SILENCE AND SOLITUDE: iT MAY NOT BE WHAT YOU THINK

In one of my Lectio Divina meditations (Philippians 2:5), the thought presented itself to me that there was a certain depth of meaning which I heretofor had not noticed about silence and solitude.

SILENCE – If I use my three universe template to look at this word, it has different meaning in the physical and mental universes than it does in the spiritual universe. The world thinks of silence as not talking, the absence of sound, what happens when you walk into a cave and hear nothing. Early monks, even St. Benedict, went out into the desert to find silence as the world projects, to get away from noise. What they found, and what is true today is the deeper penetration of the mind and heart into reality, the realm of the spiritual universe (The Kingdom of Heaven). God does not need language to communicate with us. He sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus, to tell us and show us what we could not reason to by ourselves, i.e., that God loves us so much he wants to make us adopted sons and daughters, if we choose. Silence, far from being the absence of sound, is the presence of the love of God in our hearts.

As a Lay Cistercian, one of the lessons that have slowly crept into my behavior is that silence has nothing to do with sound at all. I have to try to get to a place, such as Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, as a place where I can be without interruption from the world, to actually discovering that the silence of God is in my heart, not outside it and that Christ invites me to sit down on the park bench in the middle of winter and have a heart to heart chat (listening with the ear of the heart–St. Benedict). How wonderful is the dwelling place, mighty God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hS3minjkpZE

SOLITUDE — The solitude of God is the Mystery of Faith in the Trinity, a community of Faith and Love. In God’s dwelling place, there is one person but three separate persons. Far from being alone or by yourself, contemplation takes place in the context of community. Why is this seeming paradox of logic even possible. When you look at solitude, look at it, not as the world sees it, but as God sees it. Of course, we can’t do that entirely, but we have a hint of what it means because Christ showed us. Solitude, as I have come to experience it, is not being the absence of any human contact, but rather, just the opposite. True solitude exists in that inner room that Christ told us to go when we pray. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/friar-s-e-spirations-finding-the-room-within/

In our monthly Gathering Day, Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), we meet to pray together. First, each of us must enter our inner room in humility and obedience to the will of God, and pray to the Holy Spirit that we might see. What happens is solitude in my heart but the openness of that heart (next to the heart of Christ) to listen to the Holy Spirit in others in the community. In this sense, the five principles of Cistercian spirituality (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community) all feed each other with the grace of Christ through the Holy Spirit to the glory of the Father. So be it.

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MUSIC TO LISTEN TO WHEN SITTING ON A PARK BENCH IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER LONGING FOR CHRIST

I love music that elevates and transforms me from self to God. All music does not do that for me. I share what I have found that inspires my contemplative soul.

Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber.

One such piece is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, adapted with the words from the Latin Mass, Agnus Dei. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRL447oDId4

Widor’s Tantum Ergo

I became familiar with Charles Marie Widor in 1958, as a student at St. Meinrad High School Seminary. The choir sang Widor’s Tantum Ergo. It had such resonance, such depth of tonality, that I was hooked. I have provided you with this piece to stimulate your meditation (contemplation does not require music).

Panis Angelicus

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Bach’s organ music plus some choral arrangements are pure poetry in sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRkSYNlmugs

Handel’s Messiah

A long, but so meaningful reflection on Christ.

Gregorian Chant

The music of the Church Universal through the ages. Notice how all of this music centers around Christ and his redemptive gift to all humans. Truly holy music stirs the Holy Spirit in us to cry, Abba, that is, Father. In these next long pieces, find a quiet spot for solitude and silence and listen with the ear of your heart. The repetitive motion and simplicity of this plainsong elevate the mind to the heart to approach the heart of Christ in humility and obedience to God’s will.

Of course, there are many, many other hymns and poems out there. These are ones I want to pack in my bag to take with me to Heaven.

Praise be 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 have you learned?

I am counting on God asking me two questions when I approach the Throne of the Lamb for my particular judgement. Matthew 25 gives all of us pause to stop and reflect on these questions. Here are my two:

What did you learn? Notice God doesn’t say, you sinned and cannot come to Heaven. He knows that I am a sinner. Everyone except Christ and his mother are sinners. Did you move beyond thinking that you can just do whatever you want and then ask forgiveness later. Conversio morae is what penetintial people do to move from self to God. They are not satisfied with just being a sinner, sinning bravely, asking forgiveness, then sinning again and again. Christ wants us to try to reduce our sinful self and transform ourselves with grace. If I have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), there is an attempt on my part to consciously push away those habits which lead to the sin itself. It is the process of fighting temptations, winning the battle over bad habits (they never really go away because of Original Sin), but we can turn towards Christ to help us. This turning, this attempt at transformation, this fight against doing our will verses that of God’s will, are the lessons we learn. Christ without the passion and death on a cross is like each of us if we don’t struggle each day to say, “Jesus is Lord”. It is the daily taking up of our cross (each one of us being unique) that is a big part of love of others as Christ loved us.

What did you do about what you learned? When I die and stand before the Throne of the Lamb, my being will encounter the Being of God. My lessons learned will be automatically revealed. What will also be displayed is what I did about what I have learned. This passage from Matthew makes me quite uncomfortable. It is a cautionary tale reminding me that just doing prayers and reading the Scriptures may not be quite what Christ had in mind for his disciples.

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.33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34Then 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,36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’37Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?38When 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.” http://www.usccb.org

All salvation comes from the Baptismal gift of Faith and we know we have Faith because Christ loved us and bid us do the same to others, even those who might hate us. We have an opportunity while living to ask God to have mercy on his, but this is contingent on us having mercy on others as we would want God to have mercy on us. The Church Universal provides what we need to sustain our Baptismal commitment; the Eucharist, Christ’s very body come into our heart and Penance in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where Christ tells us that he makes all things new once more, until we meet him face to face.

In the meantime, each day is an opportunity to love others as Christ loves us.

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vatican observatory

I read this article from the Vatican Observatory on all creation praising the Lord. I thought you might like it. https://www.vofoundation.org/blog/sun-moon-bless-lord-understanding-part-hymn-creation/

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

There is nothing wrong with thinking about what is in it for me, when I do Cistercian practices and charisms. We humans have two characteristics that other animals don’t: we have the ability to reason and to act on that reasoning by choosing what we think is good for us. There are always consequences to my choices. I can remember one of my Professors at the I.U. School of Business in Bloomington, Indiana, telling us that no one chooses anything that they think will be bad for them. With respects to B.F. Skinner, the operant conditioning approach to choice is based on the assumption that, being like animals, humans will always make choices that will not hurt them but make them happy and fulfilled.

As I reflected on this concept, while praying my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), I most always try to measure concepts I have experienced in the past and tie them to my one center. I asked myself, “Why am I doing Lectio Divina, anyway?” Let me share with you a different take on the answer that came to me.

An examination of conscience led me to think of my different motives for doing Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, and Scriptural Reading, to name a few.

  1. Do I pray so that people will see me and think me holy or somehow spiritually strong?

Matthew 6: Teaching About Prayer. 5“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.6But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.7* In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.*8Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” http://www.usccb.org

Contemplative prayer is going into that inner room, closing the door, and praying to the Father in secret. Silence and solitude are conditions that allows me to shut the door and just sit there in the presence of Christ. The father knows what I need so I don’t need to babble like the pagans and pray lots of audible or fill up the dead space with my words. What I want is to listen to what Christ is telling me.

2. Do I guide my being in the presence of Christ or do I let Christ form the agenda? If I sit on that park bench in the dead of winter and long for Christ to sit down next to me, do I expect Christ to do as I want? “Christ is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow.” Here is what St. Paul says in Hebrews 13. I am trying to give you the context of these ideas rather than quote something just to justify my thinking.

1* Let mutual love continue.2Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.a3Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.b4Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers.c5Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never forsake you or abandon you.”d6Thus we may say with confidence:

“The Lord is my helper, [and] I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”e7Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.f9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.* It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them.g http://www.usccb.org

This beautiful passage is a feast of wonderful insights. Christ will never forsake or abandon us. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. When I sit on that park bench waiting for the Lord, he is and always will be there for me. I am the one who must be aware that all I have to do is rest, be quiet, be still, and abandon my agenda and wait.

Saying prayers of thanksgiving and petitions for mercy to Christ is one thing, praying for the grace to become what I pray is a deeper penetration into the Mystery of Faith.

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waiting for the master

This is a story I wrote many, many blogs ago but I think it needs repeating.

WAITING FOR THE MASTER
Imagine yourself seated on a park bench in the dead of
winter. Jesus has told you that He will be passing by the
bench sometime soon. You seat yourself and look down
the path, straining to see Christ as he comes around the
bend of the trees. You don’t know what he looks like,
but you have an invitation to meet with him today, and
all your senses are at their peak. You don’t want to miss
him.
The first person to come to the trees is an old woman
pushing a cart full of what looks like bottles and rags.
You smile as she passes and wishes her a good day. She
turns back to you and asks if you have a bottle of water.
She says she has not had water in two days. You only
have half a bottle of water left, but you give it to her,
asking her to excuse your germs. She trudges away,
smiling.
You look up, and there is what looks like a teenager. He
asks if he can sit on the bench with you. You do not
know him and are reluctant to let him sit down but he
has only a thin T-shirt, and it is very cold outside.
“Thanks,” he says. He talks about how he is homeless,
and the Shelter kicks them out at 7:00 a.m. and he has
no place to go. Again, you look to the pathway straining
to see if Christ is coming. No Christ. The teenager says
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he is twenty-seven years old and out of a job with no
family and nowhere to go. You get out your cell phone
and call the local Catholic Charities and speak to
someone you know about helping the young man. You
help out there once a month with packing food for the
homeless, so you are familiar with their services. It
happens that the City has a long-term shelter for people
who need job skills and a safe place to stay until they
get a job. You give him the directions to the shelter,
about eight blocks away. He hugs you and trudges
away.
It is going on two hours now, and no Jesus. A dog
comes up to you, a Weimaraner, tail wagging, happy to
see you. “Hey girl,” you say. “Where is your Master?”
She sits down and offers you one of her paws to shake.
Friendly dog, you think, but who could be its owner?
It is going on three hours now, and it seems to be
getting colder. Just you and the dog are there, which
you have named Michele. Just as you wonder once
more if you have been stood up and inconvenienced,
you notice an older man approach. He has a long, gray
beard, somewhat matted together, and uses a cane to
help him wobble down the path. His clothes are neat but
certainly well worn. His face has a gnarly look about
him as if he had weathered many hardships and they
had taken their toll. He asked if he could sit down since
he was tired. You say, “Of course, I am just waiting for
a friend to come by here.” “You look cold,” he says.
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“Here, take this scarf that my mother knit for me, it will
keep you warm.” The dog sits next to the man as if he
was its owner. All the while he kept stroking the dog’s
head and petting it on the head. “Oh, by the way,” the
old man says” this is my dog. Thank you for finding it
for me.” Two more hours went by, but you do not
notice because the conversation is so warm and
intimate. You tell the kind gentleman all about your
trials and successes and how you just want to seek God
wherever that might be and whoever it might be. The
gentleman tells you that He must go home to see his
father, to whom he owes everything You think of how
lucky the old man is to have such a loving Father. The
old man gets up and smiles at you. “You are a good
person,” he says, “and I look forward to seeing you
again in the future,” his face just beaming with
kindness. Turning to his dog, he says, “Coming?” The
dog jumped up and down a few times, wagging his tail
fiercely and they both set off trudging slowly away
from the bench.
You look at your clock and see that five hours have
passed but passed so quickly. You are a bit disappointed
that Christ did not stop by. You think maybe you got
the time wrong and leave to go home. As you are going,
you remember you have on you the scarf which the old
man gave you as a gift. You are shocked by what you
see. On the scarf is embroidered your name in the gold
thread. You think to yourself; he said his mother made
it for him. Another thing you noticed. You felt your
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heart burning within you as the old man talked to you
on the bench? I wonder you think, …I wonder.
The only prayer you can think of comes into your mind.
Praise to the Father and the Son and 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.

FILLING IN THE HOLES
In contemplative prayer, one characteristic is that you
must deliberately slow down. Another reaction that I
have found is in thinking that I have to do something
with the time I meditate or it is not productive, I must
fill in the hole of time that I just created with something,
anything. After each of my meditative blogs on
contemplative practices, I recommend that you consider
reading them three times, each time growing deeper in
awareness and time for the Holy Spirit to overshadow
you with grace (energy of God). Another way to say
this is by filling in the holes.

THE SEDUCTION OF FALSE SILENCE AND SOLITUDE

One day, last week, wearing my mask, I went to Costco to buy some Kona Coffee (my favorite). In their famous food court, I watched a table of six teenagers sitting, eating either pizza or Costco’s famous hot dog and drink combo, or in two cases, both. Picture this scene. These six teens are at one table, eating their food, oblivious to any other shoppers, equally blind to the six others at the table beside them. One characteristic which they all displayed was they all wore headsets attached to an iPhone or some such device. I sat there just watching them eat. No one said a word. They occasionally would look around but quickly return to the privacy of their iPhone. Then suddenly, as if by a secret code known only to them, they all got up at the same time and left. I asked myself what it was that I had just witnessed. I still don’t know, but this event triggered a meditation on silence and solitude, charisms that are the core of Lay Cistercian spirituality (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community). Here are some random thoughts from a broken-down, old, Lay Cistercian as he reflects on reality.

