YOU HAVE JUST MADE YOUR PROFESSION OF FAITH. NOW WHAT?

One of the big questions that a new Catholic must answer is, now what? I say that because, as a newly professed, Lay Cistercian, I face that same question, even at the ripe old age of 78 (and believe me, that is ripe). I am fortunate to have begun to discover how to sustain the heart of Christ in me and even grow in my journey from self to God. Here are twelve skills or exercises I use to help me have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). They are the twelve Cistercian activities that I practice, ones that produce charisms (humility, obedience, profound knowledge, and fierce love), ones that allow we to approach the Mystery of Faith. As a Lay Cistercian five principles guide my life: silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community.

THE BEST WAY TO USE THIS BOOK

I wrote this book to share some ideas with you about how to sustain your Faith in Christ Jesus in the midst of the world’s allurements and false promises. I have some reflections that you might find helpful. This is a journal/workbook for you, and, if you choose for your local community of Faith (parish).

  • Each of the twelve skills come from a book that I wrote. They are available through Amazon.com/books (then, type in Dr. Michael F. Conrad).
  • If you are a parish coordinator of Adult Learning, then you may want to use one exercise a month (for a total of twelve sessions) as a post-commitment program for the newly professed.
  • If you are a newly professed Catholic, you might want to take this book to your parish coordinator and ask that you be allowed to meet once a month to pray for the Holy Spirit and to learn contemplative practices and charisms.

The whole idea of any spiritual reflection or retreat is to make all things new, to move from self to God, to begin to recognize that life is a process, to take step by step towards Omega, the Christ Principle, with the purpose of having in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).  I have included Internet sites for you to visit to see where I get my ideas and to expand your horizon.

As a Lay Cistercian, once again, I use the five steps in the Cistercian Way (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community) to not only provide me with a North on my compass but to give me ways to move down my path of life with Christ as my companion, sitting next to the heart of Christ in contemplation, receiving the Life of Christ in me in Eucharist and Penance, praying in silence, solitude, work, in the context of community. A seminarium is a term I use for greenhouse, or place where new seedlings can grow in a protected and nutrient-rich soil. The Mystery of Faith is the totality of all pure knowledge, pure love, and pure service that we can only approach with Christ’s help. Human reason alone cannot define it (defining is limiting, mystery means it is true but so deep we cannot fathom its contents). Prayer and practice using Cistercian principles, as I understand them, are ways I can access what Christ taught.

You may wish to use the twelve spiritual skills mentioned in this book as a monthly discussion of various topics contained in it. At the end of each skill, there are learning and discussion points for you to use. Here is an outline of the twelve skills contained in this book.

SKILL ONE: Learn to see deeper with the eyes of Faith.

SKILL TWO: Learn how to survive as a pilgrim in a foreign land.

SKILL THREE: Learn six questions everyone must ask and answer before they die. These are the foundations of human spirituality.

SKILL FOUR: Learn how to approach the Mystery of Faith without frying your neurons.

SKILL FIVE: What does fierce love look like?

SKILL SIX: How to use the golden thread.

SKILL SEVEN: Learn how to find food for the journey.

SKILL EIGHT: Learn the meaning of mercy and how to make all things new in your spiritual journey.

SKILL NINE: Learn how the community can be the occasion for the Holy Spirit to be present to you.

SKILL TEN: Learn how to pray to allow you to convert your morals (conversio morae) to be more like Christ.

SKILL ELEVEN: Learn how to create a system of practices and charisms that allow you to grow deeper as a Catholic.

SKILL TWELVE: You know you are going to die. Now what?

A FEW OF MY ASSUMPTIONS

Anytime you read anything, whenever you hear a commentator on television news give an opinion, there are always assumptions underlying their thoughts. Here are some assumptions I have about what it means to deny oneself, take up my cross, and follow Christ using five Cistercian practices.

