SEVEN CAVEATS FOR NOVICE CATHOLICS
Now that you have made your profession of faith as a Roman Catholic, received the Spirit of Adoption making you a son or daughter of the Father, and wrapped yourself in the warm blanket of the Faith of the Church Universal (those in Heaven, those still struggling on earth, and those awaiting purification), now what?
The euphoria of the moment is exhilarating and you wish it would never end. Your feet are not touching the ground. Such was my feeling when I was ordained as a priest on May 16, 1966. Each of us may experience many such moments of elation and joy in our lifetime, such as birth of a child, getting married, graduation from college, achieving goals that required fidelity to a set of principles. Such an even was my Final Profession as Lay Cistercian at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery. (www.trappist.net). Being received into the fullness of Christ’s Body is one of those moments. You just completed the RCIA, and stand before the living Body of Christ, the believers of your faith community.
Here are seven things to consider as you move forward in your journey.
- Your journey, in seeking to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus, has just begun (Phil 2:5). Ironically, if you ask someone who has been a Universal Catholic for their whole lifetime and practices Cistercian spirituality, they will tell you their journey is just beginning also. Each day is a lifetime of learning to love God with all your mind, all your heart, all your strength and your neighbor as yourself. Each day begins a new opportunity to declare that God is God and there is no other and you are you, an adopted son or daughter of that God. It is at the very center of what makes up Jewish spirituality as well as Catholic Universal spiritual practice. (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37).
- Keeping your spirituality from creeping lethargy is work. You don’t automatically get a free ticket to Heaven. Read Matthew 25:31-46. If you don’t feed your faith or water your spirit, you will grow dry like a plant that is planted in rocky ground.
- You have been given adoption as a son or daughter of the Father. What does that mean in terms of you making and keeping Christ alive in your heart? Can you just sit back and get on the conveyor belt of life until you die?
- If you don’t eat the flesh or the Son of God and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.
- You can approach the Father only in, with and through Jesus Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is the sign in which you were baptized and is branded on your soul. You didn’t know you had a tattoo, did you.
- Have a prayer schedule to help you focus on converting your life to that of Christ.
- The community of faith contains a great opportunity to access the Holy Spirit in others, and thus in yourself.
Not to be outdone in the field of “7’s”, here are seven activities you can do to put ourself in the presence of God. These are seven prayers I do each day, if possible.
MY CHALLENGE TO YOU AND MY CHALLENGE FOR MYSELF
God the Father creates all that is. Jesus, His Son, gives humans a chance to be adopted sons and daughters…Forever. The Holy Spirit dwells in you, yes in you and in all the others in your faith community, so that you can love others as Christ has loved you.
- Read the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4, every day. Yes, every day. There is method behind what is seeming madness. I share with you that I have read this Chapter 4 every day for the last five years, even since I became a Lay Cistercian novice. What I found was, when you read the Word, even if you think nothing happens, God changes you. Slowly, imperceptibly, irresistibly, inevitably, undeniably, you move from self to God. I know it sounds crazy. It works. http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbejms2.html#4
- You need a center for your life. This is your purpose in life, the reason for your existence, the North on your compass. My center is: “…have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) Your center is the bulls eye of your dart board, the 100% of an archer’s target, the default in times of trouble, death in the family, knowing, as I did, that I have cardiac arrest (2007) and Leukemia (CLL type) 2014. Be careful! Once you make a center, everything flows from it, everything flows towards it, it is the ground of your being, the North on your compass.
- Never be satisfied with the Church of the mind (knowing about Christ). Always seek the deeper dimension of Church of the Heart (Matthew 25:31-46) Take ten minutes and reflect on the implications of the command Jesus left us: love one another as I have loved you. How do we do that? For me, being a Lay Cistercian filled a big hole by allowing me ways to convert my life to that of Christ. That means not only knowing Scriptures, but being what they say. That means trying, and I might add missing the mark many time, to have in me the heart of Christ Jesus.
