HOW TO ORGANIZE AND FOCUS ON THE LIFE OF CHRIST

MY SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR EACH DAY

The following pages are samples of the horarium (hourly agenda) I use to organize my day as a Lay Cistercian. Everyone who practices the Cistercian practices and charisms, for those, not a monk or a nun, will have a different challenge to seek God. This is how I do it, but it does not mean this is how you must do it. I must tell you that I am retired and have time to devote to the practice of how to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.  I am facinated with the new discovery of contemplation, although I am a mere novice to learning how to do it. My idea of contemplation, the deepest level of Lectio Divina (lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio) is picturing myself on a cold, lonely park bench in the dead of winter. I feel the cold, I try to warm myself with my coat, but the chill spreads to all parts of my body. I am waiting for the Lord, Jesus, the Christ, to come and visit. I know he will come this way, but it is I who must wait for him.  Waiting for the Lord takes humility. Believing that the Lord will sit down with me takes Hope. I picture Christ sitting down on the bench in my meditation, sitting down, smiling, having a firm shake and giving me a hug, and I feel his body next to mine, I see the twinkle in his eyes, warming me up. My heart is open to the heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart, and I become warm again. This is a sign of contradiction, so common with everything to do with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I have never seen Jesus, but he told me, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20: 28-29.

28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

On the park bench, it doesn’t matter if I know what Jesus looks like, what is important is that Jesus knows who I am and what I look like. On the park bench, He stopped by for a visit just for me. His only request is to do to others as I have done to you.  Here are some of the ways in which I would like to share what Christ has given me. By God’s grace I continued to be saved each day I take up my cross and follow Him. Each day!

My Center: Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. –Philippians 2:5

Five or Six Practices to support my center: These are Cistercian practices, which I have adapted as a Lay Cistercian in my daily routine.

  1. Silence—When I think of silence, I think of lack of worldly noise. But, it is more than just lack of external noises, like television, children playing, going to work, and traveling in a car. For me, I try to be conscious that all these sounds give glory to the Father through the Son, in union with the Holy Spirit. I try to make a space where I can reflect on my center with some degree of privacy. Silence of my heart helps me sustain the other Cistercian charisms and practices and so grow in fierce love. Respecting silence is not only just “not talking” but appreciating the silence of God. God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts, not with German, English, or any other human language. The language of God is pure love. Pure love is a mystery of faith but it does somehow include loving us with all our our nature (our hearts, our mind, and our strength). Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37 bids us to do the same to others, as well as loving our neighbor as our self.
  2. Solitude— Solitude, for me, means carving out space and quiet time to focus on how to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. For the Cistercian monks and nuns, solitude means carving out time and space that permits them to focus on loving God with their whole heart, whole soul and whole mind without external distractions. For the Lay Cistercian, we also concentrate on fashioning a little prayer nest but we live in the secular world and therefore embrace all the distractions as part of our prayer to the Father. St. Benedict says, “That in all things, God be glorified.”
  3. Prayer—Prayer is lifting the heart and mind to God. As a Lay Cistercian, I actively put myself in the presence of God using prayer, both communal and private. Even if I sometimes feel that prayer is repetitious and rote, I have noticed that the more I try to grow deeper using prayer, rather than fighting the externals, the more peace there is in my spirit. It is resting my heart in the heart of Christ that helps me love fiercely.
  4. Work—Work as the world sees it is a means to make money. Work with a spiritual approach is transforming the ordinary tasks of the day into those that give glory and praise to the Father. Work is prayer, if offered up as praise and glory to the Father. As a retiree, my work is almost exclusively devoted to writing and my blog. For whatever time I have remaining, I want to offer my experiences and talents to help parishes implement a contemplative option to their normal parish spirituality.
  5. Community—Lay Cistercians gravitate towards communal gatherings to refresh the soul and to transform themselves deeper in the mind and heart of Christ Jesus. I commit to attending a monthly meeting of Lay Cistercians called a Gathering Day at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Even though there is great distance between us (250 miles one way), we link together as one in our commitment to each other because we are all linked through, with, and in, the mind and heart of Christ Jesus. Prayer is where you find it. So, too, is Lay Cistercian spirituality. I have several communities of faith that help sustain me in my quest to love God with all the heart, my soul, and my strength. My parish faith community is where I do most of my Lay Cistercian practices.

My spiritual goals for the rest of my life:

  1. Take up your cross daily and follow Christ. The cross in this case is being consistent in spiritual practices. Although there is no penalty attached for not performing them, the more you want to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus, the more you will have what you wish for. Take what comes your way and transform it into Christ Jesus.
  2. Solitude in the midst of community. Community here means a support and sustaining faith group, such as Lay Cistercians of Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Ga. and Good Shepherd faith community at daily Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, with its ministries to the poor, the sick and those in need. Where two or three gather in my name, says the Master, there I am also.
  3. Work to share my writings and adult learning about Cistercian spiritual practices.
  4. Be open to the possibility of the manifestibility of all being! I want to be more conscious of my own capacity to love God with my whole heart, my whole mind, and my whole soul and my neighbor as myself (capacitas dei). I want to be open to radical hospitality, seeing Christ as my neighbor, seeking to be open to God’s message in nature, hoping for a small place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Spiritual Practices I use to sustain my center:

As a Lay Cistercian, these are some of the practices, little nests of silence and solitude, I carve out of my routine, not because I need the discipline but because they place me in direct contact with the mind and heart of Christ.

