One of my favorite Scripture passages is the one where God tells a frightened Elijah the Prophet to go to a cave and He will pass by. This passage has great importance for contemplative practice. We listen to God with the ear of our heart, as St. Benedict tells us in the Prologue to his Rule. In I Kings, 19, Elijah describes his situation as he waits for the Lords to come: “11c Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD;* the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake;12after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.”
It is in the elegant simplicity of a whisper, barely audible, that God speaks to Elijah. During this Lenten season, we might think all God has to do is wait for us to call and he will come at our beckoning.
My own expectations are often that I take time out of my busy schedule to make a holy hour or read Liturgy of the Hours, and I think that satisfies God. As I seek God every day, I look for him in the signs of a chapel’s majesty or before the Blessed Sacrament when I practice penance by praying the Scriptures, but he is not there. I try to follow my Lay Cistercian practices in silence and solitude by doing Lectio Divina diligently, but he is not there. With humility and obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit, I ask God where he is and why it is so difficult for me to hear him? What is wrong with you, God? No answer. I find myself alone, sitting on a park bench, rather ruffled that God is not passing by as He had said he would. There is a deep cold in the woods, and snow covers the landscape. No sounds. No birds chirping. The wind picks up, and I feel its icy breath on my face and tighten my scarf around my face so my eyeballs won’t freeze. I think that I must be absolutely crazy to think that God would tell me he would be here and then not show up, He who is present to all reality from before there was time. Faintly, competing with the sound of the wind is a word, ever so soft and delicate. I hear the word, Michael. I focus on this sound, and I can hear it only in the innermost silence of my heart. “Michael, where were you? I was afraid you would not stop by to see me?” “Jesus, is that you?” I say. “Of course,” says Jesus, ” I have been since before there was time. I have been waiting for you to show up.” I think of St. Thomas and how embarrassed he must have been when Jesus told him to stick his fingers in the wounds in his hands and side. All he could say and all I can say is My Lord and My God. During Lent, I realize that I must practice waiting for my heart to slow down to be able to listen with the ear of my heart to the real presence of Christ next to me. I must re-convert my false self, again and again, to listen and keep my mouth shut so that I can hear the whispers that come to my heart.
The following passage is that of Elijah, one to prefigure Christ. Read it three times as your Lenten reading, even though it is lengthy. The first time, read it through as you would normally do. Next time, pick out one idea that sticks out in your mind. The third time, read it asking the Holy Spirit to elaborate on how this one idea of yours can help you listen with the ear of your heart to the faint whispering of Christ.
Lent is a time for profound reflection. Lent is a time for profound listening. St. Benedict tells us to “listen with the ear of the heart.” Here is a not-so-simple idea on which you should ponder.
Go to http://www.divineoffice.org. Read the Invitatory prayer. Reflect on this prayer three times.
First, read it for the words; next, read it for the meaning and select one idea that sticks in your mind; next, read it with that one idea in mind and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about it.
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.
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.
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
TEN SURE WAYS TO MAINTAIN THE VITALITY AND EXUBERANCE OF YOUR FAITH
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.
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?
The title of this blog is not my own, but the topic of Bishop Robert Barron’s YouTube Sunday sermon this week. I recommend that you subscribe to his YouTube channel.
I find that my Lectio Divina meditations are informed by my latest experiences, grounded, of course, in my Lectio of Philippians 2:5. Today, Bishop Barron’s insightful thoughts about Abraham and the sacrifice of Issac, his only son, to God stoked the fires of thought about my center and what is important in my life. In my book, The Place No One Wants to Look, I write of the importance of having a center, that one value, highest good, as Bishop Barron would say, above which there is no other. https://amzn.to/3r2ru9J My center is Philippians 2:5. “…have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” It is the capstone, my highest aspiration in this life, and one which I hope to carry on into the next. I want you to read what Bishop Barron has to say about the most difficult choice any of us have to make. I found it a confirmation of what has been at the very center of my being. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-kQ2w97eN4
What is your center or highest good? Lent is a time to take stock of what is important in your spiritual life and check your priorities. If your priority is not God (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36), it is time to make all thing new once again.
One of the Holy Spirit’s insights that have pricked my otherwise routine retirement is that I must search for God each day where I find him and as I find him. If I choose God as the center of my life, I have to work to keep Him centered. I call this the Rule of Revolving Centers, one due to Original Sin’s effects and why I have to pray each day for God to have mercy of me, a sinner. Contemplative practice takes work and is not for the faint of heart. With Christ, all things are possible. https://amzn.to/3syxsPH
What is your center? If it is not God, what do you place there?
Lent is a profound time of introspection and conversion. Introspection, in that we must re-measure ourselves against the one command Christ left us: to love one another as he has loved us. Christ alone can make all things new in the heavens and on earth. Introspection without conversion leads to the danger of thinking that you don’t need Christ, only your opinion as to what is new or not. Read this passage from revelations three times. Once for meaning; once for linking this to how you love others as Christ loves us; and once in silence and silence without any agenda other than what the Holy Spirit tells you. Read slowly and prayerfully.
The New Heaven and the New Earth. 1a Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.* 2 I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,* coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. b 3 heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.c He will dwell with them, and they will be his people* and God himself will always be with them [as their God].* 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”d 5 The one who sat on the throne* said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”e 6 He said to me, “They are accomplished.* I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.f 7The victor* will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. g 8 But as for cowards,* the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”hhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/revelation/21
Everything that is has a beginning and an end. In my book, The Christ Principle, I set forth six paradigm shift that emanates from God automatically just because He is. I think of it as God’s DNA, because all reality moves from simplicity to complexity then back to simplicity again in, with, and through Christ. All reality moves from God who has no beginning and an end through matter, time, energy, life, the evolution of the species of humans, the revolution of the corruption of matter by the passion, death, and resurrection, sustained by the Holy Spirit in the Church Universal until all returns once again in the Christ Principle. It is a cosmic strategy that uses natural processes, human nature, and then divine nature to make all things new. For God, all of this is a moment in time (even this is not correct, but we humans need to have some way for our nature to begin to appreciate the love God has for us).
A LAY CISTERCIAN LOOKS AT MAKING ALL THINGS NEW
For much of my lifetime, my spirituality assumed that it took a lifetime to achieve, so I have time to fritter away my purpose on things that are not central to my existence. I have slowly begun to shift my thinking from a lifetime to just living each day for what it is as I seek God. I couldn’t be happier with that switch. Here some other ways that I have moved from my false self to my true self, ones that I must reaffirm each day with the Christ Principle.
Contemplative practices are praying each day as I can, not as I think I should. I am actually praying more because I understand that, although I don’t think of Jesus each moment, I do switch my thoughts to how much Christ loves all of us. I want to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) at each opportunity. When you love someone genuinely, you want to be with them as much as possible. You don’t feel fulfilled unless they are somehow part of your daily routine. I remember Brother Michael O.C.S.O. teaching us about the quality we need to be contemplative. In addition to silence and solitude, he mentioned balance. Staying anchored to reality is important to my spiritual maturation. I am conscious that I can lose my faith without humility and obedience to God’s will for me this day.
The New Testament gives us the blueprint or the WHY, WHAT, AND SO WHAT of our Faith. The next period in our collective journey is that of the Church Universal. It exists of all those who are gathered together to celebrate the death of the Lord until he comes again (Eucharistic Prayer). It is the HOW that fulfills the WHAT and WHY of Christ. At each age, and most especially because I live out my life in that space of sixty to seventy years, I am here to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with God in the next. (Baltimore Catechism, Question 6)
Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each day.
Receive the Sacrament of Penance. If you have not been in the presence of Christ for confession during the past year (or longer). Go and make all things new. Better still, get into a penitential habit of receiving this Sacrament frequently. Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.
Lent is a time of reassessment and change. We move from our false self, imprinted with the effects of Original Sin to being free from the hostage to death. During your time of profound reflection in Lent, here are some thoughts I had from my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) on the idea, “If I made just one change, what would be the impact on how I look at reality?”
JUST ONE THOUGHTS
If you just thought about the Christ Principle as the reason why you exist, what would be the behavioral consequences? For me, Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life that leads to heaven. My challenge is to place myself in His presence as much as possible using Cistercian practices and charisms and soak up whatever He wants me to have. I thought about what that “soaking” would feel like as I sit on a bench in the dead of winter and wait for Christ to sit down next to me. After a while, I realize that Christ had been sitting down long before I got there and was just waiting for me to empty myself of my false self to begin to transform to my new life using the power of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t consider myself a religious zealot or fanatic, one whose passion is trying to get others to his or her notion of who Christ is. Rather, in silence and solitude, in the stillness of my heart, I seek God without words or ideas, or human concepts. Religious charlatans of all denominations seem to be full of the Holy Spirit but are only full of themselves. Follow me, they chant, and you will be saved. The Christ Principle is the only true way to salvation. There is no easy way to heaven but the cross. Resurrection without the cross is shallow and will not fill the hole left in the human heart from the sin of Adam and Eve. The World does not have the power to save us, only the love of Christ can fill that big hole left by Adam and Eve.
When I went outside yesterday to take out the trash, I noticed the clear, blue sky, inhaled the crisp air (crisp for Florida, that is), the felt the afternoon sun on my head and neck. It felt good. I thought about how this toasty warm Sun is like sitting next to Christ on the park bench and just soaking up goodness. Humans are so compulsive that we must always be doing something to feel like we justify our existence or are productive. I call that filling holes, and if we don’t have holes in our lives (death in the family, work, power, money, and religion), then we manufacture them so we can fill them. St. Augustine said it succinctly when he stated: our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.
We must be busy to be worth something in the eyes of the World. In the eyes of God, we are worth many sparrows, and the reason why Christ became human was to suffer and die to redeem us from the hole of death to be able to rise again as an adopted son or daughter of the Father. The Christ Principle is the one point into which all reality, physical, mental and spiritual, flow, and all reality finds purpose and justification. One thing you will never find Lucifer doing is giving up his life to redeem us from the hole of death. He wants you to give up your life for him and then laughs at you because you were so stupid not to choose God over evil.
WHAT WOULD YOU BE LIKE, IF YOU…
26Now a week later, his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”p27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”28*q Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”29* Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? r Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Conclusion.*30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.s31But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.t https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/20
Lent is a period of reflection, a purification of all those false attitudes and ways of thinking that will keep me from realizing the importance of the Resurrection of Christ and its implications for me as I search for God each day.
Lent is a time of cleaning. The sinful and terrible choices that I have made I now identify and try to replace with those of the Spirit (Galatians 5). I may not even realize that I have fallen into bad habits or failure to love others as Christ loved us. This is the beauty and wisdom of the Sacrament of Penance. A sacrament is a holy meeting place facilitated by the Church Universal to keep me from becoming my own God. I measure myself, not by what I think is moral or acceptable behavior, but by what Scripture holds as the norm for believing.
The Sacrament of Penance uses our heritage of moving from false self to true self, a conversion opportunity for me to declare that he is the Son of God and Messiah and that believing in him, I might be happy with Him now and in heaven. The Church provides me with the context against which I measure my behavior to convert my actions to become more like Christ. St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4 has a list of tools for good work that not only help my mind to convert to Christ but demands my behavior follows my belief. These are only tools and not the end-results of my actions.
The priest is the Church in this Sacrament and a visible mediator that takes a Christ we cannot see, but so are you also the Church. The priest holds us accountable for our actions and gives us the opportunity for Christ to give us grace for the next part of our journey. This is conversio morae with the core against which we measure ourselves as the Christ Principle, which is the sign of contradiction. All Sacraments are instituted by Christ to give me grace through, with, and in Christ to the glory of the Father.
Conversio Morae or my struggle with having in me the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5) is not something that happens just one time and then I can get on the conveyor belt of painless behaviors until I die. Far from it, I begin each day anew, not using the day before as having finally converted my life to Christ and now I can go about my business. Each day is a lifetime. Each day I must search for ways that I might love others as Christ loved me. The way I convert my life each day is by denying myself, taking up my cross daily, and following Christ. It is not meant to be easy and Christ won’t carry my cross. Like Joseph of Aramathea, he will help me lift whatever comes my way each day. Come to me, Christ insists, and I will give you rest for your soul.
The Gentle Mastery of Christ. 28* “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest. 29*p Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/11
DO YOU HAVE PROFOUND BELIEF IN YOUR FAITH?
Faith comes as a gift from God. Belief is our response to that gift by saying, “Be it done to me, according to your Word.” Do you need to convert your love to that of loving others as Christ loved us? Answer these four questions in the stillness of your heart?
Do you believe that Jesus is profoundly present, body and blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine? If you believe that is true, compare your behavior with Matthew 25.
The Judgment of the Nations.* 31f “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32g and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35h For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40i And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41*j Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42k For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44* Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ 46l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
* [25:31–46] The conclusion of the discourse, which is peculiar to Matthew, portrays the final judgment that will accompany the parousia. Although often called a “parable,” it is not really such, for the only parabolic elements are the depiction of the Son of Man as a shepherd and of the righteous and the wicked as sheep and goats respectively (Mt 25:32–33). The criterion of judgment will be the deeds of mercy that have been done for the least of Jesus’ brothers (Mt 25:40). A difficult and important question is the identification of these least brothers. Are they all people who have suffered hunger, thirst, etc. (Mt 25:35, 36) or a particular group of such sufferers? Scholars are divided in their response and arguments can be made for either side. But leaving aside the problem of what the traditional material that Matthew edited may have meant, it seems that a stronger case can be made for the view that in the evangelist’s sense the sufferers are Christians, probably Christian missionaries whose sufferings were brought upon them by their preaching of the gospel. The criterion of judgment for all the nations is their treatment of those who have borne to the world the message of Jesus, and this means ultimately their acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself; cf. Mt 10:40, “Whoever receives you, receives me.” See note on Mt 16:27.
* [25:32] All the nations: before the end, the gospel will have been preached throughout the world (Mt 24:14); thus the Gentiles will be judged on their response to it. But the phrase all the nations includes the Jews also, for at the judgment “the Son of Man…will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:27).
* [25:37–40] The righteous will be astonished that in caring for the needs of the sufferers they were ministering to the Lord himself. One of these least brothers of mine: cf. Mt 10:42.
* [25:41] Fire prepared…his angels: cf. 1 Enoch 10:13 where it is said of the evil angels and Semyaza, their leader, “In those days they will lead them into the bottom of the fire—and in torment—in the prison (where) they will be locked up forever.”
* [25:44–45] The accursed (Mt 25:41) will be likewise astonished that their neglect of the sufferers was the neglect of the Lord and will receive from him a similar answer.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/25
How radically would your life change if you had this phrase at the very core of your being: Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus? (Philippians 2:5) If your behavior has not dramatically changed, then this may not be as important to you as you might claim. What do you need to change to convert your behaviors to reflect the love Christ had for us?