  1. Music or looking at the television (or writing this blog) could conceivably be an excuse to be by yourself, but it is not the alone of which I speak, a physical distancing (as in COVID-19), where you remove yourself from others to be by yourself so that you can be alone with Christ (and of course, the Holy Spirit, the second advocate.) I must remember to keep my focus on Christ and not on Netflix. Some days are better than others.
  2. It is ironic and yet quite logical that contemplative monks, nuns, and Lay Cistercians seek solitude in the midst of community. For me, when I attend the Lay Cistercian gatherings, I always come away with the feeling that I have just touched the Holy Spirit (or probably more theologically correct, that the Holy Spirit has touched me.)
  3. Silence, in order to meet Christ, allows me to listen to Him and not to the meanderings of my mind.
  4. Contemplative practice is not done in an hour but rather takes many, many attempts. It is an art.

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GOD IS NOT FAIR BUT HE IS JUST

My latest Lectio Divina(Philippians 2:5) took me to a place I had not visited before. Have you ever had a particularly complex dream in your sleep, then awoke with the strange feeling that everything you thought tooks hours, lasted only a few seconds? It happened to me this morning at 2:00 a.m.. I thought of how my life is nearly complete and how I hope to enjoy my Lord’s joy. Why, I have no idea, but I was caught up with the “only the saved” go to Heaven syndrome. What is important is not that the saved with be with God in Heaven, that is true. What I found happening to me was I was the one who was judging others about their lives and loves and who should be with God. This is a subtle form of idolatry that seduces the Faith side of my life and does not allow God to be the one who is. More specifically, I asked the question, “I should receive more than those who just repented of their sins before death.” Still more specifically, “If I am faithful to what I consider the teachings of Christ are and try my best to love others as Christ loved us since I was a boy, am I not better than those who have spent their whole lives in hatred and greed? God is not fair.”

The Scriptures are a series of stories and similes that help us to just crack open the profound meanings of our human nature. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is such a story with an important lesson to keep us from betraying Christ as our center.

In the Scripture reading below, I want you to read it three times. The first time, read it in silence. Take ten minutes to think of the lesson Christ wants to tell us about our tendency to be the landowner instead of one of the laborers.

The second time, read it aloud. Take another ten minutes to think about the vineyard as Heaven and you have received what is promised to you by God. Write down five words that describe what you are feeling about someone who has found Christ for just a second compared to you, who have borne the temptations and failures of original sin. Is this fair? The third time, read it with the attitude of the landowner. Take some time to reflect on how we can make ourselves into God if we are not careful.

The Workers in the Vineyard.*1“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.2After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.3Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,4* and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’5So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise.6Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’8*a When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’9When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage.10So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.11And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner,12saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’13He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.* Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14* Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? 15[Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’16* Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/20

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YOU CAN’t BE CONTEMPLATIVE IN YOUR SPIRITUALITY BY YOURSELF

A big misconception about contemplative spirituality is that it is done as an individual. The Lay Cistercian spirituality which takes roots from the Cistercian Order (women and men) stresses five areas to transform the individual from self to God (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community). Trappist monks and nuns confine themselves to the physical limits of their monastery for the rest of their lives. Lay Cistercians are not monks or nuns but go back to their families, their work, their ministries, and come together in a Gathering Day once a month to pray, learn, worship, and celebrate the Holy Spirit in each other. http://www.trappist.net

St. Benedict organized this spirituality by having monks and nuns pray the divine office together, eat together, have chapter meetings together. http://www.divineoffice.org. He also advocated a spiritual director and to obey the abbot or abbess as they would Christ. Thus, Cistercian charisms of humility, hospitality, obedience to the Abbot, conversion of life to move from self to God, all help the individual to seek God each day where they are or as they are. You would think that monks and consecrated religious women would have an easier time of community than Lay Cistercians who only meet once a month. These two approaches to contemplation should not be compared as one is better than the other. All seek to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) and to seek God daily through prayer, work, silence, solitude). Each one of these ways to live out the call of Christ to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect has unique temptations and difficulties. Community, in the form of a spiritual director or members of the community, helps to sustain the focus on Christ. Of late, I have been trying to see the workings of the Holy Spirit as I encounter monks or Lay Cistercians in my journey. This journey for me extends beyond the confines of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery to embrace my faith community at Good Shepherd and to the Church Universal wherever I am and as I am.

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HATERS ANONYMOUS

Almost everyone has heard of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Step Plan. I thought about what is going on in our country now and how all of us could use the 12 Step Plan that Christ gave us to quell the hatred of others in our hearts. I can’t take credit for the name, a singer has an album out with that name and you can Youtube the title to find a few sites. In my Lectio Divina this morning at 2:30 a.m., I began by thinking about the love that Christ has for all humans. I then thought of what barriers to that love there might be. I didn’t have to look very far. In the morning, I looked at both the political conventions on the Internet and the anarchy played out in cities like Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin by those blindly hating anything that is not made in their image and likeness. St. Paul gives a lucid description of those who think they are doing good but are actually condemned to the slavery of their own passions. They don’t even know what they don’t know.

Read Galatians 5. “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 desire of the flesh.*17 For the flesh has desires against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.m18But 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,p21occasions of envy,* drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,q 23 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.s25If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.t26 Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.”

This morning, I looked at Internet news to see what evil has transpired over the night. I recommend you do the same but first, read Galatians 5 three times, each time more slowly. Let the wisdom of the Scriptures sink in. The tyranny of within is grounded in hatred. Granted, people are sincere. The big question is: “Is this the kind of behavior that comes from a heart that loves others as Christ loved us? Luke 7:20 “Ex fructibus cognoscetis,” Loosely interpreted by me as “You can tell what a person is inside by the way they treat others or respect property outside.”

I thought about twelve steps that have helped to keep me grounded in our Faith and centered on the only person that can bring lasting peace, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/

CHRIST’S TWELVE STEP PROGRAM TO MOVE FROM HATRED TO LOVE

STEP ONE: The Great Commandment. 4d Hear, O Israel!* The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 5 Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.e6f Take to heart these words which I command you today.ghttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/deuteronomy/6

STEP TWO: The Similes of Salt and Light.*13i “You are the salt of the earth. But if 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.*14 You 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, where it gives 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.lhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/5

STEP THREE: THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT 1* “When he saw the crowds,* he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 He began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,* for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.a 4* Blessed are they who mourn,b for they will be comforted. 5* Blessed are the meek,cfor they will inherit the land. 6 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,* for they will be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.d 8* Blessed are the clean of heart,efor they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,* for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. f11 Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. g12* Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.h Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/5

STEP FOUR: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. The Vine and the Branches.1* “I am the true vine,* and my Father is the vine grower.a2 He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes* so that it bears more fruit.3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.b4 Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.6*c Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.d8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.e9 As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.f10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.g11“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.h12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.i13* No one has greater love than this,j to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends,* because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.k16It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.l17 This I command you: love one another.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/15

STEP FIVE: 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.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/11

STEP SIX: THE CONDITIONS OF DISCIPLESHIP. “23 Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me.n24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.o25 What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.phttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/mark/8

STEP SEVEN: KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth,* which the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.l18I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.*19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me because I live and you will live.m20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.n21Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/14

STEP EIGHT: SERVING GOD OR MONEY 24* “No one can serve two masters.m He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/6

STEP NINE: DEPENDENCE ON GOD *25n “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?o27Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?*28 Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.29 But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.30* If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?31So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’32 All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.33 But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides.34Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/6

STEP TEN: HAVE MUTUAL LOVE. 9 Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good;f10 love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.g11 Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.h12 Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.i13 Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,j exercise hospitality.14* Bless those who persecute [you],k bless and do not curse them.l15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.m16 Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.n17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.o18If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.p19 beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”q20 Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”r21Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/romans/12

STEP ELEVEN: Plea for Unity and Humility.*“1 If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.a3 Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,b4 each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.c5 Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,*6 Who,* though he was in the form of God,d did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.*7 Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;* and found human in appearance,e8 he humbled himself,f becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.*9 Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name* that is above every name,g10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,* of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,* to the glory of God the Father.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/philippians/2

RULE TWELVE: DO NOT JUDGE OTHERS 1″*a “Stop judging,* that you may not be judged.b2For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.c3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?5You hypocrite,* remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Pearls Before Swine.6“Do not give what is holy to dogs,* or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.d

The Answer to Prayers.7e “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.f8For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.g9Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread,*10 or a snake when he asks for a fish?11 If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.h

The Golden Rule.12* “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.i This is the law and the prophets.

It is impossible to have these twelve steps in your heart, even if for a moment, and also have hatred existing alongside it. This applies to all humans since all humans were redeemed by the blood of Christ on the cross.

THE GASOLINE TO POUR ON LOVE TO MAKE IT INTO HATRED

Here are some thoughts about how you can lose Faith, Love, and Hope, if you are not careful.

See people as an It and not a Thou. Martin Buber, Jewish Philosopher has some ideas about how we look at the totality of all that is and how we can either relate to everything as a Thou or be stuck with treating things, humans, and their choices as an It. It makes a difference when thinking about love. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/i-and-thou-selected-passages/

God is relegated to the inside of a Church building. It is what I do on Sundays (or what I don’t do if I don’t care).

I am god. I am made in my own image and likeness. I am the center of my values.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Reflect on what you see on the Internet and how people are tearing each other apart. The wages of sin is death, even if you think you are right because you are sincere. Remember that all of the choices you make have consequences, maybe not right now, but after you die. You will know what is correct behavior by looking at these twelve steps of love and how people live out their promises against the hatred, calumny, detractions, false gods, that you see and read about in our everyday living. My choice is to choose life, but also to choose love, not the love that the world says is true, but the love that comes from God, in with and through Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ironically, there are so many steps from which we can choose in Scripture, that we must give glory and praise to the Father for our Faith, our Hope, and our Love as we seek God every day.

Praise and glory be to the Father and the Son and 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

uiodg

POWER AND GLORY

Who is the most powerful person you know? My answer is, my wife! To make it more specific, “What is the most powerful object in the universe?” I had to look it up on Google Search. Turns out that there is a Youtube video on it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DFdAHiDljc In the face of such power, humans would not last a nano-second. Power is one of those interesting phenomena that seem to captivate the curiosity of many of us. In one of my Lectio Divina meditations (Philippians 2:5), I thought about the different kinds of power I had experienced in my lifetime, none of which contain the hyper-nova mentioned above.

As I always do when trying to decipher the reality about me, I use the “three universes” description to break down what I observe into three distinct, separate universes, each with their own assumptions and measurements. I refer to the physical universe in which all time, matter, energy, and humans reside. There is the mental universe, in which only humans live (unless you know of some other sentient beings). Finally, there is the spiritual universe, where God lives and it encompasses all three universes. This is a universe where you must seek admittance.

Let me walk you through how I use the three universes to distinguish levels of power. Let’s say that the most powerful object in the physical universe (all matter and time) is a hyper-nova. No question that it is able to destroy everything around it and no human or any life form could exist within the range of its influence. But, is it the most powerful object in all reality? To answer that, let me ask you a question; “Why is it that you know about a hyper-nova but it does not know about you?” If you can even ask the question, much less answer it, you live in a universe composed of only humans who have reason and the ability to choose what is good for them, the mental universe, for lack of a better title. We have reason for a reason and the ability to choose what that reason tells us is good for us. So we have physical power and mental power to discover the why, where, how, what, and so what of all matter and its properties. We develop languages to search for meaning, both outside of us and within us. Sciences of the physical universe and the mental universes all have their languages, many of them only known to a few. We humans have learned how to harness some power to help us live more comfortably. Everything in both the physical and mental universes has a beginning and an ending. We humans find ourselves on a rocky planet of gases and water trying to find out how to use what we have to better ourselves. There is the power of a power plant that makes electricity, or wind energy to help us light our houses and cook our food. In the mental universe, there is an added dimension because of reason and the freedom to choose. Sometimes these choices are bad for either us or for society. Humans developed laws to help keep order and to uphold the dignity that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But, is that the only type of power that exists in reality?

There is another power, one not accepted by all humans (remember, they have the ability to reason and to choose whatever they think is good for them), the spiritual universe. In our lifetime, we are defined, not by our accomplishments in life but by the choices we make and their consequences. Remember, the spiritual universe may only be entered if you have an invitation and you accept that free gift and you accept the conditions of membership. You always will be a part of the physical universe. On top of that, you are a member of the mental universe with all its consequences. The two universes, the platform for life and the platform for human reasoning and choice are there to allow you to choose the spiritual universe or not. In the mental universe, you begin to realize the importance of immutable values and meaning, especially what it means to love. Why is this? Where does that choice take you? This next level of power is not human at all. It is the power of God, for lack of a better term. How do you know that? Because He revealed it to us. Humans from time immemorial, created gods of stone and myth to satisfy a desire for communication with a higher level of power, one outside of themselves. They created gods such as the Greek Pantheon of Gods or Roman deities.

