The Church can be compared to a mother who patiently nourishes me (and all me’s that ever lived) with how to love fiercely and make sense out of the spiritual universe, which is the opposite of what the world has an assumption about the purpose of life. Each of us has the ability to reason and the choice to do whatever we choose. Some of these choices are authentic, and some are destructive. The purpose of the Church Universal is to help me get to heaven. (Baltimore Catechism, Question Number Six)
The Art of Contemplation is a way to look at reality that uses help from God to nudge us in the right direction so we can open our hearts to the heart of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
ASSUMPTIONS DRIVE THE BUS
Behind anything we believe are multiple assumptions about what is true. Both you and I will have a different take on reality because we are unique. I like the saying:
Some assumptions I have in writing about The Art of Contemplative Practice.
I wrote all of my books as love letters from me to you, the result of my Lectio Divina meditations and contemplative thoughts that came from the Holy Spirit to me. I don’t speak for the Holy Spirit, only tune in to his television channel and watch whatever is presented. In that sense, I am a Scribe.
The Art of Contemplation is about my knowing what to choose to love as Christ loved us and doing the practices and receive the charisms to place myself in the presence of God through Christ using the energy of the Holy Spirit to help me. All of this is not about me, but about how I can make room for Christ in my heart.
I offer you sixteen different skills that I use to move from self to God. These skills are those that allow me to sit on a park bench in the dead of winter and approach God by keeping my mouth shut (God always approaches me, although I don’t always feel His presence). I don’t always practice them perfectly, but I do practice them daily in some form.
THREE LEVELS OF MAKING ROOM FOR GOD
There are three levels of awareness of what it means to love that I wish to master before I die. It will take me a lifetime of trying to approach God by having in me the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) Trying is a prayer in itself.
LEVEL ONE: Mastery of what it means to love in the secular world (RE: Erick Fromm’s, The Art of Loving. https://amzn.to/2XiMonP) Physical and Mental Universes
LEVEL TWO: Mastery of what it means to love others as Christ loves us. (RE: Learning to Love https://amzn.to/385zlfw) Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Universes aid in the Formation of Contemplative Practice. Continue to practice the sixteen skills of the Art of Contemplative Practice until you die.
LEVEL THREE: Mastery of the School of Love (RE: Developing A School of Love, https://amzn.to/3pOblUj) Spiritual Transformation from Self to God each day. Becoming what you read in Scripture.
I use the following sixteen skills to help me master the three different levels of spiritual awareness. Spiritual awareness in contemplative practice as a Lay Cistercian means that I try to grow in my capacity to have Christ in me. It is seeking God daily, with no reservations, with no agendas, with no expectations. With Christ as my center and the Christ Principle in my life, I don’t have to worry about what I am to eat or drink or what I am to wear, or what situations happen to me that day. Christ is there. It is the time I take to try to make room for Christ in my heart that is most meaningful, not just its attainment.
ASSUMPTIONS FOR THESE CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE SKILLS
There are sixteen skills that I propose as the core habits to acquiring what St. Benedict calls the Tools of Good Works (Chapter 4 of his Rule). Skills are about HOW to do contemplation. Contemplation is about using Meditation to move deeper into an abandonment of thoughts so that you focus on being present to Christ and listening with the “ear of the heart.” My new book will be a “How-to” book on contemplative practices that I use.
The first chapters of the Book of Genesis provide the opening written statement of what it means to be human. The oral traditions handed down through centuries surely took on characteristics of their own as different cultures and diverse authors reflected on their human condition and proposed how the God of Abraham related to them. In fact, there are four written sources that have been identified in the first chapters of Genesis, plus two differing creation accounts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis#:~:text=The%20documentary%20hypothesis%20posited%20that,to%20the%20Solomonic%20period%20(c.
Suffice it to say that Genesis is not as simplistic as you might think. For me, this book points out archetypal characteristics of what it means to be human and how humanity is essentially good but wounded by the sin of Adam and Eve. I think of it as the Genesis Effect in my view of reality. Here are some characteristics:
What is the nature of humans? The writers of Genesis had various ways to express what it means to be human. At the core of humanity is the ability to reason and free choice. What you choose can either be helpful or hurt you. Adam and Eve discovered the consequences of their choice were dying, having to work, the pains of everyday living such as childbirth, the awareness that they were naked, the consequences of jealousy and envy in the murder of Abel by Caine, the confusion of languages, and having to struggle to believe that God is God and that you are not God.
God is seen through anthropomorphic representation. Humans can not define God because their nature is not divine but human. What they do comprehend must be consistent with their human nature and experiences. The Garden of Eden’s context is that of a grand gardener hiring humans to tend it and care for it. Still, jealousy, envy, covetousness of materials things, and pride caused Adam (from the earth) and Eve (mother of humanity) to choose themselves rather than God as their center. Today, we have the completed Scriptures with centuries of commentary about what is true and what is not. Humans, even in the Old Testament encounters of Moses, the Judges, the Kings, and Prophets all experienced God through events, natural phenomena such as lightning at the top of the mountain, ending with Christ and the Word becoming flesh so He could be of human nature and relate what God’s love for us is. Genesis is a commentary on wounded human nature and our search for fulfillment. As John 20:30-31 says, these stories are to give you the opportunity to believe that Jesus is Son of God, Messiah, and that by believing in Him, you might have everlasting life. In is only very recently that we have Scriptural experts that parce the words and meanings with various points of view, often contradicting each other as they point out the contradictions contained in the passage of evolution from one understanding of God in the OT to a deeper fulfillment in the NT.
The Genesis Effect is most evident today. What was true for those keepers of the traditions handed down to them from previous generations is also true today. St. Paul stresses the relationship of Adam as the first man through what Jesus did as this second Adam died for our sins, released us from the hostage of death as the purpose of life, and allowed us to become sons and daughters of the Father. It is the Garden of Eden in its fullest sense once again. It is the New Jerusalem changed from tribal religion to a global one. It fulfills the purpose of human existence to have reason and make choices based on that reason. It fulfills the longing in the human heart to be present in the heart of Christ. It fulfills our destiny as human beings, both individually and collectively as Church Universal.
I need to begin each day seeking God in where I am and as I am. I need to practice good works (Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict) consistently and pray Lectio Divina each day. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
The Genesis Effect reminds me that I am a pilgrim in a foreign land (earth) and that I must struggle with Original Sin’s effects to keep myself center on Christ. Because of Original Sin, my commitment to Christ will begin to rust if I don’t keep myself focused on Christ (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course).
Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict each day and pray that you become what you read.