Do you truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Savior? (John 20:30-31) Action is the product of belief. What do you do to show that you believe Christ’s resurrection is real now?
Do you live your life as though each day is a new opportunity to seek God where you are and as you are? Why not?
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO CONVERT YOUR LIFE TO CHRIST?
During Lent, I try to use Lectio Divina as a way to become a more penitential person, being more humble and obedient to the will of God each day. One of my Lectio meditations (not at the level of contemplation) is on the subject of giving. I think of my core Lectio Divina saying (Philippians 2:5): “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” I think about how giving God is and how I am so very far from what I should be.
TWO DIMENSIONS OF HOSPITALITY
The thought struck me that almsgiving and any type of giving have two dimensions. First, it makes me happy to give to others. In a way, my reward for giving is the good feeling I have in my stomach that I have made someone happy, that I have helped others somehow. When I notice people around me giving to others, something is missing here, even being generous to a fault. Giving as one who does it because they love to give others is common even among pagans and non-believers. When one receives the adoption as a son or daughter of the Father at Baptism, this is a gift from God to each of us. We are bid to do the same. When someone who is signed with the mark of the cross gives, they have all the feelings and emotions of giving to others as do their secular counterparts, but they do it in the name of Christ.
St. Benedict stresses hospitality in Chapter 53 of the Rule. Christ is the difference between what secular society thinks of in hospitality and those who have in them the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) Read this chapter for yourself.
1 All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). 2 Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims. 3 Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. 4 First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace, 5 but prayer must always precede the kiss of peace because of the delusions of the devil. 6 All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. 7 By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them. 8 After the guests have been received, they should be invited to pray; then the superior or an appointed brother will sit with them. 9 The divine law is read to the guest for his instruction, and after that every kindness is shown to him. 10 The superior may break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it is a day of special fast which cannot be broken. 11 The brothers, however, observe the usual fast. 12 The abbot shall pour water on the hands of the guests, 13 and the abbot with the entire community shall wash their feet. 14 After the washing they will recite this verse: God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple (Ps 47:10). 15 Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.
The second dimension is much less celebrated; it is the art of receiving gifts from others. I have seen people close to me want to pick up the check when taking friends to dine to the point of actually squabbling over who should pay. It can get quite heated in the verbal jousting over who pays. Some people love to give but react negatively when someone tries to give a gift to them. As in the first dimension, receiving can be either secular or spiritual. Here are some thoughts I had about the quality of receiving.
If I am marked with the sign of the cross, I want to allow others to be generous with me. That does not mean I seek gifts, but rather see the humility to recognize that the one giving to me needs that to increase Christ in them. I want to be conscious of what is going on.
I offer my thanks to others without much fanfare. In the Eucharist, the Sign of Peace is probably not understood as something important, but you should take another look. The peace of Christ is not the absence of strife but the presence of love. When you share Christ with one another, the Christ in your heart embraces the heart of Christ in the other. You not only give the peace of Christ to someone else, but you receive it back with Jesus being present.
Receiving is the precursor to having the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist in your heart and mind, to once again commit yourself to Jesus as Lord and Savior. You receive Jesus into your heart, but you also give your love to the Father through, with, and in Christ with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict once a day.
One of the concepts that help me to grow in the capacity of Christ in my heart is that of the Church. I use to think of the Church as being a body of rules and prescriptions that I had to believe in order to make it to heaven. Now, I just see that as a kickoff point for what is actually a quite sophisticated and ingenious way for Christ to take his command, “to love one another as I have loved you,” and make that real in each age for all races, for all genders, for all nationalities. What follows is an excerpt from my new book on The Art of Contemplative Practice: A Lay Cistercian reflects on a compendium of skills needed to move from self to God.
THE RANDOMNESS OF GOD IS GREATER THAN ALL THE INTENTIONS THAT HUMANS COULD CONCEIVE
During his lifetime, the era of Christ is characterized by God becoming human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Humans were just not going in the right direction in the Old Testament. They needed to be re-directed toward a more catholic approach to salvation, including everyone using the lessons found in the Christ Principle. Jesus came to save us from going in the wrong direction and giving us the WHAT about how to become adopted sons and daughters of the Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for us from before the physical universe existed. If Jesus is the WHAT, then the extension of his presence in the physical and mental universes is the HOW, or the practice of those Christ Principles, every day. The minefield through which all humans must pass is called Original Sin or how to control the human condition in each of us to rise up to our potential as adopted sons and daughters of the Father and not descend into our animality past, which is not our nature. In this context, Christ founded his Church, the gathering of those who try to make the Christ Principle as the center of their lives, to DO those activities that will enable them to fulfill their human potential. The unbroken link with Christ is the Church Triumphant (those who have died in the peace of Christ and now enjoy the heaven that they have discovered on earth), the Church Militant (those still living and struggling to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus each day with the energy of the Holy Spirit as Advocate), and finally, those who get a second chance at redemption or anyone God chooses to give another shot at loving others as Christ loved us, the Church Purgative or Penitential. The Church Universal is only made up of living human beings, ones who have varying degrees of awareness of how to love God with all their minds, with all their hearts, and with all their souls, and their neighbor as themselves. This multi-dimensional Church has three bodies but only one head, consistent with the Holy Trinity’s template (one divine nature with three distinct persons). This template is one that I use to look at one reality from three distinct universes of conditions, the physical universe, the mental universe (only humans were raised up to this level of existence), and the spiritual universe (only those Baptized with water and the Holy Spirit are raised up by God to be humans who are adopted by God to live forever.)
As an individual human being, far fetched as it may sound, you are the center of all reality. Don’t think of this center as being like the center of a bulls eye on a target, but rather the purpose of all reality from the time that time began to when you were born in original sin. Everything that is, the physical universe, the fact that humans have the ability to reason and make free choices, the insertion of God into the human situation to help us with WHAT we should do to be with God in heaven, and finally the foundation of the Church as mother to nourish me and protect me from the violence of the human condition, gives me a chance to live and fulfill my destiny as a human being.
As Erick Fromm writes so succinctly in his book, The Art of Loving, humans are not born with love, they must acquire it. Not all notions about love lead to authenticity. Some lead to the corruption of the human person. We must not only master human love, which is the purpose of being human but also master the art of loving others as Christ has loved us. Christ did not just come down and say, “Do this or that, then die, leaving us orphans. He showed us how to conquer our temptations and seek God each day. He also told his followers and through them those who would gather together to DO what he said, that He would be with us as we journey in our particular and unique paths to that final gathering in heaven. The Art of Contemplative Practice means doing those activities and behaviors that allow the presence of God to influence the way we treat others and respect ourselves. The Cistercian Way is how I have chosen to express this desire to be in the presence of Christ through Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Annoting of the Sick. I use this approach to spirituality because it is one which I am most familiar.
THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE IS ALL ABOUT JESUS BEING THE CENTER OF ALL REALITY. THE CHURCH IS ALL ABOUT WHAT CHRIST CAN DO FOR YOU NOW AS YOU SEEK GOD IN YOUR DAILY LIFE.
The Church is the occasion for the Holy Spirit to overshadow you with faith, hope, and love if you know what is going on. Liturgy is a collective way that the Body of Christ approaches God the Father through, with, and in Christ in unity with the Holy Spirit. The Church is “doing” what Christ left us to practice. The Church is there joined together with God’s DNA that contains the building blocks of contemplative practice moving through each successive age just for me to be able to say, “Jesus is Lord.”
As I try to live my purpose in life to seek God each day (Philippians 2:5), I use the following six questions as a focal point to help me stretch beyond what is comfortable so that I can find deeper meaning in three areas where it takes skill to move forward. These six questions form the core or bedrock of my contemplative practice.
THE SIX QUESTIONS EACH PERSON MUST ASK AND ANSWER BEFORE THEY DIE
MASTERY NOW AND FOREVER
When you are accepted by God as an adopted son or daughter, your journey to Forever is just beginning. Like everything we do as human beings, it takes work. When you ratify your Faith, you begin to pack your bag for life with God forever. Love in the spiritual universe is not automatic; you must learn how to love others as Christ loved us. The Church becomes the school of charity to help each individual and gatherings of individuals to love. I have chosen to express or make this love real while I live with the Rule of St. Benedict, specifically with the Cistercian approach to contemplative practice. This book assumes that contemplative practices and skills don’t automatically appear magically from some invisible force like love, contemplative practices, and skills. There is an art to contemplative practice, one that demands discipline and mastery. This mastery will never be fully reached in this lifetime of trying to love God with our whole mind, our whole heart, and with all our strength. It is the time that we take each day to seek God as life unfolds, using, in my case, Cistercian practices and charisms to make sense out of reality.
One of my concerns about conversion is the “one time is enough” syndrome. We are saved by the blood of Christ in His sacrifice on the cross, so we just get on the conveyor belt to behave, do what we want, then get off in Heaven. What is lacking in this approach is an appreciation of Original Sin and of humility and obedience needed to take up our cross daily and follow Christ as we meet Him each day. Being a follower of the Master is work, a daily battle against the ever-encroaching effects of Original Sin on our belief. Another of my concerns is that we don’t teach our members how to move from self to God each day, only an intellectual encounter with keeping the rules and obeying what the Church says is true. Don’t mistake that last statement as abandoning the role of the Church through the ages. “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” I am saying that Christ gives us the WHAT and WHY to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus, but show us HOW. The Church should be the instrument or help us with good works to move from self to God. Refer to St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/ Don’t forget that these good works are not ends in themselves but are only tools that lead us to increase Christ in our hearts. Christ is the terminus of all that we do, not the Church. Our reformation must be to increase God’s capacity (capacitas dei) in us by using the help and prayers not just of me, but in union with all those gathered together in one faith, one, lord, one baptism. The local Church becomes the occasion where I meet Christ. The church is a gathering of believers who help me and, together with me, move more and more towards the love Christ expressed for us by dying on the cross for our sins.
The context in which all of us practice these sixteen skills we call The Church. I love the analogy of the Church Universal as Mother. A mother protects her children from harm and ensures that they are fed and their wounds and bruises are soothed. A mother knows the failures and faults of her children but is always there with them as they get up from their foibles and fallacies. A mother is a moral compass for their children to admonish them when they need it all the while expressing unconditional love. The Church Universal is about sustaining how to love Christ through our heritage and authority from the Apostles. As an individual who has a limited lifetime to learn how to love as Christ loved us, I am the Church particular to transform first myself and then, through me, to those I meet in my brief lifetime. The Church can be compared to a mother who patiently nourishes me (and all me’s that ever lived) with how to love fiercely and make sense out of the spiritual universe, which is the opposite of what the world has an assumption about the purpose of life. Each of us has the ability to reason and the choice to do whatever we choose. Some of these choices are authentic, and some are destructive. The purpose of the Church Universal is to help me get to heaven. (Baltimore Catechism, Question Number Six)
The Art of Contemplation is a way to look at reality that uses help from God to nudge us in the right direction so we can open our hearts to the heart of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
ASSUMPTIONS DRIVE THE BUS
Behind anything we believe are multiple assumptions about what is true. Both you and I will have a different take on reality because we are unique. I like the saying:
Some assumptions I have in writing about The Art of Contemplative Practice.
I wrote all of my books as love letters from me to you, the result of my Lectio Divina meditations and contemplative thoughts that came from the Holy Spirit to me. I don’t speak for the Holy Spirit, only tune in to his television channel and watch whatever is presented. In that sense, I am a Scribe.
The Art of Contemplation is about my knowing what to choose to love as Christ loved us and doing the practices and receive the charisms to place myself in the presence of God through Christ using the energy of the Holy Spirit to help me. All of this is not about me, but about how I can make room for Christ in my heart.
I offer you sixteen different skills that I use to move from self to God. These skills are those that allow me to sit on a park bench in the dead of winter and approach God by keeping my mouth shut (God always approaches me, although I don’t always feel His presence). I don’t always practice them perfectly, but I do practice them daily in some form.
THREE LEVELS OF MAKING ROOM FOR GOD
There are three levels of awareness of what it means to love that I wish to master before I die. It will take me a lifetime of trying to approach God by having in me the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) Trying is a prayer in itself.
LEVEL ONE: Mastery of what it means to love in the secular world (RE: Erick Fromm’s, The Art of Loving. https://amzn.to/2XiMonP) Physical and Mental Universes
LEVEL TWO: Mastery of what it means to love others as Christ loves us. (RE: Learning to Love https://amzn.to/385zlfw) Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Universes aid in the Formation of Contemplative Practice. Continue to practice the sixteen skills of the Art of Contemplative Practice until you die.
LEVEL THREE: Mastery of the School of Love (RE: Developing A School of Love, https://amzn.to/3pOblUj) Spiritual Transformation from Self to God each day. Becoming what you read in Scripture.
I use the following sixteen skills to help me master the three different levels of spiritual awareness. Spiritual awareness in contemplative practice as a Lay Cistercian means that I try to grow in my capacity to have Christ in me. It is seeking God daily, with no reservations, with no agendas, with no expectations. With Christ as my center and the Christ Principle in my life, I don’t have to worry about what I am to eat or drink or what I am to wear, or what situations happen to me that day. Christ is there. It is the time I take to try to make room for Christ in my heart that is most meaningful, not just its attainment.
ASSUMPTIONS FOR THESE CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE SKILLS
There are sixteen skills that I propose as the core habits to acquiring what St. Benedict calls the Tools of Good Works (Chapter 4 of his Rule). Skills are about HOW to do contemplation. Contemplation is about using Meditation to move deeper into an abandonment of thoughts so that you focus on being present to Christ and listening with the “ear of the heart.” My new book will be a “How-to” book on contemplative practices that I use.
The first chapters of the Book of Genesis provide the opening written statement of what it means to be human. The oral traditions handed down through centuries surely took on characteristics of their own as different cultures and diverse authors reflected on their human condition and proposed how the God of Abraham related to them. In fact, there are four written sources that have been identified in the first chapters of Genesis, plus two differing creation accounts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis#:~:text=The%20documentary%20hypothesis%20posited%20that,to%20the%20Solomonic%20period%20(c.
Suffice it to say that Genesis is not as simplistic as you might think. For me, this book points out archetypal characteristics of what it means to be human and how humanity is essentially good but wounded by the sin of Adam and Eve. I think of it as the Genesis Effect in my view of reality. Here are some characteristics:
What is the nature of humans? The writers of Genesis had various ways to express what it means to be human. At the core of humanity is the ability to reason and free choice. What you choose can either be helpful or hurt you. Adam and Eve discovered the consequences of their choice were dying, having to work, the pains of everyday living such as childbirth, the awareness that they were naked, the consequences of jealousy and envy in the murder of Abel by Caine, the confusion of languages, and having to struggle to believe that God is God and that you are not God.