Jesus Christ becomes one of us (Philippians 2:5-12) to tell us AND to show us how to use the power of being adopted sons and daughters of the Father to know, love and serve God and others and to be fulfilled as a human being in Heaven. Here are some characteristics of this spiritual universe that you need to be able to do to have power to move from self to God.

  • Heaven is God’s playground and if you want to play in his sandbox you need to respect His rules.
  • There is only one rule: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
  • Everything in the spiritual universe doesn’t make human sense to the world. St. Benedict, in Chapter 4 of the Rule, provides us with a list of those things we need to do to become more like Christ and less like our sinful and inconsistent selves. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
  • Taking up your cross daily means to seek God where you are and as you are. If it is easy, you are probably carrying the wrong cross.
  • All power and energy in the spiritual universe come from God. It is the energy of love, the relationship of service between Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • The gulf between God and humans is so great that Christ (Son of God, Savior) had to become one of us to give us an inkling of what our inheritance is as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
  • In the physical and mental universes alone, individual humans are the center of their lives and they are happy to do what makes them satisfied. In the physical, mental and spiritual universes, the fulness of what it means to be human may be realized, not because of individual power but because all reality is in resonance and not dissonance. All reality is One.
  • When we say the Lord’s Prayer privately or recite it together in the Eucharist, we say: “For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, Forever and Ever.” In humility, we approach the Father through Christ to make a profession of Faith, a daily conversion from self to God.
  • https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s2.htm
  • In our own age, being corrupted by hatred and calumny and detractions, there are those whose center is hatred and burn incense at the altars of their own selves. These choices seem strong to their believers but won’t last long. They have no power.

To God belongs all Power and Glory. 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 will be, forever and ever. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology

moving from self to god…slowly but surely

Here is a blog post I made over a year ago.  I had been thinking about using and applying Cistercian practices and seeking charisms.  I had the thought that my monastery is not just the world, but confined to the limits I discover each day. I thought about how I can transform that day into one that seeks to glorify the Father through Christ, the Son, with the power of the Holy Spirit, or I can just find meaning here and there based on the values of the world. Humans have reason for a reason and that is to seek God daily in everyday events.   

One of my spiritual directors told me that I needed to keep growing in Christ Jesus every day in order to sustain my faith, hope, and love. Growing can mean many things, but I had a Lectio Divina meditation on it the other day and this is what I discovered (Philippians 2:5).  I thought about my orange tree in my front yard and how the fruit is beginning to turn orange from its natural green. The tree must be good this year because we have 80+ oranges on it so far. This reminds me of my faith. I must do something to cultivate this tree (my faith) so that it does what it is created to be– to bear fruit. I thought about how I am created to love God with my whole heart, my whole mind, and my whole strength and love my neighbor as myself. (Matthew 22:34) To keep my fruit growing, I must water the tree, give it fertilize, keep off the bugs, and protect it when the limbs break off from too much weight. If I don’t help the plant (my faith) by cultivating it, it will not produce fruit.  

FROM THEN TO NOW   Six years ago (which seems like only yesterday), I began my journey as a Lay Cistercian at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) in Conyers, Georgia. I had always had a desire to become a contemplative monk, either Benedictine or Trappist, but that did not work out. When I got the chance to apply for admission as a novice as a Lay Cistercian, I did it with the understanding that they may not approve of me or I might not like it. This is called discernment, a process of discovery and growth. Look back on that initial meeting, which is like looking back at your wedding pictures, I realized that I am not the same person. Physically, I may be the same, but mentally, I have been exposed to ideas and experiences that have made me better, stronger, more peaceful, more powerful in knowing who I am and my purpose in life (see above).   When I first began my journey as a Lay Cistercian, I had no history against which to measure myself. I thought of silence and solitude as being an individual thing and pictured myself alone, in adoration before the Eucharist. That has not happened to me, but something else that is wonderful did. I applied silence and solitude to where I found myself each day as I lived in the World. My growth, as suggested by the many sessions on Cistercian contemplative spirituality that we had together in a Gathering Day each month, was that I was an individual but not alone. I was in silence and solitude IN THE MIDST OF A COMMUNITY of like-minded people who also tried to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). What I began to see what that the Holy Spirit in each of these individual Lay Cistercians was helping shape my own way to approach the Mystery of Faith. Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict suggests tools to help with good works. These tools are not the end but only the means to an end–Christ must grow and I must decrease. To do that, I needed to purposefully make room (capacitas dei) for God in my mind and heart each day. I seek God each day as a part of a larger group of believers, even though I am not present to them. I am a part of them but not apart from them. If you extend this thinking to the Church Universal, then there is but one Body, one Christ, one Faith, one Lord. As individuals, we make up the living Body of Christ on earth, in heaven, and those awaiting purification. The one but many, the sign of contradiction, the Mystery of Faith.   It is in this context of solidarity with other humans seeking the meaning of love, that I have moved from self to God. Here is what happened to me.   Whenever I try to seek God where I am, good things happen. Since the year 2000, I had been putting together a series of books on contemplative spirituality (before I became a Lay Cistercian). I have written over 60+ books since that time. The problem was, and is, what do I do with them? They are on Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/s?k=dr.+michael+f.+conrad&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss. I did not nor do not have the money to promote these books because of the lack of support from those closest to me. So, I am stuck with all these books. What should I do? I decided to give them away to prison libraries, libraries in churches, Newman Centers, Hospice Centers, Nursing Homes, and Independent Living Centers. I also wanted to offer to conduct a session on contemplative prayer at these places and train others to do it. Last week, I turned 79 years old, so what does this broken-down, old Lay Cistercian do with his retirement? He grows in Christ Jesus where he is at. Do you see how the Holy Spirit works for those who trust more in God and less on themselves? As St. Benedict says: that in all things, may God be glorified.   Please join me in praying to Christ for a special intention I have. It concerns the future of this blog. uiodg  

CHAPTER 4: rENOUNCE YOURSELF IN ORDER TO FOLLOW CHRIST

You would think that a person who has tried to follow the teachings of The Master for all these years (80, to be exact), would have mastery over his mind and body to be able to reach a state where he did not struggle each and every time he attempted Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration, Liturgy of the Hours, Reading Scripture, and praying Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each and every day. I wish.

In my most recent Lectio Divina meditation (Philippians 2:5), I asked the question of Christ, “Why is it that all my prayers don’t seem to be doing anything and that I keep struggling each and every time to renounce myself to follow you?” What follows are some of the thoughts from the Holy Spirit to guide me in the right direction.

“Michael, don’t be afraid. I know what you are talking about since I took on the imperfections of human nature so that you could learn from me. I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest from all the chaos of life under my protection. You did not choose me but I chose you, just you, from the beginning of time to be with me as an adopted son of my Father. Through my mystical body, I have given you all that you need to survive the minefield of your journey to be with me. Remember, just because your journey is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. My road, to free all humanity from its dependence on the world for its purpose and meaning, was filled with obstacles. My purpose in coming to earth was to restore the relationship humanity once had with the Father and to prepare you to live with us forever. Knowing what we know about human nature, we wanted you to have the grace that is sufficient to overcome those doubts and temptations from Satan to disregard your human feeling to do your own will instead of that of the Father. We knew it would not be easy for you so that is why I had to become one of you to show you how to fulfill your original destiny as a human being, made in the image and likeness of God, capable of discovering what it means to love others as I have loved you. I did not leave you an orphan when I ascended to the right hand of the Father. Your Baptism on September 29, 1940 did not give you a free ride to heaven. We gave you reason for a reason and the ability to choose. Baptism means you have what you need through Eucharist, my very own body and blood to nourish you on your way, plus forgiveness of sins and imperfections so that you can make all things new, just like I did for all humanity. You live in the world but not use its values and meaning to help you find fulfillment. Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, where I am, and everything will be just find. Embrace your humanity as I did and transform it by denying yourself each and every day so that you can seek God wherever that day takes you. Some days are better than others and you must begin each and every day like it was your first. I had a tough time trying to do the will of my Father. Remember, in the Garden of Gethsemani where I ask the Father to free me from my mission? Michael, the struggle you experience in your Lectio Divina is the same struggle Adam and Eve faced, that Moses experienced, that David confronted, that the prophets all wailed and lamented. Just as the Father would not take the struggle away from me and made me face my mission, so too, I can’t take away the struggle from your prayer, only to tell you that my grace is sufficient. It is your rising up over your human feelings that is taking up your cross daily to follow me. What you do with that struggle that is a part of the glory that you give to me as your friend, then together we take it to the Father to tell him that we give praise and glory that He is God and we ask His mercy on us and our fellow humans. It is the struggle that you experience, Michael, that is your opportunity to renounce yourself and follow in my footsteps. I am there, sitting on a park bench in the dead of winter with you, waiting for you to open your mind and heart to my heart. Life is a struggle, Michael, but one that we can share together. Peace be with you.”

10 Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23);
11 discipline your body (1 Cor 9:27);

https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/

I HAVE HEART PROBLEMS

Holy Mother's Center

In keeping with seeking God daily in everything in every way, I have an appointment today at 2:20 p.m. with my Cardiologist to check my recently installed pacemaker. This discipline is now called electrophysiology and it looks at the heart from the viewpoint of its electrical system or heart arrhythmia. I share this with you because, at least for the past month, I have been in the Emergency Room two times, plus two times at my hospital, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, and then a surgical procedure to install a heart pacemaker. In two weeks, I will have another procedure to restore my heart to its normal “sinus” rhythms. It is called Cardioversion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC_i8zuclmQ I love modern medicine.

But this is not the heart problems of which I write. As a Lay Cistercian who seeks God in each and every event of the day, I use my three universe template to view reality. This approach to seeing reality with both the mind and the heart is how to make sense of the seemingly chaotic values that are espoused by the World in which I live. In case you don’t remember, let me describe these three distinct and separate universes that comprise only one reality. Remind you of something?

PHYSICAL UNIVERSE — this is the physical universe in which everything exists. It is the platform for life whose laws are natural law. All matter, all time, everything that has a beginning and an end lives in this distinct universe. The question comes up, how can humans know about this universe but everything outside of humanity can’t? If this is true, there must be another universe, one that allows humanity to see a higher level of awareness, one that uses human reasoning and freedom to choose. Is this all there is?

MENTAL UNIVERSE– this is the universe where only humans live. Remember we also live with everything else in the physical universe. What is the reason humans have reason and why, of all the species we know of, are humans able to control their destiny beyond the natural law by making choices? Some choices humans make are not good while others are quite noble and authentic. The mental universe is where our minds look at the physical universe and ask what is it, why is it, how is it, where is it, and what does it mean? Remember, all three universes are one. The mental universe interprets the physical universe through language. We all use many of these languages to communicate and with time comes more sophistication. The language of science allows us to look at what is (the physical universe) using a measure that we make up using other languages (physics, chemistry, mathematics, reasoning, logic) in order to answer questions about reality, This is good and normal. It’s what we humans do. But is that all there is to the reality that has a beginning and an ending? So, we live on a platform called the physical universe but can be stewards of that platform because of reasoning and the choices we make, collectively and individually. Is that all there is? What is the purpose of the mental universe? We are self-aware because we can look at the physical universe and seek to answer the questions we pose. Why is that? Up to now, we have been talking about physical reality (what you can see is real) but is there more? In my thinking, mental universe is also there to enable us to see what can’t be seen. I am not talking about love and the other human emotions that stem from our living and finding purpose in our world. Matter is not evil nor is the human mind rotten, but we are wounded because we can choose what is bad for us and not even know it.

The measuring stick for the physical universe is the natural law that carries over into the mental universe. The physical and mental universes can measure what is and observe the effects of human emotions (love, hatred, jealousy) But, is that the end of it?

THE SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE –The third universe, the one that is mysterious and couched in paradox, doesn’t fit well with measurements of science, philosophy, and human secular reasoning. This is the universe of the future and, in my own mind, the fulfillment of both the physical and mental universes. We have reason for a reason. We are able to move from human purposes, such as love, family, power, fame, adulation, pride, to something more enduring, a universe where there is no time, no space, no matter, no disease, no imperfection. What is this universe that is so inhuman and seems like science fiction? Love! Peace! Purpose! Resonance! Fulfillment! This love does not come from the world. It comes from another dimension, that of pure energy, pure love, pure service, pure knowledge. This pure energy is a person, way out of the framework of logical thinking. This Being has another nature, divine. The gulf between human nature and divine nature is unreachable for humans. We only know about it because God told us about it through Abraham, the Prophets, the covenant of relationship God said he wanted with humans. By themselves, humans did not get it, so God had to become a person with human nature to lead them to the truth. Christ revealed that there are three persons in one God. He taught us that the kingdom of heaven begins now (with Baptism) and ends with us being adopted sons and daughters of the Father (the only way we can share Heaven). I suggest that we don’t share it as God, but to the extent that we use the daily helps Christ gave us to do God’s will and not our own. This spiritual universe is something humans don’t create in their image and likeness but comes from God through Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many religions out there that tout their believers to follow their way. Christ told us only He is the way, the truth, and the life. You have reason for a reason and you also have the ability to choose whatever you want as meaningful. We are not defined by our accomplishments but rather by the choices we make for what is good for or destructive of our purpose.

