LENTEN CONVERSION: IF YOU ARE NOT DILIGENT, YOU MAY LOSE YOUR FAITH
Faith is like a blanket that overshadows us to allow us to call God “Abba”. This gift from God provides us with the indelible sign on our souls that we are marked as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are saved from the fulfillment of living and then dying with no real purpose in between. Once we ratify that Jesus is Lord, it is only the beginning of taking up our cross each day and following Christ. Our humanity is rescued from oblivion by the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the resurrection and ascension to the Father now as one of us, our mediator, our translator between a divine nature we can never grasp with our human reasoning and choice, our friend
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, a few years ago. I chose not to join the Anglican Church because I would have to give up more than I would receive. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the tradition of the Church are the reasons I re-committed myself to having in me the mind of Christ Jesus, using my Catholic heritage. I will be ever 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. Christ gives you Faith but won’t live your spiritual life for you. The Church gives you guidance but won’t make the decisions for you. That you must do by yourself.
I have come to open up my ego to just being present to Christ each day through the Church Universal.
THREE STAGES OF MATURITY FOR NOVICE CATHOLICS
With the Christian Rite of Initiation for Adults (RCIA), the Catholic Church does more than 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.
DISCERNMENT: The RCIA you just attended is a period of discernment where you allow the Holy Spirit to permeate your mind and your heart so that you begin to love others as Christ loves us.
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 the 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? No penalties, 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. The more you want to be in the presence of the one you love, the more you will be able to expand Christ in you and deflate your false self.
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 seeking 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 are accepted by the parish council as faithful to seeking God are formally prayed over by the Priests and Parish Council and commit to the local church.
LIFETIME--: 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.
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 THE SKILLS YOU NEED TO KEEP FAITH FROM ATROPHYING.
- 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. Many of your beliefs carry over into your Catholic Faith. Unless you do 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. We sometimes forget that 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 to do his command at 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 constantly converting 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 who 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 converting life to renounce self and life the Life of Christ for two years. After that, each year, Lay Cistercians make Junior promises to follow the Cistercian way of life as Lay Persons for the next three years. At the end of five years, Lay Cistercians 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. It 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 heart, heart, and 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 normal 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 a separate universe, the spiritual universe, different from 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 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. Catholicism is all about learning to love others as Christ loves us.
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. St. Benedict established a way to form a School of Love to help us DO spirituality.
- ALTHOUGH IT SOUNDS LIKE A CONTRADICTION, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO FULFILL YOUR VOCATION BY YOURSELF
- There are many things you do by yourself. You are born, you breathe by yourself, you have your ability to reason and the unique quality of making decisions by yourself. We even die by ourselves (alone).
If I can make any recommendation for you, it would be this: with all things spiritual, you must always look deeper than what at first might appear to be real to you. This is a book about not only thinking about what is deeper in Faith, called the Mystery of Faith, but how to get there. Another book, WAYS TO APPROACH THE MYSTERY OF FAITH WITHOUT FRYING YOUR NEURONS: A Lay Cistercian, reflects how to approach the Mystery of Faith for those who wait before the Blessed Sacrament, goes into depth about the Mystery of Faith and how this concept can dramatically improve your spiritual awareness as a Catholic.
TEN SURE WAYS TO LOSE YOUR FAITH
- Lose your need to pray.
- Think you are the center of the universe (make God into your image and likeness)
- Listen and practice what false prophets tell you. Cotton candy Christianity verses take up your cross and follow me.
- Do not believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist.
- Do not convert your heart from self to God.
- Be lulled into thinking that God will take care of everything and you don’t need to do anything but passively get on the conveyor belt of life
- Failure to see the value of using the Church to open up the Holy Spirit for your journey
- Inability to love others as Christ loves us.
- Losing the passion for loving Christ through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
- Being seduced by the call of the World, the Circe of our age, not to deny yourself nor prefer nothing to the love of Christ and only prefer what makes you happy.
TEN SURE WAYS TO MAINTAIN THE VITALITY AND EXUBERANCE OF YOUR FAITH
- Love God with all your mind, all your heart and all your strength and your neighbor as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36)
- Learn from the Blessed Mother, the prototype believer, who told us: do what he tells you. Ask for the intercession of Mary and the Saints to be what you pray. They are not God, but they proclaim what God can do for those who believe.
- Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) as your center and prefer nothing to the love of that center. Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all else will be given to you. We forget too easily.
- If you are a room, you must continuously sweep it clean of Original Sin’s effects each day. Each day! Become a penitential person.
- Cultivate a reverence and respect for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and Eucharistic Adoration. If Christ is not substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine, the resurrection is also just wishful thinking.
- Extra ecclesiam, nulla salus. Outside the Church, there is no salvation. Christ is the head sitting at the right hand of the Father, and we are living members; those on earth who struggle to love others as Christ loved us; those in heaven, enjoying being one with the Son; those awaiting the purification of the spirit with the power of the Holy Spirit to lift them up. The Church Universe is all there is in the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not mean only Catholics go to heaven.
- Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. No human, except Christ and Mary, can be perfect. Perfect means using 100% of your nature; God’s nature is unattainable to human nature, but, through the love of God for us and the passion and death of Christ, we can become adopted sons and daughters and inherit the kingdom.
- Mean what you pray. There are many opportunities to place yourself in the presence of Christ and let the Holy Spirit overshadow you. The Rosary is such a prayer, among many. It is not the official prayer of the Church Universal (Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours) but it is a powerful way to let God’s grace permeate your mind and heart and move you from your false self to your true self. https://www.wordonfire.org/rosary-why/
- Christ is the pearl of great price that you would sell all you have to purchase it. Love means you want to be with that person as much as possible, you want to do things for them to make them happy, you want to join with them as one.
- Christ is the vine and we are the branches. If we practice those activities that allow us to be present to Christ (Matthew 25) in deed and in contemplative prayer, what follows are the charisms of humility and obedience to the will of the Father. There might be many more hidden temptations along the path of your life. If you take up the responsibility to be a member of the Body of Christ, it is not about you at all. It is all about your participation in a Body of Christ that has as its purpose to be a school of love for those who choose. It is a way of life for the rest of your life. This can be either a stagnant recurring of more prayers, more ministries, more activity (cyclical Faith), or a deepening of your personal growth in the context of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community.
THE LAY CISTERCIAN CONTEMPLATIVE APPROACH TO SPIRITUALITY IS ONE WAY TO APPROACH THE MYSTERY OF FAITH IN SILENCE AND SOLITUDE
I have made a choice to grow even more specific in my growth in this school of love by applying for and being accepted by Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) Abbot to practice the Cistercian Way of approaching life. I am and will always be a professed novice.
- 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 at each age who, at their very best, provide helps with how to love others as Christ loved us. They provide a community of faith in which you can nurture your faith with the Church’s Faith. 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 tries to capture in his poetry. 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 do not live in the real world. She is correct. My world is that of the Spirit, the sign of contradiction. It is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews.
- You would be safe from my reflections if all I did were just think them in the privacy of my mind, but the Holy Spirit has 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 Church’s dimensions. I propose to set forth four dimensions of the Church, you might have many more than I do, but these are the ones I use in my daily contemplation practice. But that is not all. Because I am focusing my attention on the Mystery of Faith, the cloud of the unknowing, the Church’s concept becomes one of a lived reality having four dimensions. Still, each dimension has four elements that I use 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 politicians. Here are my thoughts on the word “Church.” What might seem like a simple word has many ramifications for your Faith and is incredibly layered in meaning? I offer this as an example of the twelve skills that are to come, helping you to dig deeper into the bottomless hole of your Faith. To get some idea of what I mean when I say, moving from self to God, I offer you the four dimensions of Church, from the big picture to an intimate way to seek God.
- THE WONDERS OF THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL When you made your Faith profession, you joined not only those present in your local Church who have committed their lives to love others as Christ loves us but also the Church Universal. Here is a review of what it means to be an adopted son or daughter of the Father.
Read the document Lumen Gentium, the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.
http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html I don’t find this an easy read but an inspiring one. This is the current thinking of what it means to be a member of the Church.
Without the Christ Principle, through whom and in whom all life has its being, you will be looking at religion through secular eyes. The words are the same, but the meaning is different. The Jesus Seminar is an example of learned and extremely talented men and women who teach Scripture without God, but as historical events, some of which are true and some spurious. But, that is another blog, entitled, Whose Christ do you follow?