God is seen through anthropomorphic representation. Humans can not define God because their nature is not divine but human. What they do comprehend must be consistent with their human nature and experiences. The Garden of Eden’s context is that of a grand gardener hiring humans to tend it and care for it. Still, jealousy, envy, covetousness of materials things, and pride caused Adam (from the earth) and Eve (mother of humanity) to choose themselves rather than God as their center. Today, we have the completed Scriptures with centuries of commentary about what is true and what is not. Humans, even in the Old Testament encounters of Moses, the Judges, the Kings, and Prophets all experienced God through events, natural phenomena such as lightning at the top of the mountain, ending with Christ and the Word becoming flesh so He could be of human nature and relate what God’s love for us is. Genesis is a commentary on wounded human nature and our search for fulfillment. As John 20:30-31 says, these stories are to give you the opportunity to believe that Jesus is Son of God, Messiah, and that by believing in Him, you might have everlasting life. In is only very recently that we have Scriptural experts that parce the words and meanings with various points of view, often contradicting each other as they point out the contradictions contained in the passage of evolution from one understanding of God in the OT to a deeper fulfillment in the NT.
The Genesis Effect is most evident today. What was true for those keepers of the traditions handed down to them from previous generations is also true today. St. Paul stresses the relationship of Adam as the first man through what Jesus did as this second Adam died for our sins, released us from the hostage of death as the purpose of life, and allowed us to become sons and daughters of the Father. It is the Garden of Eden in its fullest sense once again. It is the New Jerusalem changed from tribal religion to a global one. It fulfills the purpose of human existence to have reason and make choices based on that reason. It fulfills the longing in the human heart to be present in the heart of Christ. It fulfills our destiny as human beings, both individually and collectively as Church Universal.
I need to begin each day seeking God in where I am and as I am. I need to practice good works (Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict) consistently and pray Lectio Divina each day. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
The Genesis Effect reminds me that I am a pilgrim in a foreign land (earth) and that I must struggle with Original Sin’s effects to keep myself center on Christ. Because of Original Sin, my commitment to Christ will begin to rust if I don’t keep myself focused on Christ (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course).
Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict each day and pray that you become what you read.
During one of our Gathering Days of Lay Cistercians at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (www.trappist.net), one of our members asked the question about the difficulty of keeping to a schedule to do Cistercian practices. The question also plagues me and how I confront trying to have silence and solitude in a world whose attention span is less than ten seconds. Here are some of the issues that I have solved for myself and some that still need to be addressed.
I am not a monk but a Lay Cistercian, retired, over 80 years old, living with past history of cardiac arrest (Widowmaker) and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (arrested) with a pacemaker put in in August of 2020. This is what I must work with as I try to seek God every day.
Some days are better than others. The ole temple of the Holy Spirit has lots of wear and tear over the years and has weathered many storms. It is continuity with my center that keeps me grounded in the source of my spirituality, i.e., “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:)
I don’t know, nor do I now care, what events or happenings come my way each day (e.g., COVID 19, my cancer, my cardiac arrest, a rock falling from the sky and destroying all humanity, my death). What does matter is that Jesus died for me just so I could have the opportunity to be called an adopted son (or daughter) of the Father and to be happy in Heaven forever.
Death is one of four door through which I must pass:
Everything else is just superfluous to my center, important, but still tangential.
Being part of a local community of Faith helps me be consistent with my daily practices. Remember, I am retired so I am all the time there is to seek God each day. We share Liturgy of the Hours (Office of Readings, Morning Prayer in the AM and Evening Prayer in the PM) in a group setting at our local Church. Until COVID 19 hit, I was a regular. Now, I guess I am irregular. I do have a plan to begin my consistency very soon again.
I read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each day (in addition to my community prayers).
I write down my blog Lectio Divina experiences every day, if possible.
I don’t follow a timetable or a schedule for completion of the Cistercian practices right now, but that will change when I return to my community prayer continuity.
Brother Michael O.C.S.O. told us that we should pray as we can and not as we should. My emphasis is seeking God daily as I can and where I am.
Everyone has a center of their life. It is that one principle, that one value upon which all others find their support. Granted that your center as a twenty-year-old may not be the one you have when you are sixty, but you will have a center, even if you don’t know what it is. My thinking about centers has nothing to do with centering prayer, in my opinion. It means that the center of each person’s life is a free choice made by human reasoning and experience. Only you can choose a center that is, for you, the one principle upon which all others are based.
When you look at the art of contemplative practice, or how you must learn to use the tools given to us by Christ to be able to love one another. St. Benedict prescribed the tools for good works in Chapter 4 of his Rule, as well as chapters on humility and obedience, both essential to being able to die to self and rise to a new life in Christ.
A center, in just the physical and mental universes is using your reason to be able to choose what one value all others rest, the keystone of your life, that which, if you took it away, nothing would remain, the capstone of a building, the North on your compass. If I do not believe in God, my center is limited to the world around me. Personally, being on the North side of 80 years old, I am grateful to get up each morning and creek around the house until I get acclamated. I like to write books no one reads and to have a blog that allows my neurons to synapt and keep the cobwebs away. This alone won’t be enough to satisfy my real longing.
When you use your Faith to jump from the physical and mental universes to the spiritual one, one where everything is turned upside down in values and what is important, your center becomes what sustains you in this life for the life to come. If you wish to read one of those books no one reads but me, I recommend the following ones on centers. https://amzn.to/2Om5w2M https://amzn.to/3rLmO7S
The spiritual universe’s center is the default over the physical and mental universes because what you place there lasts forever, with one caveat. While you are on earth, the Devil will constantly tempt you to choose another center, so you must work daily to keep yourself focused on seeking God. Being a Lay Cistercian is one way, in fact, the only way for me to keep my center from resolving out of control. In my book, The Three Rules of the Spiritual Universe, I write about just three rules that govern the spiritual universe. They are:
1. The Rule of Threes — When asking the question, “What does reality look like?” I use three universes to separate what I have come to parce out as three dimensions or universes in which I live. The physical universe, the mental universe, and the spiritual universe. One reality, yet only three separate and distinct realms of existence, each with its own measurements, requirements, purpose, and center.
2. The Rule of Revolving Centers– In the spiritual universe, while you are a member of the Church Militant, you must battle against the forces that try to tear your center from its rightful place. This is not only the deterioration effects of Original Sin that cause all things to have a beginning and an end, but also the natural corruption that occurs when we leave our center unattended. Like an ice cube, if you don’t keep it frozen in the freezer of contemplative practice, it will melt. Guaranteed. This is called losing one’s faith. We must not only choose the correct center for our individual life, but you must also guard it daily from the corrupting influences of the World and the seduction of the Devil that God is just a fantasy and Heaven is la-la land. Contemplative practices and charisma are to be used daily to combat the influences of decay and moral relativism that has permeated our collective thinking.
3. The Rule of Opposites — This rule means that, with the coming of Christ, the splitting of the veil in the temple, the power of the Resurrection, the expectations of the World are the opposite of what God sets forth as being reality. Think about it! The measurements for proving this spiritual universe turned upside down, like a polar shift in the magnetic field. Up is down and down is up. When measured with the yardstick of science, logic, psychology, and any other measurement or proof of reality that the world has, none of it makes any sense. It is only when we are given the key to the kingdom of heaven at Baptism that we have a chance throughout our lifetime to find out where the lock is and how to use it to fulfill our destiny as humans. Our Nicene Creed proclaims over and over (we forget it so easily) that there is a visible and invisible reality. One thing you won’t find the Devil doing, according to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, The Life of Christ, is suffering and dying for the sins of all humans, unconditionally. The cross is the one sign Satan cannot bear to look at because it means God so loved the world that he gave us his only-begotten son to redeem us. This redemption is the sign of contradiction, the cross, burned indelibly on each soul that is Baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is our invisible tattoo. The world laughs and scoffs at anything to do with self-denial, taking up one’s cross to follow Christ, believing in a person we cannot see, humility, obedience to another person taking the place of Christ, and following the rule that we love one another as Christ loves us. The Rule of Opposites proclaims that the nothingness of God created all that has a beginning and an end. With the Rule of Opposites, humans can see through a glass darkly at what awaits us in the life to come.
WHAT DOES GOD SAY HIS CENTER IS? Everyone has a center, even God (apologies to God for presuming so much). God not only told us what his center is, but he also showed us.
Read the encounter of Moses and God in Genesis 3. I recommend you read it three time. First, read it through normally; in your second reading, read it very slowly pondering on the meaning; for the third time, read it as though you were Moses and identify what it means.
The Call and Commission of Moses.7 But the LORD said: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. 8 Therefore I have come down* to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.d 9 Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I* that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 God answered: I will be with you, and this will be your sign* that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13 “But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses: I am who I am.* Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you. 15 God spoke further to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/exodus/3
[3:14] I am who I am: Moses asks in v. 13 for the name of the One speaking to him, but God responds with a wordplay which preserves the utterly mysterious character of the divine being even as it appears to suggest something of the inner meaning of God’s name: ‘ehyeh “I am” or “I will be(come)” for “Yhwh,” the personal name of the God of Israel. While the phrase “I am who I am” resists unraveling, it nevertheless suggests an etymological linking between the name “Yhwh” and an earlier form of the Hebrew verbal root h-y-h “to be.” On that basis many have interpreted the name “Yhwh” as a third-person form of the verb meaning “He causes to be, creates,” itself perhaps a shortened form of a longer liturgical name such as “(God who) creates (the heavenly armies).” Note in this connection the invocation of Israel’s God as “LORD (Yhwh) of Hosts” (e.g., 1 Sm 17:45). In any case, out of reverence for God’s proper name, the term Adonai, “my Lord,” was later used as a substitute. The word LORD (in small capital letters) indicates that the Hebrew text has the sacred name (Yhwh), the tetragrammaton. The word “Jehovah” arose from a false reading of this name as it is written in the current Hebrew text. The Septuagint has egō eimi ho ōn, “I am the One who is” (ōn being the participle of the verb “to be”). This can be taken as an assertion of God’s aseity or self-existence, and has been understood as such by the Church, since the time of the Fathers, as a true expression of God’s being, even though it is not precisely the meaning of the Hebrew.
God is telling Moses (all humans) that He is, or I am my own center. This is all the more significant because Adam and Eve also said they were their own centers, not God, and… you know the rest of the story, as the late Paul Harvey would say. Listen to Mr. Harvey’s inspirational “Letter from God” and think of you and God having a conversation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4ueqSbriu8
WHAT IS THE CENTER OF ALL EXISTENCE?
God Himself provided us with the answers to this, coincidentally the same in both Old and New Testaments.
Deuteronomy 6:5 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__P4L.HTM
Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey. \
4 1 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
5 Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
7 Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
8 2 Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.
9 Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.
Read what Jesus said was at the center of all reality as found in Matthew 22.
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
35 and one of them [a scholar of the law] 20 tested him by asking,
36 “Teacher, 21 which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
37 He said to him, 22 “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.
39 The second is like it: 23 You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 24 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__PVV.HTM
WHAT IS YOUR CENTER?
You are the center of the physical and mental universes for whatever time you spend on earth. You are not the center of all reality, only God is that. You are given reason and the ability to choose to be able to select your center voluntarily and freely, even if it is a bad center. There are consequences to all of our choices, which is why Jesus became human, one of us, to show us the footprints we should follow lest we step on a land mine. If you listened to Mr. Harvey’s YouTube in the segment above, it would speak to this center.
MY PERSONAL CENTER?
My center is based on what God has determined as the center of all reality, not what I think. I have selected a center that informs all my behaviors as a Lay Cistercian. I affirm that center as I pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in the heavens.” I have selected as my center, the phrase from Philippians 2:5, “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” Each day, I begin anew the quest to seek God where I am and as I am.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who as, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
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
What would you do to the current political debacle if you were the Devil? I would convince the United States that political parties are a new religion, that hatred of personality replaces public policy, that revenge and calumny substitutes for civility and cooperation, that the individual is always right because they have rights, and that free speech is acceptable as long as it agrees with my view. If you think there is no evil or Devil behind our fall from the rule of law (God’s law) and honor, then Satan has already won the arm-wrestling match with you.
Listen to what the late Paul Harvey has to say about the answer to “If I were the Devil.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9NoQHgjM_0
I won’t make any other comments other than to say, “When politics is substituted for the laws of God, the wages of sin is death.” I hope that I continue to struggle with the difference between what is easy and what is right. Eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil knowledge has never been easier and more convenient. When politics is my religion, then I have a fool for a god. The United States, or any political ideology, will implode upon itself if it is not based on what God says is true. With the Psalmist, I do not place my trust in princes, nor governors, nor congresses, nor principalities, for they all consume themselves with their own importance.
Read this Psalm through three times, very slowly and deliberately. The first time, read it for the words; the second time, read it for meaning with your mind; the third time, read it as the Psalmist with your heart.
1Hallelujah!2Praise the LORD, my soul;
I will praise the LORD all my life,
sing praise to my God while I live.a
3Put no trust in princes,
in children of Adam powerless to save.b4Who breathing his last, returns to the earth;
that day all his planning comes to nothing.c
5Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD, his God,6The maker of heaven and earth,
the seas and all that is in them,d
Who keeps faith forever,7secures justice for the oppressed,e
who gives bread to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free;f8the LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who are bowed down;g
the LORD loves the righteous.9The LORD protects the resident alien,
comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow,h
but thwarts the way of the wicked.10The LORD shall reign forever,
your God, Zion, through all generations!i
* [Psalm 146] A hymn of someone who has learned there is no other source of strength except the merciful God. Only God, not mortal human beings (Ps 146:3–4), can help vulnerable and oppressed people (Ps 146:5–9). The first of the five hymns that conclude the Psalter.
The Devil exists and tempts us to make God in our own image.
The Devil is not one of those divine beings as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, although he would like you to think of him that way and worship him.
The Devil is a creation of God that has no corporeal body , only reason and the ability to choose.
The Devil chose himself as God and wants nothing more than to seduce all Adams and Eves to his will.
The Devil is not equal to God, although he wants you to worship at the Abrahamic altar to sacrifice your free will and choice to him.
You will never find the Devil sacrificing himself for his cause on a cross, enduring the passion and death to show his redemptive love. He wants you to suffer and die for a false promise and then laugh in your face for being so spineless that you did not prefer the love of Christ to him.
Never doubt that we are in a battle over wills (God’s and yours).
Don’t be seduced into thinking that love means what you can get out of life for yourself. Rather, it is always about the sign of contradiction, the cross, that which you have tattooed on your soul, the cross. Read Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s book, The Life of Christ. https://sacredheartshrine.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Life-of-Christ-Fulton-J.-Sheen.pdf
Most of the time, my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) meditations just remain at the level of thinking about Christ. This time, I flirted with the contemplation of what I had just been thinking: there is so much that I don’t know about everything related to Christ that I am but a drop of water compared to the ocean of reality that is God. I am discouraged and have perhaps a tiny appreciation of what St. Thomas Aquinas says about God after his meditations on reality. I am not so much fearful as I am that, in a lifetime of struggling to have in me the mind of Jesus (Philippians 2:5), all that I have accumulated is so very limited and just a drop in the ocean of the one who is.
