I USED TO LOOK DOWN AT THE BAPTISTS
We all are guilty. When we hear something, we process it according to our first impressions. As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Perhaps this is because the old adage applies: whatever is received, is received according to the disposition of the recipient.
Before I get to the implications of the title about looking down at Baptists, may I relate an incident that happened at Premier Gym in Tallahassee, Florida, two years ago. It was 5:40 a.m. in the morning. I was peddling on the recumbent bicycle and another old man (it seems only old men go to the gym that early) asked me what I was reading. It happened that I had taken my Liturgy of the Hours to read the Office of Readings on that particular day. He asked if it was the Bible and I told him it was more than that. The look on his face would have cracked the Great Wall in China in two. He told me that nothing was greater than the Bible. I agreed with him. What he did not know was that I was referring to not only the Scripture which is contained in the Office of Readings but also the writings of early Church Fathers and the Saints. In this sense, it is more than just the Bible in the Office of Readings. That does not take away from the fact that Scriptures are the supreme authority for the early Church. Actually, Scriptures are not the supreme authority overall, Christ is. Eucharist is far more of a core than is Scripture, although both are part of the Mystery of Faith. My point is, we hear what we hear based on the sum of our experiences about what words mean. What words actually mean might be something deeper.
About the title above that, I looked down on the Baptist Church. That is a true statement. As my favorite radio commentator, the late Paul Harvey was fond of saying, and now the rest of the story.
In 1976, I was a Pastor of a small congregation in Bloomfield, Indiana called Holy Name. At the time, I was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Adult Education for the Bureau of Studies in Adult Education, Indiana University, as it was known back then. Our church was on a ten-acre plot of land with the rectory and church high on a hill and some of the property is on the lower part, below the rectory. It happened that my colleague and friend, the Baptist minister and his wife, approached me with the proposition to sell them some of that bottom land, about an acre total. I consulted our parish council and we were more than happy to sell them part of our property for their Baptist Church, in fact, we gave them a good deal on the price. The church was completed and stands there today with the rectory and our Holy Name on the hill overlooking it. I used to joke to people that I used to look down on Baptists but don’t do so anymore. True story. http://fbcbloom.org/wordpress/
Every day I looked down from my rectory to see our Baptist brothers and sisters praising God. I don’t want to sound mushy but I looked forward to praying with the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of Christ ministers and seeing what I could do to help people who wanted to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Phl 2:5). This served me well, as I went next year into the US Army as a Chaplain. Looking down on anyone because they love God is absurd. No one can say Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit. To those who believe other than what I do all I say is Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it. Pope Francis said it: who am I to judge?
The Chapter 4 in the title refers to St. Benedict’s Rule, where he gives a list of things we must do to convert ourselves from sin to grace, from our old selves to our new selves.
I read Chapter 4 every day, anchored as it is in Scripture, in the hope that I can become what I read. Every day!
The Instruments of Good Works
(1) In the first place to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength…
(2) Then, one’s neighbor as one’s self (cf Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27).
(3) Then, not to kill…
(4) Not to commit adultery…
(5) Not to steal…
(6) Not to covet (cf Rom 13:9).
(7) Not to bear false witness (cf Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20).
(8) To honor all men (cf 1 Pt 2:17). (9) And what one would not have done to himself, not to do to another (cf Tob 4:16; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31).
(10) To deny one’s self in order to follow Christ (cf Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23).
(11) To chastise the body (cf 1 Cor 9:27).
(12) Not to seek after pleasures.
(13) To love fasting.
(14) To relieve the poor.
(15) To clothe the naked…
(16) To visit the sick (cf Mt 25:36).
(17) To bury the dead.
(18) To help in trouble.
(19) To console the sorrowing.
(20) To hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.
(21) To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
(22) Not to give way to anger.
(23) Not to foster a desire for revenge.
(24) Not to entertain deceit in the heart.
(25) Not to make a false peace.
(26) Not to forsake charity. (Emphases mine)
(27) Not to swear, lest perchance one swear falsely.
(28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue.
(29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).
(30) To do no injury, yea, even patiently to bear the injury done us.
(31) To love one’s enemies (cf Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27).
(32) Not to curse them that curse us, but rather to bless them.
(33) To bear persecution for justice sake (cf Mt 5:10).
(34) Not to be proud…
(35) Not to be given to wine (cf Ti 1:7; 1 Tm 3:3).
(36) Not to be a great eater.
(37) Not to be drowsy.
(38) Not to be slothful (cf Rom 12:11).
(39) Not to be a murmurer.
(40) Not to be a detractor.
(41) To put one’s trust in God.
(42) To refer what good one sees in himself, not to self, but to God.
(43) But as to any evil in himself, let him be convinced that it is his own and charge it to himself.
(44) To fear the day of judgment.
(45) To be in dread of hell.
