My Lectio Divina today (Phil 2:5) was on how blessed I am to be blessed by Christ in what I do. St. Benedict says that in all things, we should glorfy God. I asked myself, what things? The list is too long to recount here. If you turn to the very end of John’s Gospel, he makes a very practical statement about all those “things” Jesus did and why he did them for us. Read John 20:30.
John 20:30-31 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah,[b] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Three statement stand out for me.
LAY CISTERCIAN FINAL PROMISES
This is the end of my five years of discernment and the beginning of my full commitment to seek God using Cistercian practices and charisms from the constitutions and statutes of the Strict Order of Cistercian monks and nuns. It is a lifetime commitment to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. I don’t take this promise lightly because I know, given Original Sin, it will be a constant challenge to love God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength plus my neighbor as myself. I have not achieved this as much as I keep on attempting it and attempting it, each day. This indeed is the cross I take up to follow Christ. As I approach this momentus milestone, one which I do with humility and obedience, I do so in the context of my faith community, other Lay Cistercians and my faith community at Good Shepherd, Tallahassee, Florida.
As I reflect on my Final Promises, four themes seem to pop up in my Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5) these days:
Silence and Solitude in the Wilderness — A monk told a group of Lay Cistercian novices that he wanted to have silence and solitude in his life and the monastery was the only place where he could secure that without too many distractions. What is interesting for me is that, as a Lay Cistercian and not a monk, I try to use the same Cistercian practices and charisms that monks do, with a big difference. There is something purifying about the early Fathers and hermits going into the desert to rid themselves of all the distractions of the world and list to Christ in the wilderness. I had a thought about the wilderness, a place of intense silence, and deafening solitude, a condition where you discover who you are in the midst of seemingly no living things, a crucible to crush the temptations of the world to be great, in favor of having in you the mind of Christ Jesus. The thought I had was, I live in a wilderness, just as the hermits and early monks did. They had deafening silence, I have silence that must struggle against the tempatations of the world to be god. They had solitude, I live as a pilgrim in a foreign land, when I try to practice Cistercian charisms as I try to seek God. The wilderness is not only devoid of life, but my wilderness is also devoid of life, the world is a wasteland of false promises and practices. Every word in the universes of physical and mental (the world) has meansing, but add the spiritual universe and that word takes on a different meaning because of what Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior taught us. Christ says, I do not give you peace as the world gives peace. Fake prophets tout that they know Jesus and speak for God. The greatest sin that humans can make, made consistently by those who think God is on their side, is to be god.- not without irony that it is the first commandment. Adam and Eve’s sin is part of every sin we commit. The silence and solitude that I learned from Cistercian monks helps me sometimes to focus on where I am and who I am in the sight of God. The thought is always humbling to me. Lay Cistercian spirituality, especially the charisms of humility, obedience, stability, silence and solitude, have helped me recognize that the world is actually the wilderness, devoid of the Kingdom of Heaven. We can live in the world but not be seduced by its allurements and tempations to be god. Just because we choose something does not mean it is good for us. Not to be confused, humanism, living in two universes (physical and mental universe) can be noble, fulfilling, and is not evil. Like the scientific approach to all life, it is just not adequate to live in the piritual universe, one where loving God is the center and purpose of life and not loving self without God.
Practice. Practice. Practice. — Silence and solitude is the condition in which I find myself, In my case, I live the wilderness of dystunction and the world’s opinion of what is meaningful. Here are some Cistercian practices I practice over and over and over in order to overcome the temptations of the world.
Lectio Divina: Chief among these Cistercian practices for me is Lectio Divina. I must practice this over and over and over, That habit of Lectio helps me to focus on Christ each and every day at least for thirty minutes. As a novice, I tried to set aside thirty minutes and used the four steps of Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. Five years later, approaching my Final Promises to be faithful to my Lectio for the rest of my life, I don’t count time at all and I have morphed from sitting in chapel (although I still do that) to sitting in front of the computer to do Lectio (like I am doing now). Using the ideas and inspiration I have gained from Lectio Divina, I have completed forty-nine books and blogs for this site, all since 2000.
Gathering Day: This is the one day a month that Lay Citercians meet in community to pray, work, experience silence and solitude together. During my last five years, since I first was received as a novice, there has been a noticable shift in my approaoch to the Sacred, all due, I think, to my appreciation of the Holy Spirit working in and through other Lay Cistercians. I can’t point to a single instance or a single person that made this happen. I do know that I am more focused on Christ, have an increased capacity for god in my self, are more tolerant of the views of others, have more peace in my inner self, and look foward to Eucharist, Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, Meditation, Rosary, and Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament as not exercises, but as occasions where I sit next to Christ and allow him to show up or not and say what he wants to me without me trying to fill the silence with my own frustrations. Gathering Day is five hours away (one way) by auto. Someone once asked me how I could drive five hours (getting up sometimes at one in the morning to leave for the monastery) and I said this was the pearl of great price, something you would sell all you have to possess. It is not a thing, or property, or fame, or food, or adulation, but simply to be in the presence of God and wait for what happens. I can tell you, at the end of five years, it is worth the drive, each month. During the past five years, I have had health challenges, Leukemia (CLL type) in 2014. Through it all, I have tried to keep my eyes of the prize, as St. Paul says in Philippians 3: 7-16. Read the passage in its entirety.