I have an admitted problem, one much like the “thorn in the flesh” of St. Paul in II Corinthians 12. I offer you the complete text for your meditation. Read it three times; the first time for the words; the second time place yourself as St. Paul, writing for the Corinthians; the third time, read it very slowly so that you can become what you read. I added the references at the end so that you can do what I do, that is, go back to the text to get the context.
I* must boast; not that it is profitable, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.2 I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven.3 And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.a 5 About this person* I will boast, but about myself, I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. 6 Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me 7 because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated,* a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.b 8 Three times* I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,c9* but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.d 10 Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;e for when I am weak, then I am strong.*
Selfless Concern for the Church.* 11 I have been foolish. You compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I am in no way inferior to these “super-apostles,” f even though I am nothing. 12* The signs of an apostle were performed among you with all endurance, signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds .g 13 * In what way were you less privileged than the rest of the churches, except that on my part I did not burden you? Forgive me for this wrong!h 14 Now I am ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, for I want not what is yours, but you. Children ought not to save for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your sakes. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granted that I myself did not burden you, yet I was crafty and got the better of you by deceit.i 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? And in the same steps?j
Final Warnings and Appeals.* 19 Have you been thinking all along that we are defending* ourselves before you? In the sight of God we are speaking in Christ, and all for building you up, beloved. 2 0For I fear that* when I come I may find you not such as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; that there may be rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.k 21 I fear that when I come again* my God may humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness they practiced.
* [12:1–4] In the body or out of the body: he seemed no longer confined to bodily conditions, but he does not claim to understand the mechanics of the experience. Caught up: i.e., in ecstasy. The third heaven…Paradise: ancient cosmologies depicted a multitiered universe. Jewish intertestamental literature contains much speculation about the number of heavens. Seven is the number usually mentioned, but the Testament of Levi (2:7–10; 3:1–4) speaks of three; God himself dwelt in the third of these. Without giving us any clear picture of the cosmos, Paul indicates a mental journey to a nonearthly space, set apart by God, in which secrets were revealed to him. Ineffable things: i.e., privileged knowledge, which it was not possible or permitted to divulge.
* [12:5–7] This person: the indirect way of referring to himself has the effect of emphasizing the distance between that experience and his everyday life, just as the indirect someone in Christ (2 Cor 12:2) and all the passive verbs emphasize his passivity and receptivity in the experience. The revelations were not a personal achievement, nor were they meant to draw attention to any quality of his own.
* [12:7] That I might not become too elated: God assures that there is a negative component to his experience so that he cannot lose proper perspective; cf. 2 Cor 1:9; 4:7–11. A thorn in the flesh: variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation. If this is correct, the frequent appearance of singular pronouns in depicting the opposition may not be merely a stylistic variation; the singular may be provoked and accompanied by the image of one individual in whom criticism of Paul’s preaching, way of life, and apostolic consciousness is concentrated, and who embodies all the qualities Paul attributes to the group. An angel of Satan: a personal messenger from Satan; cf. the satanic language already applied to the opponents in 2 Cor 11:3, 13–15, 20.
* [12:8] Three times: his prayer was insistent, like that of Jesus in Gethsemane, a sign of how intolerable he felt the thorn to be.
* [12:9] But he said to me: Paul’s petition is denied; release and healing are withheld for a higher purpose. The Greek perfect tense indicates that Jesus’ earlier response still holds at the time of writing. My grace is sufficient for you: this is not a statement about the sufficiency of grace in general. Jesus speaks directly to Paul’s situation. Is made perfect: i.e., is given most fully and manifests itself fully.
* [12:9b–10a] Paul draws the conclusion from the autobiographical anecdote and integrates it into the subject of this part of the boast. Weaknesses: the apostolic hardships he must endure, including active personal hostility, as specified in a final catalogue (2 Cor 12:10a). That the power of Christ may dwell with me: Paul pinpoints the ground for the paradoxical strategy he has adopted in his self-defense.
* [12:10] When I am weak, then I am strong: Paul recognizes a twofold pattern in the resolution of the weakness-power (and death-life) dialectic, each of which looks to Jesus as the model and is experienced in him. The first is personal, involving a reversal in oneself (Jesus, 2 Cor 13:4a; Paul, 2 Cor 1:9–10; 4:10–11; 6:9). The second is apostolic, involving an effect on others (Jesus, 2 Cor 5:14–15; Paul, 2 Cor 1:6; 4:12; 13:9). The specific kind of “effectiveness in ministry” that Paul promises to demonstrate on his arrival (2 Cor 13:4b; cf. 2 Cor 10:1–11) involves elements of both; this, too, will be modeled on Jesus’ experience and participation in that experience (2 Cor 9; 13:3b).
* [12:11–18] This brief section forms an epilogue or concluding observation to Paul’s boast, corresponding to the prologue in 2 Cor 11:1–15. A four-step sequence of ideas is common to these two sections: Paul qualifies his boast as folly (2 Cor 11:1; 12:11a), asserts his noninferiority to the “superapostles” (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11b), exemplifies this by allusion to charismatic endowments (2 Cor 11:6; 12:12), and finally denies that he has been a financial burden to the community (2 Cor 11:7–12; 12:13–18).
* [12:12] Despite weakness and affliction (suggested by the mention of endurance), his ministry has been accompanied by demonstrations of power (cf. 1 Cor 2:3–4). Signs of an apostle: visible proof of belonging to Christ and of mediating Christ’s power, which the opponents require as touchstones of apostleship (2 Cor 12:11; cf. 2 Cor 13:3).
* [12:13–18] Paul insists on his intention to continue refusing support from the community (cf. 2 Cor 11:8–12). In defending his practice and his motivation, he once more protests his love (cf. 2 Cor 11:11) and rejects the suggestion of secret self-enrichment. He has recourse here again to language applied to his opponents earlier: “cunning” (2 Cor 11:3), “deceit” (2 Cor 11:13), “got the better of you” (see note on 2 Cor 11:20), “take advantage” (2 Cor 2:11).
* [12:19–13:10] This concludes the development begun in 2 Cor 10. In the chiastic arrangement of the material (see note on 2 Cor 10:1–13:10), this final part corresponds to the opening; there are important similarities of content between the two sections as well.
* [12:19] This verse looks back at the previous chapters and calls them by their proper name, a defense, an apologia (cf. 1 Cor 9:3). Yet Paul insists on an important distinction: he has indeed been speaking for their benefit, but the ultimate judgment to which he submits is God’s (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). This verse also leads into the final section, announcing two of its themes: judgment and building up.
* [12:20] I fear that…: earlier Paul expressed fear that the Corinthians were being victimized, exploited, seduced from right thinking by his opponents (2 Cor 11:3–4, 19–21). Here he alludes unexpectedly to moral disorders among the Corinthians themselves. The catalog suggests the effects of factions that have grown up around rival apostles.
* [12:21] Again: one can also translate, “I fear that when I come my God may again humiliate me.” Paul’s allusion to the humiliation and mourning that may await him recalls the mood he described in 2 Cor 2:1–4, but there is no reference here to any individual such as there is in 2 Cor 2:5–11. The crisis of 2 Cor 2 has happily been resolved by the integration of the offender and repentance (2 Cor 7:4–16), whereas 2 Cor 12:21 is preoccupied with still unrepentant sinners. The sexual sins recall 1 Cor 5–7.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/2corinthians/12
I try to assume into myself what the inspired author is trying to convey to me as I read it. John 20:30-31 tells us that all of this was written so that I could come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah and that, believing in Him, have life in His name. This life is not a postponed reward later on, but right now, as I read the Scriptures and try to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5).
The thorn in my flesh is that, after a lifetime of trying to love Jesus with all my heart, my mind, and my strength and my neighbor as myself, I know so little, I have encapsulated my life as in a tiny, drop of water, compared to the vast ocean of all that is. Yet, it is trying each day to seek God as I am, where I am, that I am close to the presence of God in me, next to me, ahead of me, behind me.
I listen to the great Bishop Robert Barron on the life of Christ and give thanks to God for the love that brings into my heart, right now. My “right now’s” add up to what heaven will be for me. Take some time to listen to the Sunday Sermon Bishop Barron gave this Sunday. In silence and solitude, I just stand in awe of Christ Jesus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9nWBwPy6es
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
Hello once more. As I seek God every day as I am and where I am, I came across these resources that you might find of interest. I keep asking myself the increasingly complex question of “How does all of this fit together?” My shocking answer to myself that kept coming back was, “It doesn’t.” As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And here is the rest of the story.” See below. Who God is and why He would love us so much is, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, beyond our ability to relate that to the human condition. That same God wanted us to share in creation that He sent His Only Son, to experience all the imperfections of human existence (except sin) to tell us not to worry, if you think it doesn’t make sense, be assured it doesn’t conflict with the mindset of the World. It makes total sense as the sign of contradiction, the indelible mark on our souls with Baptism, the sign of the cross. Every day does not depend on the one after it to build on successes. That is one of the effects of Original Sin. Each day is the struggle of a pilgrim in a foreign land, uncomfortable with the religion of politics, the casuistry of secular thinking, the relativism that all choices we make are right just because we have the right to make them. Read what Bishop Barron says about choices. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fisH54IFoEw We are defined not by our abilities but our good works, or, put another way, actions speak louder than words. These good works depend upon letting Christ permeate your being with the energy of the Holy Spirit. They are good because they are the products of any good works that show Christ has transformed you, or, as Matthew wrights in Chapter 5: The Similes of Salt and Light.*13i “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.*14You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.j15 Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, giving light to all in the house.k16 Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. l” The light of Christ reflects through me, but only if I sit next to the heart of Christ and receive His energy. My light means I hear the word of God to the best of my ability, and keep it. Michael
Blessings on you all. Check out my blog site: https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org.
Timothy Luke Johnson, Ph.D. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MrCSTq7yv0
Paul Harvey, And God Made a Farmer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWjUT1RjNdQ
Warning: This video may make some uncomfortable. It is about what went on (or didn’t) in Auschwitz in WWII. It shows the heights to which humans can aspire in conditions of barbaric cruelty and the depths to which humans can sink to treat other humans with hatred and disdain. I read it to remind myself that I am capable of both grace and becoming inhuman, except for the grace of God. I find the URL compelling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPTvPccmLUM
This is a wonderful rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Great resources about early Church Fathers. https://web.archive.org/web/20180716100726/http://www.churchfathers.org/
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who will be at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
In my most recent Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), I thought about the barriers that keep me from having in me the mind of Christ Jesus. As I begin to be more self-aware of the spiritual universe around me, new revelations seem to pop up out of nowhere. I don’t remember thinking of any of these barriers before, nor of the consequences of my choices as I approached them in the past. It may be that being more aware of the spiritual universe and how I navigate it as a professed Lay Cistercian, I have grown from self to God and don’t even realize it. Each one of us is different than when we were accepted by Christ at Baptism as an adopted son or daughter. This is just the beginning of a journey that is fraught with the land mines of the World. What complicates things is that we live on this platform of life (the physical universe) and must make sense out of it with your human reason and our ability to choose what is good for us (mental universe). What happens at Baptism is our entry into a third universe, the spiritual universe, or the Kingdom of Heaven. The problem for those who just live in the physical and mental universes is that the spiritual universe does not make sense. It was so important to our maturation as a race that God gave us His Only Son to become one of us, imperfect and prone to self-indulgence. Jesus not only told us what was prophecized in the Old Testament about a Messiah but showed us how to claim our inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. In this context, I thought about at least four obstacles or brink walls that have stopped me in my growth until I figured out how to go over or around them.
WALL NUMBER ONE: THE WORLD BUILDS THIS WALL AND DARES ME TO JUMP OVER IT. The world seduces each of us because of Original Sin to think of how we can be happy and fulfilled by ourselves. The problem with this seduction is that it assumes that the world (physical and mental universes only) can make us happy and fulfilled. Humans can find a great life with wealth, family, power, peace, the absence of conflict, and the presence of love. Here is the first Wall. The world (physical and mental universes alone) is radically different than a person who lives in the Spirit (physical, mental plus spiritual universes). What makes it different is you are a pilgrim in a foreign land. You live in the world as a platform to sustain your mind and body, but your assumptions, the very words you use in the world alone have a different meaning. Peace be with you, says Christ, and this is not the peace that the world gives. This peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of the Love of Christ in your heart. You live in the world with all its imperfections and ambiguities, but your purpose, the reason you follow Christ and have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) is love. This is not the love that the world gives. This love comes to us from God through Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. To climb this wall, you must be aware that the lure of the world, good as it seems, will not allow you to sit next to Christ on a park bench in the middle of winter and be happy. So, am I saying that only those who follow the path given by Christ make it to Heaven? By no means! Christ is the great judge of the living and the dead. I must follow the path because I know it to be the way, the truth, and the life. I hope everyone goes to heaven because of God’s infinite mercy. Heaven is God’s playground and He determines who He wants to let in to enjoy the rides.
WALL NUMBER TWO: I BUILD A WALL TO KEEP GOD OUT. This wall is a sneaky one because, when you look at it, you think you are on the outside looking in, but in reality, you are on the inside looking out. At the root of all sin (missing the mark or your true purpose in life) is idolatry. What is the very first commandment that God gave his people through Moses? “I am the Lord Thy God, thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/command.htm I must have read these commandments hundreds of times in my lifetime. Abraham, Moses was instrumental in translating what they heard from God to the people. At the time of Abraham (c. 1850 B.C.), he wanted to relate to God by offering up his son on the altar. Where would he have gotten these ideas? Abraham and even Moses seemed to think of God as being like the other gods around them, the Baals. Abraham wanted to show God his obedience so he wanted to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Other tribes around them were sacrificing their children to a diety for a variety of reasons. God says to Abraham in his mind, and also to Moses with the Ten Commandments, “I don’t want you to sacrifice your children anymore. Use animals.” When I look at the First Commandment, it says, “no other gods before me.” Early Hebrews seem to believe that all gods were real and God was telling them that I am numero uno. What do you think? When I build my wall from the inside, I do so to keep out the truth from God. If I am walled up, then I can be god and who is to tell me I am wrong. I do the Lay Cistercian practices, I read Scripture daily, so that should do it? Do you see the seduction of this wall? Only Christ has the power to knock down walls. I am the only one who can build them from the inside. The wall I build is the same one Adam and Eve, the architype protogenitors built when they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Ironically, it is God who tells us what to eat that is good or evil. Eating of this tree is idolatry, pride, envy, jealousy, and placing yourself at the very center of existence. Here is a seeming paradox: physically and mentally, you are the center of the universe quite literally. You only live for seventy or eighty years, if you are strong, says the Psalmist. Within that time, you must discover purpose, meaning, and ask and answer six questions.