(46) To desire eternal life with all spiritual longing.
(47) To keep death before one’s eyes daily.
(48) To keep a constant watch over the actions of our life.
(49) To hold as certain that God sees us everywhere.
(50) To dash at once against Christ the evil thoughts which rise in one’s heart.
(51) And to disclose them to our spiritual father.
(52) To guard one’s tongue against bad and wicked speech.
(53) Not to love much speaking.
(54) Not to speak useless words and such as provoke laughter.
(55) Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
(56) To listen willingly to holy reading.
(57) To apply one’s self often to prayer.
(58) To confess one’s past sins to God daily in prayer with sighs and tears, and to amend them for the future.
(59) Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh (cf Gal 5:16).
(60) To hate one’s own will.
(61) To obey the commands of the Abbot in all things, even though he himself (which Heaven forbid) act otherwise, mindful of that precept of the Lord: “What they say, do ye; what they do, do ye not” (Mt 23:3).
(62) Not to desire to be called holy before one is; but to be holy first, that one may be truly so called.
(63) To fulfill daily the commandments of God by works.
(64) To love chastity.
(65) To hate no one.
(66) Not to be jealous; not to entertain envy.
(67) Not to love strife.
(68) Not to love pride.
(69) To honor the aged.
(70) To love the younger.
(71) To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
(72) To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
(73) And never to despair of God’s mercy.
Behold, these are the instruments of the spiritual art, which, if they have been applied without ceasing day and night and approved on judgment day, will merit for us from the Lord that reward which He hath promised: “The eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). But the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery, and stability in the community.oral to any of this it is that when we hear others say that they believe in God, we don’t judge solely on the words but on the heart.
WAYS TO RESPECT THE BELIEF OF OTHERS WITHOUT DAMAGING YOUR OWN
Here are some of my ideas on how to view other religious beliefs. What I don’t want to do, and this should be true for any religion, is distort the religious heritage of any religion, including mine. What I do want to do is to share with you some of the lessons I have learned from a lifetime of working with other religions.
FIRST PRINCIPLE: Don’t judge others. I believe we begin life by not judging others and then learn about prejudices from our environment and sometime from our religion. Put all that behind you. Life has a way of taking off those rough edges of pride, presumptions that what you think of others is actually who they are. Don’t judge.
SECOND PRINCIPLE: Share what you can. The assumption I always make, when meeting or even writing about people from other Faith traditions is, they are sincerely trying to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Gone are the days when I try to make other people a tiny copy of me. Far from my mind are those thoughts of converting the whole world. I am realizing that converting my own self takes much more energy that I would ever expend in convincing someone to be Catholic.
THIRD PRINCIPLE: Pray as you can. I love to pray with people who are not of my own faith. I also love to pray with people who share my view of spirituality, such as the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monstery (Trappist), www.trappist.net/about/lay-cistercians and my faith family at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Tallahassee, Florida.https://goodshepherdparish.org/ The key to getting along with others is rooted in your own Faith and knowing what your purpose in life is. My purpose is to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). I can share that with others by prayer, reading, scripture and praising the Lord, all while keeping the one rule of my Catholic Universal Faith “Shema Yisrael. Love God with all your mind, all your strength, and all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37) Everything else is to help us to love others more as Christ has loved us.
When I was deep in a pity party because I thought the Catholic Church did not care about me (I was thinking of the authoritative aspect of the Church who did not even know me). I went to St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tallahassee to take the complete set of discernment instructions to see if I would fit there. What follows is my blog on this extraordinary experience.
I TOOK INSTRUCTIONS TO BECOME AN ANGLICAN
It was not a particularly good time in my life in 2010. My application for laicization had been on hold for 18 years since Pope Saint John Paul II decided not to grant priests dispensation. I felt like I still wanted to be useful to the Church, but was cut off from doing anything overtly religious. Maybe that is another blog. I made a decision to explore being an Anglican, in the hopes of being ordained a priest for them. So I gave it a try.
My intention in writing down these ideas is not to prove this or that religion is good and another one is bad. I had always been Roman Catholic and did not have the experience of another faith home. I did want to resolve my situation at the time and see if I could still practice the ministry of a priest. I chose Anglican not Episcopal because their physical Church was closer.
I could not have been more warmly greeted and accepted as who I was, someone on a journey to seek God. In many ways, I owe my being Roman Catholic today to the laity of the Anglican Church and the generosity of its clergy. I will be forever grateful to them.
I went through a year’s worth of instructions on what it means to be Anglican. I attended their worship services on Sunday. I went to parish socials to mix with parishioners. If it was just a matter of being with good people of faith, I would be Anglican today.