- Be transformed by the wonderous Mystery of Faith, a way to approach God through Christ in humility and obedience to what God tells you through the Scripture, the Church teachings on spirituality, Lay Cistercian approach to conversion of life. The place science cannot look is the Mystery of Faith. Why? Different assumptions, different language, different approach to life (e.g. the sign of contradiction). They can’t get there from here.
- Recognize the five levels of spiritual awareness that transform you from your old self to your new self in Christ Jesus.
- Hear to the Word..
- Pray the Word.
- Share the Word.
- Be the Word you hear, pray and share.
- Enjoy being in the presence of the Word
One of the contradictions Christ came to give us was the Rule of Opposites (see my book, Three Rules of the Spiritual Universe in this blog under Store) This is important because the moment Christ accepted you at Baptism as adopted son or daughter and you accepted Christ in Confirmation, you entered a foreign land. You now live in the world but do not follow the ways of the world which lead to death not life. Every word tha the world says is the opposite in the Kingdom of Heaven. Test it out! God becomes human; the virgin shall conceive a Son; to be greatest you must serve others; God dies on the cross; Jesus (human and divine) rises from the dead and ascends to the Father. None of this makes sense to the world, but to you, beginning your journey (as we all are) to discover how to love others as Christ loved us, it is important to recognize what is going on and grow ever deeper in Christ Jesus.
6. Don’t let your ice melt. Your acceptance as a member of the Body of Christ means you join a group of faithful, many of whom died for the same faith you just professed. Keeping your faith strong, using the analogy of the ice-cube, is critical. You receive the gift of faith and adoption from Christ but you have the responsibility to keep the fire from going out, from letting grace die for lack of use. Faith can wither and die, if you don’t water it. Using the ice cube analogy, you must keep the water, just frozen at your profession of faith, frozen. It takes work. You don’t get on the conveyor belt of life, if you are a disciple, and get off when you get to Heaven. Free Ride! Sorry! You must take up your cross daily and follow Christ.
7. If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. Your commitment to Christ implies you will love others as Christ has loved you. Wonder if you go a whole year and nothing has happened and you have not moved closer to having in you the mind of Christ Jesus? How can you tell? One way is to be a part of a community of faith and have a spiritual mentor or guide for your first year. You can fool yourself with just mouthing the words that you love Jesus. Read Matthew 25:31-46. What does this tell you about how to MOVE from self to God. You can tell you MOVE if you do something in the name of Christ.
Seven Cistercian Practices that help sustain me in my conversion from self to God. Actually, these seven (or eight) are not ends in themselves, in the sense that if I do them, I am free automatically from the temptations and from taking up my cross to follow Christ. I use them because they place me in a place of silence and solitude where my heart can approach the heart of Christ, to know more, to love more, and to serve others more. (In no order of priority)
- As a Lay Cistercian, I have accepted the Cistercian Way, an approach to transforming myself from my false self to a true self (Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule). I use the Cistercian approach to the Rule of St. Benedict, particular as it applies to Chapter 5. http://www.ben.edu/center-for-mission-and-identity/resources/rule-of-st-benedict.cfm. One of my practices that I do every day, one that has incalculable influence on my behaviors in ways I don’t yet realize, is Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, Instruments for Good Works. I read this every day. The every day is important because it becomes part of my prayer. As the fox said to the Little Prince, in Saint Exupere’s book of the same name, it is the time you take to wait for someone every day that is important. What is essential is invisible to the eye. Every day is how I look forward to being with Christ, usually in the mornings after Morning Prayer. Every day becomes special because I meet Christ. Love means you look forward to being with someone, even if you never speak words. The list of instruments or tools in Chapter 4 remind me of who I am and how far I am from achieving mastery of any of the good works listed there. I think every day of how much more I need to convert my life to that of what it takes to love God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength.