  • I am a Lay Cistercian. I am using the five Cistercian practices of silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community as the basis of my contemplative approach to spirituality.
  • My spirituality comes from Cistercian practices and charisms (humility, obedience, hospitality, and daily conversion of life from self to God).
  • My personal Lectio comes from Philippians 2:5.”Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.”
  • These ideas are my own and do not reflect any official doctrine or teachings of the Catholic Church or Cistercian/Lay Cistercian spirituality. Having said that, they are based entirely on how I view what is core to being Catholic, to love each other as Christ loved us. It takes a lifetime. Fortunately, Christ gave us gifts to help us I share what I have learned as a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian.
  • Many of these lessons come from blogs I have previously published on https:thecenterforcontemplativepracticorg
  • New Catholics, like anyone who begins their journey, must not stop the struggle to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). Your journey demands never ending practices and charisms to make up in your that which you lack or skills that are not yet fully developed. What follows are twelve exercises I have used to help me in my quest.
  • Far from being an automatic ticket to Heaven, as some think, your profession is actually the beginning of a struggle to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5). You can’t do that by yourself. You need help. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, but you also have additional help to convert your morals to how Christ loves us. The purpose of the Church, in each age, is to help those seeking God to find him through prayer and penance. But you have even more help. Cistercian spirituality, among many other methods, enables you to drill down even further by being a Lay Cistercian. This helps you to focus on seeking and finding Christ in contemplative spirituality using practices and charisms handed down by Cistercian monks and nuns through the ages, and before that, by St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Now, we come to you. As a professed Lay Cistercian, the community of other L.C.s is the occasion in which I pray, work, have silence and solitude. You might look again at the title of this book. It says “skills” to help you.
  • All these assumptions themselves assume that all the twelve practices, all the prayers, all charisms, presuppose that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate, the energy that allows us to call God, Abba, Father.

I hope that these thoughts will provide you with the opportunity to grow in Christ Jesus. He must increase, you and I must decrease.

WHAT IS A LAY CISTERCIAN?

Since I put Lay Cistercian on the cover, I thought you might want to know what a Lay Cistercian is. This term is used for someone who follows the practices of Cistercian monks and nuns while not living in a monastery.www.trappist.net/lay-cistercian

I have chosen to be a Lay Cistercian and have been accepted by the Monastery of the Holy Spirit as someone who tries to love those around him or her with all their mind, their heart, and their strength. It is not as easy as it looks. I don’t always succeed. What is love? How in the world can you love with ALL your heart? How do you keep from being fanatical about love? Who do you love and what does that mean?

I follow the Cistercian spiritual traditions, going back to the year c. 1080 A.D.  See some of the websites below. In writing this book, I will try to share with you some of the Cistercian practices and techniques that I use to enter the one place none of us wants to go, inside us in the depths of our consciousness in the hidden room of our unconsciousness. Facing ourselves, without any of the false faces or avoidances we use in our ordinary life, is frightening alone. Ironically, it is one of the premier places we meet Christ.

Further websites are:

http://www.ben.edu/center-for-mission-and-identity/resources/rule-of-st-benedict.cfm

https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org

https://cistercianfamily.org/

https://www.trappist.net

I wrote this journal/book for you to give you an interactive way to raise and answer some of the critical questions that face a newly converted Catholic. You may wish to use this in our parish, but when I write my ideas, I put them on paper for you to have a thought, give you Internet references for you to look up, and then write down your thoughts. You may wish to share your ideas later in a group from your local faith community (parish). I recommend that you visit my website regularly to look at the blogs. My blogs are practical ways I use to seek God in everyday life. https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A NEW CATHOLIC?

I am not a good one to answer this question, although I did take the total instructional preparation to be an Anglican. I chose not to join the Anglican Church because I would have to give up more than I would receive.  I will say that I am so grateful to have met so many dedicated and spiritual Anglicans. For that, I am a better person. I can give you some ideas on which you can reflect, and you might want to add your own in the journal space provided. The word “convert” has special significance because it is a call you have accepted to convert your life to be more like Christ and less like the World. The Church gives you guidance but won’t make the decisions for you. You receive Faith from God but God won’t live your life for you, maybe with you. That you must do by yourself.