During the period of instruction, I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to serve these people in ministry. My time at morning services was good and familiar. All the things I grew up with were there, the large crucifix, the altar, the candles, the Votive Light that we call the Elijah candle, the smells, the order of the service. If I didn’t know better, I would not have known this service was Anglican and not Roman Catholic. Yet, I had that undefinable something way down deep (and I mean way down deep) in my consciousness that kept me from giving my full self. That went on for nearly six months.
At the end of that time, my instructions were complete and others in my group were given the opportunity to join the community. So was I. It was a generous gift from them and I realized that I would be happy in community with all these believers. Yet, those troubling, nagging doubts were not going away. I remember driving to a Sunday service and parking, then walking to Church. I thought to myself, I can’t do this. Maybe for someone else, it would be okay, but I can’t do this. So, now comes the choice. The choice was, there is no choice at all. I can’t do this. If I did convert, no one would ever know, or even care about my struggle. I cared! I was caught in not attending the Roman Catholic Church because I was unable to get a dispensation from my vows and having no other option. I chose the former, which I termed dark love.
Then, things changed. My dispensation came through because Pope Benedict XVI was once again giving dispensations to priests and religious.
My reasons for not wanting to continue as Anglican were these:
I was not fully convinced that Anglican orders were valid. It might not be a problem for anyone else, but it was for me. If Anglican order may not be valid, why should I want to be a clergy person for them?
When I asked about the authority of the Church, in terms of Apostolicity, I was told that there are three Anglican branches: traditional or Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, and Progressive. These three branches do not agree on things like Real Presence, Authority of Apostolicity, rituals. I had problems with knowing that each clergy person, depending on their branch of Anglicanism, would give you a different answer to how they approach issues of Church, worship, authority, the grace of God. This might not be a problem for some, but it was for me. I did not see their Catholicity, Apostolicity nor Oneness. I did observe their holiness and goodness of heart.
This is my journey, not yours, but I would only caution you. Just because your road to spirituality is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. In whatever remains of the time I have left, I plan to daily convert my life (conversio mores) to be more like Christ and less like me. I have to fight for my core beliefs and not let the Church get away with abandoning me to relativism, worshipping false gods, and my being my own church. Ironically, as Luther said long ago, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Being a Lay Cistercian has been a big blessing. Accepted by the monastic community and fellow brother and sister Lay Cistercians is a true community, like the early assemblies of Ephesus and Philippi. My appreciation for the history and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church has grown exponentially since I began to get rid of my pride and pledge obedience to God’s will for me. One of the most significant events for me is Lectio Divina, which I describe as sitting on a wintry park bench, waiting for Jesus to come by, and, if and when it happens, placing my heart next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I pray for all the monks and Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Georgia, I pray for all those in my prayer group at Good Shepherd Community, Tallahassee, Florida. I give thanks to God for the privilege of taking instructions to become an Anglican at St. Peter’s Community in Tallahassee. I am not only home, but, like Job, have more than I could have ever dreamed back in 2010. All I can say is:
Glory 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
PRINCIPLE FOUR: No one who confesses Jesus is the Son of God, Savior, can do so without the grace of the Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis says: Who am I to judge? Can I stop the Holy Spirit from overshadowing someone who is not of my Catholic Universal Faith? Impossible! Rather than looking at what divides us both theologically and by heritage, and this is not to be minimized, we stress what binds us together. When I was a United States Army Chaplain (1977-1982) I help many more Baptist and Pentecostal soldiers to re-convert their lives to Jesus as their personal savior, than I did Catholics. That was my job as Chaplain and I am proud that I could have been an instrument to help these soldiers find Christ again. There is one faith, one Lord, one Baptism.
PRINCIPLE FIVE: One Rule: Love one another as I have loved you. I find it very interesting to observe most religions, my own included, jockeying to be right, rather than focusing on loving one another as Christ loves us. Behavior follows from what your priority is. Conversion of heart means I focus on what Christ focused on. The basis of my Faith is not the Church, it is Christ and trying as I might to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus each day. (Philippians 2:5-12). It is the “every day” that is killing me, reminding me of the effects of Original Sin into which I must spend whatever time I have left. I try. I hope.
Two gifts we receive: the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ into our minds and heart, and the gift of peace which we then give to each other as Christ has just given it to us. Remember, these gifts are from God and pass through you to others. When Jesus tells us to pass on the good news to the whole world, we sometimes forget that it is in the simple act of sharing both love (Eucharist) and peace of Christ (Forgiveness) that we love others as Christ loves us. We can only give others what Christ has given us. All religions who confess that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God, Savior share this peace with each other.
DID YOU KNOW? The Lay Cistercians of Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), Conyers, Georgia, have an ecumenical group composed of other faith traditions. They make promises before the Abbot to convert their life to Christ using the Rule of St. Benedict and openness to the Spirit through silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community. They meet once a month in a Gathering Day for reflection, prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, and instruction from one of the monks. That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict
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.