During one of our Gathering Days of Lay Cistercians at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (www.trappist.net), one of our members asked the question about the difficulty of keeping to a schedule to do Cistercian practices. The question also plagues me and how I confront trying to have silence and solitude in a world whose attention span is less than ten seconds. Here are some of the issues that I have solved for myself and some that still need to be addressed.
I am not a monk but a Lay Cistercian, retired, over 80 years old, living with past history of cardiac arrest (Widowmaker) and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (arrested) with a pacemaker put in in August of 2020. This is what I must work with as I try to seek God every day.
Some days are better than others. The ole temple of the Holy Spirit has lots of wear and tear over the years and has weathered many storms. It is continuity with my center that keeps me grounded in the source of my spirituality, i.e., “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:)
I don’t know, nor do I now care, what events or happenings come my way each day (e.g., COVID 19, my cancer, my cardiac arrest, a rock falling from the sky and destroying all humanity, my death). What does matter is that Jesus died for me just so I could have the opportunity to be called an adopted son (or daughter) of the Father and to be happy in Heaven forever.
Death is one of four door through which I must pass:
Everything else is just superfluous to my center, important, but still tangential.
Being part of a local community of Faith helps me be consistent with my daily practices. Remember, I am retired so I am all the time there is to seek God each day. We share Liturgy of the Hours (Office of Readings, Morning Prayer in the AM and Evening Prayer in the PM) in a group setting at our local Church. Until COVID 19 hit, I was a regular. Now, I guess I am irregular. I do have a plan to begin my consistency very soon again.
I read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each day (in addition to my community prayers).
I write down my blog Lectio Divina experiences every day, if possible.
I don’t follow a timetable or a schedule for completion of the Cistercian practices right now, but that will change when I return to my community prayer continuity.
Brother Michael O.C.S.O. told us that we should pray as we can and not as we should. My emphasis is seeking God daily as I can and where I am.
Everyone has a center of their life. It is that one principle, that one value upon which all others find their support. Granted that your center as a twenty-year-old may not be the one you have when you are sixty, but you will have a center, even if you don’t know what it is. My thinking about centers has nothing to do with centering prayer, in my opinion. It means that the center of each person’s life is a free choice made by human reasoning and experience. Only you can choose a center that is, for you, the one principle upon which all others are based.
When you look at the art of contemplative practice, or how you must learn to use the tools given to us by Christ to be able to love one another. St. Benedict prescribed the tools for good works in Chapter 4 of his Rule, as well as chapters on humility and obedience, both essential to being able to die to self and rise to a new life in Christ.
A center, in just the physical and mental universes is using your reason to be able to choose what one value all others rest, the keystone of your life, that which, if you took it away, nothing would remain, the capstone of a building, the North on your compass. If I do not believe in God, my center is limited to the world around me. Personally, being on the North side of 80 years old, I am grateful to get up each morning and creek around the house until I get acclamated. I like to write books no one reads and to have a blog that allows my neurons to synapt and keep the cobwebs away. This alone won’t be enough to satisfy my real longing.
When you use your Faith to jump from the physical and mental universes to the spiritual one, one where everything is turned upside down in values and what is important, your center becomes what sustains you in this life for the life to come. If you wish to read one of those books no one reads but me, I recommend the following ones on centers. https://amzn.to/2Om5w2M https://amzn.to/3rLmO7S
The spiritual universe’s center is the default over the physical and mental universes because what you place there lasts forever, with one caveat. While you are on earth, the Devil will constantly tempt you to choose another center, so you must work daily to keep yourself focused on seeking God. Being a Lay Cistercian is one way, in fact, the only way for me to keep my center from resolving out of control. In my book, The Three Rules of the Spiritual Universe, I write about just three rules that govern the spiritual universe. They are:
1. The Rule of Threes — When asking the question, “What does reality look like?” I use three universes to separate what I have come to parce out as three dimensions or universes in which I live. The physical universe, the mental universe, and the spiritual universe. One reality, yet only three separate and distinct realms of existence, each with its own measurements, requirements, purpose, and center.
2. The Rule of Revolving Centers– In the spiritual universe, while you are a member of the Church Militant, you must battle against the forces that try to tear your center from its rightful place. This is not only the deterioration effects of Original Sin that cause all things to have a beginning and an end, but also the natural corruption that occurs when we leave our center unattended. Like an ice cube, if you don’t keep it frozen in the freezer of contemplative practice, it will melt. Guaranteed. This is called losing one’s faith. We must not only choose the correct center for our individual life, but you must also guard it daily from the corrupting influences of the World and the seduction of the Devil that God is just a fantasy and Heaven is la-la land. Contemplative practices and charisma are to be used daily to combat the influences of decay and moral relativism that has permeated our collective thinking.
3. The Rule of Opposites — This rule means that, with the coming of Christ, the splitting of the veil in the temple, the power of the Resurrection, the expectations of the World are the opposite of what God sets forth as being reality. Think about it! The measurements for proving this spiritual universe turned upside down, like a polar shift in the magnetic field. Up is down and down is up. When measured with the yardstick of science, logic, psychology, and any other measurement or proof of reality that the world has, none of it makes any sense. It is only when we are given the key to the kingdom of heaven at Baptism that we have a chance throughout our lifetime to find out where the lock is and how to use it to fulfill our destiny as humans. Our Nicene Creed proclaims over and over (we forget it so easily) that there is a visible and invisible reality. One thing you won’t find the Devil doing, according to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, The Life of Christ, is suffering and dying for the sins of all humans, unconditionally. The cross is the one sign Satan cannot bear to look at because it means God so loved the world that he gave us his only-begotten son to redeem us. This redemption is the sign of contradiction, the cross, burned indelibly on each soul that is Baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is our invisible tattoo. The world laughs and scoffs at anything to do with self-denial, taking up one’s cross to follow Christ, believing in a person we cannot see, humility, obedience to another person taking the place of Christ, and following the rule that we love one another as Christ loves us. The Rule of Opposites proclaims that the nothingness of God created all that has a beginning and an end. With the Rule of Opposites, humans can see through a glass darkly at what awaits us in the life to come.
WHAT DOES GOD SAY HIS CENTER IS? Everyone has a center, even God (apologies to God for presuming so much). God not only told us what his center is, but he also showed us.
Read the encounter of Moses and God in Genesis 3. I recommend you read it three time. First, read it through normally; in your second reading, read it very slowly pondering on the meaning; for the third time, read it as though you were Moses and identify what it means.