THREE STAGES OF MATURITY FOR NOVICE CATHOLICS

With the Christian Rite of Initiation for Adults (RCIA), the Catholic Church does a decent job of preparing the mind and the heart to be a disciple of Christ before Baptism or profession of faith. Where we could improve, in my view, is ensuring that the mind and the heart receive the practices and charisms needed to move forward on their journey to Forever. The following stages are based on my Lay Cistercian journey, including discernment, Novice, Junior, and Finally Professed. You might have different terminology or stages. 

NOVICE CATHOLIC: Making a profession of Faith in the Church Universal with other members of your local church community of Faith is just the beginning of your process.  Now, you must learn the tools and charisms of what it means to be Catholic, or you will lose it. It will dry up for lack of water. There is so much, not only to know about Christ but skills of how to love as Christ loves us, using silence, solitude, work, prayer, in the context of community, that you soon realize, that all Catholics all novices for the rest of our lives, always becoming more and more like Christ and less and less of the world. Ideally, it would be nice to have a mentor during your first year of profession. Like a godfather or godmother, this person will pray for their brother or sister for the two years and contact with them once per week to be a spiritual guide and mentor.

Novice Catholics should try to pray a Morning Offering each day, (60 seconds), attend Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each day,(60 seconds), pray Lectio Divina privately once a month or more, and to sign up for a parish ministry for no more than one year, then back off. These are small goals for all Novice Catholics. So, what happens to you when you do not meet these goals? Nothing, you talk about it with your Mentor, if you have one, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive God’s grace to make all things new, and try again.

JUNIOR CATHOLIC –After the first year, a deeper practice of your Faith is needed to build up your strength and sustain you each day, just as someone needs to go to the gym to tone up or build stamina. Can you imagine a Pro Football player not being a regular in the weight room? Muscles can atrophy if not used; likewise, your Faith can wither. We can’t have a mindset of growing deeper in the love of Christ without help. I recommended that the Junior members meet every month for a short meeting (you may use some of these exercises as topics for the meeting). Lay Cistercians, for example, promise to attempt to meet every month to learn, pray, in the context of a community that stresses silence and solitude to convert the false self into the true self. We call that a Gathering Day, a day of prayer, learning how to love, and sharing with the monks in Liturgy of the Hours and Cistercian topics of transformation from self to God.

Junior Catholics should promise to practice to seek God with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their strength and love their neighbor as themselves. After two or three years, Junior Catholics may apply for Professed Catholic status. People who choose to do so, and who are accepted by the parish council as being faithful to seeking God, are formally prayed over by the Priests and Parish Council and make a commitment to the local church. 

DISCIPLE: A disciple is one who is now tested in the ways of living as a pilgrim in a foreign land, one who tries to love God with all their mind, all their heart, and all their strength and their neighbor as themselves, for the rest of their time on earth.  (Matthew 22:37)  Service may mean doing something with the love of Christ for your neighbor in addition to contemplating the heart of Christ next to your heart in prayer. This is a unique and additional commitment to the Practicum above in that you commit yourself to a regular schedule of practices and activities that will lead to your conversion of life. Discipleship, in my case, means I promise to love God with my whole heart, whole mind, whole strength and to love my neighbor as myself.

I do that by practicing the Cistercian practices (silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community) so that I can daily convert myself to that of Christ. St. Paul says It so well in Philippians 3:7-16. Read it and think about the power of fierce love that St. Paul has for The Master.

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.

         New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

This is the level of permanent commitment. Not everyone needs to be a disciple nor does it mean you are better than anyone else. It does mean you make a public profession of Faith to ratify the commitment you made at your first profession of Faith before the local community.

For any new novice to the Faith, and believe me, all of us are novices compared to the wonders and riches Christ has awaiting us through contemplation in this lifetime and Heaven in the next, this passage is one in which I take great comfort and peace when life gets a little dicey

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW AS A NEW CATHOLIC?

