You have heard of those who retire and then, very soon after retirement, they die unexpectedly. We do not know the day nor the hour when we will die but we can do something about living fully in retirement. Far be it to tell you what to do, but I can share with you my reflections as a Lay Cistercian on what I do. You can take what you need from the table of the Lord and feed yourself, somewhat like a buffet. One of the dishes at the table is having a schedule to your life. Routine is the key for seniors to survive and even thrive in what might seem like the chaos that the World presents are meaningful.
As a Lay Cistercian, I find it helpful to have a plan of spirituality, in my case contemplative Cistercian spirituality, to help me focus on having in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) I retired three times, went back to work three times, and now, at the age of 78.2 years of age, I need something in my life to give me meaning, fulfillment and, most of all, hope that there is something on the other side of death. something that Jesus promised us as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. I do this in the context of communities of Faith, those of my Lay Cistercian colleagues, and those at my faith community of Good Shepherd parish in Tallahassee, Florida.
I just finished writing a manuscript for a book on contemplative spirituality (my 51st) since 2000. You can see all of them on ww.amazon.com/books/dr. michael f. conrad The book is entitled MAKING RETIREMENT MEANINGFUL: A Lay Cistercian reflects on six questions retirees must answer in their search for meaning and fulfillment. I wrote it for those who retire to give them a perspective that will lead to fulfillment beyond anything that could ever imagine. The World can give it. It is all about love, and we know what love is because Christ first loved us.
My point is, what follows comes from this book. Here I am at 78 and still cranking out iceas for others to read. I don’t even know if anyone reads this stuff. I don’t care. I am compelled to write day in and day out, in season and out of season. I made the big mistake of opening up the spikot of the Holy Spirit and now I can’t shut it off. I attend Gathering Day at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia as much as I can. It is a five hour trip (one way). My daily Lectio Divina takes the form of writing down what I hear the Holy Spirit telling (just as I am doing right now) and putting it on a blog or in a book for parishes to use to help them establish a contemplative approach to prayer. Do I always have good ideas? Wrong question. Do I promote my work with others? Wrong question. I don’t have money to sustain this apostolate unless I take it from my meager funds, and even then my spouse does not want me to spend any money at all on it. But, I must. Although I am retired in the view of the World, I am very much alive in the realm of the Spirit and shall probably die trying to get my last ideas on paper for you to read. Do you see what sustains me in my retirement? It is trying to love God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength and my neighbor as myself. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37) I try to love others as Christ loves us. I identify with St. Paul in Philippians 3:7-16. I read the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4 every day, in hopes that I might become what I read. Each new day is a new opportunity to practice listening with the ear of the heart (Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict). It is a transformation from the mind to the heart, using the heart of Christ as my source of pure energy, pure love, pure service.
You need to get a schedule and a system of spirituality in which you discover meaning in retirement. The following pages are samples of the horarium (hourly agenda) I use to organize my day as a Lay Cistercian. I must tell you that I am retired and have time to devote to the practice of how to love as Jesus did. Not everyone has the great opportunity I have, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and Rosary in the parish. If I don’t keep it, no big deal, but it is an anchor. I off you an example of what I have used to design a system of spiituality for my particular needs. Being a Lay Cistercian, when looking at a way to practice contemplative spirituality, I am mindful of the following characteristics:
My Center: Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. –Philippians 2:5
Five or Six Practices to support my center: These are Cistercian charisms and practices.
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 tryto be conscious that all these sounds give glory to the Father throughthe 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 ofmy heart helps me sustain the other Cistercian charisms andpractices and so grow in fierce love.
Solitude— Solitude, for me, means carving out a space and quiet time to focus on how to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.For the Cistercian monks, solitude means carving out a 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.”
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 public 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.
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.
Community—Lay Cistercians gravitate towards communal gatherings to refresh the soul and to transform themselves deeper in the mind and heart of Christ Jesus. Even though there is great distance between us, we link together as one in our commitment to each other because we are all linked through the mind and heart of Christ Jesus. Sharing Christ with each other nourishes the Spirit in me.
Spiritual Practices I use to sustain my center:
These practices are little nests 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 give me a time to focus on Scriptures, 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 this mantra-like prayer to help me meditate on the highpoints in the life of Jesus.
Liturgy of the Hours: This practice, refined by St. Benedict in 580 AD in his Rule of St. Benedict, organizes the monks to pray the Psalms seven times a day. I 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 Chapter 4 or some part of the Rule of St. Benedict every day. By reading Chapter 4 each day, I hope to become what I read.
How I organize my daily practices:
Horarium: (This is the default schedule of my spiritual practice.)
4:00 a.m. Rise
4:10 a.m. Silent Prayer
Morning Offering and Dedication of the Day
Monday: In reparation for my sins and
those of the Church, those on my prayer
Tuesday: For all family, friends, teachers,
those on my prayer list
Wednesday: In honor of the Sacred Heart
of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and
St. Joseph, those on my prayer list
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 on my prayer list
Friday: For an increase in 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 on my prayer list.
Sunday: To give praise, honor and glory
to the Father through the Son my means
of the Holy Spirit, the God who is, was,
and is to come at the end of the ages
4:30 a.m. Liturgy of the Hours: Readings or writing in private (optional)
5:00 a.m. Exercise (Monday through Friday)
6:30 a.m. Breakfast:
7:40 a.m. Liturgy of the Word at Good Shepherd
Office of Readings and Morning Prayer in common
Rosary in common
9:00 a.m. Holy Mass: In common (Sunday at 8:00 a.m.)
1:00 a.m. Exercise at gym: (Monday through Sunday)
11: 15 a.m. Work: Writing, Blog, Special Projects
12:00 a.m. Watch Colin Cowherd on television FX1
2:00 p.m.Work: Writing, Blog, Special Projects
4:30-5:30 p.m. Adoration before Blessed Sacrament in common
Lectio Divina and Meditation in private
Liturgy of the Hours: Evening Prayer in common
5:30 p.m. Supper
6:00-8:00 p.m. Exercise, Work, Read.
8:00 p.m. Liturgy of the Hours: Night Prayer in private (optional)
8:30 p.m. Work: Continue writing, Blog, Special Projects
WHAT I HAVE NOTICED ABOUT MYSELF SINCE MAKING A SCHEDULE AND KEEPING IT
MY RECOMMENDATION FOR THOSE WHO RETIRE
Praise be 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. –Cistercian doxology
NOTA BENE: If you are retired and bored with what the World offers as exciting, I need some help in moving all this foward.