The Call and Commission of Moses.7 But the LORD said: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. 8 Therefore I have come down* to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.d 9 Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I* that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 God answered: I will be with you, and this will be your sign* that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13 “But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses: I am who I am.* Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you. 15 God spoke further to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/exodus/3
[3:14] I am who I am: Moses asks in v. 13 for the name of the One speaking to him, but God responds with a wordplay which preserves the utterly mysterious character of the divine being even as it appears to suggest something of the inner meaning of God’s name: ‘ehyeh “I am” or “I will be(come)” for “Yhwh,” the personal name of the God of Israel. While the phrase “I am who I am” resists unraveling, it nevertheless suggests an etymological linking between the name “Yhwh” and an earlier form of the Hebrew verbal root h-y-h “to be.” On that basis many have interpreted the name “Yhwh” as a third-person form of the verb meaning “He causes to be, creates,” itself perhaps a shortened form of a longer liturgical name such as “(God who) creates (the heavenly armies).” Note in this connection the invocation of Israel’s God as “LORD (Yhwh) of Hosts” (e.g., 1 Sm 17:45). In any case, out of reverence for God’s proper name, the term Adonai, “my Lord,” was later used as a substitute. The word LORD (in small capital letters) indicates that the Hebrew text has the sacred name (Yhwh), the tetragrammaton. The word “Jehovah” arose from a false reading of this name as it is written in the current Hebrew text. The Septuagint has egō eimi ho ōn, “I am the One who is” (ōn being the participle of the verb “to be”). This can be taken as an assertion of God’s aseity or self-existence, and has been understood as such by the Church, since the time of the Fathers, as a true expression of God’s being, even though it is not precisely the meaning of the Hebrew.
God is telling Moses (all humans) that He is, or I am my own center. This is all the more significant because Adam and Eve also said they were their own centers, not God, and… you know the rest of the story, as the late Paul Harvey would say. Listen to Mr. Harvey’s inspirational “Letter from God” and think of you and God having a conversation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4ueqSbriu8
WHAT IS THE CENTER OF ALL EXISTENCE?
God Himself provided us with the answers to this, coincidentally the same in both Old and New Testaments.
Deuteronomy 6:5 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__P4L.HTM
Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey. \
4 1 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
5 Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
7 Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
8 2 Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.
9 Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.
Read what Jesus said was at the center of all reality as found in Matthew 22.
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
35 and one of them [a scholar of the law] 20 tested him by asking,
36 “Teacher, 21 which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
37 He said to him, 22 “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.
39 The second is like it: 23 You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 24 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__PVV.HTM
WHAT IS YOUR CENTER?
You are the center of the physical and mental universes for whatever time you spend on earth. You are not the center of all reality, only God is that. You are given reason and the ability to choose to be able to select your center voluntarily and freely, even if it is a bad center. There are consequences to all of our choices, which is why Jesus became human, one of us, to show us the footprints we should follow lest we step on a land mine. If you listened to Mr. Harvey’s YouTube in the segment above, it would speak to this center.
MY PERSONAL CENTER?
My center is based on what God has determined as the center of all reality, not what I think. I have selected a center that informs all my behaviors as a Lay Cistercian. I affirm that center as I pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in the heavens.” I have selected as my center, the phrase from Philippians 2:5, “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” Each day, I begin anew the quest to seek God where I am and as I am.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who as, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
Yogi Berra’s supposed saying, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it,” is witty but perhaps a wise description of choices we all must make if we try to be contemplative in our practice. We live in the temporal time of the present, or the NOW. The past flitters by and is to be recalled at some point to learn from those choices we have made during each NOW moment. The future is for us to learn from our past to make informed choices that lead to the fulfillment of our purpose in life and reinforce our center. Without wishing to seem sin-centered rather than Christ-centered, sin is a choice that misses the mark. But what mark? Who gives us the moral target for which we must aim? In the process of moving from my false self to my true self, I must choose either one or the other. Here are five seeming “either-or” choices that Lay Cistercians, as all who seek God daily face, as we move through our succession of NOWs.
I. NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS:
God and Money. 24* “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.* [6:24] Mammon: an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/6
This familiar saying of Jesus is a classic choice on a large scale, the 50,000 foot level of contemplative practice, as I see it. This phrase frames the reality that all of us face if we wish to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ. These two polar opposites represent choices that have stark consequences for those who make the choices. If I choose mammon, then the center of my life is me, a puny god indeed. Wealth deteriorates because it is a thing. We can neither take it to heaven nor leave it to rust on earth. If I choose God, the results are sometimes postponed for future gain in Heaven. Heaven is God’s playground and if I choose to play in his sandbox, I must use his rules and regulations. The rule is to love others as Christ loved us. God’s riches are found in the Scriptures and you and I have been graced to have this how-to book of collecting riches available to us. Only the rich go to Heaven, but you must choose God’s riches, not yours. https://amzn.to/3d1Idpu
II. HEAVEN OR HELL
The saying, “extra ecclesiam, nulla salus,” that is, outside the Church there is no salvation, can be interpreted according to how you view spiritual reality. It does not mean only Catholics go to Heaven. It does mean that when all humans die and face their judgment/accountability for how they loved others as Christ loved them, there are only two choices. You must choose to go to Hell because you know that God is love, and you reject that. In this sense, no person in his right mind would want to go to Hell when faced with a choice of love or hopelessness. St. Benedict in his Chapter 4 of the Rule, bids his monks to:
41 Place your hope in God alone.
42 If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself,
43 but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.
44 Live in fear of judgment day
45 and have a great horror of hell. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
These two choices we make while we are living as the Church Militant on earth. The Church Triumphant are those God has found worthy and is merciful to them. The Church Purgative are those who are given a second chance to love others as Christ loved us. They must learn the lessons that escaped them while on earth. God is merciful to those who ask for forgiveness and hears the cry of the poor.