New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
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 Scripture passage expresses what I have in my spirit as I approach Final Promises.
These are not Final Promises but rather hopes born of many, many times I have struggled to place myself next to the heart of Christ.
As a result of Cistercian practice and practice and practice, I am becoming more and more comfortable with faith as a mystery, the Resurrection as an enigma but one that hold the my hope to live forever, the sign of contraction is the world and the Kingdom of Heaven, the purpose of life, my purpose in life (Phil 2:5), what reality looks like, how it all fits together, how to love fiercely as Christ loved us, and how to prepare to live…Forever.
I am content with not knowing everything about Jesus, but rather just try to have in me each day the mind of Christ Jesus. The struggle for me now is “each day” not worrying about if Christ will show up.
The Rule of St. Benedict — I do not follow the holy Rule as written, nor, I understand do Cistercians. They fol I am not a monk nor do I live in a place where all of the chapters make sense. I do read the Rule of St. Beneiict, in some form each day, expecially Chapter 4 on the tools of good works, the core spiritual behaviors against which I measure my resolve each day, and come up wanting. The Prologue is one of my favorite readings (listen with the ear of your heart) as well as Chapters on Humility and Obedience. The key for me as a Lay Cistercian is “every day”. Read the words of the late Dom Andre Louf, who wrote one of my favorite Cistercian books, The Cistercian Way. The Cistercian monks have taught me many wonderful insights, ones which I do not immediately integrate into my spiritual way. One of those insights is to return to your heart. Here is what Dom Andre Louf writes about the realm of the heart, one which propels us to want to love more and more, one that compels us to sell all we have of the world and follow Him.
Return to your heart.–
“The advice that the ancient fathers unceasingly gave to the novice was, ‘Return to your own heart.’ What does this mean? The young monk soon realizes how difficult it is to approach God to enter into contact with him. We have already described the first toen unavailing steps which help him deepen his inner life. An important aspect of this maturing process is the discovery, perhaps at first only the presentiment, of an inner organ which will allow him to enter into contact with God. What is it that we pray to God with? What faculty do we use in order to pray? Do I use my inteligence, do I reflect on my concept of God, trying to deepen this and compare it with other realities that I already know? Perhaps I can to some extent deduce some conclusions from this, for example that God is all-powerful, God knows everything, God is the ultimate reason for my being, God is my creator.
These ideas are useful, but they can lead me to think tht in this way, I can come to a full knowledge of God. In fact, they remain superficial and can end by wearying me. They are alwys open to very plausible counteragrugments, which can sometimes shake my perhaps painfully-acqired conviction. I must also ask if this reasoning can satisfy my thirst for God. Does reasoning of this kind truly put me in touch with God? The answer, I think is “No”.
I can of course turn to my imaginations. I can try to represent God to myself using images which are familiar to me. However, even these images–and they are tholy for they are used by the Church in the liturgy—cannot speak to me interiorly except to the extent that my heart has been made truly receptive to their spiritual depth. There is always a certain danger with feelings in religion. Are they artificial? How can I stir up repentance, sorrow or love again in my heart unless God himself intervene and lead to them again, buried as they are in the deepest part of myself, in this place he wishes to reveal to me?
The Bible gives this interior place the name “heart”. The best description of the heart in this sense is give by some Fathers of the church who designate it as “the place of God in us”. There is a place in very man where God touches him and where he himself is constantly in contact with God. This is simply because at every instant God holds us in being. Ceaselessly we come forth from the hand. The place where this contravie contact with God takes place deep within me. If I can reach it I can touch God. If cI can arrive at a point where I can free myself from every other reality and being the gaze of my spirit to bear on this point exclusively, I can meet God.” (Dom Andre Louf, OCSO, The Cistercian Way, pp.71-71)
There are two dimensions or realms of my spirituality, that of the mind and that of the heart. I want to use what is best about my humanity to access both the mind and the heart as a Lay Cistercian. This is a concept I have not always appreciated, although it has always been there. What The Cistercian Way has gradually open my mind (and thus my heart) to considering is the importance of mystery, reality just beyond my knowing, although I know it is real.