Not everyone will even ask these questions, much less answer them. You can get your answers from one of two places: the world (Physical and Mental Universes) or God (Physical, Mental and Spiritual Universes). One of these will fulfill your destiny as a human. One leads to death, the other to life eternal. https://amzn.to/3oR1L21
3. WALL THREE:MY PERSONAL EGO WILL NOT ALLOW ME TO SEE A DEEPER DIMENSION TO REALITY THAN THE PHYSICAL OR MENTAL ONE. It is not as though we don’t have the answers to these questions that don’t make sense, it is that leap of Faith into the unknown, in this case belief in that which I don’t fully understand into a spiritual universe that is the opposite in some cases of what I know to be true. I can’t make that jump without God giving me the energy (Faith) to do so. In fact, God thought is so important that He sent His Son, to take on human nature so that he could make the jump first and then show us that we should not be afraid, that something wonderful awaited those who, unlike Adam, did His will.
4. WALL FOUR: MY HUMAN NATURE RESISTS GOING TO A PLACE WHERE NO ONE DARES TO LOOK. I put up many false faces throughout my life to show others how strong or beautiful or powerful that I am. The one place I fear to look is within me, yet that is the only place to contain those signs of contradiction that lead me to becoming fully human, fully an adopted son or daughter of the Father. By the grace of God, I discovered Lay Cistercian spirituality which in turn is based on the long tradition of Cistercian monks and nuns (c. 1090 AD) who themselves are founded on the Rule of St. Benedict (c.540 AD). This approach is a way of life which demands a period where I must practice and practice how to love others as Christ loved us. I do so, not as a monk, but as part of the gathering that following Cistercian principles and charisms in the world that is my scope of existence. I seek to transform myself from my false self to my true self with humility and obedience to God’s will. I try to use Cistercian practices of Lectio Divina and Liturgy of the Hours, to name a few, that help me focus on moving from self to God. Humans have an immune system to help fight off disease and illness. In the spiritual universe, I have an immune system to make sense out of the contradictions that my nature flings up in response to my mind and heart wanting to be like the sign of contradiction, Jesus. From the moment of my Baptism and commitment that Jesus is Lord, my physical and mental universes struggle with my spiritual universe to make sense out of what is beyond reason, beyond any human experience, that of unconditional love of God for all humans. This is not human love, which is the only thing I know about. It is the love of a person, Jesus, both God and Human, who bids me to take that step of Faith each day, and live outside of my humanity. It is only by dying to self that we can rise to what love is for those who seek to just sit in the presence of Christ and feel the joy of being resonant with all that is. My Cistercian practices help me to focus on having in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) with the five S’s: silence, solitude, sustainability, stillness, and seeking God each in whatever situation I find myself, as I am.
It seems like I spend a lot of time tearing down walls that come from my ego, my human nature, my acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. No wonder I feel exhausted as a Lay Cistercian, but it a feeling of fulfillment at doing what I must do to be in the presence of Christ.
Lent is a season of preparation and reflection. We are asked, as Church Universal, to prepare our minds and hearts for the Christ Principle. Before each momentous event in the life of Christ, we must prepare and reflect on how we have become what we seek each day, to love God with our whole minds, our whole souls, and our whole strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36) There are two events that tower over the others in our Church calendar of the life of Christ, that of the nativity and the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ as Messiah. They are not like secular Christmas and a humanist Easter, they are occasions for transformation from the false self to our true self as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
PREPARATION OF THE MIND
The Church is the collective consciousness of all things Christ from the time of the Apostles, both those things that are authentic and even some which did not hit the mark (heresy). As our mother, the Church bids us follow what Christ did, namely, birth and passion, death and resurrection, as a mirror to our personal lives, no matter what the circumstance we find ourselves. The Church is also a gathering of individuals with Faith to help them focus on Christ’s admonition to die to self in order to rise to new life. In practice, individuals must be penitential every single day. Lent is a time in the Calendar year when individuals put on sackcloth and ashes and remind themselves that they are dust and into dust, they shall return. We do penance for our past failings and ask the grace of God to be with us as we move forward in whatever might come our way. The psychology of Lent stresses a reassessment of who I am in relationship to God. St. Benedict urged his monks to be both humble and obedient as a habit, something not at all consistent with the human experiences we have. This takes practice, in my case, contemplative practices as followed by Lay Cistercians. http://www.trappist.net
For me, this takes the form of purposefully placing myself in the presence of Christ through the observance of Cistercian practices and charisms so that I might die to those parts of me that still tingle with the thought that I am god and can exist without any accountability except to myself.
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF LENT
Lent, the everything that comes after the Pentecost event, is about having in you the mind of Christ Jesus. It is trying to behave according to what we read and contemplate about the Life of Christ. This comes through good works, as in Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, but it also is true of trying to become what we read. That is why, in this Lent, my penance is to read the whole Life of Christ by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. I consider this book to be one of the five most influential written texts that have brought me closer to Christ.
Here is the pdf of the book for you to use during Lent if you so choose. I am reading one chapter every two or three days with my prayer that I become what I read.
THE PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY OF LENT
Penance is trying to become more like Christ and less like your worldly self. Here are some of the benefits of doing penance in terms of my lifetime commitment to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) as practiced by Cistercian charisms. Lent is a time for doing something, for the mind as well as for behavior.
I, Michael Francis Conrad, a member of the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, a community of Catholics being in the world, promise to strive for a daily conversion of life as my response to the Love of God. I commit myself to live in a spirit of contemplative prayer and sacrifice in obedience to God’s universal call to holiness, using daily Cistercian practices and charisms of simplicity, humility, obedience to God’s will, hospitality, and moving from self to God. I give thanks to my wife, Young, and my daughter, Martha, for standing by me on my journey. I ask for prayers from the monastic community and Lay Cistercians. I place myself in the hands of those already standing before the throne of the Lamb, including Holy Mary, Mother of God, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, the Seven Cistercian Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas, Father Anthony Delise, and other deceased monks and Lay Cistercians and also Deacon Dr. Marcus Hepburn. Finally, I accept the Rule of St. Benedict as my guide for living the Gospel within the time I have remaining.
6. Discipline — Lent is a time of discipline for the mind and the heart. Discipline comes from the Latin word, disciplina or learning. Do I do what I tell Christ I am going to do to be present to Him through Cistercian practices and charisms? Am I dissuaded from my practices because I am lazy or from a lack of faith? Do I make choices that are easy (the World) rather than those that are correct, consistent with my lifetime pledge above?
7. Stamina — Am I like the Apostles who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, slept while Christ endured his temptation to abandon his mission? I am a pilgrim in a foreign land since my acceptance by God as an adopted son (or daughter). Can I endure the constant temptations of Satan to abandon my Faith and seek my own comfort? Christ tells us, Fast and Pray that you enter not into temptation. It is a struggle to believe and not easy. It is that martyrdom of everyday struggle that we must endure with the help of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Devil wants us to give up our Faith because it does not make sense. Like a pilgrim in a foreign land, I must acknowledge that the foolishness of God is wiser than all the promises of the world.
8. Joy — There is joy in penance. Not the joy that comes from what the world says makes us happy, but the quiet realization that I am doing what Christ wants me to do to deny myself daily and take up my cross and follow him. This is the sign of contradiction once again, one that the world will not understand. It is folly for the Gentiles and a stumbling block for the Jews says Scripture.
Here is a blockbuster idea. Lent should be every day of the year, not just limited to the season. During the season of Lent, we join with the Church Universal to proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes in glory.
Happy Lent! Happy Fault, as we chant in the ancient Easter hymn.
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. –The Cistercian doxology
If you hear his voice, says the Psalms, harden not your hearts. Lent is upon us once again. It pops up yearly as we trudge down that path of choices we call life. As described in this clip of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we are defined by our choices. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwah1-07o0M
LENTEN PENANCE The Holy Spirit is always at work, inserting opportunities for each of us to make choices that energize our weak human nature. If we respond to what the Holy Spirit presents to us, we move forward. One such opportunity for me was George and Sandra Maule, both Lay Cistercians, who called me to see how I was doing. This was to be more than just a wonderful chat about all things Lay Cistercian, which it was. They recommended that I read the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s book, The Life of Christ. I had not read it, but they said it is a must-read. See how the Holy Spirit works? https://amzn.to/3aqhvDN Now comes the terrifying part of what the Holy Spirit does. I am offering you the opportunity to read Archbishop Sheen’s book for Lent, a chapter every day (they are short but packed chapters), and reflecting on them. Does it take time? Sure. It also takes time to recharge your Tesla Electric automobile. It is time you take with Jesus that shows you how much you love Him. One other thing, I ask you to share this post with others that you love.
If I recommended that you read only one book, not including the Sacred Scriptures, it would be this transformative one about the Life of Christ as seen through the Faith experiences of Archbishop Sheen. Here is the free pdf for your download. https://sacredheartshrine.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Life-of-Christ-Fulton-J.-Sheen.pdf
If you feel extra ambitious, you might try reading Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict every day in Lent (and beyond) with the prayer that you become what you read. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-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
My latest Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) had several tangential directions from the Holy Spirit. I can’t keep up with the profusion of energy that overshadows me. Let me give you a tiny example. My meditations were about God emptying himself (kenosis) of being God and how that was impossible (to my mind, not God’s).
If Jesus was like us in all things, except sin, then this “emptying” makes sense that his Divinity wanted to stay out of the way of his humanity. Jesus would have wanted a perfect human gift to the Father. The ever-present Holy Spirit could have made all that the human Jesus did just a sham. After all, what good is being born, teaching us how to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father, if God does not allow Christ to experience what it means to be human and suffer, die and rise from the dead as both divinity and humanity.
If Jesus was like us in all things, then, like us, he had to learn according to his humanity. He had to learn about those things that his divine nature knew, but his human nature had just to experience; you have to experience what it feels like to be a human (Galatians 5). This is part of the Art of Contemplative Practice in that we, too, must learn from the choices we make to be able to look at our history of behavior and learn what is authentic and what leads to the destruction of the human experience.
Let’s take a look at the I.Q. of Jesus in terms of this context of divinity, allowing his humanity to experience Faith, Hope, and Love and how it all fits together in terms of the purpose for Christ’s becoming human. (Philippians 2:5-12) Of course, there were no I.Q. Tests back then, so I don’t know what Jesus’ I.Q. would be. I know that self-awareness of who you are with who wants to become percolates throughout the Gospels and Epistles of Paul. In particular, let’s look at the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, one of the mysteries of the Rosary. I keep asking myself, why this particular story at this unique time in the time of Christ, before his public ministry? What is God trying to tell us through the author? Read this selection three times; once for the words, once for the meaning, third time for what this Scripture tells you about Jesus and his self-awareness of what it means to be human? https://catholicexchange.com/meditations-on-christ-in-the-temple Luke 2.
The Boy Jesus in the Temple.*
This passage from Luke suggests how the humanity of Jesus was self-aware of his mission early on in his life. The learning curve that Jesus needed to begin his ministry at the age of 33 seems presented to the readers of Luke’s Gospel as a young boy sitting in the Temple and teaching the elders there and listening to them. In this chapter of Luke, there is the birth of Jesus, the Circumcision of Jesus, the Presentation in the Temple, and the boy’s Finding in the Temple. Why are these stories of Jesus there in Luke? A young boy sitting in the Temple and listening to the elders and teaching them doesn’t make sense of what the world thinks. The humanity of Jesus did not inform or direct the divinity of Christ. Still, this divinity emptied itself to allow His humanity to learn about the mission and purpose and transform each learning experience from self to God. Progressive learning is important here. Jesus went back with Mary and Joseph and was subject to them (divinity subject to humanity, consistent with who Jesus was). For Jesus, there was not just a one time death on the cross, but a constant tug of war between his learning incrementally and knowing the totality of all that is.
The realization of what that “kenosis” meant to Jesus is even more of a reason to try to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). As a Lay Cistercian, the take away is that each day I seek God in whatever comes my way, has a layer of complexity that I must “empty” myself of the flesh (I don’t mean sexuality but rather the effects of original sin). St. Benedict urges his monks and nuns to prefer nothing to the love of Christ in Chapter 4 of his Rule.
Scripture is the bedrock of what we know about the mission of Christ. It is also written, says St. John in 20:30-31, to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Conclusion.”*30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.s31But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.t” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/20
If you access this site and look at the footnotes, the one for John 20:30-31 states that the word “come to” has a missionary connotation, but early texts have that as “continue to” believe. The first set of words, “come to believe,” suggests to me that all of us read the Scriptures so that we move deeper in our Faith from what we don’t know to what we do know through the power of the Holy Word we read. The second set of words assumes that we believe and that Scripture helps us maintain our Faith. I think both have their unique take on Scripture and how Scriptures are transformative to help us move from our false self to our true self.
Here are some new ideas that have come to me through my Lectio Divina practice of contemplation. I use the phrase “from the edge of time” as a crude way to express that these are not my ideas. I am not that intelligent to explore how all reality fits together and begins to make sense (only begins).
13 No one has gone up to heaven except for the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.i 14 And just as Moses lifted up* the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,j 15* so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.k 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn* the world, but that the world might be saved through him.l 18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.m1 9* And this is the verdict,n that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.o 21 But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.p” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/3
In this passage, some will believe in the words of Christ, some will not. For those who do, Christ became human to that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. What a profound statement. Reading the Scripture will not do anything for you unless you believe what you read. Remember John 20:30-31?
4. WE TAKE OUR HEAVEN WITH US– This is a rather bold statement because I can’t possibly imagine what God has in store for those who love him. Having accepted that as true, I am also busy preparing to take with me those things that I can use in Heaven, those items Christ has said were necessary to create the kingdom of heaven on earth. Matthew 25 speaks of the Parable of the Talents. Read this passage three times, once for the words, once for meaning, and once asking the Holy Spirit to share with you what it means to take your Heaven with you.
The Parable of the Talents.*14c “It will be as when a man who was going on a journey* called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.15 To one he gave five talents;* to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately 16, the one who received five talents went and traded with them and made another five. 17 Likewise, the one who received two made another two. 18* But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.19 After a long time, the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five talents came forward, bringing the additional five.* He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ 21d His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ 22 [Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter;25so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ 26 His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!* So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? 28 Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 29*e For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30* And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
If you are one of these servants, are you the one who does not see the Kingdom of Heaven as now and practices Heaven NOW with the help of the Holy Spirit? What does this parable tell you about what God wants us to do NOW as Baptized members of the living Church Universal? What does it profit you if you go your whole life and fail to seek God each day and store up treasures that do not rust or moths consume? Are you going to stand before God and tell Him that no one told you about living the kingdom of heaven within you each day and that you didn’t know about it? Even if you get to Heaven, hypothetically, what will it be like, you who have squandered your talents while on earth? You have a chance now to begin packing for the trip forever. The Church Universal exits at each age to help you pack and tell you what will pass customs and what will be rejected.