MEASURING WHAT CANNOT BE MEASURED WITH WHAT CANNOT BE SEEN

What sounds like an oxymoron is actually indicative of the spiritual universe. It is the opposite of what the world holds as meaningful. The time we have on earth is the time we have to practice loving and serving others as Christ served us.

There is a great, insurmountable gulf between God’s nature and our human nature. God has generously given each human an invitation to share in this inheritance, as we are able to do so (Gifts of Baptism and the Holy Spirit). For me, it means I make my heaven while I am on earth. I will live later on what I have brought with me to Heaven. No sin is in heaven, only those things where I have loved others as Christ has loved me.

As a Lay Cistercian, I made final promises to try to love God with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my strength and my neighbor as myself. I read that promise every time I look at the shrine I set up on my table in the office. These are the signs of my love for Christ: Rule of St. Benedict, Professed Promises, My Lay Cistercian medal, Dr. Eduardo Hubard’s gift of a unique wooden box with a rosary on it, inscribed with the oldest known Marian hymn (3rd century), Scripture (Jerusalem Bible that I purchased back in 1962).

The measurements of God are love, peace, knowledge, service, and energy. The problem is these are divine attributes not human. We can only know what love is through our experiences. Human knowledge can only approach God’s love, not as it is, but as St. Paul puts it, “through a foggy glass.” These measurements are not proofs so much as indicators of something way beyond our human capacity to comprehend it. Luckily, we have Christ as our mediator, our translator, our bridge with the divine, our Master.

If you tell me, “Religion doesn’t make sense,” I would agree with you but add that the foolishness of God is wiser than all the wisdom of humans. Some additional thoughts:

  • There are three distinct universes in only one reality.
  • You can only measure the spiritual universe with what is from God, not from the World. Heaven is God’s playground and if you want to play in his sandbox you need to play by His rules. That might be another way of saying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • Everything about God is a sign of contradiction. It clashes with the physical and mental universe, although they are still one.
  • Christ came to restore resonance to a dissonant reality, one that was not bad, just incapable of seeing the whole picture, a spiritual universe that is the opposite of what we experience as we live in the world.
  • Baptism means God chooses to love us and make us adopted sons and daughters through, with, and in Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. The only command Christ gave us is to love each other as Christ loved us.
  • The spiritual universe is the opposite of the World, even though some of its aspects of love and meaning are good. Those who accept Christ as their center are pilgrims in a foreign land (meaning the World) until they die. It is necessary to love as Christ loved us. One way I have chosen to do that is by asking Lay Cistercians if I can be a member and learn how ancient Cistercian practices and charisms. Contemplation is being present to Christ through all these practices so that He fills me with love and so I decrease while Christ increases.

The place no one wants to look is right inside us and we can access it through Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5). In silence and solitude, we enter our interior room and wait for Christ. The waiting is, by itself a prayer, and is conducive to profound listening (listening with the ear of the heart–St. Benedict). It is dying to that self which depends on the world for its meaning and choices of what is good. It is a heart problem, in the same way, that St. Augustine said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

When I say I have heart problems, my problem is, how can I contain the joy that comes now almost every day in seeing my purpose in life begins to take shape? “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) is the center of whatever reality I encounter. Rather than worry about COVID-19 or my heart condition, I now just seek God every day in whatever comes. I don’t try to fill holes in my life with the “heresy of action” or watching television or reading. I don’t pass the time so much as embrace the moment, every day is a total lifetime.

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IF YOU ARE A ROOM…

One of my Lectio Divina meditations (Philippians 2:5) centered around an idea I have been romancing for some time– spiritual hoarding. Most of the people to whom I tell this idea discount it as being foolish. How can hoarding spirituality be bad? The way I approach hoarding is how I see this tendency playing out in my physical and mental universes. Hoarding can be a dysfunction if it is obsessive and compulsive. Hoarding is the inability of the individual to throw anything away. I use this concept of dysfunction as applied to a spiritual universe. Let me give you several examples of what I mean by spiritual hoarding and then apply it to you, if you are a room.

You exhibit the characteristics of a spiritual hoarder if you…

  • have not been to the Sacrament of Penance for years and years, thinking that you can just ask forgiveness of your sins and God will do your will and be merciful. You do not take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a gift Jesus gave us to receive grace to continue on our journey and make all things new. God is merciful but is not a fool.
  • have no sense of being a penitential person who is in constant need of transformation and conversion each day. Part of what it means for me to be a Lay Cistercian is to seek God every day in every way. The penitential person asks God the Father for mercy through the Son using the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • think that you can steal $1,000. from me, then ask God to forgive you and go on your way. What is wrong with this scenario? How about this: you still have not given me back my $1,000. This is called restitution and is the beginning of reparation. Forgiveness is always conditioned by repentance and reparation. Reparation means a firm purpose of amendment and, as St. Benedict quotes from Scripture, “29 Do not repay one bad turn with another” (1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9).
  • don’t know how to make all things new. Your Faith is the same as when you were in Grade School. St. Benedict, in his Rule, Chapter 4 states: “You must honor everyone (1 Pet 2:17), 9 and never do to another what you do not want to be done to yourself (Tob 4:16; Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31). 10 Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23); 11 discipline your body (1 Cor 9:27);” A penitential person uses these tools for good works (Chapter 4) as reparation for doing bad and shameful things.
  • don’t know how to clean out your spiritual room of all that is useless and throw away all those things that keep you from “having in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
  • are the same Catholic as you were when you began your journey in Baptism. Christ asked us to do something with the gift of adoption as son and daughter of the Father. Just as Christ, Son of God, Savior, shared Himself with us with His death and resurrection and ascension to the Father, so we, those who have been called by Christ to be disciples, must share what we have received from Christ. And what was that? There is one command, one request that Christ makes of us: to love others as He has loved us, not as the world defines love, but one that makes Christ real to those with whom we encounter (friends as well as enemies).

YOU ARE A ROOM

When I apply this concept of holding onto those things that are not necessarily sinful but keep me from growing from self to God, I use the analogy of a room.

In my case, I am more keenly aware that my transformation depends on putting more Christ in my room and discarding the old. Put another way, if I want to have Christ over for a cup of coffee and a chat, is my room clean enough for me to entertain God? This is a way that I can understand that I must keep my room ready to wait for the coming of Christ into my heart. But, isn’t Christ everywhere? Yes, Christ is everywhere, but I am not present in contemplation and prayer unless I am a penitent man who keeps saying over and over, “have mercy on me, Son of David, for I am a sinner.”

When I am in the presence of Christ, something wonderful always happens. I don’t realize it right away but it happens, even if I don’t think about it. It is akin to walking outside and feeling the sun on your face. It is warm and wraps you in a mantel of comfort. In my room, I want to experience being present to Christ through Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, Scripture, and reading about the lives of others who have placed Christ as the center of their lives.

WHAT HELPS ME RECITE THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS?

FIVE PRACTICES THAT HAVE HELPED ME COMMIT TO PRAYING THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS

  1. When I think of prayer as part of my Lay Cistercian principles (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community), I don’t see it apart from other prayers I do (e.g. Eucharist, the Rosary, Lectio Divina, and Reading Scripture each day), but rather it is inclusive of all of them. There is one prayer.
  2. Each day, I begin my day sitting on the edge of my bed and asking God for mercy for all my sins, failures to see Him in others, and all times I was just plain oblivious of anything except my own needs). I make a commitment to try to do better this day, with God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit helping me. This all takes less than one minute. What is important is that I do it every day.
  3. Before I begin my Liturgy of the Hours, I take a second to ask God to be merciful to all those I have included in my Book of Life, those who have died and I had added to this book and for all those in Purgatory and on earth who might need prayers but are not known to me. Think this task is too big for God?
  4. I try to recite three of the seven hours of the divine office each day: invitatory, Office of Readings Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. During this COVID-19 shut-down, I recite these hours in private.
  5. I try to be conscious that this is the official public prayer of the Church (along with Eucharist) and that, somewhere in the world, a continuous chant of praise and glory goes to the Father on behalf of all humanity, asking for mercy for the sins of the Church, for forgiveness and reparation for all of our sins, help with the transformation from self to God, and finally to seek the God’s will be done with the presence of the Holy Spirit in this day’s happenings. None of these prayers are limited just to Catholics although the Catholic Universal Church prays them each day.

THE GATHERING

My Lectio Divina today (Philippians 2:5) took me to a place I had not visited before. I thought about the very early Church and how they must have had a struggle to “have in them the mind of Christ Jesus.” I thought about my own struggles to do the same, given the unique circumstances that have presented themselves to me, i.e., my having had surgery about 12 days ago to implant a pacemaker and then subsequent cardiac procedures to shock my heart back to its normal “sinus” rhythm, called Cardioversion.

Christ did not institute an individual as church, one based on anyone but Himself, but rather one composed of many individuals. Why is that? Part of the reason seems to me to be our need to belong. Individuals don’t usually thrive in isolation but are designed to interact with others to achieve any worthwhile goals or projects. As a Lay Cistercian, one of the things that separate us from other lay organizations is silence, solitude, work, prayer in community. I am not saying Lay Cistercians are better than other such Lay Groups, rather, that what it means to be a Lay Cistercian is physically meeting together once a month for renewal, prayer, learning about Cistercian practices and charisms, and sharing the Holy Spirit we discover in each of us. They call this monthly meeting a Gathering. At first, I did not see the significance of this words, “to gather together”, but over these seven years of my participation, I see what is meant by the words, that is, to describe the early communities of Faith, by the name of ecclesia, assembly of the faithful, grouping together to sustain each other as we seek to more from self to God as individuals. The faithful are church as they gather together in the name of Christ, to give glory to the Father, through that same Christ in union with the power of the Holy Spirit. The gathering is not like the Moose, Elks, or other groups of belonging. This gathering is Christ when they come together to proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again, as we say in each Eucharistic Liturgy. The Lay Cistercians meet only once a month, but the rest of the time they go about their professions, taking with them the Cistercian practices and charisms (humility, obedience, hospitality) as they relate to whatever comes their way. Each day is a lifetime of seeking God where you are, as you are. Lay Cistercians are Church even when they go back to their respective homes and practice loving others as Christ loves us.

The measuring stick in all of this contemplative practice (Trappist) is gathering together with Christ as our Savior and Lord, as set forth in Scripture, in the rule of St. Benedict (especially for me in Chapter 4), in Eucharist, and again in Eucharistic Adoration, in Lectio Divina meditation, and hopefully, contemplation. My Lectio Divina prayer always comes back to my one phrase, “have in your the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5). The uniqueness of each individual Lay Cistercian (woman or man, retired or still working, those with families who support them or those that may be totally unaware of what is going on) means that we approach the mind of Christ, each one of us having a different way we seek God in our daily living. Although the Gathering is a formal way we meet to share the experiences we have had in moving from self to God, it does provide us with a monthly forum to express these prompting of the Holy Spirit and share them with those who seek to use Cistercian spirituality as a way to look at reality. The Gathering is not a meeting so much as it is a mindset to be open to the Holy Spirit in each individual Lay Cistercian as a temple of that same Holy Spirit. Renewal and transformation from self to Christ come about, not because of any meeting or learning on our part, rather, like Lectio Divina, it is the openness to the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Like Eucharistic Adoration, we go to The Gathering without any personal agenda except to be open to the manifest ability of whatever the Holy Spirit intends. Then, we take that overshadowing of the Spirit back to our daily living to sustain us until our next Gathering.

Christ told us in Matthew Chapter 13: k Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.19*l Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.20*m For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The power of the Gathering has nothing to do with us so much as it is the opportunity for us to recognize the Holy Spirit in each of us and allow that same Spirit to work through us.

Discerning of the Holy Spirit anywhere must be done with humility and in obedience to the will of the Father. It is not our power that is important but that we tag along with Jesus as he approaches the Father for us. Each of us is blessed to be chosen by Christ at Baptism with the adoption of sons and daughters of the Father.

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

how long can you hold your spiritual breath?

HOW LONG CAN YOU HOLD YOUR SPIRITUAL BREATH?

When I was young and adventuresome, I tried holding my breath for as long as possible. It was all part of my preparation to be able to swim in the deep section of Rainbow Beach in Vincennes, Indiana, my hometown. I managed to keep my breath long enough to swim underwater, but I never became accustomed to it.

