Yogi Berra’s supposed saying, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it,” is witty but perhaps a wise description of choices we all must make if we try to be contemplative in our practice. We live in the temporal time of the present, or the NOW. The past flitters by and is to be recalled at some point to learn from those choices we have made during each NOW moment. The future is for us to learn from our past to make informed choices that lead to the fulfillment of our purpose in life and reinforce our center. Without wishing to seem sin-centered rather than Christ-centered, sin is a choice that misses the mark. But what mark? Who gives us the moral target for which we must aim? In the process of moving from my false self to my true self, I must choose either one or the other. Here are five seeming “either-or” choices that Lay Cistercians, as all who seek God daily face, as we move through our succession of NOWs.
I. NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS:
God and Money. 24* “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.* [6:24] Mammon: an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/6
This familiar saying of Jesus is a classic choice on a large scale, the 50,000 foot level of contemplative practice, as I see it. This phrase frames the reality that all of us face if we wish to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ. These two polar opposites represent choices that have stark consequences for those who make the choices. If I choose mammon, then the center of my life is me, a puny god indeed. Wealth deteriorates because it is a thing. We can neither take it to heaven nor leave it to rust on earth. If I choose God, the results are sometimes postponed for future gain in Heaven. Heaven is God’s playground and if I choose to play in his sandbox, I must use his rules and regulations. The rule is to love others as Christ loved us. God’s riches are found in the Scriptures and you and I have been graced to have this how-to book of collecting riches available to us. Only the rich go to Heaven, but you must choose God’s riches, not yours. https://amzn.to/3d1Idpu
II. HEAVEN OR HELL
The saying, “extra ecclesiam, nulla salus,” that is, outside the Church there is no salvation, can be interpreted according to how you view spiritual reality. It does not mean only Catholics go to Heaven. It does mean that when all humans die and face their judgment/accountability for how they loved others as Christ loved them, there are only two choices. You must choose to go to Hell because you know that God is love, and you reject that. In this sense, no person in his right mind would want to go to Hell when faced with a choice of love or hopelessness. St. Benedict in his Chapter 4 of the Rule, bids his monks to:
41 Place your hope in God alone.
42 If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself,
43 but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.
44 Live in fear of judgment day
45 and have a great horror of hell. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
These two choices we make while we are living as the Church Militant on earth. The Church Triumphant are those God has found worthy and is merciful to them. The Church Purgative are those who are given a second chance to love others as Christ loved us. They must learn the lessons that escaped them while on earth. God is merciful to those who ask for forgiveness and hears the cry of the poor.
III. WHO IS GOD?
There are two choices for the fundamental questions that remains unnoticed and the elephant in the room: who is god? There are two choices as Adam and Eve found out (Genesis 1-2). Choosing God seems like a poor choice. After all, Christ tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our daily cross, and follow him. This road is, like the life of a pilgrim in a foreign land, fraught with obstacles. But, just because your road is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. The road we take is the same ones outlined in the Gospels from Nazareth and Bethlehem to Calvary. It is the sign of contradiction, the cross, one that is indelibly tattooed into our hearts from the moment Christ accepts us as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
The second choice can only be one person, me. I am god. I possess some of the qualities of God ( I am made in the image and likeness of God, just as Adam and Eve were). I have reason for a reason and free choices to make my kingdom of this world fit me. My life only lasts for seventy or eighty years, if I am strong, as the Psalmist writes. I speak for my world, one limited in space and time and forgotten by all. I would make a puny god. I am the god of my body for those brief years I am here on earth. I compete with God for power and glory and often seem to win, even delighting in defeating the Church with centuries of tradition in favor of who I think God is. I make a puny god. Watch the Avengers Youtube about a puny god. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31ZjnrHR8EA
IV. WHERE DO I FIT?
Here again, there are two choices: either I fit into God’s plan, or God fits into my plan (or whatever I think at the moment). What seems like a simple choice is actually at the root of the Fall’s Genesis account from Grace. This choice is seductive, as was the whispering of the snake into the ear of Eve that provoked jealousy, power, envy, and pride. One way to tell the charlatans from authentic seekers of God is to look for humility and obedience to God’s will, versus pride and thinking that they have the truth and everyone else is going to Hell. There is no love with the false promises of Satan, only hatred and disappointment. I think this is the biggest failure of the United States system of relativism and casuistry. Everyone is right, so no one can have a North on the compass.
V. THE SEDUCTION OF TWO UNIVERSES OR THREE:
Galatians 5 sets forth the duality between the spirit and the flesh. All of these choices seem to overlap each other. In the case of two universes or three, I make a choice for the World to be my center, or I can choose something totally at odds with human instincts and reasoning, the cross. Two universes (physical and mental) are ways I use to make sense of the ways we approach contemplative practice. Three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual) allow deeper penetration of reality. The difficulty for some is that this third universe of spirituality is the opposite, the sign of contradiction with the other two. You are asked to put your faith in the Creed, that there are three persons but one nature. Humans will probably never know how that happens because we do not possess the capacity or capability of God, merely that of a human. Contemplative practice means I try to expand my humanity to make room for Christ in my expression of love as He loved us. It is not an attainment but a process that begins each morning and concludes each evening. Each day is sufficient unto itself.
These five choices help me to answer the six questions that all humans must confront before they die. https://amzn.to/2MRs3UI
Lay Cistercian spirituality, based on the Cistercian practices and charisms, provide me with a way to answer the choices in these six questions correctly. In silence and solitude, with humility and obedience to Christ, I seek God each day, simply, balanced with work, prayer, in the context of community.
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