Sunday, July 31, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 29

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 29th step:



(29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).



St. Benedict references two Scripture passages with this counsel. The first is from Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians, "See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all," (1 Thess. 5:15). The next is from the First Letter of Peter, "Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing," (1 Pet. 3:9).



The motivation for this is clearly stated in Peter's letter when he says that the Lord is against those who do evil. Get it?



If we return evil for evil, then we are evildoers.



If we are in God, then we will only have love and peace to give. Like Christ we will forgive our enemies, we will return their hatred with God's love.



Doesn't it sound humanly impossible to do this? It is, but for God all things are possible.



These steps continually make us aware, like a mega examination of conscience that we need to pray continuously. Prayer is essential because in order to live out the Gospel message, God must be in our every breath.



Our prayer should always be for the other's good.



Is there anyone that could make heaven hell for you? Then you'd better pray for that person. Pray that good will happen to them, that their heart will be touched, and that in the process your heart may also be changed to accept them.



Often love and hate are flip sides of the same coin.



Our Lord's cross is for a sign of victory, for the world it is a sign of defeat. Jesus told his disciples that he has overcome the world, how we respond to evil in our lives shows who we belong to---Jesus or the world.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 28

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 28th step:



(28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue.



St. Benedict's counsel here is geared toward a conversion of feelings, so that the truth I speak with my mouth, I also feel in my heart. Of course, such truth will be spoken with conviction.



Many of us know instinctively what is true, we just don't feel like paying any attention to it. Conversion of "feelings" is an important part of opening oneself to God.



If you don't feel like converting to the truth, it is because some untruth has grabbed your heart. Opening your heat to God's love will have a surprising result--you will literally feel the truth.



Too often we look toward those who should model religious faith but instead wear their faith for all to see. Jesus condemns the Pharisees and hypocrites of his day because they keep the tax collectors and prostitutes from coming to the Kingdom of God by their example. In other words they make religious belief in God seem unattractive.



Our eyes should always be focused on Christ. We shouldn't look to anyone else.



The people who encountered Him were drawn to Him. So will we be.



Then speaking the truth will be a matter of allowing the tongue to proclaim what the heart feels.

Friday, July 29, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 27

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 27th step:



(27) Not to swear, lest perchance one swear falsely.



To "swear" in this case means to take a vow. St. Benedict warns in this counsel that we should not take oaths out of fear that we might do so falsely. Why would this be the case?



Jesus commanded his disciples not to swear. In the Gospel of Matthew, he says, " But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil," (Matthew 5:34-37).



Our Lord knows well that we do not know ourselves very well. When He told his disciples that one of them would betray him, they all denied it. Peter spoke the loudest and Our Lord warned him that he would betray him before the cock crowed twice. Notice what Peter does at the crucial moment:

"Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, 'I do not know the man.' And immediately the cock crowed," (Matthew 26: 74). He swears falsely.



Unfortunately people continue to swear oaths that they may humanly incapable of fulfilling. It is interesting that within Christianity this command of Jesus has slowly been abrogated. But the truth of what Jesus said and here St. Benedict counsels remains.



None of us knows what the future holds. None of us knows if we will be able to fulfill any vow five or ten years from now. We can promise, ask God's blessing upon our promise and go where God leads us. But as Jesus says anything else is from the evil one.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 26

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 26th step:





(26) Not to forsake charity.



There are times when our hearts can grow cold and we can close ourselves off from either accepting love or giving it. Often this is because of some evil that we have either had done to us or have experienced in some way.



No matter how bad it gets, St. Benedict here wisely counsels us to never forsake charity--love.



When our hearts grow cold, we need to open the door to the Lord's love and ask him to burn away anything that keeps us from being vessels of his charity both to ourselves and to others. It is His Love that conquers all and it ultimately is His Love that heals all wounds.



If we feel at anytime that we really do not feel like being loved or loving--we need to examine ourselves and to see what has crept into our lives and is taking the place of God. A coldness of heart is always an indication that we have put something else in God's place in our lives.



"Not to forsake charity" applies in all circumstances in life. Charity as a translation for caritas, which can also be translated "love", is a good way to remind us that love is always requires "giving." When we do not wish to give, it is often because we feel we have nothing to give. But if we allow ourselves to be filled with God's love, we will always have more than enough.