The mystery of Faith with all its incredible dimensions — As I approach Final Promises, I am aware that what I don’t know far outweighs what I know. I can live to be one thousand years of age and it would not change. It is not that there is a set body of knowledge out there, as in memorizing the Bible passages, but that what it means is so deep and so mysterious we will never reach the end of all there is to know. In a way, trying to know everything is a form of idolatry. Christ bid us to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength and our neighbor as ourself. This is not attainable by only knowing about Christ but by loving Christ by loving others as Christ loved us.
THE SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE DOESN’T MAKE SENSE
There is reality out there that we have difficulty in possessing in our minds, quite simply because we do not have either the capacity or the capability for our mind to approach it. The Rule of Opposites, one of three rules of the spiritual universe is one such mental contradiction that our minds do not seems to accept. In the spiritual universe, what is real is just the opposite of what we know in the physical and mental universes. Think about it. Everything looks normal because your senses and mind process what it sees, hears, knows to be true, and is consistent with what you know is real. Yet, to be a disciple of the Master, we are called to renounce self, die to self, in order to live. It just doesn’t make sense. Again, that God would become one of us when he does not have to leave the comfort of being God (Phil 2: 5-12) doesn’t make sense. That this sinlless God who took on our sinful human nature would die for us voluntarily and then rise from the dead so that we could also rise from the dead, makes no sense whatsoever. The whole experience of the mysterious as being more real the more mysterious it is, is part of our Eastern Mysticism, a rich heritage of approaching God. In Western, (Roman and Greek) thinking about what is real, the more you know about something, the more real it is. In Eastern traditions, the more something is mysterious, the more real it is. One of the happenings I find myself trying to explain is why I am not more disturbed to spend all my time knowing about God. For example, the more I know about God the better disciple I will become. The more prayers I say, the holier I am. I am at peace with the fact that I can never approach God the Father except by sitting next to the heart of Christ and joining through him, with him, and in him as he gives glory to the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit. It is not that I don’t try as much as I can to know more, but I am satisfied that knowing must lead to loving, and knowing and loving automatically produces service to others. Read Matthew Matthew 25:31-46. If you want to get a flavor of mystery, then read The Cloud of the Unknowing, https://www.paracletepress.com/samples/exc-complete-cloud-of-unknowing.pdf I must warn you, it is not for the faint of heart or mind. A more readable but no less mystical document is the Book of Revelations and the Book of Daniel.
As I approach my Final Promises with Cistercian practices of Lectio Divina, contemplation, the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4, I am at peace with my mind not trying to comprehend what is essentially pure knowledge. Even when I get to Heaven, with God’s grace, I will only be able to “see” that which I was able to link with the Redemptive Act of Christ. What I see now is, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., so much straw compared to what reality is, what God is, what the purpose of life is, How my purpose fit into the purpose of life, what reality is, how it all fit together, how fierce love is the nuclear fission that fuels all of what is, and how well I had in my mind the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).
I will make my Final Promises to try, with the help of Christ, the Holy Mother of God, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, the Seven Cistercians Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas, to seek God with all my heart, all my mind, with all my self, and love my neighbor as myself. Final Promises are not final but rather a continuation of what was begun in my Baptism and Confirmation. That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict
I add a poem that I wrote about my life. It seems to sum up where I am on my Lay Cistercian journey.
The Poem of My Life
I sing the song of life and love…
…sometimes flat and out of tune
…sometimes eloquent and full of passion
…sometimes forgetting notes and melody
…sometimes quaint and intimate
…often forgetful and negligent
…often in tune with the very core of my being
…often with the breath of those who would pull me down, shouting right in my face
…often with the breath of life uplifting me to heights never before dreamed
…greatly grateful for the gift of humility and obedience to The One
…greatly thankful for adoption, the discovery of new life of pure energy
…greatly appreciative for sharing meaning with others of The Master
…greatly sensitive for not judging the motives of anyone but me
…happy to be accepted as an aspiring Lay Cistercian
…happy to spend time in Eucharistic Adoration
…happy and humbled to be counted worthy to be an adopted son of the Father
…happy for communities of faith and love with wife, daughter, friends
…mindful that the passage of time increases each year
…mindful of the major distractions of cancer and cardiac arrest
…mindful of my center and the perspective that I am loved moreover, I must love back with all the energy of my heart and strength, yet always falling a little short
…mindful the energy I receive from The One in Whom I find purpose and meaning… Forever.
To The One who is, Who was, and Who is to come at the end of the ages, be glory, honor, power, and blessings through The Redeemer Son in unity with the Advocate, Spirit of Love.
From The One who is, Who was, and Who is to come at the end of the ages, I seek hope that His words about the purpose of life are true, that He is the way that leads to life…Forever.
With The One who is, Who was, and Who is to come at the end of the ages, I seek the fierce love so I can have in me the mind of Christ Jesus, my purpose in life and my center…Forever.