Being a Lay Cistercian is one of not only discovering what it means to be Cistercian and a Layperson, but also how that openness to the heart of Christ transforms me into something I was not before.
If I am a Table of the Lord, I build myself in vain if God does not inspire me. Through Him, with Him, and in Him are all glory to the Father, through the Holy Spirit. The tools to build my Table of the Lord come from my instruction book (Scripture and Cistercian practices (for me)), all nicely set forth by St. Benedict in Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule.
My Table of the Lord has four legs and a top, like all functional tables. The four legs are:
Each day, I must set my table with what will sustain me for just one more day. I am free to choose to place on this table anything I wish, anything in my past that will help me towards whatever center I have selected to be my core principle. For me, it has been Philippians 2:5 since 1962, “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” If life has not always been kind to me, and there have been some rough patches, this center in my rock, my fortress, my North on the compass of daily martyrdom of the ordinary.
In the next series of blogs on my Lectio Divine experiences, I will touch on these four legs of the table. Right now, I want to introduce you to a concept that puts this whole Advent and Lenten season in perspective for me.
THE MARTYRDOM OF THE ORDINARY
At least in my world, which is the one I inhabited for the past eighty-one years, life is not about finding those human experiences that will give me pleasure for the sake of pleasure or power for the sake of power, or even riches for the sake of riches. Ninety percent of my life has been just living out whatever comes my way in a kind of boring way (to paraphrase some teens who told me that Eucharist is boring). It is boring for them because they are boring. I seek the joy that comes from having in me the mind of Christ Jesus each day. This is a joy that can only come by my heart being next to the heart of Christ (Love) and just being grateful that I am His adopted son (daughter). Only I can choose to do that, and it takes a martyrdom of self (martyrdom of moving from my false self to my new self) to go against what I think the world is telling me and showing me is happiness. For the world, happiness is feeling good. It is like wanting to be on heroin high all the time. Life is not like that for the non-heroin-dependent person (me). I have other addictions (thorns of the flesh) that I must bear. Martyrdom means I am not privileged to shed his blood for Christ but rather suffer cuts and bruises of everyday, ordinary living, often with some depression that life is not more exciting. In the end, life is only as exciting as I make it. When I choose the Christ Principle as my center, it doesn’t make life any easier; it means my purpose is to transform the ordinary of my life into one to give glory to the Father through, with, and in Christ, using the power of the Holy Spirit. St. Pauls puts it this way in Galatians 5:
Freedom for Service.*13For you were called for freedom, brothers.j But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve* one another through love.14For the whole lawk is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”*1But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another16l I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.*17 For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.m1But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.n19* Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness,o20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions,p21 occasions of envy,* drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,q23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.r24 Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.s25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.t26 Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.uhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/galatians/5
This is a type of martyrdom where we must shed the blood of self-denial of what appears to be what will titillate our senses towards self-gratification, to become more like Christ who shed His own blood for the ransom of many. Self-gratification is not so bad as it is incapable of setting our table with anything that will nourish our true self in Christ Jesus. To find something in the ordinary purposes of life that will satisfy the hungry heart, I choose four legs of my table of the Lord to allow me to taste and see how good the Lord is.
It is the martyrdom of self (false self) that goes against the illusions of who is powerful, who is the greatest, who can hate others the most, and who is god. Anyone stuck in this mode of thinking not only won’t see reality as having The Christ Principle as its center, but can’t do so. Read the whole context of how Jesus could not work miracles. Christ, being Son of God, has full power, but somehow this power is not actualized by individuals because people he knows can’t bring themselves to open themselves up to the possibility of the manifest ability of the Messiah.
The Rejection at Nazareth.1a He departed from there and came to his native place,* accompanied by his disciples.2* When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! 3b Is he not the carpenter,* the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4*c Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”5 So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,* apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/mark/6
What is this “lack of faith” all about? It surely isn’t that Jesus is Messiah because even the Apostles needed the Holy Spirit to give them the power to believe. As crazy as it seems, I thought of Chapter 7 of the Rule of Benedict about humility and the first of twelve steps: Have fear of the Lord. Here, English does not impart the depth of meaning contained in the idea of “fear.” As best as I can tell, it means, “Don’t forget that Jesus is also God, and you don’t mess with God. Just be aware that this Jesus, whom you call human, is also divine in nature. Be respectful for all that he has done.” This appreciation or gratitude is the subject of one of my next blogs.
Applied to the situation of Jesus and his hometown, his neighbors never thought of Jesus as the Son of God, Savior. Their lack of faith means that their disposition towards the choices they make does not allow them to open themselves to the possibility that Jesus is also The Christ Principle.
The early Church Universal is sometimes called the Church of the Blood of the Martyrs because they not only believed in Jesus as human but because they also believed that the words of Jesus to us to “love one another as He loves us” and that He is “Son of the Father.” Our martyrdom is one of boredom and taking for granted everything Christ has gifted us since the Ascension. The Holy Spirit is the very breath of God with the Church as it wobbles down the crooked path of humnity in each age, but also within our seventy or eighty years, we have to discover the meaning of the Divine Equation and answer the questions authentically. God, through Jesus, and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, provide the answers that cause resonance in our relationship with God and each other. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:35ff.
Lay Cistercian practices and charisms (and other systems of prayer, e.g., Franciscans, Dominican, Ignatian, Basilian) all provide a structured approach to loving Christ, one that is a School of Love. Within this context of living out my end of life, I transform what might seem like ordinary or boredom to the world into the resonance of being one with the center, The Christ Principle. This association must produce energy, not my energy, but that of God, and I receive it according to the totality of who I am from the choices I have made in the past and present. Being in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament changes or transforms me in ways I don’t even begin to understand. The martyrdom of the Ordinary is my struggle to give my life to die for Christ by blood but to live for Christ by faith so that, each day, I might “Have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
next: Ways to Pray the Seven Penitential Psalms (Being a Penitent Lay Cistercian)