One need only think of a Mother Teresa, frail and old, walking and greeting all that cross her path. Or a Pope John Paul II bent over with age, ignoring no one. It is not physical strength that allows a person to act in this manner but Divine Love.



It is available to you, in the same way as it is available to them.



Do not forsake this great gift that God wishes to give you, nor to share it with all who cross your path this day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 25

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 25th step:



(25) Not to make a false peace.



This may catch us by surprise. We might reason, wouldn't some semblance of peace be better than war. But, again if we think about the ramifications of someone who we think is at peace with us but really isn't, we can see how damaging this "show" of peace can be in the long run.



St. Benedict isn't saying that we shouldn't be at peace with everyone, he is telling us not to make a "false" peace with anyone.



We are to be honest, as the previous counsel has instructed us. We are to make peace with our brother or sister that is genuine this step counsels us.



But what if we find ourselves incapable of being at peace with someone?



We must bring our warring heart to God.



People, from a distance, often are amazed at how certain groups of the same people can foster hatred toward one another over so many years. Sometimes it is religious belief (in the case of most religions, it is against the very belief that they fight over) that keeps people enemies. Military might is often used, sometimes by a third party to keep the peace. But as history proves time and again such peace is no peace at all. Soon the parties are warring with one another again often with a conflict that has inflamed while it was dormant.



What then?



If we hold peace with each other as a goal, then we must use every means to achieve that goal. Most of the time peace is achieved by simply acknowledging the others right to exist with dignity and to acknowledge their right to believe differently. What this requires for both parties to reach this goal mutually, is for both of their egos to die.



For the follower of Christ this is not an option.



"Love your enemies." "If they press you to go one mile, go two." "If they strike you on one cheek, offer the other." "Forgive seventy times seven."



Amazing how anyone who follows Christ could ever set out to make anything other than true peace.



Our Lord's parting words to His disciples was, "My peace I give you, not as the world gives do I give." He was probably referring to the fact that at the time (and even today in Israel) that people didn't say "Goodbye" but rather they said "Peace." The Romans said Pax Vobiscum, the Israelites said  Shalom.



But did they mean it? It was a convention and very well often was said with no conviction.



Our Lord's peace is not a convention, it is true. We should follow His example and make true peace with all we encounter.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 24

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 24th step:



(24) Not to entertain deceit in the heart.



Our Lord is the way, the truth and the life. Anything that tempts us toward falseness is not of Him. Again, St. Benedict warns us not even to "entertain" the idea of deceit in our emotions, symbolized by the heart.



Everyone deserves the truth. As Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and it shall set you free."



Unfortunately many people do not believe that the truth is helpful to others. To quote a phrase from the movie A Few Good Men, that was a favorite of students that I once taught Ethics to, "You can't handle the truth," seems to be most people's guiding principle.



Doctors are not honest with patients who come to them expecting honesty. Parents, sometimes keep the truth from their children, leading them to search for it elsewhere. Even bishops now are not known for standing for the truth but rather hiding and trying to conceal it.



The result of such deceit lives with us for years. It destroys our capacity to trust. One can see how it could destroy a tight knit community like a monastery, but we should not let that excuse us.



A meditation on the effects of deceit that we have been on the receiving end might help us to appreciate why as St. Benedict counsels us, we should not even entertain the idea of being that way to anyone.



Everyone deserves the truth. The truth is a good and valuable commodity. Whatever perceived good we might think that hiding the truth from someone might bring, usually back fires.



St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the natural purpose of speech is to communicate the truth. Can you imagine a bird warning of an intruder to another bird , if in fact there is no intruder? A dog barking out lies to another dog?



Yet we humans can abuse this gift of speech that we have at our disposal.



Ultimately, it is a choice to reject God and to make something else a god in our lives. Whatever we feel is more important than telling the truth is what we really believe in. Our reputation, our pride or our sins all can keep us from fulfilling this counsel.



The confessional, then is a good place to begin. Opening our hearts to God and not even entertaining the thought of deceiving Him. As St. Paul says, "God will not be mocked."