6. WHAT CAN YOU PACK IN YOUR BAG NOW TO TAKE WITH YOU TO HEAVEN? Only the rich get to Heaven. The trick is that these riches must be what God considers riches, not what you think. Heaven is God’s playground, and you must use His rules to pack your bag. Christ became one of us to show us what to pack in our bag and open the gates of Heaven. St. Benedict suggests what to pack in our bag in his Rule. In particular, I like the notion of Chapter 4 and the tools of good works. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
7. YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU TO HEAVEN: YOUR ABILITY TO LINK REALITY WITH THE GOLDEN THREAD OF CHRIST – A novel thought that came from my Lectio Divina meditations some years ago was that of a golden thread that links all reality together. The thread is Christ and is a gift given to all who are Baptized with the adoption of being sons and daughters of the Father. With this thread, I can sew together any good work, all experiences that I have had linked to the will of God, all my attempts to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus, all those sunrises and sunsets that remind me of how much Christ loves me, all the people whom I recognize to have their own golden threads. I am unable to sew through anything that is sinful or would cause me to hate others. The importance of this Golden Thread of Christ is that whatever I link together with the thread is my heaven in the next lifetime. This is what I can take with me to
8. EXTRA ECCLESIAM, NULLA SALUS. What might seem to be exclusive at first glance is actually a very ancient concept. Paul suggests in Ephesians 4 that there are seven unities.
1* I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,a2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love,b3 striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:c4* one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call;d5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;e6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.f
“All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .331
843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”332
Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged God’s truth for a lie and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.333
845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. the Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves her from the flood.334
“Outside the Church, there is no salvation.”
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church, which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body, which is the Church. He explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, thereby affirming the Church’s necessity that men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse to enter it or remain in it.336
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.337
848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”338http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_P29.HTM
9. IF THREE PERSONS WENT TO HEAVEN AND WERE ADMITTED BY GOD, THEIR HEAVEN WOULD BE DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER. If God is One, and we all exist in Heaven in an eternal NOW, how can there be different Heaven levels? Here I must admit to speculating and some hypothesizing about Heaven. It seems that if there are uniqueness and individuality in each human’s capacities and capabilities, that must also be true in Heaven. Mentally, it is obvious to me that not all of us have the ability to reason and make choices that resonate with what is real. We do all have the ability to reason and make choices, however. It is the choices that define who we are as humans. When some accept our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father, and again, others don’t, there is a difference in our ability to be aware of what surrounds us. While on earth, we call that the perspective of the spirit (Galatians 5) and God’s energy allows us to see a reality that does not make sense, the Kingdom of Heaven. So, what happens when those two persons go to Heaven, and God judges them worthy? Heaven is God’s playground, and He allows who he wants to go there, but there is a difference, and it is not God but each individual. Those who have expanded their capacity to move from their false self to their true self (capacitas dei) have done so with God’s own energy while they are still alive. According to their awareness, those who have no appreciation or capacity to love others as Christ loved us (it is the as Christ loved us that is critical) will see Heaven and enjoy the Beatific Vision. There are not two different Heavens, but rather two different capabilities to relate to the truth. Those who do not know, love, or serve God will only enjoy Heaven as they can. They may not even know what they don’t know.
I wrote a parable about it that may help me explain my thoughts.
The Parable of the Banquet –
Once, there was a very wealthy man who wanted to share his wealth with those around him, those who had been so good to him from an early age. He came upon the idea of throwing an extensive banquet with the most sumptuous and delicious foods that could be made. He would spare no expense to find ten dishes that were the best food in all the world. Although he had many close friends, he decided to throw the banquet open to everyone who wanted to come. All they had to do was show up for the feast and eat what they wanted until they were filled. Fine wines were selected by the chief sommelier and dishes prepared by Iron Chefs themselves. He, himself, would stand at the door of the large banquet hall and welcome guests that came in. He advertised in all the local newspapers and on television about his gift.
The day of the banquet finally arrived. One hundred and forty-four persons showed up at his estate and entered the lavishly decorated hall. The ten tables were very long and contained more than enough room to seat everyone comfortably. The host seated himself at the head of the table and spoke of how much he wanted to be with everyone present because they took time to attend and that they should share that meal with those around them as he had shared his generosity with them. There was a puzzled look on the faces of most of the guests. They had no idea what dishes were being served or even if it would taste good.
Ten courses were each brought in and set before all the guests. But then a strange thing happened, one that the host had foreseen but allowed to happen anyway. Each person was free to eat of their fill without commenting or being thrown out for bad manners. Some refused to eat seven of the ten courses, saying they did not look good, even though they had not tasted them. Others did not eat the meal at all, stating that the food should have been shared with the poor and distributed to the needy and that the rich man was just trying to satisfy a superiority complex. Still, others said they did not believe in the way the host had achieved his fortune and would not eat anything on principle because he was not of their religious persuasion and did not attend their church. They ate to their satisfaction of those who did eat and had loads of food to take back home with them for their families. When it was all over, the host told those in attendance that what they had eaten would be their reward for the rest of their lives. This food would always replenish itself forever. For those who had humility and obedience to the host’s will, their reward was the fullness of all the ten gifts of enlightenment and truth. For those who refused to eat seven of the ten gifts, their reward was only a portion of the fullness of what the host had to offer them. For those who did not eat anything, that was their reward. They could only eat what they ate at that banquet for the rest of eternity. Everyone got want they wanted from the banquet, but not all were satisfied.
Those who approached the Christ Principle with humility and obedience to do his will gained not only nourishment but eternal life, enjoying the gifts they received while on earth.
10. HEAVEN MUST BE CONSISTENT WITH OUR HUMAN NATURE AND OUR SENSES. It makes sense to me that Jesus had to become human to experience the effects of Original Sin, even to dying on a cross, the sign of contradiction, so that we could spend eternity with what we learned about love while on earth. What doesn’t make sense is spending that time in Heaven (after we die) is some form of suspended animation like Hans Solo did when he was encased in carbonite. https://www.starwars.com/video/carbon-freeze I can’t believe that we spent all that time while we were living to learn to love and move from our false self to our true self, not to be able to do what we attempted while on earth. Christ ascended to the Father in both his humanity and divinity, so there must be a place to share our Master’s joy in heaven consistent with our human nature. Here is where I trust God (Faith) to prepare a place for me consistent with what I have experienced about his purpose while I live (Hope) so that I can love God with all my mind, all my heart, all my strength, and my neighbor as myself. How God does that is a mystery to me, and I am okay with that.
THE HERESY OF THE INDIVIDUAL
In my theologizing about heaven, the ideas I write are mostly so that I can take a step or two back and then look at ways there might be something I missed. One of the huge mistakes individuals who do Lectio Divina make is to think that they are the Church Universal’s authority just because the Holy Spirit gave you some insights. I have the opportunity to have my own interpretation of, for example, Philippians 2:5, but it is only my insight, and I have authority only over my choices, not anyone else’s. The heresy of the individual is the misguided belief that I have authority over the whole Church, not just my personal interpretation. I only have authority over the choices I make. If others like what I say, it helps them grow from self to God. The heresy of the individual can mean that I am the Church, not only individual but Church Universal. I am seduced by the Evil One to believe my own press about my importance and authority. I make these comments because I may be guilty of not be in sync with what the Church Universal thinks. If I find this out, the Church Universal, Scripture and Tradition, the Church’s heritage down through the ages is the default, not me. I look at whatever I write in terms of six filters if I think I am out of resonance with the Church.
Normally, I do Lectio Divina at about 2:30 a.m. as part of my old man bathroom ritual. It helps get me back to sleep. There was nothing normal about the Lectio Divina today. I was frightened and what frightened me might not be what you think. Normally (I know, I have not been normal for the past twenty years), my nightmares take the form of falling off a cliff, being in an unfamiliar house with no exits, or some variation on the vampires’ movies. Today was different.
I have come to the point in my Lectio of just letting the Holy Spirit do all the work. I don’t have any particular request or desire to think about some topic related to Philippians 2:5, my Lectio phrase. Some might think that is just laziness, while I prefer to think of it as growing in the capacity for God in how I move from my false self to my true self. I asked the Holy Spirit, “What do you want to talk about today?” and what came back was scary. Let me explain.
For the past three months, I have been toying with writing a book on what is the kingdom of heaven like. That grew into three distinct Lectio topics, or, as I like to think, discussions with the Holy Spirit about how all of this fits together. What is the kingdom of heaven like? What is Hell like? What is Purgatory like? These Lectio sessions are bits and pieces and I try to rush to the computer to write them down. Being a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian, I don’t always get to the computer in time or forget my train of thought. Here is what I received about Purgatory.
Everyone is destined for Heaven, everyone. But there is a caveat, you must choose to go there. In Baptism, Christ chooses us as adopted sons and daughters and then we must ratify that gift of Faith by our assent. Being in the condition of Original Sin, we must ratify our consent almost every day. That is part of prayer and why we don’t take God for granted. Recognizing who God is (we can only recognize to the extent that we have the capacity to be aware of how all of this fits together) is the first step of Humility in St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 7. This step is fear of the Lord. This is the Lord that is our DNA, into which all reality moves and evolves. This is the Lord that is so far beyond the comprehension of our human nature that we don’t have the capacity nor the capability to be in the presence of such pure energy. This pure energy has three distinct components, so beyond our vocabulary, our language, our ability to measure its presence, that they are persons, or beings, yet one in nature, divine. The three components are pure knowledge, pure love, and pure service. Imagine God coming down to any of us, even the sophisticated thinkers who presume they have defined reality through science or psychology, and being present to us as He really is. We don’t have the capability to even be in that presence without our neurons frying to a crisp. Christ had to take the time and trouble become human so He could tell us and more importantly to show us how to pack our bags and prepare for the purpose of all reality. I am not talking about some pathetic politician who seems to have control over what they consider power and glory. All of what is in there so that I can make a choice with my human reason to accept the invitation of God to be an adopted son or daughter of the Father. What follows is what I can remember about the three answers the Holy Spirit gave me and the reason for my being scared.
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN LIKE?
Last Supper Discourses.1* “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith* in God; have faith also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3* And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.a4 Where [I] am going you know the way.”*5 Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth* and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.b7 If you know me, then you will also know my Father.* From now on you do know him and have seen him.”c
The dwelling places must be consistent with our human nature and how we live out what we have linked in our lifetime to what Jesus taught us. I like to think that death means I move to one of these dwelling place in a containment field that will allow me to enjoy what I have discovered about love in my life.
The Father offers us a dwelling place that has all my needs taken care of and I can add that personal touch to this place thus making it not just a house but a home. Each person can bring with them what they have discovered about the Kingdom of Heaven while they are on earth. Matthew 13.
WHAT IS PURGATORY LIKE?
Purgatory is a place of second chances. Purgatory are those that lack the perfection or the love to make it to Heaven.
Purgatory is a place of no torment but one where people can live out their lives to make choice to love God with all their hearts, all their minds, and all their strength and their neighbor as themselves.
Purgatory must be a place consistent with human experiences and nature. When we die, our bodies corrupt but our minds and the essence of who we are continues to live. When we measure ourselves against God and come up imperfect, we are given a second chance to love others as Christ loved us, but in the context of those things in our life which we have that are what God had intended to do.
Purgatory exists in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, there is no time, no space. In an eternal NOW, we get one more chance to love authentically as Christ loved us. When God judges us ready, we are admitted into the full bliss of the eternal communion that all humans who are in the Church Triumphant enjoy.
THE SECOND CHANCE ACCORDING TO OUR APOSTOLIC TRADITION
Purgatory is like an appendix on the intestines of life. It is there, but we don’t know what to do with it. The Church collects our heritage. We can measure orthodoxy by comparing our beliefs as an individual with the accumulated history and teaching of the Church Universal from the Apostles’ time. Below is the full excerpt from the Catholic Church’s Catechism, as the source I go to when I need to see if I am too far out there. https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm
THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
THE PROFESSION OF FAITH
THE PROFESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
“I BELIEVE IN LIFE EVERLASTING”
1020 The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life. When the Church for the last time speaks Christ’s words of pardon and absolution over the dying Christian, seals him for the last time with a strengthening anointing, and gives him Christ in viaticum as nourishment for the journey, she speaks with gentle assurance:Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian!
May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the angels and saints. . . .
May you return to [your Creator]
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life. . . .
May you see your Redeemer face to face. 591
1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.592 The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul–a destiny which can be different for some and for others.593
1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification594 or immediately,595 — or immediate and everlasting damnation.596At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.597
1023 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face:598By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ’s holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment – and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven – have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.599
1024 This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
1025 To live in heaven is “to be with Christ.” The elect live “in Christ,”600 but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name.601For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.602
1026 By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.
1027 This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”603
1028 Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man’s immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory “the beatific vision”:How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.604
1029 In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with him “they shall reign for ever and ever.”605
1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611
IV. HELL (Also referenced in the section on Hell, below)
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”616
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”618Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”619
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:621Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.622
1038 The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust,”623 will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”624 Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”625
1039 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare.626 The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When “our God comes, he does not keep silence.”. . . he will turn towards those at his left hand: . . . “I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father – but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence.”627
1040 The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.628
1041 The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them “the acceptable time, . . . the day of salvation.”629 It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s return, when he will come “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed.”630
1042 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed:The Church . . . will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.631
1043 Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth.”632 It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.”633
1044 In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men.634 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”635
1045 For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the human race, which God willed from creation and of which the pilgrim Church has been “in the nature of sacrament.”636 Those who are united with Christ will form the community of the redeemed, “the holy city” of God, “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”637 She will not be wounded any longer by sin, stains, self-love, that destroy or wound the earthly community.638 The beatific vision, in which God opens himself in an inexhaustible way to the elect, will be the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion.
1046 For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man:For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay. . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.639
1047 The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.640
1048 “We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed. The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men.”641
1049 “Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society.”642
1050 “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise . . . according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom.”643 God will then be “all in all” in eternal life:644True and subsistent life consists in this: the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, pouring out his heavenly gifts on all things without exception. Thanks to his mercy, we too, men that we are, have received the inalienable promise of eternal life.645
1051 Every man receives his eternal recompense in his immortal soul from the moment of his death in a particular judgment by Christ, the judge of the living and the dead.
1052 “We believe that the souls of all who die in Christ’s grace . . . are the People of God beyond death. On the day of resurrection, death will be definitively conquered, when these souls will be reunited with their bodies” (Paul VI, CPG § 28).
1053 “We believe that the multitude of those gathered around Jesus and Mary in Paradise forms the Church of heaven, where in eternal blessedness they see God as he is and where they are also, to various degrees, associated with the holy angels in the divine governance exercised by Christ in glory, by interceding for us and helping our weakness by their fraternal concern” (Paul VI, CPG § 29).
1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.