You have a spiritual breath, you know.  It is the attention span that you tolerate for being in front of the Sacred, such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I began my spiritual breath holding it with barely a minute or two before my mind kept telling me to get out of there.  Now, I can go up to an hour( plus )before my mind takes me to places not consistent with the Sacred, such as what am I going to eat for dinner. I have noticed that, when this does happen, I can get back on track much quicker than before.  Also, I have lost my nervous foot (shaking nervously) behavior whenever I sit down. Contemplation has been, for me, a way to find peace and humility, and I consider myself just a toddler in the Cistercian way of thinking. I use the Rule of St. Benedict as my view of reality as interpreted by the Cistercian traditions of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community, so that I might have a system against which I measure myself. I used to worry about being perfect as a Lay Cistercian, doing everything correctly and praying often, but I have now come to believe that all I need do is seek God daily with a heart open to what the Holy Spirit is telling me, and the rest follows. As Christ tells us in Matthew 6:

25n “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?o 27 Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?*28 Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. 29 But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. 30* If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ 32 All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides. 34 Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

Here are some ideas about how I sustain my Baptismal commitment each day. I use these sayings, not as a mantra to lull myself into some unconscious state of thinking, but rather just what St. Benedict intended. They are means to an and and that end is having in your the mind of Christ Jesus. Forget the end and the means all you do is just pass the time without any transformation from self to God.

  1. It takes a long time to attain any degree of self-control when thinking about contemplation and holding your thoughts. A danger in spirituality that I faced is thinking that everything depends on God and I don’t need to take up my cross daily and walk the road to my salvation. It takes time to acquire the art of contemplative spirituality. God has given me the gift of Faith but I must make that real each day with, through and in Christ Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father.
  2. A focus is key to keeping your mind from wandering. Cistercian practices help me stay grounded in my purpose –He must increase and I must decrease.
  3. Asking for God’s help is very important in the Lectio process, which is why Oratio (Prayer) is an important step. My prayer is always that Christ grant me the humility to seek Him without unconsioucly demanding that He meet me in my world under my conditions and do my bidding.
  4. Lectio Divina is a skill that is difficult, but not impossible to attain.
  5. Don’t give up.

Just because your road is rocky in your spiritually seeking God doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road.

REFLECTIONS ON MY LAY CISTERCIAN PRACTICES, CHARISMS AND READINGS

I only hope to aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, which, I suppose I will be doing when I knock on the Heavenly Gates and once more ask for mercy. I am not an expert on anything Cistercian, only a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit who tries to seek God with all his heart, again and again.

The following reading is from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4. Tools for Good Works.  I try to read it every day, or at least some portion of it. I have found that I now treat each day as a new beginning, making all things new once more. The “Now” makes more sense to me each day than reflecting on the past, with its wailings and wanderings. As a Lay Cistercian, I find it remarkable that I am growing, almost imperceptibly, more and more into that which I seek, having the mind of Christ Jesus, my purpose of life. (Philippians 2:5) Having read the following tools, reflecting on their importance in my life, I am very slowly becoming what I read.

Forgiveness comes into play when I forget God is God and try to substitute my will for His. If you know what I am talking about, there is no need to explain further, if you do not know what I am saying, there is nothing I can do to make you aware.

Here are the tools for good works, as written by St. Benedict about 540 AD. I hope to become what I pray with God’s grace. I recite these good works each and every day.

The Instruments of Good Works

  • (1) In the first place to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength…
  • (2) Then, one’s neighbor as one’s self (cf Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27).
  • (3) Then, not to kill…
  • (4) Not to commit adultery…
  • (5) Not to steal…
  • (6) Not to covet (cf Rom 13:9).
  • (7) Not to bear false witness (cf Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20). (8) To honor all men (cf 1 Pt 2:17).
  • (9) And what one would not have done to himself, not to do to another (cf Tob 4:16; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31).
  • (10) To deny one’s self in order to follow Christ (cf Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23).
  • (11) To chastise the
  • body (cf 1 Cor 9:27).
  • (12) Not to seek after pleasures.
  • (13) To love fasting.
  • (14) To relieve the poor.
  • (15) To clothe the naked…
  • (16) To visit the sick (cf Mt 25:36).
  • (17) To bury the dead.
  • (18) To help in trouble.
  • (19) To console the sorrowing.
  • (20) To hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.
  • (21) To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
  • (22) Not to give way to anger.
  • (23) Not to foster a desire for revenge.
  • (24) Not to entertain deceit in the heart.
  • (25) Not to make a false peace.
  • (26) Not to forsake charity.
  • (27) Not to swear, lest perchance one swear falsely.
  • (28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue.
  • (29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).
  • (30) To do no injury, yea, even patiently to bear the injury done us.
  • (31) To love one’s enemies (cf Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27).
  • (32) Not to curse them that curse us, but rather to bless them.
  • (33) To bear persecution for justice sake (cf Mt 5:10).
  • (34) Not to be proud…
  • (35) Not to be given to wine (cf Ti 1:7; 1 Tm 3:3).
  • (36) Not to be a great eater.
  • (37) Not to be drowsy.
  • (38) Not to be slothful (cf Rom 12:11).
  • (39) Not to be a murmurer.
  • (40) Not to be a detractor.
  • (41) To put one’s trust in God.
  • (42) To refer what good one sees in himself,
  • not to self, but to God.
  • (43) But as to any evil in himself, let him be convinced that it is his own and charge it to himself.
  • (44) To fear the day of judgment.
  • (45) To be in dread of hell.
  • (46) To desire eternal life with all spiritual longing.
  • (47) To keep death before one’s eyes daily.
  • (48) To keep a constant watch over the actions of our life.
  • (49) To hold as certain that God sees us everywhere.
  • (50) To dash at once against Christ the evil thoughts which rise in one’s heart.
  • (51) And to disclose them to our spiritual father.
  • (52) To guard one’s tongue against bad and wicked speech.
  • (53) Not to love much speaking.
  • (54) Not to speak useless words and such as provoke laughter.
  • (55) Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
  • (56) To listen willingly to holy reading.
  • (57) To apply one’s self often to prayer.
  • (58) To confess one’s past sins to God daily in prayer with sighs and tears, and to amend them for the future.
  • (59) Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh (cf Gal 5:16).
  • (60) To hate one’s own will.
  • (61) To obey the commands of the Abbot in all things, even though he himself (which Heaven forbid) act otherwise, mindful of that precept of the Lord: “What they say, do ye; what they do, do ye not” (Mt 23:3).
  • (62) Not to desire to be called holy before one is; but to be holy first, that one may be truly so-called.
  • (63) To fulfill daily the commandments of God by works.
  • (64) To love chastity.
  • (65) To hate no one.
  • (66) Not to be jealous; not to entertain envy.
  • (67) Not to love strife.
  • (68) Not to love pride.
  • (69) To honor the aged.
  • (70) To love the younger.
  • (71) To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
  • (72) To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
  • (73) And never to despair of God’s mercy.
  • Behold, these are the instruments of the spiritual art, which, if they have been applied without ceasing day and night and approved on judgment day, will merit for us from the Lord that reward which He hath promised: “The eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). But the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery, and stability in the community.”

These spiritual habits are not the ends in themselves, but rather means whereby I can place myself in the real presence of Christ and wait. All of these tools and practices serve to propel and compel me to have in myself the mind of Christ Jesus, and to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Here are three ways I use Chapter 4 to place my heart next to the heart of Jesus. Some days are better than others.

  1. Try (and fail) to read Chapter 4 every day.  I always read one or two of the tools and try to apply those to my daily morning offering, asking that I do the will of the Father.
  2. I don’t try to do good works, just do the Cistercian practices as I can, placing my heart next to that of Our Lord and Savior. What comes from that are good works, in the sense of charisms for me to grow from self toward God.
  3. I find that the consistent practice to pray daily at a certain time, even if I miss the time, is itself a prayer to transform my false self to my true self, obedient to the will of God through Christ.
  4. In the Old Testament, God told the people how to relate with an unseen God.  In the New Testament, God showed the people how to relate to an unseen God by sending His only Son to be one of us. From the time of the Apostles (Pentecost) until now, God gave us the power to his people to transform the world by doing what Christ taught us to others. What we do is called good works because they come from God, not us.

We become the real presence of God in this world of original sin, using the power of God through the Holy Spirit, to make all things new. To do that without being corrupted by the sins of the world, we need to constantly throw ourselves on the mercy of God, asking forgiveness first for our own sins and then the sins of all, daily confessing our the need for humility and obedience, and finally doing penance to sustain us in our resolve to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)

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 will be at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. -Cistercian doxology

SILENCE: THE ENTRANCE TO FOREVER

Whenever I think of silence, I mean real silence, I think about going into a cave in Northern Florida. The absence of any noise is deafening. All humans relate to the reality before them through the five senses which feed the brain and direct the choices we make in the next moment or two. In this cave, my five senses seemed to fail me (although they just did what they always do–feed information about my environment to the brain). The problem was the brain was confused, having no signal of hearing nor of sight. This is real silence and this is real darkness. I panicked and experienced claustrophobia.

As soon as the lights went on again and I regained control of my external environment I was much better. This is an actual experience of silence that informs the way I think about silence and solitude in seeking God in my daily life. Nearly 100% of the opportunities I have to contemplate are with the sounds of everyday living are with this background noise. I have tinnitus and this slight ringing in the ears is always there. Even going within me to perform Lectio Divina, these background sounds from the physical and mental universes are there. I ignore them. As I move from my meditations toward contemplation, I embrace the silence in the sounds and it gradually fades away. It is when I accept what is real that I lose myself among the ideas that flood through my consciousness from the Holy Spirit.

Last week, I thought of how St. Benedict left the security and safety of his world to enter a place that is not unlike the cave I explored in Northern Florida. This silence in the midst of the sounds of everyday life is like a Lay Cistercian practicing charisms and practices of seeking God wherever and whenever he or she is. Silence or solitude is not an end in itself but only gives me a better way to focus on listening with the “ear if the heart” as St. Benedict prescribes to his monks in the Prologue to his Rule.

THREE TYPES OF SILENCE

THE SILENCE OF NATURE — This first type of silence is one that is based on nature, or in my terminology, the physical universe. Any living thing that interacts with its surrounding environment at each moment uses its probes or sensors to achieve its purpose in life. Silence in this universe is the lack of physical sound. All plants and animals (including humans) are subject to the laws of nature. But, it that all there is?

THE SILENCE OF THE MIND– The second type of silence corresponds with my notion of the mental universe. Only humans are a part of this universe because they are the only ones with the ability to reason and to make choices about what they reasoned. It is in this universe that we are aware of a silence that opens the door to our inner selves. Some of us choose to use this platform of human sensors, plus reason, to move to a deeper level of reality–Faith. It is this silence in which Faith is nourished and flourishes. The purpose of human existence is to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with God in the next. The silence of the mind is what we must begin to tame before we can enter the last, but the most profound area of silence, that of the heart. The early Fathers of the Desert such as Anthony and later St. Benedict and St. Bernard of Clairvaux knew of the importance of silencing the mind and so they sought out solitude as a way of isolating and focusing their minds on Christ alone. That they ended up in caves and in the desert was no surprise. Have you ever been to any type of dessert? All you can hear is your own thoughts and the beating of your own heart. We need to clean the mind of anything that would deny us entrance to the heart. Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule has the good works needed to cleans the mind and heart to prepare to receive Christ.”To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.” When we have humbled ourselves to be able to see with the “ear of the hear” we grow ever deeper into the Mystery of Faith., gradually being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.

THE SILENCE OF THE HEART (The Silence of God) I often think of the silence of the heart as contemplation, while the silence of the mind is meditation (using the four levels of Lectio Divina- lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio). I kept thinking of why these early holy men and women gravitated to solitude in the desert and eventually in monasteries. This is the silence of the kingdom of heaven and it begins for each of us with Baptism and acceptance by God as adopted sons and daughters, but ends in Forever.

My growth from self to God uses this silence and solitude to enable me to sit in stillness on a park bench in the midst of winter and wait patiently for God (my definition of contemplation). I strive to listen with the “ear of the heart.” It is this striving for my heart to be present to the Real Presence that begins my contemplation. It is the silence of my heart longing just to be with Christ that I seek. This profound encounter in contemplation is where I hope transformation takes place. Being in the presence of the heart of Christ happens when I abandon myself to whatever God says. Just let go and wait.

wonder-filled resources that fill up the emptiness of my heart while i age in place.

I use these resources nearly every week to help me fill in the big holes in my life due to COVID-19 and the hatred our culture seems to have for one another. Using the analogy of a room, each of us has a room way down deep inside of us. Not many people can enter this room, only if you allow them to enter. If you are a room, you cannot have love and hatred in the same room. Here is how to try to gain some perspective on life. I had the thought that, because much of the self-imposed quarantine means staying at home, why not make my home like the Monastery of the Holy Spirit (Trappist), complete with schedule and contemplative prayer space. I share with you some of the prayer practices I do.

THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT- https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/ Every day, as in “every day”, read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. I like the commentary from the AbbottChrist in the Desert Benedictine Monastery. Every day!

