What I am experiencing, as I move through the stages of the Coronavirus 19 effects on my personal space, my environment, my relationships, is isolation and the failure of those human structures I have built up to sustain my life on a daily basis. I am talking about the isolation from other people, the inability to touch others in social contexts, such as the sign of peace at Eucharist, and the Eucharist on my computer, the inability to congregate in the community for the social interaction that is crucial to finding meaning and purpose. All of these experiences are new for me and could be a bit off-putting, were it not for three things that have kept me grounded. In these comments that follow, I will share with you those spiritual principles I use, and continue to use on a daily basis, to keep me grounded. I make these comments in the hope that you might examine your self against what you consider to be the central principles of your life, as you experience this opportunity to reflect and be solitary. Granted, we don’t go deeper into ourselves very often, but this virus might be God’s way of telling us to get our house cleaned before the next plague hits. Not that these are like the plagues of Egypt that Moses dealt with, but they do resemble them from a modern perspective, e.g., monetary plagues, health plagues, the failure of people to love, the rise of the cult of relativism, lack of resources (water and food) and wars based on power and control.
All of these are plaguing us now, but there is one place that we can forget about looking, inside each of us. Monos. Alone. The place where no one wants to look. How I look at reality externally is in direct proportion to how to look at reality within me and what I fall back upon in times of crisis. When the virus hits, it strips away some of these external distractions that are only cosmetic, to lay bare what is within me. When I look at these phenomena, in my case, I feel like Anthony of the Desert and early monks who fled the allurements of the time to seek the cleansing power of silence and solitude. http://www.spiritualite-orthodoxe.net/vie-de-priere/index.php/saint-antony-the-great-writings The isolation afforded me by this small hiccup in my journey of life is a sign from the Holy Spirit that I must go out to the desert within me, that I may have been wandering in the Sinai desert of the World for the last forty years mesmerized by the seductive temptations of the Wiley One. This is a wake up call for me to turn to the only center than leads me out of this desert of the seven deadly sins to put on a new person in Christ. I have done that many times in the past, but I forgot one important point about spirituality: I need to take up my cross DAILY and follow Christ. Yesterday’s conversion is not today’s triumph over the plagues that infect society now.
I wrote a book entitled, The Place No One Wants to Look, which details six questions each human must ask themselves before they die. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Dr.+Michael+F.+Conrad&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss My thinking was that there is a place no one wants to think about, and that is inside us, in the mind and in the heart. Yet, this is where I must go, like St. Benedict, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, on those Cistercian men and women who yearned to “…have in them the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Phlippians 2:5) It is the modern desert, the place where I am alone with the heart of Christ, the place where I am in the presence of I am who am. No words, no expectations, no petitions, no praise are needed. It is the place where Christ bids me to come to sit on a park bench in the dead of winter and wait for him. Why do I have to wait for Christ when he is everywhere? He is everywhere, but I must not be so full of pride and lack of obedience to God’s will that I think God does my bidding. It is quite the reverse. Here are three spiritual principles that guide me through the valley of death (the World).