1055 By virtue of the “communion of saints,” the Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.
1056 Following the example of Christ, the Church warns the faithful of the “sad and lamentable reality of eternal death” (GCD 69), also called “hell.”
1057 Hell’s principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1058 The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
1059 “The holy Roman Church firmly believes and confesses that on the Day of Judgment all men will appear in their own bodies before Christ’s tribunal to render an account of their own deeds” (Council of Lyons II :DS 859; cf. DS 1549).
1060 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Then the just will reign with Christ for ever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), in eternal life.
1061 The Creed, like the last book of the Bible,644 ends with the Hebrew word amen. This word frequently concludes prayers in the New Testament. The Church likewise ends her prayers with “Amen.”
1062 In Hebrew, amen comes from the same root as the word “believe.” This root expresses solidity, trustworthiness, faithfulness. And so we can understand why “Amen” may express both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him.
1063 In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we find the expression “God of truth” (literally “God of the Amen”), that is, the God who is faithful to his promises: “He who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth [amen].”645 Our Lord often used the word “Amen,” sometimes repeated,646 to emphasize the trustworthiness of his teaching, his authority founded on God’s truth.
1064 Thus the Creed’s final “Amen” repeats and confirms its first words: “I believe.” To believe is to say “Amen” to God’s words, promises and commandments; to entrust oneself completely to him who is the “Amen” of infinite love and perfect faithfulness. The Christian’s everyday life will then be the “Amen” to the “I believe” of our baptismal profession of faith:May your Creed be for you as a mirror. Look at yourself in it, to see if you believe everything you say you believe. And rejoice in your faith each day.647
1065 Jesus Christ himself is the “Amen.”648 He is the definitive “Amen” of the Father’s love for us. He takes up and completes our “Amen” to the Father: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God”:649Through him, with him, in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours,
God, forever and ever.
591 OCF, Prayer of Commendation.
592 Cf. 2 Tim 1:9-10.
593 Cf. Lk 16:22; 23:43; Mt 16:26; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; Heb 9:27; 12:23.
594 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274):DS 857-858; Council of Florence (1439):DS 1304- 1306; Council of Trent (1563):DS 1820.
595 Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000-1001; John XXII, Ne super his (1334):DS 990.
596 Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1002.
597 St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64.
598 1 Jn 3:2; cf. 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4.
599 Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000; cf. LG 49.
600 Phil 1:23; cf. Jn 14:3; 1 Thess 4:17.
601 Cf. Rev 2:17.
602 St. Ambrose, In Luc.,10,121:PL 15 1834A.
603 1 Cor 2:9.
604 St. Cyprian, Ep. 58,10,1:CSEL 3/2,665.
605 Rev 22:5; cf. Mt 25:21,23.
606 Cf. Council of Florence (1439):DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563):DS 1820; (1547):1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000.
607 Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7.
608 St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4,39:PL 77,396; cf. Mt 12:31.
609 2 Macc 12:46.
610 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274):DS 856.
611 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41,5:PG 61,361; cf. Job 1:5.
612 1 Jn 3:14-15.
613 Cf. Mt 25:31-46.
614 Cf. Mt 5:22,29; 10:28; 13:42,50; Mk 9:43-48.
615 Mt 13:41-42.
616 Mt 25:41.
617 Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG § 12.
618 Mt 7:13-14.
619 LG 48 § 3; Mt 22:13; cf. Heb 9:27; Mt 25:13,26,30,31-46.
620 Cf. Council of Orange II (529):DS 397; Council of Trent (1547):1567.
621 2 Pet 3:9.
622 Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88.
623 Acts 24:15.
624 Jn 5:28-29.
625 Mt 25:31,32,46.
626 Cf. Jn 12:49.
627 St. Augustine, Sermo 18, 4:PL 38,130-131; cf. Ps 50:3.
628 Cf. Song 8:6.
629 2 Cor 6:2.
630 Titus 2:13; 2 Thess 1:10.
631 LG 48; Cf. Acts 3:21; Eph 1:10; Col 1:20; 2 Pet 3:10-13.
632 2 Pet 3:13; Cf. Rev 21:1.
633 Eph 1:10.
634 Cf. Rev 21:5.
635 Rev 21:4.
636 Cf. LG 1.
637 Rev 21:2,9.
638 Cf. Rev 21:27.
639 Rom 8:19-23.
640 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 5,32,1:PG 7/2,210.
641 GS 39 § 1.
642 GS 39 § 2.
643 GS 39 § 3.
644 1 Cor 5:28.
645 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. illum. 18,29:PG 33,1049.
646 Cf. Rev 22:21.
647 Isa 65:16.
648 Cf. Mt 6:2,5,16; Jn 5:19.
649 St. Augustine, Sermo 58,11,13:PL 38,399.
650 Rev 3:14.
651 2 Cor 1:20.
WHAT IS HELL LIKE?
Hell is not the opposite of Heaven, it is the absence of God. We can’t possibly imagine what that is except that Satan and the other demons chose themselves rather than God. The core of that choice was pride and jealousy, something.
Using my Rule of Threes (looking at the physical universe, the mental one and the spiritual one), there are three kinds of pain, all corresponding with these three universes.
HELL IN OUR TRADITION FROM THE APOSTLES
Read this excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, read it three times, once for the words, the second time for meaning, and the third time asks how it affects how you view reality. One time alone won’t do it. I use this measuring stick of orthodoxy to keep my heretical tendencies in check.
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor, or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”610 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.611 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.612 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”613 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”614
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”615 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”616
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”617
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;618 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:619
Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.620
615 Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG # 12.
618 Cf. Council of Orange II (529): DS 397; Council of Trent
620 Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88.
St. Benedict speaks of the fear of the Lord and our need to be aware of the existence of Hell in his Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict. https://christdesert.org/
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.
Hell is a condition or a permanent existence where all three types of pain exist (physical, mental, and spiritual). I don’t know much about Hell, but I will say that I hope there are not a lot of people there. God gives humans every chance to fulfill their destinies, going so far as to bestowing adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. I can’t imagine that if people actually knew what Hell was like, they would choose it freely. That said, Hell is the ultimate proof of God’s love for humans, in that, like Lucifer and the other fallen angels, the choice to be God or to be you as God extends forever. At stake here is the love of God versus the love of self as God. Seeking God every day as a Lay Cistercian means anticipating foggy and what is unattainable yet just beyond my grasp.
WHAT SCARED ME IN MY LECTIO DIVINA
I was scared in my Lectio Divina because I was afraid of God (although I am always afraid of what I can’t quite control). My fear comes from realizing that I am actually beginning to make sense of how all of these ideas of Jesus fit together in my timeframe and within my heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I think I am beginning to feel what that means, not just as a mental construct but as part of who I am. Another way to say it is the transformation of the false self to a new self. The scary part is if I am so excited over just a peek at how this all fits together, what can I expect in heaven when all of this fogginess clears up?
When St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Church, remarked to colleagues that, after contemplating the totality of all reality, everything he wrote about God was so much straw compared to who God is. All I have is glimmers of what lies ahead, but I would sell everything I have to possess the limited joys that await me.
One of my favorite photos is about a solitary cup sitting on a windowsill. In the background is a foggy window with just faint images on the other side. This photo is my favorite to depict who I am looking through the window at something on the other side, murky, just barely visible, knowing that something is there, but I am not sure of that. This is like the Mystery of Faith. Through contemplation and using Cistercian practices and charisms, my Faith is in the words of Christ that He is in on the other side; my Hope is that the words of Christ to me that He is preparing a place for me on the other side of this window is true, and my Love is that, right now on this earth, seeking God each day, Heaven is right now in what I transform from my false self to my true self as an adopted son of the Father.
In asking the question, “What is contemplative prayer?”, I remembered what I read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church about prayer. I revisited that text and read it three times. Once, for the words, another time for the meaning, and the third time as meditation that leads to contemplation. Each time I read the text, I slowed down both my reading and my mind in order to savor the meaning of the words.
The purpose of my reading it three times is to dislodge all distractions of the words and move into asking how the text speaks to me of what it feels like to experience prayer. Let me explain. As part of the complete text below, there is a paragraph on contemplative prayer. 2713 “Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty. Contemplative prayer is a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts.9 Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, “to his likeness.”
When I read this text, I try to do so in the silence and solitude of my inner room, the place where Christ and I meet to discuss whatever He wants. I listen with “the ear of the heart” as much as my human condition permits. I try to imagine what it feels like to have “a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts.” This movement from the written word to the feelings expressed by the text to give us the opportunity to be present to Christ through the Holy Spirit is at the heart of my Lay Cistercian quest for contemplation.
PRAYER IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
THE LIFE OF PRAYER
EXPRESSIONS OF PRAYER
2700 Through his Word, God speaks to man. By words, mental or vocal, our prayer takes flesh. Yet it is most important that the heart should be present to him to whom we are speaking in prayer: “Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls.”2
2701 Vocal prayer is an essential element of the Christian life. To his disciples, drawn by their Master’s silent prayer, Jesus teaches a vocal prayer, the Our Father. He not only prayed aloud the liturgical prayers of the synagogue but, as the Gospels show, he raised his voice to express his personal prayer, from exultant blessing of the Father to the agony of Gesthemani.3
2702 The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication.
2703 This need also corresponds to a divine requirement. God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.
2704 Because it is external and so thoroughly human, vocal prayer is the form of prayer most readily accessible to groups. Even interior prayer, however, cannot neglect vocal prayer. Prayer is internalized to the extent that we become aware of him “to whom we speak;”4 Thus vocal prayer becomes an initial form of contemplative prayer.
2705 Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the “today” of God is written.
2706 To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
2707 There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower.5 But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus.
2708 Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him.
2709 What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: “Contemplative prayer [oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”6 Contemplative prayer seeks him “whom my soul loves.”7 It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord himself.
2710 The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter. One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state. The heart is the place of this quest and encounter, in poverty ant in faith.
2711 Entering into contemplative prayer is like entering into the Eucharistic liturgy: we “gather up:” the heart, recollect our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, abide in the dwelling place of the Lord which we are, awaken our faith in order to enter into the presence of him who awaits us. We let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed.
2712 Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more.8 But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God. Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son.
2713 Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty. Contemplative prayer is a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts.9 Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, “to his likeness.”
2714 Contemplative prayer is also the pre-eminently intense time of prayer. In it the Father strengthens our inner being with power through his Spirit “that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith” and we may be “grounded in love.”10
2715 Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.11
2716 Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a servant, and the loving commitment of a child. It participates in the “Yes” of the Son become servant and the Fiat of God’s lowly handmaid.
2717 Contemplative prayer is silence, the “symbol of the world to come”12 or “silent love.”13 Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the “outer” man, the Father speaks to us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus.
2718 Contemplative prayer is a union with the prayer of Christ insofar as it makes us participate in his mystery. The mystery of Christ is celebrated by the Church in the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit makes it come alive in contemplative prayer so that our charity will manifest it in our acts.
2719 Contemplative prayer is a communion of love bearing Life for the multitude, to the extent that it consents to abide in the night of faith. The Paschal night of the Resurrection passes through the night of the agony and the tomb – the three intense moments of the Hour of Jesus which his Spirit (and not “the flesh [which] is weak”) brings to life in prayer. We must be willing to “keep watch with [him] one hour.”14
2720 The Church invites the faithful to regular prayer: daily prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours, Sunday Eucharist, the feasts of the liturgical year.
2721 The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart.
2722 Vocal prayer, founded on the union of body and soul in human nature, associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart, following Christ’s example of praying to his Father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples.
2723 Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Its goal is to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life.
2724 Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.
2 St. John Chrysostom, Ecloga de oratione 2:PG 63,585.
3 Cf. Mt 11:25-26; Mk 14:36.
4 St. Teresa of Jesus, The Way of Perfection 26,9 in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1980),II,136.
5 Cf. Mk 4:4-7, 15-19.
6 St. Teresa of Jesus, The Book of Her Life, 8,5 in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1976),I,67.
7 Song 1:7; cf. 3:14.
8 Cf. Lk 7:36-50; 19:1-10.
9 Cf. Jer 31:33.
10 Eph 3:16-17.
11 Cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 104.
12 Cf. St. Isaac of Nineveh, Tract. myst. 66.
13 St. John of the Cross, Maxims and Counsels, 53 in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 678.
14 Cf. Mt 26:40.
Prayer is the lifting of the heart and mind to God, as I learned from the Baltimore Catechisms way back in 1952. When joined with the heart of Christ, each day of seeking God is, in itself, the prayer of transformation from false self to God. We only seek what we love and pursue it with the energy of one who longs to find permanent resonance to the call of the heart: Our hearts are made to rest only in Thee, O Lord.
I have always enjoyed watching a track meet on television. There are many events that fun to watch, such as the hurtles, the high jump, and pole vault. My favorite track event is the team relay, where four of the fastest runners compete, each one racing one turn around the oval. In this particular athletic event, it is important to designate the first runner as setting the pace, the second and third runner with maintaining the pace, and the last runner, the one with special skills of speed and endurance, to make it to the finish line. There is one other aspect of the relay that is important and that is the hand-off. This is a make or break event where one runner finishes and the other one graps the baton and scampers off. Dropping the baton means you will lose the event.
My latest Lectio Divina meditation (Philippians 2:5) had to do with a track meet with four other team members who must hand off the baton to the next person.
My meditation begins with my being at Inman Field in Vincennes, Indiana (where I actually participated in a relay track event and was embarrassing). A track relay event is like the whole experience of the Sacred, it has a bunch of handoffs. There are four other members of my team.https://www.vcsc.k12.in.us/athletic-facilities/
ADAM – Adam begins the race of our seeking God because he was created by God to run the race. Unfortunate for him, he dropped the baton which he received from God.
JESUS — Humanity had to wait for Jesus to pick up the dropped baton and run with it. Fortunately for us, Jesus is a good runner and finished his heat by handing it off to the next runner, Peter.
PETER – Peter was the next runner but was flawed, having dropped the baton several times in practice. With the Holy Spirit as his coach, Peter found the courage to rise above his deficiencies and ran the race, although not at the fastest speed. Peter is the Church and in each age, for each individual gives them the opportunity to pick up the next baton and run the final lap.
ME — I get to run the last lap when I am given the opportunity to be a member of the team and take the handoff from the Church. The Church provides me with the coaching to sustain me in my life as I run to the finish line, heaven.
REFLECTIONS ON THE RACE OF A LIFETIME
The past week’s events have left me in shock over the lack of respect people have for our Presidential electoral process, our Nation’s Capitol, and the behaviors displayed by any and all political parties. Long ago, I lost my respect for the political processes on all sides. I am no longer either Democratic or Republican in affiliation but have reverted to a third position, which, I hope, brings true healing to those of goodwill.