III. WHO IS GOD?
There are two choices for the fundamental questions that remains unnoticed and the elephant in the room: who is god? There are two choices as Adam and Eve found out (Genesis 1-2). Choosing God seems like a poor choice. After all, Christ tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our daily cross, and follow him. This road is, like the life of a pilgrim in a foreign land, fraught with obstacles. But, just because your road is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. The road we take is the same ones outlined in the Gospels from Nazareth and Bethlehem to Calvary. It is the sign of contradiction, the cross, one that is indelibly tattooed into our hearts from the moment Christ accepts us as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
The second choice can only be one person, me. I am god. I possess some of the qualities of God ( I am made in the image and likeness of God, just as Adam and Eve were). I have reason for a reason and free choices to make my kingdom of this world fit me. My life only lasts for seventy or eighty years, if I am strong, as the Psalmist writes. I speak for my world, one limited in space and time and forgotten by all. I would make a puny god. I am the god of my body for those brief years I am here on earth. I compete with God for power and glory and often seem to win, even delighting in defeating the Church with centuries of tradition in favor of who I think God is. I make a puny god. Watch the Avengers Youtube about a puny god. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31ZjnrHR8EA
IV. WHERE DO I FIT?
Here again, there are two choices: either I fit into God’s plan, or God fits into my plan (or whatever I think at the moment). What seems like a simple choice is actually at the root of the Fall’s Genesis account from Grace. This choice is seductive, as was the whispering of the snake into the ear of Eve that provoked jealousy, power, envy, and pride. One way to tell the charlatans from authentic seekers of God is to look for humility and obedience to God’s will, versus pride and thinking that they have the truth and everyone else is going to Hell. There is no love with the false promises of Satan, only hatred and disappointment. I think this is the biggest failure of the United States system of relativism and casuistry. Everyone is right, so no one can have a North on the compass.
V. THE SEDUCTION OF TWO UNIVERSES OR THREE:
Galatians 5 sets forth the duality between the spirit and the flesh. All of these choices seem to overlap each other. In the case of two universes or three, I make a choice for the World to be my center, or I can choose something totally at odds with human instincts and reasoning, the cross. Two universes (physical and mental) are ways I use to make sense of the ways we approach contemplative practice. Three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual) allow deeper penetration of reality. The difficulty for some is that this third universe of spirituality is the opposite, the sign of contradiction with the other two. You are asked to put your faith in the Creed, that there are three persons but one nature. Humans will probably never know how that happens because we do not possess the capacity or capability of God, merely that of a human. Contemplative practice means I try to expand my humanity to make room for Christ in my expression of love as He loved us. It is not an attainment but a process that begins each morning and concludes each evening. Each day is sufficient unto itself.
These five choices help me to answer the six questions that all humans must confront before they die. https://amzn.to/2MRs3UI
Lay Cistercian spirituality, based on the Cistercian practices and charisms, provide me with a way to answer the choices in these six questions correctly. In silence and solitude, with humility and obedience to Christ, I seek God each day, simply, balanced with work, prayer, in the context of community.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
What would you do to the current political debacle if you were the Devil? I would convince the United States that political parties are a new religion, that hatred of personality replaces public policy, that revenge and calumny substitutes for civility and cooperation, that the individual is always right because they have rights, and that free speech is acceptable as long as it agrees with my view. If you think there is no evil or Devil behind our fall from the rule of law (God’s law) and honor, then Satan has already won the arm-wrestling match with you.
Listen to what the late Paul Harvey has to say about the answer to “If I were the Devil.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9NoQHgjM_0
I won’t make any other comments other than to say, “When politics is substituted for the laws of God, the wages of sin is death.” I hope that I continue to struggle with the difference between what is easy and what is right. Eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil knowledge has never been easier and more convenient. When politics is my religion, then I have a fool for a god. The United States, or any political ideology, will implode upon itself if it is not based on what God says is true. With the Psalmist, I do not place my trust in princes, nor governors, nor congresses, nor principalities, for they all consume themselves with their own importance.
Read this Psalm through three times, very slowly and deliberately. The first time, read it for the words; the second time, read it for meaning with your mind; the third time, read it as the Psalmist with your heart.
1Hallelujah!2Praise the LORD, my soul;
I will praise the LORD all my life,
sing praise to my God while I live.a
3Put no trust in princes,
in children of Adam powerless to save.b4Who breathing his last, returns to the earth;
that day all his planning comes to nothing.c
5Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD, his God,6The maker of heaven and earth,
the seas and all that is in them,d
Who keeps faith forever,7secures justice for the oppressed,e
who gives bread to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free;f8the LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who are bowed down;g
the LORD loves the righteous.9The LORD protects the resident alien,
comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow,h
but thwarts the way of the wicked.10The LORD shall reign forever,
your God, Zion, through all generations!i
* [Psalm 146] A hymn of someone who has learned there is no other source of strength except the merciful God. Only God, not mortal human beings (Ps 146:3–4), can help vulnerable and oppressed people (Ps 146:5–9). The first of the five hymns that conclude the Psalter.
The Devil exists and tempts us to make God in our own image.
The Devil is not one of those divine beings as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, although he would like you to think of him that way and worship him.
The Devil is a creation of God that has no corporeal body , only reason and the ability to choose.
The Devil chose himself as God and wants nothing more than to seduce all Adams and Eves to his will.
The Devil is not equal to God, although he wants you to worship at the Abrahamic altar to sacrifice your free will and choice to him.
You will never find the Devil sacrificing himself for his cause on a cross, enduring the passion and death to show his redemptive love. He wants you to suffer and die for a false promise and then laugh in your face for being so spineless that you did not prefer the love of Christ to him.
Never doubt that we are in a battle over wills (God’s and yours).
Don’t be seduced into thinking that love means what you can get out of life for yourself. Rather, it is always about the sign of contradiction, the cross, that which you have tattooed on your soul, the cross. Read Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s book, The Life of Christ. https://sacredheartshrine.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Life-of-Christ-Fulton-J.-Sheen.pdf
Most of the time, my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) meditations just remain at the level of thinking about Christ. This time, I flirted with the contemplation of what I had just been thinking: there is so much that I don’t know about everything related to Christ that I am but a drop of water compared to the ocean of reality that is God. I am discouraged and have perhaps a tiny appreciation of what St. Thomas Aquinas says about God after his meditations on reality. I am not so much fearful as I am that, in a lifetime of struggling to have in me the mind of Jesus (Philippians 2:5), all that I have accumulated is so very limited and just a drop in the ocean of the one who is.
I have an admitted problem, one much like the “thorn in the flesh” of St. Paul in II Corinthians 12. I offer you the complete text for your meditation. Read it three times; the first time for the words; the second time place yourself as St. Paul, writing for the Corinthians; the third time, read it very slowly so that you can become what you read. I added the references at the end so that you can do what I do, that is, go back to the text to get the context.
I* must boast; not that it is profitable, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.2 I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven.3 And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.a 5 About this person* I will boast, but about myself, I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. 6 Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me 7 because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated,* a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.b 8 Three times* I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,c9* but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.d 10 Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;e for when I am weak, then I am strong.*
Selfless Concern for the Church.* 11 I have been foolish. You compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I am in no way inferior to these “super-apostles,” f even though I am nothing. 12* The signs of an apostle were performed among you with all endurance, signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds .g 13 * In what way were you less privileged than the rest of the churches, except that on my part I did not burden you? Forgive me for this wrong!h 14 Now I am ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, for I want not what is yours, but you. Children ought not to save for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your sakes. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granted that I myself did not burden you, yet I was crafty and got the better of you by deceit.i 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? And in the same steps?j
Final Warnings and Appeals.* 19 Have you been thinking all along that we are defending* ourselves before you? In the sight of God we are speaking in Christ, and all for building you up, beloved. 2 0For I fear that* when I come I may find you not such as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; that there may be rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.k 21 I fear that when I come again* my God may humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness they practiced.