God not only can handle the truth about us, He can teach us the truth about ourselves. Something usually hidden from the deceitful person.

Monday, July 25, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 23

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 23rd step:



(23) Not to foster a desire for revenge.



One of the genius' of St. Benedict's steps is that he teaches the monk to pay attention to what it in his heart. In the previous step it was anger that he counseled we should not give "way to, now it is revenge that we should not "foster a desire" for. If you have been hurt by someone you have a choice how you will respond to that hurt. Our Lord counseled us to forgive, forgive, forgive.



Forgiveness is more than just saying, "I pardon you," to those who hurt us. It also requires an act of the heart that we actually wish the best for our enemy--who may very knowingly and willfully have hurt us.



This usually shocks people.



"Why should I?" "Isn't doing so, making what they did to me right?"



No, in doing so you are not making them or what they did "God" in your life.



Too often we are motivated by anger and desires that have nothing to do with God but everything to do with what other people have done to us. We are not free as a result, but merely puppets of those who have hurt or harmed us in the past.



Not fostering a desire for revenge may seem impossible in some cases--but everytime that we are faced with a task that seems impossible to us--there is a new opening to our great need for God.



That's why these are "steps" toward communion with God, because they make us face our great need for Him at every twist and turn of our lives.



In the same way that "lust" can lead one to commit acts of infidelity--so too in this case fostering a desire for revenge can only lead to the victim becoming the perpetrator of an evil act themselves. Better to cut the growth of something evil at the very roots and "fostering the desire" of something evil is the root of an evil act.

Friday, July 22, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 22

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the 22nd step:



(22) Not to give way to anger.



Whenever Christians think of anger, they usually think of Jesus cleaning house in the Temple. If Jesus got angry, then why is anger a bad thing, most reason? I could add a few more scenes from the Gospel. When Jesus' disciples awaken him during a storm, he stills the storm and then reacts in anger--rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith (this should not be lost on anyone who has ever been awaken from a sound sleep--which obviously Jesus was enjoying and is a sign of his deep trust in God). When Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the time, he does not refrain from reacting angrily to what they say and do.



So it is obvious that anger has a place in the perfect human life of which Our Lord's is an example. There are times when anger is the right reaction. When we see someone being abused or misled it is appropriate and even holy to be angry--as long as we do something about the anger. It should motivate us to act out in a righteous way.



But "to give way" to anger is another way of saying "to let it fester," or "to let it take over". We do nothing about it, but rather let it eat away at us. We allow it to grow into resentment and skepticism. This is neither healthy nor spiritual.



There is a certain school of spirituality that often counsels us to remain silent. Not to speak out but rather suffer silently. Of course, there is some truth to this and Our Lord's example before Pontius Pilate is an example of when such a practice is right. But there are other times when such silence would be sinful, not spiritual.



The early Christians called their movement not Christianity but "the Way." Jesus had given his followers a new path to walk. This path is a way of truthfulness and life. Reflecting on the previous step, "to prefer nothing to the love of Christ," in this step we reject making "anger" the way.



Anger has a place in creation, it was created by God for a purpose, but it's purpose is not to control us but to motivate us to act.



The imitation of Christ is the sure "way" to making sure that we do not give "way" to anger.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 21

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the 21st step:



(21) To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.



This is without a doubt the most quoted counsel of St. Benedict.



It an excellent guide for the spiritual life-- to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.



One might ask, are we to focus on being loved by Christ or the act of loving Him? I think it is both.



In Mark 10:21 we have the account of the rich young man. The Gospel says that Jesus, " looking upon him loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."



Notice that when Christ loves the rich young man, He points out what the young man lacks. It is out of love, that Jesus tells him to get rid of all his possessions.



Being loved by Christ will reveal similar deficiencies in us.



Our Lord looks upon us and recognizes what we really need. We often come to him with our own ideas about what we need.

If we prefer our ideas to the love of Christ, we too will join the rich young man who walks away sad "for his possessions were many." We may possess the world, but without Christ it is nothing!



In John 8:42, Jesus is engaged in a heated argument with those who oppose him. He says to them "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me."



This takes us back to the first counsel of St. Benedict, to love God. Jesus is God and so we should prefer nothing to God and His love that Jesus has revealed to us perfectly.



