Almost every Sunday, except my Lay Cistercian Gathering Day on the first Sunday of each month, you will find me at the 8:00 a.m. Eucharist, at Good Shepherd Community, Tallahassee, Florida.  The Church floorplan is laid out like a fan. I sit in the very last bench in the middle, in the Handicapped section.  Read Luke 18 and the story of theTax Collector. I am the Tax Collector in my Church, an outcast, a broken-down old temple of the Holy Spirit, someone forbidden to conduct a class or lead a retreat or take a leadership role in the community, someone who cannot read Scriptures during Euchasist, someone forbidden share my ministry. and someone who is a sinner.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I have noticed that the very last pew has an advantage. You can see people who come to Eucharist who do so because it is like the Elks or Moose Clubs. You can tell who pays attention or not. (I don’t pay attention to the readings or homily all the time, either).

One of the big temptations not to step in is judging the motivation of others by their outward demeanor. You can judge those inside the Church as to leading an immoral life but let God those outside the Church, says St. Paul in I Corinthians 5:13. As a Lay Cistercian, aspiring to move from self to God, I notice in myself five levels of spiritual awareness. All are based on the Word (John 1:1 ff). These apply only to those inside the Church, God judges those outside the Church.

LEVEL ONE: SAY THE WORD — At Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary, listening to the Scripture read at Holy Mass, and reading Scripture, I read the word. Remember the Word is God’s word not your’s. It can cause transformation of your Spirit. This is a level where we are distracted by cell phones, looking at what other people are wearing, making judgements in our minds as to who is holy or not. If you don’t banish these tempations, it is difficult to move to the next level. It takes work to focus on Christ. This is the Church of the Mind,

LEVEL TWO: PRAY THE WORD – If you hear the Word and do nothing about it, you are like an orange tree that can’t bear oranges. This level is one where you hear the Word of God and pray it. Prayer is the Church or dimension of the Heart. You go from your mind to your heart in most Cistercian practices and charaisms. Praying in its purest form is lifting the heart and mind to God. Praying the Word is taking that Word, a idea, a sentence or a word and using it to link your heart to the heart of Christ. Only you can do that but you can’t do it without Christ. In the context of community, where two or more are gathered in my name, our Lord tells us, he is there.  Remember, it is not how much you read Scripture or how many Hail Marys you say, although that is certainly Level One, but it what you do with the Word to make it flesh in your world.  The tempatation is to think that prayer won’t do any good, or that all you have to do is ask God for favors and needs you have. God answers our prayers but not in the way we might expect or in the timeframe we try to impose on God. This is the Church of the Heart. You play in God’s playground now. If you want to use the sandbox, you must know the rules, love God through prayer, and service others as Christ loved us.

LEVEL THREE: SHARE THE WORLD –Growing ever deeper, you hear the Word, Pray the Word, but in the context of others, or the Body of Christ, the Church. This level relaizes that the living Body of Christ, particularly the level of your assembly or local community of faith, has other who share their Word with you. There is only one Word. There is only one Lord. When you link up with the Church, you are open to the Holy Spirit coming down on you with the gifts you need to survive in this world, one that does not recognize Christ, one that want to be God, just like Adam and Eve did. This is the Church of the Mind AND the Church of the Heart, the openess to the Holy Spirit. You will know this level when you reach it. This is the Christ who appears to those on the road to Emmaus and revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread. The disciples related in Luke 24:32, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”This is the level where you have discovered the pearl of great price and are willing to sell what you have to possess it. Each of us must discover the purpose of our life, what makes sense of all the choas.  My purpose is Philippians 2:5,”Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.”  That is it. It is the spoke in my wheel, the way in which I, as a Lay Cistercian, will practice loving God with all my heart, and mind, and strength and my neighbor as myself. (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37).

LEVEL FOUR: BE THE WORD — The purpose of a monk, and therefore for Lay Cistercians, according to one of our Junior instructors, is change from self to God. The status quo or just maintaining yourself in spiritual awareness is not acceptable. The monks have a fancy word for it, “capacitas dei” or making room for Christ in your heart.

  • This is the level of both the mind and the heart where you stand before the Throne of the Lamb in contemplation and wait.
  • It is the level where you seek to make all things new by changing from self to God.
  • It is the result of trying havi the Cistercian charisms of himility and obedience in your heart, without prescribing the results.
  • It is the level where you just exist and don’t have to prove anything to God, ask anything from God, dictate how God approaches you in your silence and solitude.
  • It is seeking nothing more to life than to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). That is it. It seeks first the kindgom of Heaven with the assurance that all else will  be given to you.
  • This is the level of transformation to Christ.  It is not at all about you; all you do is put yourself on a park bench in the middle of Winter and hope that Christ comes your way.
  • It is the level where you have heard the Word, prayed that the Word be done in your according to God’s willl, opened yourself to what the Holy Spirit directs you to be by listening to other Lay Cistercians and others who are marked with the sign of Faith in Baptism.
  • This level of the product of all that has gone before.
  • It is being open to the ontic possibiity of the manifetibility of all being you encounter, in people, in nature, in animals and plants, in time and matter and energy.
  • It is a balloon which you blow up to make room for Christ using the tools St. Benedict sets forth in Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule.
  • It is the realization that, because of the pull of the world and the Devil, we are tempted to make ourselves into our own image and likeness instead of allowing God to be God.
  • It is accepting the effects of Original Sin that we must suffer pain, earn what we get with the sweat of our brow, and eventually die, with hope in the Resurrection.
  • This is the level that sets you up to enter the Mystery of Faith, to sit on a snowy park bench in the middle of Winter and be content to wait in silence and solitude until Christ should pass by.

Science, worldly behaviors, those who do not see the Mystery of Faith with the eyes that go beyond physical and mental reality, those who see spirituality as so much history, like Napoleon, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and President John F. Kennedy,  can’t live on this level. Reality is only what you can see and measure. This is the measurement of level four, that you love one another as I have loved you.


LEVEL FIVE: THERE ARE NO WORDS —  This is the level on earth where Christ actually sits down next to you on the park bench. You do not speak to Christ, there are no words needed, God’s language is silence and solitude. You don’t have to worry about what Christ looks like, no images or thoughts are adequate. This is a feeling, at the deepest level of who you think you are as a human. It is the fulfillment of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, it is the living Resurrection sitting next to you. I must admit that I have only experienced up to Level Four and perhaps only a glimmer of Level Five. What I experienced was a peace beyond all telling, and hope beyond my expectations. St. Paul says we see through a glass darkly but then we will see face to face.  My hope is this. I don’t care about anything I have learned about the purpose of life as compared with knowing Christ. With St. Paul, I say:

 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 Philippians 3:8



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