USCCB When I want to look up a Scripture passage or want to know what a particular Encyclical says about a particular topic, (e.g., the Church in the modern world), it is all there. http://www.usccb.org

CISTERCIAN (Trappist) SPIRITUAL PRACTICES My “go-to” sites always begin with the Monastery of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) http://www.trappist.net. https://www.trappists.org/ is a good way to look at all the monasteries of monks and nuns. I like to listen to the sermons of various Cistercians at https://www.trappist.net/homilies and use them to frame my meditations on the seeking God in my daily life.

NEW ADVENT– http://www.newadvent.com has a multitude of resources. My favorite is a blog you can sign up to receive daily updates on all things Catholic Universal.

DIVINE OFFICE– My favorite site for reading the Liturgy of the Hours is http://www.divineoffice.org. In addition, my own blog (https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org) is under resources (Lay Cistercian). http://www.divineoffice.org

BISHOP BARRON –If you haven’t signed up yet, do so now. Bishop Barron’s webpage, http://www.wordonfire.org will direct you to some of his video offerings. I have signed up for the daily Scripture meditations (free of charge).

DR. SCOTT HAHN — Dr. Hahn is an inspiration for me. I recommend you sign up for his newsletters and bookmark his website. Although I have not had the privilege of meeting him, his witness to Christ Jesus in his life has excited the Holy Spirit in me. https://stpaulcenter.com/

CATHOLIC CULTURE — This is a must-see site for those who wish to have a more apologetical approach to our Catholic heritage. https://www.catholicculture.org/ Sign up for their newsletters.

SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT– I am building a shrine to Our Lady in my heart, one that constantly reminds me of the humility necessary to embrace silence and solitude, which in turn leads to contemplation. When I seek God every day, I try to place myself in the real presence of Christ and just wait.This shrine contains those qualities that Mary used to accept her responsibilities as the Mother of The Savior, humility, obedience, actio, hospitality, and total abandonment to the will of the Father. The shrine will be completed when I stand before the Throne of the Lamb and show Jesus what I have done.

seeking god during covid-19

The interesting thing about viewing our COVID-19 situations are the many lessons we can gain from this experience. Not all of these lessons are without some form of inconvenience or even outright suffering, but they are what is happening. I look at what is coming down the pike everyday and try not to overreact to the situation. My contemplative practices have helped me gain a small bit of perspective on the pandemic. There is more to it than just this one health crisis, although I don’t want to minimize the risks involved. Each day, I practice Lay Cistercian activities which direct my focus to giving glory and honor to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. My Cistercian training (as I know it) has provided me with perspective and a daily way to “…have in me the mind of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). As of late, I have been trying to focus on seeking God every day wherever I am and as I am,

I don’t have any sure-fire ways to take away any situations that may arise in your life. What I can share with you are the two ways I have approached any situation that may come up in my day and how I measure it against my center (Philippians 2:5).

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Do you remember Disney’s movie, Alice in Wonderland? She finds herself lost in the forest and has several paths to follow, but which one should she take? Look at the YouTube clip from the movie to get a sense of the importance of both the question by Alice and the response by the Cheshire Cat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXpaBOsx4Gg I viewed this very clip and came up with these ideas. The Cheshire Cat says “Where do you want to go?”. Alice says, “It doesn’t matter where I go.” To which the Cheshire Cat responds, “then any direction will get you there.” This clip with a seemingly innocuous question and answer have provided me with insights about seeking God in daily living. Each day, I am like Alice, trying to create a schedule and reaching some object or activity out there. In this first approach, I don’t care what presents itself to me every day (COVID-19, my recent trip to the ER and Hospital to test me for a heart pacemaker, being 80 years of age and not being physically able to do my Cistercian practices with others at Good Shepherd Church, Tallahassee, Florida.

The direction I am headed is to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus every day. Silence and solitude become conditions for my heart to be still and abandon all selfish interests in prayer and just listen with the “ear of the heart.”

HOW TO SEEK GOD IN THREE UNIVERSES

I woke up this morning at 2:16 a.m. for my usual bathroom break. Going back to bed, I usually do a mini-Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5). This time my focus was on how God puts all these signs and wonders in front of us and how we often fail to link them to our destiny in life as an adopted son or daughter, living out what we have discovered about love while on earth.

Do you see the photo of a cup in a window? I want to take you on a journey of mind and heart, one that will transport you, through your mind, to a place of mystery and suspense. It is like Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone. It is a journey of sign and sound using your mind and imagination. This zone is within each of us, informing all of our choices and striving to fit what we experience each day into some kind of meaning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzlG28B-R8Y

For many years, now, I have attempted to come up with a way to look at the one reality that incorporates sciences, philosophies, literature about the human experience, and religion (as I know it). After twenty years of scratching my head in frustration, it finally came to me as I was sitting before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration. I kept asking God how all of these seemingly confusing and contradictory ideas fit together. It doesn’t make sense. I could not stuff what I know about science into the same shoe as my Catholic Universal faith. Like the Cinderella story, this shoe would not fit into the one paradigm I had used to force one reality into another one. The paradigm I was using was one that states: everything fits together in one universe, and if it doesn’t, you got it wrong.

The answer I received from somewhere at the edge of time was that it doesn’t fit together using the paradigm of one reality containing everything that is, that is the physical universe (humans are a part of this universe). I said to God, “Okay. It does not fit. So what does reality look like? How would you look at it?” Of course, this sounds completely crazy, but what came to my mind was this. You can change your paradigm but not reality. My paradigm is my way of looking at what is and asking what it is, why is it, how is it, and where is it? My template for looking at reality was God Himself (saying that, God has no gender). Christ revealed to us that there is one God but three distinct persons, each one with a separate function, each one complementing the others, each one necessary for the others to be One. God is One. Look at what Joel Barker has to say about paradigm shifts. I used these ideas to help me formulate an “out of the box” approach to spirituality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOXWSg_PyTQ

My paradigm that changed was: there is one reality but three separate and distinct universes, each autonomous, each with their own properties, and with their own function. You need all three of them working together for humans to figure out how all these seemingly confusing ideas bump into each other? This is where I began formulating my way to look at one reality in three dimensions or universes. Using this seemingly simple change of assumptions, all reality made complete sense (but it is still unfolding itself one day at a time). God was telling me in my meditations and contemplations that I should not over complicate things.

PARADIGM SHIFT: THE THREE UNIVERSES AND ONE REALITY

The three universes I settled on were the answer to three questions that I asked about reality.

THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE — This is the object of scientific inquiry where we seek what is real and true. It contains all that is, energy, matter, time, space, what is alive, what is not, all theories of how and why things are. Animals, plants, indeed every that is alive lives in this universe. The physical universe is bound by the laws of nature (as far as we know). All in this universe live with the assumption that there are a beginning and end to their existence. My question about the physical universe is: what is the most powerful object in the known universe? I had to go to Google and search for the answer. Turns out that it is called a hypernova. https://www.businessinsider.com/hypernovas-are-the-most-powerful-thing-in-the-universe-2014-9#: Humans could not survive the gamma rays from being too near this most powerful object in the physical universe. Think about this. Why is it that you can look up the most powerful object in the universe but it can’t look you up? Who is more powerful? Why is that? The physical universe is the platform for life on this planet. We live in the Goldilocks zone, not too close to the Sun and not too far away, but just right for life to thrive on the Earth. Why is that? Hold that thought for right now.

THE MENTAL UNIVERSE — Why is it that we can even study other living species on Earth but they cannot study us? Who is the most powerful person in this mental universe? Although animals do have limited intelligence and survival skills, although they follow the dictates of their nature (animal), only humans can ask the question at Five Guys: Do you want cheese on your burger or just plain? As far as we know, we are the only persons, even at the microbial level, to exist in the Physical and Mental Universe. Why is that? Maybe there is other life out there. Maybe other planets harbor sentient life forms. Maybe. Fermi’s Paradox comes to mind. He simply asked his colleagues, “Where is everybody?” Only humans live on this island of human reasoning and free choice. And remember, due to our advances in sciences and medicine and what it means to be a human during our watch of seventy or eighty years, we are able to discover what our purpose is and do something about it. Why is that? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD4izuDMUQA

Why, of all the species on our plant, do only humans possess the ability to reason and the ability to choose? Reason what? Choose what? Certainly, we use our human intelligence to look at the physical universe and ask questions about it so we can better describe why we are here. We can also use that same reasoning to look forward to what will be and choose whatever destiny we want.

What do we have so far? The greatest power in the known universe is a hypernova, but power must have another level of development, i.e., mental power. We can ask the questions of what composes a hypernova, and how it is presenting itself to us. Birds don’t worry about a hypernova, nor do aardvarks devise wonderful scientific instruments to study the heavens and seek answers to what is out there. Here comes question number three, “Is that all there is?” We, humans, are able to make choices that are consistent with our nature. Some consequences of our choices may be bad or good. It is what we choose that is good or bad for us and our destiny. There are two areas where we go to find out what is good or bad for us: 1. Our own independent reasoning and choices, and, 2. God tells us what is good for us.

SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE

Humans have reason for a reason. They have the ability to make choices over and above the natural order of things. Butterflies can’t make choices other than what is consistent with their nature. do this, nor can horses choose not to come into breeding season. God speaks to us through other people, through the writings of the prophets and scriptures, through the Church, but mainly to each of us in our hearts. Contemplation, specifically Cistercian practices and charisms in my case, is a way to access the heart of Christ and communicate through silence and solitude to listen with the “ear of my heart” (St. Benedict’s Prologue to his Rule). Is there a power, energy, pure thought out there that is not bound by space, time, matter or natural laws? This level would be more powerful than anything in the physical universe, more powerful than human thought in the mental universe. We call this energy God, one divine nature with three distinct persons. It took Jesus to reveal this to us and how it affects our relationship with a God beyond our abilities to grasp Him. Philippians 2:5-12 gives us the best rationale why God would become our nature–love. Remember, this is not human love, but pure love, 100% of its nature. Our brains cannot contain such knowledge, but that very God invited us to be a part of Him as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We can only see the Father through Christ and His love for each of us. Heaven is God’s playground and if humans want to use it, they must follow God’s rules, not their own. Our whole lifetime of choices becomes one of trying to choose what Christ taught us. When we fail, as we often do, we seek mercy.

If our lifetime is one spent packing for the trip to Heaven, then what can you take with you in your one bag? In one of my Lectio Divina Meditations (Philippians 2:5) I had thoughts that my bag is that cup you see in the photo above. I take with me those things consistent with what God taught us. My heaven will be different than your because of the choices you made in your lifetime. Good choices go to Heaven, while bad choices send us to Purgatory or to Hell, the place where we can get it right the second time. If we reject God in his presence, like Lucifer did, we will live in Hell what the center of our life was. If, like Adam and Eve, we get a second chance to love others as Christ loves us, then God will judge us justly and compassionately as we await our purification. In Heaven, I can take with me love, hope and faith that I encountered on my journey. Is any of this true? We must wait until we meet Christ at the Throne of the Lamb to know for sure. Until then, we have the Hope that comes from the Holy Spirit that tells us to be faithful and keep seeking mercy for ourselves and give mercy to others.

Every human has the tools of reasoning and the ability to make choices. What choices we make depends on how we relate to what is real for us and the values that we have assumed as part of what is meaningful for each of us. But where do we find out what is the truth? What is the way we need to journey to fulfill our destiny in the physical and mental universe? What is the meaning of life for us? Where do we find that out? The limitations of our human existence dictate that we only live for seventy or eighty years.

In my thinking about three universes, the third one, the Spiritual Universe, is couched in mystery and is unlike the other two universes (physical and mental). If the physical universe is the platform for humans to discover what is true, a way of life that is meaningful, and the fulfillment of what it means to be human, then the mental universe allows humans to use languages to uncover some of these mysteries. As we become more and more sophisticated in our mental capabilities, our languages begin to open up what had hitherto been closed to us, we know more at this stage or our human development than we ever did. The problem with seeing one unified theory of reality is the Tower of Babel effect, (Genesis 11 http://www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/11) We use the mental universe as the bridge-builder between what we can see and what we can’t see that is of meaning to us (e.g. trust, love, respect, caring). This mental universe of reason and free will allows us to approach the next level of reality, the Spiritual Universe. This third universe is the fulfillment of the first two (physical and mental). It contains the answers to questions that each and every person must answer correctly before they die:

  • What is the purpose of life?
  • What is the purpose of your life?
  • What does reality look like?
  • How does it all fit together?
  • How do you love fiercely?
  • You know you are going to die, now what?

There is a catch. You must have an invitation to enter it. The good news is that all humans have an automatic invitation due to the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. They may not even know they have it so they don’t use it. It is like a credit card that everyone gets at their birth. It is a gift from God, an invitation to become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, brother to Christ, with the energy of the Holy Spirit. All is takes is cashing it in (Baptism) and being open to the Spirit in their lives. The Spiritual Universe begin with Baptism. All those collective Baptisms and Confirmations are called by the name Catholic Universal Church (those still on earth awaiting deliverance, those Saints and saints in Heaven standing before the Throne of the Lamb, giving honor, power and glory to the Father through the Son with the energy of the Holy Spirit, those who, in God’s mercy get a second chance to proclaim Jesus as Lord and atone for their sins). All of us have access to the grace of God (energy) to seek God daily where we are and as we are. Each day must be a stand alone testimony to the love of Christ for us.