* [12:1–4] In the body or out of the body: he seemed no longer confined to bodily conditions, but he does not claim to understand the mechanics of the experience. Caught up: i.e., in ecstasy. The third heaven…Paradise: ancient cosmologies depicted a multitiered universe. Jewish intertestamental literature contains much speculation about the number of heavens. Seven is the number usually mentioned, but the Testament of Levi (2:7–10; 3:1–4) speaks of three; God himself dwelt in the third of these. Without giving us any clear picture of the cosmos, Paul indicates a mental journey to a nonearthly space, set apart by God, in which secrets were revealed to him. Ineffable things: i.e., privileged knowledge, which it was not possible or permitted to divulge.
* [12:5–7] This person: the indirect way of referring to himself has the effect of emphasizing the distance between that experience and his everyday life, just as the indirect someone in Christ (2 Cor 12:2) and all the passive verbs emphasize his passivity and receptivity in the experience. The revelations were not a personal achievement, nor were they meant to draw attention to any quality of his own.
* [12:7] That I might not become too elated: God assures that there is a negative component to his experience so that he cannot lose proper perspective; cf. 2 Cor 1:9; 4:7–11. A thorn in the flesh: variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation. If this is correct, the frequent appearance of singular pronouns in depicting the opposition may not be merely a stylistic variation; the singular may be provoked and accompanied by the image of one individual in whom criticism of Paul’s preaching, way of life, and apostolic consciousness is concentrated, and who embodies all the qualities Paul attributes to the group. An angel of Satan: a personal messenger from Satan; cf. the satanic language already applied to the opponents in 2 Cor 11:3, 13–15, 20.
* [12:8] Three times: his prayer was insistent, like that of Jesus in Gethsemane, a sign of how intolerable he felt the thorn to be.
* [12:9] But he said to me: Paul’s petition is denied; release and healing are withheld for a higher purpose. The Greek perfect tense indicates that Jesus’ earlier response still holds at the time of writing. My grace is sufficient for you: this is not a statement about the sufficiency of grace in general. Jesus speaks directly to Paul’s situation. Is made perfect: i.e., is given most fully and manifests itself fully.
* [12:9b–10a] Paul draws the conclusion from the autobiographical anecdote and integrates it into the subject of this part of the boast. Weaknesses: the apostolic hardships he must endure, including active personal hostility, as specified in a final catalogue (2 Cor 12:10a). That the power of Christ may dwell with me: Paul pinpoints the ground for the paradoxical strategy he has adopted in his self-defense.
* [12:10] When I am weak, then I am strong: Paul recognizes a twofold pattern in the resolution of the weakness-power (and death-life) dialectic, each of which looks to Jesus as the model and is experienced in him. The first is personal, involving a reversal in oneself (Jesus, 2 Cor 13:4a; Paul, 2 Cor 1:9–10; 4:10–11; 6:9). The second is apostolic, involving an effect on others (Jesus, 2 Cor 5:14–15; Paul, 2 Cor 1:6; 4:12; 13:9). The specific kind of “effectiveness in ministry” that Paul promises to demonstrate on his arrival (2 Cor 13:4b; cf. 2 Cor 10:1–11) involves elements of both; this, too, will be modeled on Jesus’ experience and participation in that experience (2 Cor 9; 13:3b).
* [12:11–18] This brief section forms an epilogue or concluding observation to Paul’s boast, corresponding to the prologue in 2 Cor 11:1–15. A four-step sequence of ideas is common to these two sections: Paul qualifies his boast as folly (2 Cor 11:1; 12:11a), asserts his noninferiority to the “superapostles” (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11b), exemplifies this by allusion to charismatic endowments (2 Cor 11:6; 12:12), and finally denies that he has been a financial burden to the community (2 Cor 11:7–12; 12:13–18).
* [12:12] Despite weakness and affliction (suggested by the mention of endurance), his ministry has been accompanied by demonstrations of power (cf. 1 Cor 2:3–4). Signs of an apostle: visible proof of belonging to Christ and of mediating Christ’s power, which the opponents require as touchstones of apostleship (2 Cor 12:11; cf. 2 Cor 13:3).
* [12:13–18] Paul insists on his intention to continue refusing support from the community (cf. 2 Cor 11:8–12). In defending his practice and his motivation, he once more protests his love (cf. 2 Cor 11:11) and rejects the suggestion of secret self-enrichment. He has recourse here again to language applied to his opponents earlier: “cunning” (2 Cor 11:3), “deceit” (2 Cor 11:13), “got the better of you” (see note on 2 Cor 11:20), “take advantage” (2 Cor 2:11).
* [12:19–13:10] This concludes the development begun in 2 Cor 10. In the chiastic arrangement of the material (see note on 2 Cor 10:1–13:10), this final part corresponds to the opening; there are important similarities of content between the two sections as well.
* [12:19] This verse looks back at the previous chapters and calls them by their proper name, a defense, an apologia (cf. 1 Cor 9:3). Yet Paul insists on an important distinction: he has indeed been speaking for their benefit, but the ultimate judgment to which he submits is God’s (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). This verse also leads into the final section, announcing two of its themes: judgment and building up.
* [12:20] I fear that…: earlier Paul expressed fear that the Corinthians were being victimized, exploited, seduced from right thinking by his opponents (2 Cor 11:3–4, 19–21). Here he alludes unexpectedly to moral disorders among the Corinthians themselves. The catalog suggests the effects of factions that have grown up around rival apostles.
* [12:21] Again: one can also translate, “I fear that when I come my God may again humiliate me.” Paul’s allusion to the humiliation and mourning that may await him recalls the mood he described in 2 Cor 2:1–4, but there is no reference here to any individual such as there is in 2 Cor 2:5–11. The crisis of 2 Cor 2 has happily been resolved by the integration of the offender and repentance (2 Cor 7:4–16), whereas 2 Cor 12:21 is preoccupied with still unrepentant sinners. The sexual sins recall 1 Cor 5–7.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/2corinthians/12
I try to assume into myself what the inspired author is trying to convey to me as I read it. John 20:30-31 tells us that all of this was written so that I could come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah and that, believing in Him, have life in His name. This life is not a postponed reward later on, but right now, as I read the Scriptures and try to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5).