How do we know if we truly love Our Lord? He addresses this in John 14:23-24 " "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me."



A concrete way to always prefer the love of Christ throughout the day when faced with countless other choices might be to adopt the phrase that Jesus spoke to Peter and to hear it addressed to ourselves--continuously: "Do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)"

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. 20

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the twentieth step:



(20) To hold one's self aloof from worldly ways.



If you are like me, you can readily come up with a list of what "worldly ways" means, but too often this list have very little to do with what most spiritual masters mean when they use the term.



St. Benedict, again is writing these counsels for monks. Monks take a vow of obedience to an abbot. The abbot, a term that could be translated "father", watches over the monks and assigns them various tasks for the good of the monastery.



About a year ago, I visited a monastery where the abbot invited me to join the monks for dinner. During the meal taken in silence, while a monk read from one of the Fathers of the Church, several monks had to kneel in front of the abbot's table. They were being punished for some infraction of the rule that they had committed during the day (one monk told me that he had forgotten to put his napkin back in its holder).



As I sat there, in my forties, and witnessed the grown men who were around sixty years old, I momentarily thought of the ways of the world and how foolish this all seemed. But then, I remembered the counsel of Our Lord, "Unless you become like a child, you can not enter the Kingdom of God."



All of us must be like children in God's kingdom. Worldly ways might best be defined as acting in a way of a "self made man."



There is a story of a man's employer coming to the man's home for dinner one night. The employer was brash, rude and made inappropriate comments throughout the meal. All the while the young son of the employee stared at the man. Finally, the boy spoke, "my dad says that you are a self-made man."



The employer beaming, said, "Well, yes son I am."



"Why did you make yourself so bad?" The young boy asked.



Keeping aloof of worldly ways, means leaving behind any notion that we are ultimately in charge of our lives. It requires total surrender to God.



Jesus lays out the best commentary for this counsel in Matthew's Gospel, "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 body more than clothing?…So I do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil, (Matthew 6:25, 31-34)."



I like to carry the image of those monks, all dressed in black, sitting and silently eating and drinking while they listen to someone proclaim the Kingdom of God to them, as I go about my dealings everyday--never allowing myself to be drawn away from our true purpose here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 19

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the nineteenth step:



(19) To console the sorrowing.



Those who sorrow at the loss of a loved one can often seem inconsolable. In fact the Scripture passage related to the slaughter of the innocents comes to mind, "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more (Matthew 2:18)."



It is important to remember that death is not part of God's original plan. When God creates Adam and Eve, he warns them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or they will die. Death, is the result of original sin and indeed there is nothing that could console Rachel at her loss when the knowledge that death was eternal separation.



But for the Christian--there is Christ!



Death no longer is the final word. Jesus has overcome death and has opened up the possibility that all of us, if we believe in him, can share in his resurrection. The key, it would seem then to consoling the sorrowing, would be to remind them of the fruit of salvation and to point them to the mercy of God.



Yet having been there, many times, during the sad losses that people suffer--this is seldom the case. Instead, what usually occurs is the arrival of many well meaning people who announce loudly that it was God's will that the child or adult die.



It is never God's will that anyone die! Death entered the world because of sin-separation from God. God desires the salvation of all people. The angel of death that passes over the Egyptians is not a "good" angel but one who reaps the evil crop that had been sown by the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus.



Francis MacNutt and his wife Judith once presented a more accurate picture of God's place in someone's death. Speaking of how to console a sorrowful mother who has lost her child, they counseled the consoler speaking the following truth, "Death has taken your child, but God will take your child from death!"



To console, we need faith. Faith that in Christ, death is not the end.





Old churches still show forth the truth of the communion of saints, those who have died but are still very much alive and present. Most people intuitively grasp that their loved one is still alive, though not physically present. To console is to bring God's truth to the situation, God's message of salvation to the horror of a world steeped in sin.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 18

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the eigthteenth step:



(18) To help in trouble.



St. Benedict counsels us to be “helpers” something that no doubt was implanted in most of us from our youth. How can we best help others and what might keep us from reaching out to others?