The Spiritual Universe begins with Baptism and God’s gift of adoption as sons and daughter. Christ gives us the way to go, what is true, and how to live life in such a way that we end up with Him forever as our Lord and Savior. As you have already experienced, it is one thing to be Baptized but quite another to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) each and every day. Left to our own sinful tendencies, we could not survive the onslaughts of Original Sin and temptations by the Devil, and would easily succumb to the seductions of the flesh (Galatians 5). The Spiritual Universe does not have an ending, unlike the physical and mental universes.

So, once we enter the Spiritual Universe, what do we do? The one rule we all have to attempt to complete is “love one another as Christ loves us?” As soon as we begin to understand what that means, it becomes clear that God has given us the Holy Spirit in one another to help us. Not only that, but Jesus told us that his grace is sufficient. An interesting thing about Faith and grace and God’s energy is that it can be lost. How can we sustain our love for others? Like any relationship, it takes communication between you and Christ, it requires you to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus every day. (Philippians 2:5) A particularly haughty Christian man once asked me in a condescending way, “Have you been saved?” I told him, “Each day for the past 24,984 days, I have been saved by the blood of the Lamb and I have tried to accept Christ as Son of God, Savior. Some days are better than others.” His jaw dropped open. Here are three things that I practice as part of my Lay Cistercian approach to spirituality (Trappist).

Every day, just as I eat food to sustain me and drink water to hydrate me, I try to practice humility and obedience to God’s will by doing Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), Eucharist (after COVID-19 is over), Liturgy of the Hours (www.divineoffice.org), and reading Scriptures in silence and solitude.

Every day, I pray at 2:30 a.m. to be with Saint Michael, my patron Saint and ask him to sit with me as I pray to the Father for mercy and a spirit of penance and reparation for my sins. I often do a mini-Lectio Divina in the morning. Do you know something? The Holy Spirit is up at 2:30 a.m.

Every day, I try to think of my life in a single day. Everything we know has a beginning and an end. With this attitude in mind, I seek God daily wherever I am, and as I am. It doesn’t matter what life experiences come my way. That in all things, God be glorified. –St. Benedict

The Spiritual Universe, beginning with my Baptism and lasting Forever, is the paradigm shift that I had to make and sustain. Life is not easy sometimes, but just because your road is rocky doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. Taking up my cross daily, I have Christ with me in whatever challenges face me. As I seem to progress in moving from self to God, I think I am less nervous and worry only about seeking first the kingdom of heaven. That works nicely for me. I sense a peaceful blanket that overshadows me. The peace that Christ talks about is not the absence of strife or conflict but rather the presence of Love.

Who is most powerful in the Spiritual Universe? It is pure love, pure mind, pure heart. It is a God so far beyond us that it took Christ, Son of God, to be our Savior, not only to tell us the truth, but to show each of us how to fulfill our destiny as human beings.

USING THE THREE UNIVERSES TO SEEK GOD

I use the three universes to help me look at the difference between what the World says is true and what the Spirit tells me. Look once more at the photo of the cup.

PHYSICAL UNIVERSE: Look at the cup from the viewpoint of the physical universe. What do you see? Think about what you see, only the physical properties, colors, textures. Do this for ten minutes. Write down what you see.

MENTAL UNIVERSE: Now, look at the same photo of the cup from the viewpoint of reason and choice. What do you see? What can this mean? Who is the cup? What is the significance of the window? What lies beyond the window? Look at this photo for fifteen minutes. What does it mean from the viewpoint of just the World?

SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE: If you are the cup and it signifies who you are, what did you fill the cup of salvation with? How does this photo describe original sin? Is the window like looking at Heaven through a frosted glass? Where does all this take you Take twenty minutes just to look at it, close your eyes, then look at it again. Make it the only focus you have. Listen with the “ear of the heart”.

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seeking god at the va clinic

I had an appointment at the VA Clinic in Tallahassee, Florida today. I never know what the day will bring but that doesn’t matter. I try to seek God wherever I am. I finished my business then got on the elevator to go from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor and out to my car. I was thinking about my Lectio Divina I had this morning. I stood there for the longest moment and thought, Why am I not moving? Is the elevator stuck? The answer was, the elevator was not stuck but I was. Then it hit me. That is like me sitting on a park bench in the cold of winter waiting for God to come to visit me. After getting a little annoyed with God for standing me up, I realized that God was sitting next to me all the time, but it was I who was stuck. Like the elevator, all I had to do was press the button for the 1st floor, but I was so preoccupied with myself that I stuck. All I had to do is press the button. All I had to do is abandon my will and seek God as God is and where God is and all God to be who he is, and all my worries fade away.

Praise to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, The God who is, who was, and who will be at the end of the ages. –Cistercian doxology

HOW GOD SPEAKS TO ALL OF US.

How does God speak with us? In the Old Testament, the Prophets gave us insights into what God wants of us. In the New Testament, Jesus gives us how to love others by doing what he does for us. The Holy Spirit speaks directly to and through the Apostles. And finally, he speaks through each one of us. But there is a problem. How do you know it is the Holy Spirit speaking and not Satan putting thoughts in your mind. The answer for me comes in the form of using three filters or measures of whatever I say to ensure I am not speaking for God when all I am doing is trying to listen to God as He communicates through contemplative prayer and practices.

FIRST: Any communication from the Holy Spirit through Christ in any Lay Cistercian practices (Lectio Divina, Reading Scriptures, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, Forgiveness, and Mercy) must be consistent with Sacred Scripture. Remember the reason for Scripture at all? John 20:30-31. Scripture, according to Brother Michael, O.C.S.O., our Lay Cistercian instructor, gave us a retreat and said that Scriptures are the love letters God had different people write down for us so that we might follow God’s will and not our own. God knows all too well that humans live in a condition of Original Sin, the effects of the sin of Adam and Eve. He does not leave us orphans, floundering on a sea of relativistic opinions about who God is.

SECONDLY: Anytime God speaks to me, I must look to my spiritual heritage, won at the price of the blood of martyrs and those who live their lives with Christ as their center, to be consistent with the three Creeds of our Faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed. https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04478a.htm; https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2711.htm

IN THE THIRD PLACE: God speaks through the Church Universal. As an individual, I can receive inspiration and grace through the Holy Spirit but it must be consistent with the traditions and heritage that come down through each age. The Church is the fiery crucible in which extraneous practices and theories must withstand the heat of the way, the truth, and the life. The Ecumenical Councils are examples of how Faith flows down to us (not the other way around).

My personal thoughts are purified by running the gauntlet of time and heritage.

God speaks to us in many ways, on tablets of stone, in the burning bush, in dreams, in the writings of the Prophets and New Testament authors, and through those who wear the Shoes of the Fisherman. Ultimately, Christ is the beginning and the end (Alpha and Omega), the one measure that all measures must agree, the one principle from which everything flows, the one center that is folly to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews.

In Baptism, I was given adoption as a son of the Father, a gift undeserving of me but won at the price of Christ’s supreme act of love by dying and rising from the dead. The Holy Spirit does speak through and to me, but, lest I become swollen by the false thinking that I represent the Church Universal in my thoughts, I must constantly remind myself that I must “have in me the mind of Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 2:5) I am a member of the living Body of Christ, but I am not the whole Body.

Does God speak just to those who are Catholic? How about the Holy Spirit? If you think so, then you and Adam have something in common, pride. I don’t worry who the Spirit speaks to, I only worry that I might be open to what the Holy Spirit is telling me and through others.

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SLOW DOWN! lISTEN TO YOUR HEART

I use photos to help in my focus and concentration as I do Lectio (Philippians 2:5.) meditation, prayer and, hopefully, contemplation. This photo has significance for me because it comes close to describing what I think contemplation might be.

Contemplation is sitting on a bench in the dead of winter, snow covering everything, cold as can be, and I am waiting for Christ to sit next to me. The bench is silence and solitude. The snow is the cold of the effects of original sin (forgiven at Baptism), still producing its effects on my life as I seek God daily as I am and where I am. I realize after a time that Christ may not be coming to sit on my bench, and then it hits me. He has been here all along and it is I who must choose to sit on His bench and wait for whatever He wants to share with me.

Look at the photo above for several minutes, then close your eyes. Slow down! Listen to your heart. Listen to the heart of Christ. What say you?

SHARING INTERNET SITES I USE

Every so often, I look around my house and think about all the nice but not necessary THINGS I have accumulated over the years. It seems I am a functional hoarder and not a dysfunctional one. Every so often, my wife says we should dump some clothes and unused furniture and appliances, so I guess that means we are not dysfunctional. I have accumulated Internet files that I have saved in the same way. Every so often, I must purge the list of those which I never use. This blog is a list of those sites that have remained after my Internet cleaning. Here are a few that I find compelling and which I use or have used in my blog. You may also find of interest and want to bookmark them in your Contemplation files.

CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The Rule of St. Benedict | Benedictine | Chicago | Catholic Universities

Catechism of the Catholic Church – Expressions of prayer

Church promulgates new decrees for Causes of Saints – Vatican News

19 June 1535 – 3 Carthusian Monks Hanged, Drawn and Quartered – The Anne Boleyn Files

Strong’s Hebrew: 1350. גָּאַל (gaal) — to redeem, act as kinsman

Catholic Saints, Blesseds, and Venerables Index -C

Notable Monks & Nuns | Cistercians of the Strict Observance

Revised Grail Psalter Conception GIA

Egyptian prayer to Virgin Mary—Aleteia

Hand pressure points: Chart and uses

Anticipating the Glorified State | Trappist-Cistercian Order

Rabbi – Biblical Cyclopedia

Amazon.com: Dr. Michael F. Conrad: Books

The Love of Solitude and Silence — Catholic Sacramentals

CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Angels

Chapter 4: The Tools for Good Works – Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert

TOP 25 QUOTES BY THOMAS AQUINAS (of 335) | A-Z Quotes

The Screwtape Letters Quotes by C.S. Lewis

contemplation research

The Ideal of the Monastic Life Found in the Apostolic Age – Germain Morin – Google Books

PARADOXES

Handel – Messiah – by London Philharmonic (Complete Concerto/Full) – YouTube

quo vadis – Dictionary definition of quo vadis | Encyclopedia.com: FREE online dictionary

“The Mystery of God” – Sample Lesson – YouTube

Catholic Rites and Churches

https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org

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Youtube clips that have helped me in contemplation

In my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), I have found that, when trying to seek God each day wherever I am and as I am, I try to look at the reality in front of me with the love of Christ in my heart and let what comes, be. One day, I was looking at Youtube, that forum for vlogging the best and worst of us, and had the following thought: How have all the Youtube clips that I have seen helped me to move from self to God.

THE DEVIL — I have always had a problem visualizing what the Devil looks like. Although this is not theological, I think the Devil looks a lot like me, when I fail to love others as Christ loves us. I have always loved the movie, The Little Prince, having incorporated several ideas that have led me to a deeper understanding of myself. Not that I am there, yet, but I am daily trying to seek God where I am and as I am. The next two Youtubes excerpts I found in the Movie, The Little Prince. This first clip looks at the Devil as portrayed by one of my favorite choreographers, the late Bob Fosse. Make sure you listen to the words very carefully Just look at the clip one time, then think about one thing that stands out for you, then look at it the second time. What do you see? Ask yourself how what you saw reminds you of our idea of the Devil?

THE DEVIL AS SNAKE IN THE GRASS

ALLOWING GOD TO TAME US

A profound thought from Youtube is this next clip. It is a visualization of the process of contemplation, how Christ prepares our hearts to receive love. We must be tamed, which takes time and struggle. Look at this clip and ask yourself what happens when Christ tames you. How does that happen?

Because God tames us, we can love others, as Christ loves us.

TEARING DOWN DESTROYS BUT MAKING ALL THINGS NEW CREATES

If you tear down the laws of humans or the laws of God with what will you fill the void? Yourself? Read this clip from Robert Bolt’s play and movie, The Man for All Seasons. If you will, read this blog three times. The first time just look at it and listen in silence. Then, read it again, this time write down the values that are talked about in the clip. The third time, read it with the viewpoint of fill up the void with God (love others as Jesus has loved us).

TRUE CONFESSIONS

Just relax.

Part I
Part II

WHAT DEFINES US IS NOT OUR SKILLS BUT OUR CHOICES

That we have the ability to choose what we want does not make us free. What defines us is what we choose that which will enable us to live forever. We have two fundamental choices: what the world says is meaningful and what God tells us is meaningful.

We are defined by our choices.