The thorn in my flesh is that, after a lifetime of trying to love Jesus with all my heart, my mind, and my strength and my neighbor as myself, I know so little, I have encapsulated my life as in a tiny, drop of water, compared to the vast ocean of all that is. Yet, it is trying each day to seek God as I am, where I am, that I am close to the presence of God in me, next to me, ahead of me, behind me.
I listen to the great Bishop Robert Barron on the life of Christ and give thanks to God for the love that brings into my heart, right now. My “right now’s” add up to what heaven will be for me. Take some time to listen to the Sunday Sermon Bishop Barron gave this Sunday. In silence and solitude, I just stand in awe of Christ Jesus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9nWBwPy6es
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
Hello once more. As I seek God every day as I am and where I am, I came across these resources that you might find of interest. I keep asking myself the increasingly complex question of “How does all of this fit together?” My shocking answer to myself that kept coming back was, “It doesn’t.” As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And here is the rest of the story.” See below. Who God is and why He would love us so much is, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, beyond our ability to relate that to the human condition. That same God wanted us to share in creation that He sent His Only Son, to experience all the imperfections of human existence (except sin) to tell us not to worry, if you think it doesn’t make sense, be assured it doesn’t conflict with the mindset of the World. It makes total sense as the sign of contradiction, the indelible mark on our souls with Baptism, the sign of the cross. Every day does not depend on the one after it to build on successes. That is one of the effects of Original Sin. Each day is the struggle of a pilgrim in a foreign land, uncomfortable with the religion of politics, the casuistry of secular thinking, the relativism that all choices we make are right just because we have the right to make them. Read what Bishop Barron says about choices. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fisH54IFoEw We are defined not by our abilities but our good works, or, put another way, actions speak louder than words. These good works depend upon letting Christ permeate your being with the energy of the Holy Spirit. They are good because they are the products of any good works that show Christ has transformed you, or, as Matthew wrights in Chapter 5: The Similes of Salt and Light.*13i “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.*14You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.j15 Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, giving light to all in the house.k16 Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. l” The light of Christ reflects through me, but only if I sit next to the heart of Christ and receive His energy. My light means I hear the word of God to the best of my ability, and keep it. Michael
Blessings on you all. Check out my blog site: https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org.
Timothy Luke Johnson, Ph.D. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MrCSTq7yv0
Paul Harvey, And God Made a Farmer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWjUT1RjNdQ
Warning: This video may make some uncomfortable. It is about what went on (or didn’t) in Auschwitz in WWII. It shows the heights to which humans can aspire in conditions of barbaric cruelty and the depths to which humans can sink to treat other humans with hatred and disdain. I read it to remind myself that I am capable of both grace and becoming inhuman, except for the grace of God. I find the URL compelling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPTvPccmLUM
This is a wonderful rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Great resources about early Church Fathers. https://web.archive.org/web/20180716100726/http://www.churchfathers.org/
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who will be at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
In my most recent Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), I thought about the barriers that keep me from having in me the mind of Christ Jesus. As I begin to be more self-aware of the spiritual universe around me, new revelations seem to pop up out of nowhere. I don’t remember thinking of any of these barriers before, nor of the consequences of my choices as I approached them in the past. It may be that being more aware of the spiritual universe and how I navigate it as a professed Lay Cistercian, I have grown from self to God and don’t even realize it. Each one of us is different than when we were accepted by Christ at Baptism as an adopted son or daughter. This is just the beginning of a journey that is fraught with the land mines of the World. What complicates things is that we live on this platform of life (the physical universe) and must make sense out of it with your human reason and our ability to choose what is good for us (mental universe). What happens at Baptism is our entry into a third universe, the spiritual universe, or the Kingdom of Heaven. The problem for those who just live in the physical and mental universes is that the spiritual universe does not make sense. It was so important to our maturation as a race that God gave us His Only Son to become one of us, imperfect and prone to self-indulgence. Jesus not only told us what was prophecized in the Old Testament about a Messiah but showed us how to claim our inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. In this context, I thought about at least four obstacles or brink walls that have stopped me in my growth until I figured out how to go over or around them.
WALL NUMBER ONE: THE WORLD BUILDS THIS WALL AND DARES ME TO JUMP OVER IT. The world seduces each of us because of Original Sin to think of how we can be happy and fulfilled by ourselves. The problem with this seduction is that it assumes that the world (physical and mental universes only) can make us happy and fulfilled. Humans can find a great life with wealth, family, power, peace, the absence of conflict, and the presence of love. Here is the first Wall. The world (physical and mental universes alone) is radically different than a person who lives in the Spirit (physical, mental plus spiritual universes). What makes it different is you are a pilgrim in a foreign land. You live in the world as a platform to sustain your mind and body, but your assumptions, the very words you use in the world alone have a different meaning. Peace be with you, says Christ, and this is not the peace that the world gives. This peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of the Love of Christ in your heart. You live in the world with all its imperfections and ambiguities, but your purpose, the reason you follow Christ and have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) is love. This is not the love that the world gives. This love comes to us from God through Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. To climb this wall, you must be aware that the lure of the world, good as it seems, will not allow you to sit next to Christ on a park bench in the middle of winter and be happy. So, am I saying that only those who follow the path given by Christ make it to Heaven? By no means! Christ is the great judge of the living and the dead. I must follow the path because I know it to be the way, the truth, and the life. I hope everyone goes to heaven because of God’s infinite mercy. Heaven is God’s playground and He determines who He wants to let in to enjoy the rides.
WALL NUMBER TWO: I BUILD A WALL TO KEEP GOD OUT. This wall is a sneaky one because, when you look at it, you think you are on the outside looking in, but in reality, you are on the inside looking out. At the root of all sin (missing the mark or your true purpose in life) is idolatry. What is the very first commandment that God gave his people through Moses? “I am the Lord Thy God, thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/command.htm I must have read these commandments hundreds of times in my lifetime. Abraham, Moses was instrumental in translating what they heard from God to the people. At the time of Abraham (c. 1850 B.C.), he wanted to relate to God by offering up his son on the altar. Where would he have gotten these ideas? Abraham and even Moses seemed to think of God as being like the other gods around them, the Baals. Abraham wanted to show God his obedience so he wanted to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Other tribes around them were sacrificing their children to a diety for a variety of reasons. God says to Abraham in his mind, and also to Moses with the Ten Commandments, “I don’t want you to sacrifice your children anymore. Use animals.” When I look at the First Commandment, it says, “no other gods before me.” Early Hebrews seem to believe that all gods were real and God was telling them that I am numero uno. What do you think? When I build my wall from the inside, I do so to keep out the truth from God. If I am walled up, then I can be god and who is to tell me I am wrong. I do the Lay Cistercian practices, I read Scripture daily, so that should do it? Do you see the seduction of this wall? Only Christ has the power to knock down walls. I am the only one who can build them from the inside. The wall I build is the same one Adam and Eve, the architype protogenitors built when they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Ironically, it is God who tells us what to eat that is good or evil. Eating of this tree is idolatry, pride, envy, jealousy, and placing yourself at the very center of existence. Here is a seeming paradox: physically and mentally, you are the center of the universe quite literally. You only live for seventy or eighty years, if you are strong, says the Psalmist. Within that time, you must discover purpose, meaning, and ask and answer six questions.
