When you read this title, you may find it a bit discombobulating. Isn’t martyrdom shedding your blood for Christ? Isn’t that reserved only for the Saints? What can any of this have to do with Lay Cistercian spirituality and contemplation? I found the answer to that at 2:32 A.M. this morning, when I woke up and, as is my habit, looked at the clock and started my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5). I do my due diligence to my urinary system and then plop back in bed and go to sleep. But there is something at work here, something wonderful. I feel happy like I would be if one of our friends comes over for supper. This morning, true to form, my Lectio Divina came through, as I lay down on my pillow trying to get to sleep again. I always do (get to sleep again) Lectio this way, one of the four or five times a day that I take quickie Lectio Divina breaks while waiting for my wife at Wal-Mart or Trader Joe’s while sitting in my favorite chair, or closing my eyes and just waiting for Christ with the Holy Spirit to whomp me with another title from left field. Speak, your servant listens, Lord. I am always more than amazed at what the Lord speaks to me. Like the Movie, The Neverending Story, this story of my daily encounters with seeking God seems never to end. I bring this up because being A Lay Cistercian, especially in these quite queer times, it is not a question of too little time for prayer and reading, there is too much time. I normally do Lectio formally in the afternoon, sitting in my recliner with a glass of freshly made lemonade picked off the Meyer Lemon tree. I may have mentioned this before, but my contemplative attention span has gone from two minutes +, over six years ago, to two hours (in silence and solitude, of course). So, how about the martyrdom of everyday living? Do you know how difficult it is to do anything on a daily basis? I am not talking about breathing (that is the autonomic response, such as your heart beating or blinking), but rather when each day presents itself in all its infinite possibility to encounter the purpose of life, it is a struggle to focus on doing just that one Lectio or that one reading from Scripture that you tell yourself you are going to do one of these days. It is actually quite heroic if you think about what is happening.
In the Monastery, they have a daily schedule that does not vary. This helps monks and nuns to focus on Christ as their Center through Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, Penance, reading Scripture. The community of like believers (although in fact different from each other)gives support and is even necessary to move from self to God through silence and solitude. Rather than comparing the seemingly quiet corridors of the Monastery with the hustle and bustle of living in the world, it would be a mistake to think one way is better than another. Comparisons are odious. Instead, both monks, nuns, and Lay Cistercians all seek to move from their false self to their true self as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. To do this takes a great deal of focus and strength of Faith. Like the fatigue that accompanies weightlifting or strenuous exercise, there is an exhaustion that comes from pushing against the daily temptations that distract from the love of others as Christ loves us.
The martyrdom of those who seek God every day goes almost unnoticed. Here are some situations to ponder in your heart. http://devotiontoourlady.com/november-martyrs.html At the risk of sounding full of myself, I would like to relate you to some of these situations of daily martyrdom as I have or do encounter them in my own life. When you look back at your life experiences you will no doubt have similar encounters.
DO NOT WORRY
One of the products of putting myself in the presence of the Holy Spirit in Lectio Divina each day (maybe several times a day) is that I don’t worry about anything as much as I used to do. I do not ever remember focusing on “not worrying” about what is important. All of a sudden, it just pops up. There it is, invading my thoughts, although quite surprisingly, leaving me wondering from where that came. Here is what I think happened to me. I never consciously did a Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) to ask God to take away my cross from me each day. What I did do, and continue to do on a daily basis, is struggling to keep myself anchored to my center, Christ. My beginning Lectio is eight words from Philippians 2:5, “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” When I do my Lectio, several times a day, all I do is place myself in the presence of the Holy Spirit and wait. When I read a book, such as the one Lay Cistercians at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) use as the bases for their discussions, Thomas Merton’s The Waters of Siloe, then I try to absorb its meaning into my daily behaviors. In a way, what was written by Thomas Merton becomes part of me. I am beginning to realize that, without even being consciously aware of it, that when I read my center from Philippians 2:5 over all those years, I have slowly become it. The silent power of the Word is transformative. I am just beginning to be aware of this great power in the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t have to worry about anything, it just happens. What did Christ tell us? What follows is Sacred Scripture on the need to focus on what is most important. The martyrdom comes when I must die to self in order to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the kenosis or emptying of self that comes when you realize that, each day, you must die to your old self in order to rise with Christ to your new life. For me, the Cistercian practices and charisms are ways for me to stay focused on what is important in my life. Read the wonderful passage from Matthew about worry. If I apply the Sacred Scriptures to my situation right now, I don’t worry about the Coronavirus or what is going on in the world. Some people have told me this is the end of the world as we know it. I look at it as the opportunity to reflect on reality in terms of what is the most important part of my life–to seek God daily wherever I am and however I am.