Think about the choice that Adam and Eve had. Think about the choice that Jesus had to make in the Garden of Gethsemani (at least the human nature side of him). Think of the choice you made at Baptism to respond to the Holy Spirit to be an adopted son or daughter of the Father. Each day, each and every day, I try to seek God wherever I am, as I am, in the silence and solitude of my heart through Eucharist, Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, Reading Sacred Scripture. Some days are better than others. My choice, confirmed each and every day, must be to love others as Christ loves us. I am not there yer, nor do I ever expect to be.

SILENCE AND SOLITUDE AND THE LEAP OF FAITH

I seek God every day in whatever setting I find myself, not always consciously, but always as my North on the compass of my life. Silence and Solitude help me sit on a park bench in the middle of Winter waiting for Christ to sit down next to me. As I sit there, I realize that Christ has been there all along but it was I who did not show up. The language of contemplation is Love from one Being to another being. The product of this transformation is Love of Christ overshadowing me in silence and solitude; it is the Peace of Christ that slowly whiffs over me, a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of Love; it is the slow release of everything that ties me to the world, language, thoughts, my personal agendas, trying to tell God what Faith and Love is; it is the abandonment of all my defense mechanisms that I have erected to keep Love from hurting me and making a fool out of me; it is totally throwing myself on God’s mercy, not as I know mercy but waiting for God to come into my mind and heart and sweep away all that the world says is meant for something much deeper; it is being in the presence of Being and just sitting there. Do I always attain this supreme feeling of being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit? No. But I do always try to seek God each day in the hopes that I can learn to love God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength, and my neighbor as myself. (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:36)

Here is a clip from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusader which helped me with my Faith.

The leap of Faith.

REMEMBER, THAT YOU ARE DUST AND INTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN

The penitent man or woman realizes who they are compared to God. In humility, they seek nothing more than to sit in the back bench of church with their eyes lowered, slowly repeating over and over the ancient Jesus Prayer:Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Here is a Youtube that I use frequently in my blog to help me see just how important my attempts at success and power are in my lifetime.

Sic transeat gloria mundi

KNOWING JESUS DEPENDS ON WHO YOUR JESUS IS

Here are some Youtube sites for you to access. They are from Bishop Robert Barron. I find all of them very compelling. https://www.wordonfire.org/

TEARING DOWN RATHER THAN MAKING ALL THINGS NEW

Here are some thoughts to ponder.

  • When we tear down something rather than reform it, we have nothing to replace it with except our self. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2a2fAEQaGo
  • Any reform based on justice without mercy is not only doomed to fail but will fail its supporters.
  • You can have hatred for a system without looking at the human faces that populate it, whatever side you are on.
  • Those iconoclasts who think that they improve anything by destroying it are doomed to worship at the Golden Calf of their own failures.
  • Any movement, any religion, any constitution that does not include all the people will eventually be overthrown by the weight of its own failure to love others.
  • In the heat of hatred and fear, the tyranny of a few can overthrow and seduce the many.
  • Only love can heal the human heart. When those who hate everyone turn all their energies to helping people to love as Christ loves us, then we can move forward.
  • Causing factions (Galatians 5) will not allow those with hatred in their hearts to banish justice. “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkiZuu79N_I How do you tame your own heart in relationship to God? isn’t this called contemplation, sitting on a park bench in the midst of winter, waiting for Christ to stop by?
  • Making all things new is only possible with Christ so doesn’t it stand to reason that humans must seek mercy and forgiveness and try to heal those wounds that cause cuts in our hearts. To heal the cuts love is the only cure that lasts.
  • The Devil has surely convinced people that they are correct in following the choices of Adam and Eve rather than of Christ (“Love others, as I have loved you.”). The Devil seduces us with the promise that breaking down will cause a building up. See the sssseducation of the snake in this video clip from The Little Prince. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUTEhEPONgc We don’t even realize what is going on because we measure truth by our own feelings and not from God. What has God got to do with this anyway?

In the larger sense, all that is going on in today’s world, or any period of time, is a reflection that humans have still not learned to love and that we need Christ to help us make all things new.

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STRENGTH TRAINING FOR BECOMING MORE LIKE CHRIST

One of the ways to approach the Sacred is to follow a daily routine. Some people call it a habit. Here is a challenge. Try to do these practices for 30 days, then sit down and think about it. If you are unable to do so, you might want to consider if your spirituality needs to go to the gym.  Here are some exercises that I do nearly every day in my quest to seek God in daily living.

DAILY PRACTICES

Place this aide on your mirror. When you wake up in the morning, offer everything you do today as glory to the Father and for the grace to do God’s will, through Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Monday: In reparation for my sins and those of the Church, those on my prayer list

Tuesday: For all family, friends, teachers, classmates from St. Meinrad Seminary, those on my prayer list

Wednesday: In honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Joseph, those on my prayer list

Thursday: For all Lay Cistercians, Monks of Holy Spirit Monastery, Monks of St.Meinrad Archabbey, priests and religious of Diocese of Evansville, Monks of Norcia, Italy and  those on my prayer list

Friday: For an increase in grace to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and my neighbor as myself.

Saturday: For all deceased, an increase in my faith through the Holy Spirit and for those on my prayer list.

Sunday: To give praise, honor, and glory to the Father through the Son by means of the Holy Spirit, the God who is, was, and is to come at the end of the ages

FIDELITY TO THE LIFE OF ONE WHO IS SIGNED WITH THE SIGN OF FAITH

In my life, it is important that I have a schedule to follow. I refuse to be used by a schedule (feeling that I have sinned if I don’t adhere to it perfectly) but would rather use it to help me seek God where I am and as I am, each day. I share with you my daily practices. I must emphasize the word “daily”. It is such a simple word but has crushed me more times than I would like to admit. These habits are what I do daily and I do not wish to impose them on you. You may wish to try some of them or none of them. If you do try them, do them daily and feel the struggle that it takes to be worthy of being an adopted son or daughter of the Father.

 EACH DAY, READ CHAPTER 4 OF THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT. NO EXCEPTIONS! — the Rule contains practices offered to his monks by St. Benedict (c. 540 AD). Most of the chapters contain practical guides on how to organize the daily lives of monks of his time.  If you go to this site, you will find a wealth of information about St. Benedict and also a tutorial from the Abbott on the meaning of each chapter of the Holy Rule. The key here is asking God to become what you are reading. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict Here are some of the Chapters of the Holy Rule that I use to take up my cross daily and follow Christ.

  • Prologue
  • Chapter 4 Tools for Good Works
  • Chapter 5 Obedience
  • Chapter 7 Obedience
  • Chapter 19 The Discipline of Psalmody
  • Chapter 20 Reverence in Prayer

I read and try to practice these Chapters as one who is a professed Lay Cistercian of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) in Georgia, always mindful of the lifetime promises I made to Christ through the Abbott, Dom Augustine, O.C.S.O. I am not a monk living in a monastery. My monastery is the limits of my world in which I seek to find meaning. I am challenged to adapt the Rule to help me seek God daily where I am and as I am. Some days are better than others. I have discovered that it is the time I take trying to calm myself down so as to present myself to God properly, that is also a prayer.

EACH DAY, RECITE THE OFFICE OF READINGS, THE MORNING PRAYER, AND THE EVENING PRAYER. These prayers are prayers of the Church Universal. Somewhere in the world, the faithful are reciting these prayers in praise of the Father through the Son in union with the Holy Spirit. They are public prayers of reparation for the sins and shortcomings of the Church and all members. It is praise and thanksgiving to the Father for considering us as adopted sons and daughters. Since before c 540 (St. Benedict), holy men and women have been praying these prayers seven times a day, 365 days a year, continuous prayer for all of us to the Father that He grant us mercy, sinners all. These Hours are not limited to “just Catholics”.  There is no such thing as Catholic prayers. Our Catholic heritage contains prayers that have been part of our tradition for twenty centuries. Anyone can pray these prayers because we don’t pray to the Catholic Church or any Church. Prayer is our communication with Christ, mind to mind, heart to heart, and also to love others as Christ loves us. No one can say that Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit. Ecumenical groups also pray the Liturgy of the Hours together and are linked together by the Universal Prayer of the Church.

Watch the example of one of the Hours from Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), in Georgia.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbE92dFGG50  What did you notice about this prayer? I was struck by how slow the monks sang hymns and prayed the Psalms. It was like walking on honey. 

EACH DAY, READ OR LISTEN TO SACRED SCRIPTURE — Some people read the Scripture to prove they are better than anyone else. How far away are they from the Kingdom of Heaven. St. John writes about why we have the Scriptures in John 20:30-31 when he says: “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

The biblical quotation is from a website you should bookmark under CATHOLIC UNIVERSAL. It is the website of the Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) http://www.usccb.org/

EACH DAY, IN FACT, SEVERAL TIMES A DAY, DO LECTIO DIVINA.– When I first began doing Lectio Divina on June of 1963, I was very scrupulous to follow Guigo II’s Ladder of Contemplation. As I approach the end of my life on earth, I am much more forgiving of following the steps of Guigo II.  I pray Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) without realizing that there are steps.  Even seven years ago, when I first became interested in applying to be a Lay Cistercian, I have found myself having one, long session of Lectio. Now, my Lectio sessions total one, sometimes two hours per day, but I spread that out over three or four shorter sessions. My daily schedule is flexible, yet strict enough, that I pray at least once a day at 2:30 a.m. (twenty minutes), then do my Lectio Divina at my computer at 6:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., after Compline. This is how I do it. Interestingly, during my self-imposed house quarantine, I have found more emphasis on contemplation and silence and solitude. Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer, collective recitation of the Rosary, are virtual or via on-line services.  I appreciate trying to seek God every day as I am and where I am.  If you are looking for a challenging read, open this URL, and read about the four steps of the Ladder. http://www.umilta.net/ladder.html

The transformation from self to God is not stopped by the COVID 19 virus, nor by hateful people wishing to destroy what they cannot control. 

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THE MYSTERIOUS WHY QUESTION

Humans differ from other species because we have reason (some more than others) and the ability to choose good or evil (no one chooses what they think is bad for them). The problem comes when humans think something is good for them but don’t realize the unintended consequences of their choice. Scripture tells us “the wages of sin in death”. We don’t always choose what is good for us. Case in point, Genesis 2-3 where the archetype humans, Adam and Eve, choose what they think is good for them, even though God tells them “don’t do it'”.

The fact that we have reason for a reason means we can ask questions. Have you ever asked your dog or cat a question, such as “What is your gender?” Why is it that we can answer that question and animals can’t?

I even bring up this topic because it was the result of my most recent Lectio Divina (Philippians). I was thinking, not of the usual WHY question, such as “Why are humans the only ones who know that they know?” I actually thought of Philippians 2:5, the very center of my reality, and asked, “Why did St. Paul write this passage? Where did it come from? Was there a template for him to use, like the Hero myth format of ancient Greece and Rome, that tells the life story or a person and how he had to overcome obstacles but rose up to conquer them? What went before St. Paul that would give him the linkage with ideas from the past, one on which he could build?” As I thought of all this, I realized that much of the new testament, although linked with the old testament prophets, was new material. Where did the writers get it? Some of those who espouse the historical Jesus approach think his disciples made up all of this stuff. Maybe so, but how could they come up with all these new ideas that fit some well together? Were these early disciples a Ph.D. in religion, or a religious fanatic that believes in just one aspect of the divine economy of salvation (e.g. end times)?

Not even the lofty thoughts of the Romans or Greeks of Christ’s time thought of such a well-developed system of how to love others as Christ loved us. The fact that this fledgling movement began with twelve terrified men who did not fully comprehend how Christ loved us is, in itself, amazing. St. Paul develops a rationale for the Messiah, the one who is to come. Remember, most of these letters were read and reread in the Jewish memorial of their deliverance from slavery, the Last Supper. These teachings of the Master spread quickly. Why is that? Belief is key in this early Church, but that belief was in someone who was rumored to have died and was seen afterward by many different groups of disciples. There is just too much collaborative writing and belief from various groups to think that all of this happened by chance. St. John, in his Gospel 20:30-31 tells us WHY many different scribes and disciples wrote down what Jesus did. “John 20: 30-31 NRSVCE – The Purpose of This Book (NRSVCE)The Purpose of This Book30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah,[b] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

  • Remember this! Our believing, the believing of anyone in the Church Universal does not make something true.
  • Rather, because it comes from God (Faith) we believe it is true. Some will choose to believe and some will not.
  • The reason WHY we have reason is to discover the kingdom of heaven. The reason WHY we have reason is to be able to discern good from evil.
  • The reason WHY we have the freedom to choose is to be able to choose that which is good. God tells us what is good.
  • The reason Christ took on our nature was to show us WHY God loved us.
  • All the writings from Scripture and the early Church tell us that God loves us and that we should love others as Christ loves us.
  • There are actually only two choices we have to make: I am God and the center of my universe; and, God is the center of all reality and I choose to do his will.
  • Choose God and live now and forever.
  • Choose yourself as god and die, eventually hoping that God has a sense of humor and did not mean what he said.

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