Not everyone will even ask these questions, much less answer them. You can get your answers from one of two places: the world (Physical and Mental Universes) or God (Physical, Mental and Spiritual Universes). One of these will fulfill your destiny as a human. One leads to death, the other to life eternal. https://amzn.to/3oR1L21
3. WALL THREE:MY PERSONAL EGO WILL NOT ALLOW ME TO SEE A DEEPER DIMENSION TO REALITY THAN THE PHYSICAL OR MENTAL ONE. It is not as though we don’t have the answers to these questions that don’t make sense, it is that leap of Faith into the unknown, in this case belief in that which I don’t fully understand into a spiritual universe that is the opposite in some cases of what I know to be true. I can’t make that jump without God giving me the energy (Faith) to do so. In fact, God thought is so important that He sent His Son, to take on human nature so that he could make the jump first and then show us that we should not be afraid, that something wonderful awaited those who, unlike Adam, did His will.
4. WALL FOUR: MY HUMAN NATURE RESISTS GOING TO A PLACE WHERE NO ONE DARES TO LOOK. I put up many false faces throughout my life to show others how strong or beautiful or powerful that I am. The one place I fear to look is within me, yet that is the only place to contain those signs of contradiction that lead me to becoming fully human, fully an adopted son or daughter of the Father. By the grace of God, I discovered Lay Cistercian spirituality which in turn is based on the long tradition of Cistercian monks and nuns (c. 1090 AD) who themselves are founded on the Rule of St. Benedict (c.540 AD). This approach is a way of life which demands a period where I must practice and practice how to love others as Christ loved us. I do so, not as a monk, but as part of the gathering that following Cistercian principles and charisms in the world that is my scope of existence. I seek to transform myself from my false self to my true self with humility and obedience to God’s will. I try to use Cistercian practices of Lectio Divina and Liturgy of the Hours, to name a few, that help me focus on moving from self to God. Humans have an immune system to help fight off disease and illness. In the spiritual universe, I have an immune system to make sense out of the contradictions that my nature flings up in response to my mind and heart wanting to be like the sign of contradiction, Jesus. From the moment of my Baptism and commitment that Jesus is Lord, my physical and mental universes struggle with my spiritual universe to make sense out of what is beyond reason, beyond any human experience, that of unconditional love of God for all humans. This is not human love, which is the only thing I know about. It is the love of a person, Jesus, both God and Human, who bids me to take that step of Faith each day, and live outside of my humanity. It is only by dying to self that we can rise to what love is for those who seek to just sit in the presence of Christ and feel the joy of being resonant with all that is. My Cistercian practices help me to focus on having in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) with the five S’s: silence, solitude, sustainability, stillness, and seeking God each in whatever situation I find myself, as I am.
It seems like I spend a lot of time tearing down walls that come from my ego, my human nature, my acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. No wonder I feel exhausted as a Lay Cistercian, but it a feeling of fulfillment at doing what I must do to be in the presence of Christ.
Lent is a season of preparation and reflection. We are asked, as Church Universal, to prepare our minds and hearts for the Christ Principle. Before each momentous event in the life of Christ, we must prepare and reflect on how we have become what we seek each day, to love God with our whole minds, our whole souls, and our whole strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36) There are two events that tower over the others in our Church calendar of the life of Christ, that of the nativity and the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ as Messiah. They are not like secular Christmas and a humanist Easter, they are occasions for transformation from the false self to our true self as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
PREPARATION OF THE MIND
The Church is the collective consciousness of all things Christ from the time of the Apostles, both those things that are authentic and even some which did not hit the mark (heresy). As our mother, the Church bids us follow what Christ did, namely, birth and passion, death and resurrection, as a mirror to our personal lives, no matter what the circumstance we find ourselves. The Church is also a gathering of individuals with Faith to help them focus on Christ’s admonition to die to self in order to rise to new life. In practice, individuals must be penitential every single day. Lent is a time in the Calendar year when individuals put on sackcloth and ashes and remind themselves that they are dust and into dust, they shall return. We do penance for our past failings and ask the grace of God to be with us as we move forward in whatever might come our way. The psychology of Lent stresses a reassessment of who I am in relationship to God. St. Benedict urged his monks to be both humble and obedient as a habit, something not at all consistent with the human experiences we have. This takes practice, in my case, contemplative practices as followed by Lay Cistercians. http://www.trappist.net
For me, this takes the form of purposefully placing myself in the presence of Christ through the observance of Cistercian practices and charisms so that I might die to those parts of me that still tingle with the thought that I am god and can exist without any accountability except to myself.
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF LENT
Lent, the everything that comes after the Pentecost event, is about having in you the mind of Christ Jesus. It is trying to behave according to what we read and contemplate about the Life of Christ. This comes through good works, as in Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, but it also is true of trying to become what we read. That is why, in this Lent, my penance is to read the whole Life of Christ by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. I consider this book to be one of the five most influential written texts that have brought me closer to Christ.
Here is the pdf of the book for you to use during Lent if you so choose. I am reading one chapter every two or three days with my prayer that I become what I read.
THE PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY OF LENT
Penance is trying to become more like Christ and less like your worldly self. Here are some of the benefits of doing penance in terms of my lifetime commitment to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) as practiced by Cistercian charisms. Lent is a time for doing something, for the mind as well as for behavior.
I, Michael Francis Conrad, a member of the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, a community of Catholics being in the world, promise to strive for a daily conversion of life as my response to the Love of God. I commit myself to live in a spirit of contemplative prayer and sacrifice in obedience to God’s universal call to holiness, using daily Cistercian practices and charisms of simplicity, humility, obedience to God’s will, hospitality, and moving from self to God. I give thanks to my wife, Young, and my daughter, Martha, for standing by me on my journey. I ask for prayers from the monastic community and Lay Cistercians. I place myself in the hands of those already standing before the throne of the Lamb, including Holy Mary, Mother of God, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, the Seven Cistercian Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas, Father Anthony Delise, and other deceased monks and Lay Cistercians and also Deacon Dr. Marcus Hepburn. Finally, I accept the Rule of St. Benedict as my guide for living the Gospel within the time I have remaining.