When Our Lord was thirsty he asked the woman at the well for a drink. Jesus needed help. The woman rather than just giving him a drink gave him a lot of excuses. First it was racial—“You’re a Jew.”



Funny how little our reasons for not helping others changes. Our excuse might be, “You’re not family” or “You’re not Catholic” or “You’re not American” or “You’re not the same race as I.”



If God is “Our Father” who is not our brother and sister?



Saint Benedict’s counsel is simple and indeed it is the Gospel message that we are to help those in trouble. If we use excuses as a buffer to exonerate us from our duty then we risk missing out with an encounter with Our Lord who comes to us often in the guise of the poor.



The Samaritan woman’s excuse, might have kept her from meeting Jesus, had Our Lord not persisted in his desire. If our desire is to help those in need, we will not miss meeting Our Lord throughout the day.

Monday, July 11, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel - 18

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the eigthteenth step:



(18) To help in trouble.



St. Benedict counsels us to be “helpers” something that no doubt was implanted in most of us from our youth. How can we best help others and what might keep us from reaching out to others?



When Our Lord was thirsty he asked the woman at the well for a drink. Jesus needed help. The woman rather than just giving him a drink gave him a lot of excuses. First it was racial—“You’re a Jew.”



Funny how little our reasons for not helping others changes. Our excuse might be, “You’re not family” or “You’re not Catholic” or “You’re not American” or “You’re not the same race as I.”



If God is “Our Father” who is not our brother and sister?



Saint Benedict’s counsel is simple and indeed it is the Gospel message that we are to help those in trouble. If we use excuses as a buffer to exonerate us from our duty then we risk missing out with an encounter with Our Lord who comes to us often in the guise of the poor.



The Samaritan woman’s excuse, might have kept her from meeting Jesus, had Our Lord not persisted in his desire. If our desire is to help those in need, we will not miss meeting Our Lord throughout the day.

Friday, July 8, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 17




This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the seventeenth step:



(17) To bury the dead.



The most vivid memories I have of monastic life are actually those dealing with how the dead our buried. I have witnessed these events at several types of monasteries and while the particulars differ, they all share the common denominator of being terribly comfortable with a dead body.



I remember visiting a Trappist Monastery with a friend once who had never witnessed a dead body before. Somehow she had spent over 40 years on this earth without ever having been to a funeral or grave site. Protected from death by her parents, she had not bothered to confront it as an adult either. Until the fateful day when she stumbled upon it, on a visit for Evening Prayer at the monastery. Talk about shock therapy!



We were sitting toward the back of the Abbey Church with the rest of the non-monks. The monks themselves were gathered at the door awaiting the arrival of the body of their brother monk. Upon its arrival it was placed on a flat surface (no coffin) and brought forward a few feet, with the help of several feeble monks to stop a few inches from where my friend and I stood.



The pallor of the dead body, its lifeless shell spoke of the finality of the event. I’m sure my friend still wakes up in the middle of the night with the vision of that moment.



I had seen death many times before. I had even been blessed to be with several people at the moment of death, hearing their last breath escape, watching their eyes go up and out their head, giving me an understanding of why the ancients believed that the soul came in from the top of the head and when it left a body escaped from the same portal.



In some ways the moment of death can be likened to something of a whimper. It seldom is the drawn out affair of the actor who tries by their exaggerations to communicate the tragedy of what is unfolding. While birth may take hours, death often needs only the hundredth of a second.



The Trappist bury their dead by dumping the body into a grave and throwing some lime over the corpse to aid in the decaying process. The Benedictines that I have known, use a simple pine box. Both end their funeral rites by individually throwing dirt either onto the corpse or coffin—thereby fulfilling this counsel of St. Benedict to bury the dead.



Two images come to mind. The first of my friend who for over forty years had never witnessed a dead body. The second of the monks throwing dirt on the remains of their dead brother. I wonder what is the effect on both.



My friend is symbolic of those who in our present culture seek to keep death at a distance. Someone dies, we cremate the body and someone scatters ashes in the same way that a past generation might have emptied an ashtray.



This same culture visualizes death constantly in its movies and music. It seems that if we do not bury the dead that the effect on us is that we will endlessly be haunted by them.