I now take the position that the only true principle of freedom is the Christ Principle. I don’t force this view on anyone, but I want to share with you why I think it good to remind us that we are what we place at the center of what we consider reality. I call this centering, not to be confused with centering prayer. It is getting back to basics when the Tower of Babel that is our political scene screams anger, fear, jealousy, revenge, envy, self-righteousness, and factions. From the fulness of the heart, the mouth speaks, says Scriptures. All of us fall into that trap of the Wiley One.
Here are several principles that I use in my life (not always successfully) to keep myself focused on the Christ Principle, from which all flows and into which all returns. These are the ones, outside of myself, that I use to measure if I am in sync with the mind of Christ Jesus or am a false prophet with myself as god. What would happen if you or I measure themselves in terms of these sub-principles?
I. What is the purpose of all life? My answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36. It is to love God with all my mind, all my heart, all my strength, and my neighbor as myself. How does the current political rhetoric on all sides measure up against that? Is anyone out there saying that we should love our neighbor and not keep vengeance and vindication? I am not talking of any political party but what we should do in any situation.
II. What is my purpose within that purpose of life? I am only here for seventy or eighty years at most (I am 80.4 years already), so what I become is the result of my personal choices of those options others have left for me. Each of us, individually and collectively, can choose a center that is core to who you are and who you will become. It is the one principle upon which all your reality rests. Take it away, and you have no purpose for living. My center, the one I chose freely to place at my center of reality, is to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) I call it the Christ Principle. What happens when you place a particular political party or any “ism” as your center? If hatred and vengeance is your center, your actions will betray you and infect those around you. Read what happens when you place unauthentic values at your center. These words of St. Paul to the Galatians, Chapter 5, seem to speak to me today about the political situation that has engulfed us.
Freedom for Service.*13 For 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.14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”*15 But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16l I say, then: live by the Spirit, and you will certainly not gratify the flesh’s desire.*17 For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so you may not do what you want.m18 But 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. As I warned you before, I warn you 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. u
Listen to your television and the media. What are they advocating? Peace? Justice? Reconciliation? You be the judge. When political ideology replaces the Gospel mandates of loving others as Christ loves us, red flags go up for me. Be patient! Place true principles at your center, and you will have the desires of the Spirit. Place false promises and emotions at your center, and you will have the desires of the flesh. I don’t control any political party because they seem to be trending towards the flesh. The only thing I can do is in the silence and solitude of my heart, be present to Christ and ask for mercy, first for myself and then for all those who have been seduced by the false promises of Satan. What you place at your center is who you are and who you will become. What is in your center?
In my practice of trying to have Christ Jesus’s mind each day (Philippians 1:5), I have noticed that I do best when I establish some sort of habit or schedule to help me focus. I don’t want to fall into the trap of establishing the schedule, and then that schedule becomes the purpose for my seeking to be in the presence of Christ through contemplative practices. On the other hand, I want to remember to do certain practices, daily, weekly, monthly, or once a year, because it puts me next to the heart of Christ. Here are some of the habits I try to do to seek God each day. Some days are better than others.
AT LEAST WEEKLY
AT LEAST MONTHLY
AT LEAST YEARLY
The struggle of Contemplative Practice is one of my awareness that I am a pilgrim living in a foreign land. My destiny is the kingdom of heaven, and all I do is be aware that it begins now, each day with what I know, what I love, and how I do what Christ told me to do.
The notion of wonder is exciting to me as I do my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5). My mind has become my friend, almost another person inside me prompting me to visit places I could not do physically. I use my mind every morning at 2:30 a.m. (give or take a few minutes) to wonder about my center, as well as the one subject verse of my Lectio Divina, “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” I have been waking up at this hour for my nightly bathroom break, so don’t think me too altruistic. Just letting my mind wander, which might be a good definition of contemplation, I wonder about extremely esoteric topics, ones, not a bit consistent with my limited intellectual abilities or interests. Who would ever think about The Mathematics of Being as a topic? That God is a number, the mathematical number one, in the kingdom of heaven has never entered my mind. If my mind was a rubber band, it would stretch all the way from Tallahassee to the Moon, it seems.
I share with you some radical and outlandish topics that I have linked with the heart of Christ. I don’t have any explanations for them, I hope that comes later. Right now, here are some questions that come from the depths of Mystery of Faith that I probe.
What is heaven like and will I fit in there? I worry about the fact that everything that I know comes to me through my five senses and filtered with emotions and the struggle to overcome the effects of original sin. I am human, not divine in nature, and can’t possibly live in a state (or whatever heaven is) without respecting the fact that I have a beginning and end to everything, that I am informed by my past, but live in a succession of moments (the now) in order for me to make choice about what is next. Everything I have used to find purpose and meaning I have had to struggle to learn. Is the physical reality of heaven such that my senses will be able to receive messages for my brain? There is no corporeal body there, I am fairly sure. My body is getting older and more fragile. How can I exist anywhere that does not have matter, time, physical energy, the properties of the elements, gravity, and so on? What will I do in heaven to keep busy? What will be my role? Will I sell popcorn at the Wednesday Night movie? Will I be able to continue to write my blog about contemplative practice? Right now, I write to keep myself busy and exclusively to put down my ideas on paper so that my daughter might have a heritage of the wonders I have encountered with Christ as my Redeemer. In a separate blog, I will share with you some of the ideas about heaven that the Holy Spirit snuck into my thought processes when I asked this question.
Moving to a deeper level, the question of what heaven will FEEL like came up. I am a human whose purpose is somehow linked to what I know, what I can experience, and what makes me happy. I know that I have reason for a reason and have figured out it has something to do with moving to the next level of evolution, that which is beyond just the physical and mental universes. I also know that Christ became human in nature to tell us what we should do to make the jump to hyper-reality, one that doesn’t make complete sense to those who don’t use the glasses Christ gives us at baptism to help clear up the Mystery of Faith so that at least our purpose is reasonable. It still takes an act of Faith (belief) to resist the corrosion of the effects of Original Sin. Why does everything have a beginning and an end? Why do I have to die? Why is there suffering? how can a good god allow Bambi to die at the hands of greedy hunters? Why do we have to struggle each day to keep our spiritual heads above water to seek God where we are and as we are? Christ tells me through Scripture and the Church’s traditions that heaven awaits, that I will experience the joy of the Master, if I, in humility and obedience to God’s will, do my best to love others as Christ loved us. Give all this, how can I feel anything that does not exist in a condition where there are a beginning and an end? God only lives in the now, an eternal tick with no tock, the boundless condition of pure being, pure love, pure knowledge, and pure service? I have no idea who God is as He is. All I can know is what I feel about God’s love with me right now, and in the past with others who are members of the Church Universal. All of this leads me to my current thinking that I should not worry about what is beyond my nature to experience. I can control today, my own now, where I continue to offer the Father praise through Christ, His Son, with the enduring energy of the Holy Spirit to overshadow me as I have the capacity to expand to receive it. Heaven will be what I am doing now that is linked with the golden thread of Christ. My contemplation skills are to be able to sew what I want to take with me to heaven. I can link the golden thread of Christ only through those things that are God’s treasures on earth, not mine. I can link the wonderful sunsets with this thread and penetrate the love that I share with others as Christ loved all of us. There is only one thread that each person receives at baptism. One of the wonderful effects of Christ becoming one of us (Philippians 2:5-12) was to show us what feeling means and how suffering, joy, happiness in the kingdom of heaven while we live is transformed into feelings that I can relate to because I have threaded my way through life, wobbly as it is, that in all things God is glorified, as St. Benedict instructs. In a subsequent blog, I will elaborate on what I have received about how I can recognize the kingdom of heaven right now, with the graces God bestows through contemplative practices. I am not waiting to go to Heaven to feel God’s presence. All I need do is sit on a park bench in the dead of winter and long to be near the one who helps me wonder as I wander, a pilgrim in a foreign land, like the Israelites who were in exile and waited to return to Jerusalem. Christ the Messiah, both divine and human natures, the New Jerusalem, lifts up all people unto Himself. I want to continue to try to be part of that as I can, whenever I can.
My wonders will never cease, I hope.
You have heard and maybe even seen television shows about hoarding. It is a compulsion not to throw away anything because of a perceived or unconscious need you will need later on. If left unchecked, the house becomes cluttered sometimes to the point of dysfunction (you can’t live in it anymore).
I subscribe to the three universes of reality hypothesis, the physical one, the mental one where only humans live, and the spiritual one, where you, the Church Universal, and God exist according to their nature. To compare it to cluttering your closet, hoarding in the spiritual universe means you don’t give away those imperfections and effects of original sin that keep you tied to the false self and not the freedom to be an adopted son or daughter of the Father. What happens when you don’t cut the grass for two months or clean the dishes in the sink for one week? It is like spiritual hoarding that builds up those false habits and thinking that encourages the effects of original sin to corrode Faith. You can lose Faith if you are not careful. You can become seduced by the seeming normalcy of daily living to the point that you don’t try to clean out that closet at all. After all, they are only venial sins and don’t mean that much. Do you see the fallacy in this thinking? Contrast that with the contemplative approach (Cistercian) that uses the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4. Read the following excerpt from what St. Benedict offers his monks and nuns to center themselves on Christ and clean out their closets of debris and false and unkept promises from Satan.
HOW TO CLEAN YOUR SPIRITUAL CLOSET
So, having survived all these ideas, what does your closet look like? If Christ came over to your house for a visit and asked to see your closet, what would it look like?
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
I can’t think of a more esoteric and theoretical topic than the one above, The Mathematics of Being. Not being a person with a great comprehension of either mathematics or being, I make the perfect person who can speculate on what I have come to realize is the most bizarre Lectio Divina I have ever had. I share this with you with the caveat that I only received this message in short bursts, much like SETI receives interstellar radio waves.
Science is multiple disciplinary approaches that look at reality and wonder WHY, WHEN, HOW, WHAT IF, AND SO WHAT, to name a few questions. It uses mathematics, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and technology to help get some answers. Without making a universal statement as true, the scientific approach to the physical and mental universes is, as I understand it, one that looks at visible reality and applies scientific principles to ask questions about reality. Some even go so far as to say that all reality must be measured by science languages (mathematics, physics, chemistry, as some examples). These languages free the user to probe reality objectively and measure what they find or stretch the mind and wonder about what could be if their hypothesis is true. The recent YouTube videos of Tesla show its founder, Elton Musk, pushing the boundaries of science by projecting research results to everyday living. This is an exciting time in science to break out of the past stereotypes and ask WHY NOT questions to established answers from the past. Creation and creative applications of new research to such areas as batteries and energy, automotive transportation with cars and trucks, and space colonization of the Moon and Mars, make the human penchant for making all things new sit up and take notice.
My Lectio Divina today had to do, not with the product of science and medicine, but rather the tools and language used to measure what is real and move beyond where we are. In particular, I was drawn to think about the very tools we look at physical and mental reality and ask the question, Is Mathematics as we know it advanced enough to view what is really out there? If we are innovative in our thinking about the product of reality, such as celestial distances and trying to find out about dark matter, dark energy, white holes, cosmic strings, and why these objects dominate our visual universe of reality, then maybe we can take a hint from the new James Webb telescope that will extend our look into the universe to find out why things are the way they are. Are we still using hammers and nails to build a house when more efficient and effective tools are out there to help us? Is the mathematics we use evolving at a pace, even with computers, to keep up with the astounding input of information we are receiving and still processing? This is the question I asked myself this morning in my Meditation that leads (hopefully) to Contemplation.
This is the answer I received about the human situation.
You, humans, are so humorous. Your minds are always yearning for what is true and meaningful, but you fail to look at the answer right under your feet. There are three dimensions to reality, the physical universe or dimension in which you live and complete your existence. You are subject to its natural laws (if an asteroid hits you, there goes the ball game), but you must discover what is new and just beyond the next horizon using your mental universe. Only humans live here and collectively collect information to help the next generation move forward while simultaneously living in nature’s physical universe. You have developed languages to help your community with each other and move forward together as human nature. You are not an animal but have a reason for a reason and the ability to break out of the natural cycle and choose what you think is good for you. When you look at reality, you do so with the help of your reason, languages of mathematics, literature, and philosophy to seek meaning. One powerful impulse you have discovered is love. Many of you miss the spiritual universe, which has a divine being or nature. That is not your fault; it is not logical and does not make sense unless you use its own unique language to see what cannot be seen with human nature alone. The spiritual universe turns all human assumptions upside down. It makes more sense to humans because of the Christ Principle that became human in nature to show us how to look at the next level in our evolution, Spiritual Apes. As good as it is, science is incapable of calculating time, distance, space, and physical energy in the Spiritual Universe. It doesn’t exist that way to be measured by anything humans have to comprehend it. In this Spiritual Universe, mathematics is what the Supreme Being is, not what human nature assumes it to be. That means that, if God is one with three distinct persons, as Christ told us, that “one” is not a number at all, but a living person, or more accurately three persons. Mathematics has not evolved to consider numbers and theories as living persons with reason and freedom to choose (image and likeness of God). The mathematics of Being is in the playground of God, not humans. The equation for all that might look like 1=3, with these numbers as being. When you join me, like ones with human nature, not divine nature, you will be adopted sons and daughters and privy to the six questions you must ask and answer while.
Heaven will be an infinite duration of knowing, loving, and serving others as Christ has loved you. You have no idea what is in store for you, but you will share your Lord’s joy, as you can. Like theoretical mathematics and theoretical physics, this thinking might be called theoretical contemplation.
If Christmas is about the gift of God to us in Christ Jesus, then New Year is about the ability to see what is new, not with the eyes of the world (that only comes on New Year’s day), but with the eyes of Christmas Day and the ear of the heart (St. Benedict’s Prologue to the Rule), the Christ Principle. Two people can look at the festivities of the holiday season and find meaning and happiness but from two vastly different viewpoints. We, humans, have reason for a reason, one of those being to discover meaning and happiness, and then the ability to choose what we reasoned freely as behavior or belief. The difference between the secular Christmas and the Spirit-led birthday of Christ is God loves us so much that He gave of Himself to allow us to be adopted, sons and daughters. Not one of us, even Holy Mother Mary, deserved this love or could have made it happen by our believing it to be so. It was the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, an event that happened once. What makes this different is that Christmas, New Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension are Christ, The Christ Principle, as I now realize it in my life each day.
There is only One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, Scriptures tell us. The implication for individual humans is pivotal in their movement from false self to their true self. The World celebrates Christmas and the New Year with merriment and new year’s resolutions once a year and then it is over and on to something else commercial or meaningful to the individual. Realizing The Christ Principle is the core of each and every day that we seek God, it is celebrating resonance over dissonance, grace over sin, the end to the end(death), and the hope of the Resurrection. The Cistercian practices and charisms are ways that I present myself to God and await the birth of Christ in my consciousness to be a new creation and have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. None of this is about me or what I do. It is about Christ and making all things new through, with, and in Him to the glory of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Here are some of my thoughts about The Christ Principle that the Holy Spirit suggested to me this morning.