6. Discipline — Lent is a time of discipline for the mind and the heart. Discipline comes from the Latin word, disciplina or learning. Do I do what I tell Christ I am going to do to be present to Him through Cistercian practices and charisms? Am I dissuaded from my practices because I am lazy or from a lack of faith? Do I make choices that are easy (the World) rather than those that are correct, consistent with my lifetime pledge above?
7. Stamina — Am I like the Apostles who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, slept while Christ endured his temptation to abandon his mission? I am a pilgrim in a foreign land since my acceptance by God as an adopted son (or daughter). Can I endure the constant temptations of Satan to abandon my Faith and seek my own comfort? Christ tells us, Fast and Pray that you enter not into temptation. It is a struggle to believe and not easy. It is that martyrdom of everyday struggle that we must endure with the help of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Devil wants us to give up our Faith because it does not make sense. Like a pilgrim in a foreign land, I must acknowledge that the foolishness of God is wiser than all the promises of the world.
8. Joy — There is joy in penance. Not the joy that comes from what the world says makes us happy, but the quiet realization that I am doing what Christ wants me to do to deny myself daily and take up my cross and follow him. This is the sign of contradiction once again, one that the world will not understand. It is folly for the Gentiles and a stumbling block for the Jews says Scripture.
Here is a blockbuster idea. Lent should be every day of the year, not just limited to the season. During the season of Lent, we join with the Church Universal to proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes in glory.
Happy Lent! Happy Fault, as we chant in the ancient Easter hymn.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –The Cistercian doxology
If you hear his voice, says the Psalms, harden not your hearts. Lent is upon us once again. It pops up yearly as we trudge down that path of choices we call life. As described in this clip of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we are defined by our choices. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwah1-07o0M
LENTEN PENANCE The Holy Spirit is always at work, inserting opportunities for each of us to make choices that energize our weak human nature. If we respond to what the Holy Spirit presents to us, we move forward. One such opportunity for me was George and Sandra Maule, both Lay Cistercians, who called me to see how I was doing. This was to be more than just a wonderful chat about all things Lay Cistercian, which it was. They recommended that I read the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s book, The Life of Christ. I had not read it, but they said it is a must-read. See how the Holy Spirit works? https://amzn.to/3aqhvDN Now comes the terrifying part of what the Holy Spirit does. I am offering you the opportunity to read Archbishop Sheen’s book for Lent, a chapter every day (they are short but packed chapters), and reflecting on them. Does it take time? Sure. It also takes time to recharge your Tesla Electric automobile. It is time you take with Jesus that shows you how much you love Him. One other thing, I ask you to share this post with others that you love.
If I recommended that you read only one book, not including the Sacred Scriptures, it would be this transformative one about the Life of Christ as seen through the Faith experiences of Archbishop Sheen. Here is the free pdf for your download. https://sacredheartshrine.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Life-of-Christ-Fulton-J.-Sheen.pdf
If you feel extra ambitious, you might try reading Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict every day in Lent (and beyond) with the prayer that you become what you read. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
My latest Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) had several tangential directions from the Holy Spirit. I can’t keep up with the profusion of energy that overshadows me. Let me give you a tiny example. My meditations were about God emptying himself (kenosis) of being God and how that was impossible (to my mind, not God’s).
If Jesus was like us in all things, except sin, then this “emptying” makes sense that his Divinity wanted to stay out of the way of his humanity. Jesus would have wanted a perfect human gift to the Father. The ever-present Holy Spirit could have made all that the human Jesus did just a sham. After all, what good is being born, teaching us how to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father, if God does not allow Christ to experience what it means to be human and suffer, die and rise from the dead as both divinity and humanity.
If Jesus was like us in all things, then, like us, he had to learn according to his humanity. He had to learn about those things that his divine nature knew, but his human nature had just to experience; you have to experience what it feels like to be a human (Galatians 5). This is part of the Art of Contemplative Practice in that we, too, must learn from the choices we make to be able to look at our history of behavior and learn what is authentic and what leads to the destruction of the human experience.
Let’s take a look at the I.Q. of Jesus in terms of this context of divinity, allowing his humanity to experience Faith, Hope, and Love and how it all fits together in terms of the purpose for Christ’s becoming human. (Philippians 2:5-12) Of course, there were no I.Q. Tests back then, so I don’t know what Jesus’ I.Q. would be. I know that self-awareness of who you are with who wants to become percolates throughout the Gospels and Epistles of Paul. In particular, let’s look at the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, one of the mysteries of the Rosary. I keep asking myself, why this particular story at this unique time in the time of Christ, before his public ministry? What is God trying to tell us through the author? Read this selection three times; once for the words, once for the meaning, third time for what this Scripture tells you about Jesus and his self-awareness of what it means to be human? https://catholicexchange.com/meditations-on-christ-in-the-temple Luke 2.
The Boy Jesus in the Temple.*
This passage from Luke suggests how the humanity of Jesus was self-aware of his mission early on in his life. The learning curve that Jesus needed to begin his ministry at the age of 33 seems presented to the readers of Luke’s Gospel as a young boy sitting in the Temple and teaching the elders there and listening to them. In this chapter of Luke, there is the birth of Jesus, the Circumcision of Jesus, the Presentation in the Temple, and the boy’s Finding in the Temple. Why are these stories of Jesus there in Luke? A young boy sitting in the Temple and listening to the elders and teaching them doesn’t make sense of what the world thinks. The humanity of Jesus did not inform or direct the divinity of Christ. Still, this divinity emptied itself to allow His humanity to learn about the mission and purpose and transform each learning experience from self to God. Progressive learning is important here. Jesus went back with Mary and Joseph and was subject to them (divinity subject to humanity, consistent with who Jesus was). For Jesus, there was not just a one time death on the cross, but a constant tug of war between his learning incrementally and knowing the totality of all that is.
The realization of what that “kenosis” meant to Jesus is even more of a reason to try to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). As a Lay Cistercian, the take away is that each day I seek God in whatever comes my way, has a layer of complexity that I must “empty” myself of the flesh (I don’t mean sexuality but rather the effects of original sin). St. Benedict urges his monks and nuns to prefer nothing to the love of Christ in Chapter 4 of his Rule.