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).
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 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:
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?
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:
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