Eucharist:  The Sacrament of unity with God through Christ Jesus with the Holy Spirit as Advocate. This is the bread of Heaven. This is the pure energy of God for my transformation. This is my destiny in one prayer of gratitude with the community of believers.

Lectio Divina: This ancient, monastic practice allows me to growing deeper in spiritual awareness, there are four steps. Read (lectio); Meditate (meditatio); Pray (oratio); Contemplate (contemplatio).

Meditation and Spiritual Reading: This practice gives me a time to focus on Scriptures and Spiritual Readings about how to grow deeper in Christ Jesus.

The Rosary:  Meditations on the life and purpose of Christ Jesus. One of my favorite practices is a mantra-like prayer to help me meditate on the high points in the life of Jesus. You grow beyond saying Our Fathers or Hail Marys.

Liturgy of the Hours: This practice, refined by St. Benedict c. 540 AD in his Rule of St. Benedict, organizes the monks to pray the Psalms seven times a day. I try to pray the Psalms at least twice a day. The key is consistency and prayer in common, if possible. It is the prayer of the Catholic Church every hour of the day, every day of the week, giving praise, honor, and glory to the Father through the Son in union with the Holy Spirit.

Eucharistic Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament: I believe that Jesus Christ is present, body and blood, soul and divinity, under the appearance of the bread. This is an ancient practice and one of the most revered of all practices. If this is indeed the living Christ, why would you not want to visit? This takes fierce love to practice.

Reading the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4:  Each day, part of taking up my cross is reading Chapter 4 of St. Benedict, the Tools for Good Works. I offer this reading in reparation for my sins and for the strength to be strong next time I am tempted.

Work: My work, as in ora and labora, is to write down my ideas, many of them directly from my Lectio Divina prayers, and to continue my ministry to get contemplation practices out to the public.

Dedication of the Day: My offering each day for a different intention.

Monday: Penance: In reparation for my sins and those of the Church, those in my book of Life.

Tuesday: For all family, friends, teachers, those in my book of Life.

Wednesday: In honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Joseph, those in my book of Life.

Thursday: For all Lay Cistercians, Monks of Holy Spirit Monastery, Monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey, priests and religious of Diocese of Evansville, Monks of Norcia, Italy and those in my book of Life.

Friday: For an increase in God’s grace to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and my neighbor as myself.

Saturday: For all deceased, an increase in my faith through the Holy Spirit and for those in my book of Life.

Sunday: To give praise, honor and glory to the Father and the Son and 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.

A PRAYER FOR PERSPECTIVE

  1. Our Father, source of all goodness and fulfillment, we struggle so many times to see your will in what we attempt each day. We are most alive, most human when we look at you in the delicate way the sun greets each leaf in the morning by brushing it gently with the gold paint of dawn, the way the rose radiates subtle smells effortlessly to praise you far more than mere words, the way the seashore throttles the sands with clashing sounds, the way coffee con leche tastes with Cuban bread, the way you touch us with the unseen reality of your love. All creation gives you glory by their being. “That in all things, God be glorified.” Give us daily food for the journey, and you did your people in the desert. Give us good friends to help keep us honest about ourselves. Give us your Spirit to make the gifts real in treating others with unconditional love and faith. Allow us to forgive those who wrong us and pray for those who put us down for loving you. You are the gate through which we must pass on our journey to Forever. Show us the way to be gentle and humble of heart. Give us wisdom so that we can see what is unknown, know what is unseen, and love pure energy. With St. Paul, may we prefer nothing to understanding you and serving you with gladness all the days of our lives. When the Devil tempts us, may the angels that minister to you night and day also be our protectors from choosing our false self.
  2. May you bless us with your spirit of mercy and penance, so that we might resist evil and our failures to love you with all our hearts, as you were once tempted in the Garden of Gethsemani.

END NOTES:  

To live the life of Christ as a Lay Cistercian is not without distinct challenges and responsibilities. If would be so easy just to say you want to be a Lay Cistercian and bask in the glow of what the monks and nuns do in their daily lives as if you wishing to be like them is actually like them.  Like the book of James points out, faith without works is dead. So too is a Lay Cistercian Journey without the struggle of trying to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5). As the Fox in the book, The Little Prince, points out: it is time you take to be with someone that is meaningful.

As one who can only aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, it takes five years of practice (two years as a Novice, and three years as a Junior) before one makes final promises, and that is just to begin to run the race. It is the race itself that is meaningful, the time it takes to live out the Life of Christ in daily events, to see and share the love of Christ in community of believers that you may only see once a day or once a month, the daily habits formed by practicing prayers over and over, while all the time making them fresh and new each day, and all this to… “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus .” (Phil.2:5)

Is it worth the cost? For those for whom Christ has captured them, as St. Paul says in Philippians 3:7-16, “…I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For Him, I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ Jesus and be given a place in Him.” 

That passage has begun to transform me from self to God, ever so slowly and unobtrusively, so that what had become routine and stale is now new and fresh with the realization that I have only begun to grasp  “…the breadth and the length, the height and the depth, until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge,  (I am) filled with the utter fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-20)

Praise to the Father, to the Son, and 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

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