  • YOU MAY OR MAY NOT BE STARTING OVER FROM ZERO Although you are new to Catholicism, you probably have had a rich and fulfilling spiritual life in another faith tradition. One of the reasons you do not have to be re-Baptized is you have already made a faith commitment to a body of beliefs and have been Baptized and maybe even Confirmed in the Holy Spirit. You make your profession of Faith to Christ and not to the Church. Many of your beliefs carry over into your Catholic practice. Unless you are a person who did not have any religion, you probably will not be starting out from ground zero, like you would do if you began a job or joined the Marines.
  • THE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO BE A CATHOLIC Practicing to love God with all your heart, your mind, and your strength and your neighbor as yourself is a lifetime commitment. Like St. Paul says in Philippians 3:8-16, you run the race to win. What we sometimes forget is Christ gives us the tools to be successful in our journey in life, but it demands commitment on our part to sustain ourselves against the temptations of the Evil One and the world’s false allurements. That is why we must train to run the race and not just get on the conveyor belt of Faith and get off when we die. It doesn’t work like that. This book is all about ten ways that I use to sustain my Faith. Jesus is the only door through which we must pass to go to the Father. We do that in each age through the power of the Holy Spirit. The only command Jesus gave us is to love one another as He loved us. You can know that intellectually, but more importantly, Christ wants us to do his commands in each age. That is not easy, which is why he instituted the Church to help us. The Church, far from being just a bunch of rules to which we must conform, is the living Body of Christ, with this added dimension: it is the Church Universal, those who have died and are not before the Throne of the Lamb, those who are still making the journey on earth, and those awaiting purification. Learning to be a Catholic means you are in constant conversion of your old self to your new self. The Church is not the place, but the resource to allow us to identify those steps Christ gave us and then provide us what we need to love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength and our neighbor as yourself.
  • YOUR BAPTISMAL FAITH WILL BE TESTED Being a newly Baptized person, you have the euphoria and zeal to conquer the world. Christ lives in your mind and heart as you have never experienced Him before. The Holy Spirit beckons you to tell everyone that Jesus is Lord, just like the Apostles felt in the Upper Room.  You do, and if people don’t listen, you are quick to condemn them to Hell. This is like the honeymoon period in marriage. The initial flush of excitement and pleasure masks what is the reality of life. Where are those photos of your marriage now? When was the last time you got them out, blew off the dust, and took a good look at you then and then now? You probably look much thinner back then, with more hair, darker hair, and an innocence that comes with those whose think they can conquer the whole world. Two or three years later, reality has set in. The world you set out to conquer is limited to what you can see and experience around you. Ten years later, your world is limited to changing only yourself. What you change into is the question here. You have made  a commitment to move from self  to God, to struggle, to find meaning around you using the eyeglasses God gave you at Baptism, to accept that others in your faith community are critical for you to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5)
  • IT TAKES A LIFETIME TO MOVE FROM SELF TO GOD Take your time to savor your new relationship with Christ. Before the Lay Cistercians of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit considered me for membership, I had to discern my call to determine if I had the endurance and strength to sustain my desire to move from self to God using Cistercian practices and charisms. In my case, I had to assess if I was up to the challenge of driving the five hours from Tallahassee, Florida, my home, to Conyers, Georgia (outside of Atlanta) each month. The normal progression is discernment for a year or two, then accepted as a novice (one who begins the conversion of life to renounce self and life the Life of Christ for two years. After that, for the next three years, each year, .Lay Cistercians make Junior promises to follow the Cistercian way of life as Lay Persons. At the end of five years, Lay Cistercians who are accepted by the Abbott or Abbess and the Lay Cistercian, make their final, permanent commitment or promises to seek God the Cistercian Way, to grow in Christ and convert their life to lead the Life of Christ. Although I don’t think that being a Lay Cistercian is for everyone, the idea that Baptism is only the beginning of the process of moving from self to God has merit and should be studied to provide new Catholics with the Seminarium (greenhouse) where their Faith may be nourished with Christ’s grace and energy. You have a lifetime to know, love, and serve God with all your mind, all your heart, and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Pace yourself!
  • YOU CAN LOSE YOUR FAITH IF YOU DON’T NURTURE IT