- As a Lay Cistercian, I have pledged to place myself in the presence of the Reel Presence (Christ in thee Blessed Sacrament). I was in the swimming pool at Premier Gym last Summer when the topic of the Real Presence somehow popped up. A retired Methodist minister was pontificating proudly that Catholic worshipped a wafer of dried bread, the height of idolatry in his mind. I did not respond to that (you don’t respond to ignorance by point out that someone is ignorant of what Catholics actually believe). I did tell him that, for those who have faith, no answer is necessary and for those who do not, no answer is possible. The topic immediately turned to Florida State football.. I try to spend quality time with the one I love, especially face to face or heart to heart. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the greatest practices I do (I say that about all of them) because it allows me to focus on Christ in contemplation and enjoy being with the person I love.
- As a Lay Cistercian, a way that I can be present to Christ is through the Eucharist. Again, Christ gives us all that we need to sustain our spiritual wellbeing, if only we take the time to participate. I try, unless I have doctor’s appointments, to attend daily Eucharist because I see Christ there and receive Him in thanksgiving. The act of Christ’s love for the Father also allows me, a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian to tag along with him as he once more in space and time ascends to the Father giving Him all praise and glory. We do Eucharist, the last supper, to prepare ourselves for the trip to Forever. What a last meal that is! Again, it is all about moving from self to God through humility and obedience to the will of the Father, just like Jesus did.
- As a Lay Cistercian, another way that I can be present to Christ is through recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, sometimes called the Divine Liturgy. St. Benedict wrote his Rule to organize unruly monks together for prayer in such a way they would focus on Christ and not their own needs. Liturgy of the Hours are Psalms, readings from Scripture and the early Church Fathers, as well as contemporary passages from the Constitution of the Church. Lay Cistercians commit to recite at least Morning Prayer and Evening Prayers (recited in private) every day. I use a 4 volume series of Liturgy of the Hours. I am most fortunate at Good Shepherd Community in Tallahassee, Florida, to have a small group that recite the Morning Prayers and Evening Prayers out loud in choir (one side prays a stanza of the Psalm and the other side takes turns with the next one). I would recommend you consider praying the Morning Prayer every day, easier said than done. You would not believe all the temptations Satan puts in the way of doing this daily. It is the prayer of the Church Universal, offered in reparation for the sins of the human race, every day, every hour, every minutes somewhere in the world. http://www.ben.edu/center-for-mission-and-identity/resources/rule-of-st-benedict.cfm and also look up the Liturgy of the Word on-line at: http://www.divineoffice.org. This service is free, if you sign up (also free). Try it!
- As a Lay Cistercian, one way I am present to Christ is by daily Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is the practice of moving from reading Sacred Scriptures to meditating on it, praying that it become part of you, then contemplating what went before. Contemplation is very difficult for me to achieve. I must empty myself of all thoughts, words, ideas, agendas, and open my heart to the heart of Christ. I do this practice daily as part of my Lay Cistercian promises. How long you do Lectio Divina is not important. I do it sometimes three or four times a day, often waiting outside of Trader Joe’s Market for my wife to shop. It is a discipline, like all these seven practices. It takes practice. Why do you think they call it Cistercian practices? It is the time you take to be with someone you love that is significant.
- As a Lay Cistercian, I am present to Christ by reading the works of Cistercian monks and nuns, plus other mystics. At the Gathering Day, what Lay Cistercians call the one day a month they meet for prayer together, we discuss a book on Cistercian heritage under the influence of the Holy Spirit in each of us. This is more than a Bible Study or a Support Group. The leader is always the Holy Spirit who gives us what we don’t have, insights into the Mystery of Faith, a glimpse into the Sacred.
7. As a Lay Cistercian, Christ is present to me in the silence and solitude I carve out each day. Remember, it is the time you take with someone who tells if you love them or not. Looking forward to being with Jesus in the silence and solitude of your heart is a sign of love. Once you are ready, you may wish to make a contemplative retreat. See http://www.trappist.net
- Being a member of the Body of Christ is all about growing in knowledge, love and service..
- As a Lay Cistercian I follow the Cistercian Way (silence, solitude, work, prayer and community) in the context of the world.
- I have to work to keep my head above the waters of apathy and wanting to be god.
- Cistercian practices (above) help me maintain my equilibrium while moving from self to God.