WHAT IS MY CENTER? A center, not to be confused with centering prayer, is the one principle that, if you took it away, your whole spiritual universe would have no meaning. It is the capstone spoken of in Scriptures, the cornerstone that keep together with your temple of the Holy Spirit. My center, which I chose in 1962, is from Philippians 2:5: “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” Centers are not logical constructs that you have and forget, they are there to move you from your false self to your true self. Entering the spiritual universe at Baptism, you have Original Sin taken away, by God, but, there is a problem, you still must live out your life with the effects of that Sin and the daily temptations by the Devil (the snake) to choose him over God. Far from being easy, your life after Baptism is a battle, a gauntlet you must run through, a struggle you make each and every day. Why do you think Christ told us to take up our cross daily? Do you know how heavy a cross is? By ourselves, we don’t stand a chance against “the roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”
FEEDING MY CENTER From the moment you are Baptized, you begin to corrupt, just like a piece of metal begins to rust. To keep it from rusting, you must keep it clean. How will you nourish that precious gift of Faith? Christ told us he would not leave us orphaned (John 14:18) Do you think Jesus abandons those who put their trust and faith in Him. No! He left us his real presence for each age to continue his admonition to love one another as He loves us. Think about that. Christ is not present to us like the virtual 2020 NFL Draft. We are not spectators of Christ who lived 2000 years ago. We are adopted sons and daughter and we need food to keep our Faith from atrophying. Christ gave his life on the cross for all humans, believers or not, and he provides the only food that can keep Faith from being like the fig tree, barren and dead. If you eat this Food, His very own body and blood that walked the earth those many centuries ago, you will live forever. The Church, the living body of Christ, our head, is the real presence in each age to continue the message of forgiveness of sin, giving glory to the Father through Christ in the Eucharist, forgiving sins with a firm purpose of amendment, and charisms of humility and obedience to the will of the Father. Christ is most real today, if we have Faith to see what cannot be seen, the Mystery of Faith.
I approach the Mystery of Faith, as a professed Lay Cistercian, by trying to emulate the practices and charisms of the Cistercian way (Trappist). This means solitude is critical to my being able to focus on Christ. Most of the time, I make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. But, more than that, my Lay Cistercian circumstances (I do not live in a sequestered monastery) are that my monastery is my sphere in which I seek God where I am. A theme that has imprinted itself on my consciousness is that of the corruption of matter and values espoused by the World. Everything in the physical and mental universe corrupts or deteriorates.
Matthew 6:18-20 NRSVCE – Matthew 6:18-20 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)” 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[a]Concerning Treasures19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[b] consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust[c] consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.“
The kingdom of heaven begins with Christ and is activated by you at Baptism, making you an adopted son or daughter of the Father. The problem is we still live in two universes (physical and mental) that suffer the effects of Original Sin. Those who live in the world but are not of it seek God where they are, as they are. St. Benedict provides his monks with tools for good works in Chapter 4 of his Rule. These tools are meant to help sustain us as we await the coming of Christ in glory. Scripture is not just a book to be read but a mindset to be lived so we can be with Christ each day…Forever. (John 20:30-31) The kingdom of heaven does not corrupt.
CHRISTS TEACHINGS DON’T MAKE SENSE
If you want to understand, ever so slightly, what is going on in Sacred Scripture, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, Penance, and Healing, then you must apply the Rule of Opposites. This is explained in more detail in my book, Three Rules of the Spiritual Universe. What the physical and mental universes hold as true is just the opposite in the spiritual universe of the kingdom of heaven. Philippians 2:5-12, my personal center, gives a good rationale for why God emptied himself to take on human nature in addition to the divine nature. It is a revelation from Christ that there is but one God and three persons. No one would have reasoned about this dogma of the Faith, one we recited at each Eucharist in the Creed. It is by faith that we can approach the Father, and only then in, with, and through Christ. For those without faith, none of this makes any sense; for those with faith, there is no need to prove it, (St. Thomas Aquinas)
In the stillness of my heart, I sit down on a park bench in the middle of winter and wait for the Lord to pass by. This is the monos of the soul, that which heremitical monks sought when they went out into the desert. In the silence and solitude of the heart informed by the mind. It is abandoning self to seek that which is beyond making sense, the Mystery of Faith. It is preferring nothing to the love of Christ, each day, seeking God where I am, as I am. (St. Benedict, Chapter 4, Rule of St. Benedict).
For Lay Cistercians, and I am speaking only for myself, we live in the cloister of the heart informed by our mind. It is a place of stillness, humility, gentleness, joy, for those who enter it. Don’t think that all this silence, solitude, humility, comes from us. I am aware that these spiritual attributes don’t come from me, as I try to move from self to God. Everything comes from being present to the real presence of Christ.
In terms of the Coronavirus, or any physical or mental challenge, nothing changes. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. BibleGateway – Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
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