I like to think of losing Faith with the comparison of an ice cube. Ice is not the usual state of water, room temperature is. When you are Baptized (God chooses you to be an adopted son or daughter) or Confirmed with the Holy Spirit (your acceptance of God’s energy in you), you enter a world where, as the ice cube, the normal state is foreign to what the world teaches. That is why I hold that there is a separate universe, the spiritual universe, different than just the physical universe which we interpret with the mental universe.

Back to the ice cube analogy. What happens to an ice cube if you leave it out on the kitchen counter? It will melt and return to room temperature. Now, it is no longer ice but water. A Baptized person who has accepted Christ as the center of his or her life, no longer lives in a world of room temperature but must keep their ice cube from melting. I think this is an excellent way to look at Original Sin, the room temperature into which we were all born, and how it slowly erodes your Faith if you do not actively keep your ice cube from melting. That is why good works are necessary for stabilizing and maintain the faith.  You must work to keep your ice cube frozen, not just get on the conveyor belt of spirituality and go through life without struggle. Christ tells us this over and over. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Forgive others as you would be forgiven. Love your neighbor as yourself.

St. Benedict realized this in his Rule, Chapter 4,Tools for Good Works. Get over the idea that you can buy your way to Heaven or Good Works alone will get you to Heaven. Wrong questions have wrong answers.

THE CISTERCIAN CONTEMPLATIVE APPROACH TO SPIRITUALITY IS ONE WAY TO APPROACH THE MYSTERY OF FAITH IN SILENCE AND SOLITUDE

I am using what I understand about being a Lay Cistercian, using silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community, as the framework for the ten lessons I use in my own journey to move from self to God. Contemplative means you seek to go inside yourself to discover Christ through contemplation and Cistercian practices. At the very center, the core of what it means to be a Catholic, which is also the center for Lay Cistercians, is to love God with your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole strength and your neighbor as yourself.(Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37)

No one can attempt to love with all your might without knowing how Christ first loved us. The Catholic Church is not God, they are people in each age who, at their very best, provide helps with howto love others as Christ loved us. They provide a community of faith in which you can nurture your faith with the Faith of the Church. Lay Cistercians is an additional method of spirituality based on St. Benedict and St. Bernard. You need the tools to grow deeper into the Mystery of Faith, the source of loving with your whole mind and heart.

One of the things we could do better for each other is to share HOW to pray using silence, solitude, work, prayer in the context of a community centered around Christ. That is why I like the Lay Cistercian approach to spirituality, one that stresses the interior. To be fair, there are other equally appropriate ways to express your spirituality, such as:

Dominican https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMkAnpUPH4g

Franciscan- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMkAnpUPH4g

I have this big problem, and I can’t seem to shake it. Try as I might I cannot run from the Hound of Heaven, as Francis Thompson’s tries to capture in his poetry.https://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/HNDHVN.HTM

I turned on the faucet of the Holy Spirit when I began my journey as Lay Cistercian way back in 2012, and I can’t seem to turn it off. My spouse thinks I am living in la-la land, and everyone else is the object of my compulsion to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), my center and the only phrase I use in my daily Lectio Divina. You would be safe from my reflections if I just thought about them, but the Holy Spirit led me to write all this down. If you are reading this, you are the object of one of my Lectio Divina reflections, this time on the dimensions of the Church.  I propose to set forth four dimensions of the Church, you might have many more than I do, but these are the one I use in my daily practice of contemplation. But, that is not all. Because I am focusing my attention on the Mystery of Faith, the cloud of the unknowing, the concept of Church becomes one of a lived reality having four dimensions, but each dimension has four elements that I use to try to probe deeper into the Mystery that is the Body of Christ made present in each age. I will conclude with some reflections on the four marks whereby we know the Body of Christ is authentic and not the creation of magicians and charletons. 

Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to 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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