DO NOT WORRY
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[b] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[c] and his[d] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
EACH DAY IS A LIFETIME
As I have come to realize my interpretation of Cistercian spirituality, I am more and more at peace with myself. Each day is the opportunity for me to seek God where I am, as I am. Coronavirus notwithstanding, I am moving ever closer and closer to Omega. The martyrdom of everyday living is that the struggle is not something to fight against, it is part of the process of prayer, that which leads me to take up my cross daily and follow Christ. And what does following Christ mean? As verse 34 of the above passage states: 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Seeking God where I am, right now, means I use Cistercian practices and charisms as a mindset rather than activities. The day becomes lifted up to the Father through Christ’s atonement for sin. The Holy Spirit allows me, each day, not to worry about what is not important. The heaviness of the daily cross is that I must be constant in my need to have Christ grow in me (capacitas dei). The temptations of the World lash the shores of my life every day. Some days are better than others.
THE SAINTS ARE SINNERS WHO DIED TO SELF
For many years, I took for granted the canon of Saints, those whom the Church Universal has raised up for our edification and examples of how Christ changed their lives. Some of them shed their blood for Christ, while others suffered the daily buffeting and bruising of the fight to keep Christ as their center. It is a fallacy to think that being a follower of the Master is without struggle or pain. This dying to self happens every day. https://www.fullycatholic.com/about-fully-catholic/ The Saints are ones that the Church Universal has raised up to help our Faith. The saints are ones, like us, that struggle with the martyrdom of being in the world but not of it.
PEACE: THE PRODUCT OF MARTYRDOM
That may sound like a strange statement. Martyrdom is about dying, either through blood or living an ordinary life extraordinarily well with Christ as your center. One of the ways I can tell if I am on target is inner peace. Inner peace means I don’t worry about what is outside of my center (Philippians 2:5). I am content to continue to do all I can to seek God every day in the silence and solitude of whatever presents itself to me. When I make all things new with the grace of the Holy Spirit, it is not peace as the world gives it, but rather the peace that comes from sitting on a park bench in the dead of winter and just waiting for Christ to stop by for a chat. Isn’t Christ everywhere? Yes, but he is not in the inner room of my spirit unless I open the door from the inside. I experience that peace that is not the absence of conflict (as the world defines it) but is the presence of Love, the resonance that comes from the martyrdom of my dissonance. Martyrdom of every day produces peace, the energy of God, the ability to see what is invisible to the world, to be a sign of contradiction as was Christ. In terms of the present Coronavirus, it is not something that is a jarring departure from what is real for me. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If Christ is my North on the compass of life, of whom should I be afraid? This was the feeling expressed by those who shed their blood for Christ. When I place myself in the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit, something happens, something that may not be discernable at first. I have come to accept that it is moving from my false self to my true self. And what is my true self? Read these two notations. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/seven-acts-of-mercy/hwLiY3AmAvR6LA https://fwdioc.org/works-of-mercy.pdf
MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT
Read 2 Corinthians 12. “Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me7because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated,* a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.b8Three times* I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,c9* but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.d10Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;e for when I am weak, then I am strong.”*
Christ only gave us one, new command, that we love one another as he has loved us. His example was one of acceptance of God where we find him, in each century, in each age, in each one of our hearts. There is no resurrection of Christ without the cross, the indelible sign tattooed on our hearts at Baptism. Christ is there to walk with us, not to walk for us. The martyrdom of every day is to realize, every day, that we must try to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5). Being an authentic Catholic means you must take up your cross daily and follow Christ. We are told not to worry about the passing of the world. Christ’s grace is sufficient. Compared to all of the above, the Coronavirus, anything from the world, is so much straw.
Praise be to 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