The monks are not haunted by the dead but they are not abandoned by them either. They see in the brother who has passed from this life leaving behind the shell of their body and example. It reminds them of their purpose and the shortness of the opportunity to fulfill this purpose. They are reminded by death that ultimately all that matters is God!



Burying the dead may be as simple as attending the funerals of our friends and families. Praying for them and asking their prayers. The uneasiness that we feel is due to the inner knowledge that this to will be our end but like every unpleasant truth in life we can either face it or try to ignore it.



If we face it, we will prepare for it. If we ignore it we will be haunted by it. Burying the dead will help to put the ghosts to rest, while at the same time allowing the saints to intercede for us

Thursday, July 7, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 16 by Michael Dubruiel

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the sixteenth step:



(16) To visit the sick (cf Mt 25:36).



The difficulty in visiting the sick is usually not their illness but rather something within ourselves that likes to hide from our own mortality. The sick too often remind us of the shortness of our own life and the transitory nature of our pilgrimage on this earth.



I remember as a young man that I would visit a young woman in a nursing home and bring her communion once a week. She was a few years older than I was at the time but was dying of terminal cancer. All of her hair had been shaved and she often wore a wig to hide the fact.



At first the smells of the nursing home and the lingering feeling of death, made the short trip to the nursing home a very difficult one for me to make. I would often speak to the young woman, whose name was Pearl, about the possibility of healing etc.—I realized all of which made me feel better—she just brushed off these comments.



Our conversations were often one sided even though we spoke to each other. She confessed that until she had been ill that she had not thought much about God, and claimed to have been a magnificent sinner. Once she even pulled out a photo of her before the cancer, only a few years before, that showed a vivacious beautiful woman laughing with her friends. Now clutching a crucifix, her constant companion in her bed of pain she smiled and said that she had accepted death.



I will never be able to measure the effect that my weekly visits with Pearl have had on my life or for that matter what continued influence she has on my life even now. Only in Heaven can I hope for a true accounting of this. But I do know that the image of her in her bed of pain clutching that crucifix remains with me even now. Like a mirror held up to the moments of my life—each event is measured by how well I use my time here.



I have visited the sick many times in my life, usually out of obligation. The reluctance, and hesitation to set out on those journeys remains. It seems that we are reluctant to meet a side of the other that we fear to meet within ourselves. We fear seeing ourselves as we really are.



Visiting the sick is a holy activity. We should bring the healing of Christ to those who are ill, and we should commend them to our prayers, as well as asking their prayers.



When I left to go to school, Pearl often wrote to me in the months before she died. She called me her “angel,” saying that I often appeared to her by her bedside. The fact was that she was my angel, a messenger from God pointing to the truth of the fleeting nature of this life and to the crucifix that she clutched to like a life preserver, to the Savior who has the power to save us

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 15

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the fifteenth step:





(15) To clothe the naked...



For some reason the first thing that comes to mind when confronted with this counsel of St. Benedict is something that I read some years ago in a work by Peter Brown in a book entitled The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity -a book that among other things, looks at early Christianity’s view of the body. Brown speculates that the Church’s view of modesty in the Roman World is colored by the fact that nudity was the privilege of the wealthy.



Another thought that comes to mind, is the way in which Baptisms were done in the early church. The catechumen would strip naked leaving the clothing they entered the church with behind, as they entered the Baptismal pool and then as they emerged from the waters and had oil poured over their heads, they would be clothed in a new garment.



The young man in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 14:52) who fleas the scene of the arrest of Jesus naked, is another image that comes to mind. Whereas the apostles had left everything to follow Jesus, now at the crucial moment of decision this young man (thought by some to be the writer of the Gospel--Mark) leaves everything behind to get away from Jesus.



But it could be that this young man’s presence in the Gospel is also an indication of the early Church’s Baptismal practice. When you understand how Baptisms were done, and also what entering the waters of Baptism symbolizes (entering into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus) you will see the connection between the young man leaving his clothes behind and then reappearing after the Passion in the Empty Tomb, (in place of the Angels who are there the other Gospels).



I have worked in a clothing closet before. Handing out clothing to the homeless. They would come in on Saturday mornings about 30 minutes before the soup kitchen would start serving food and would tell you what they needed.



“I need a shirt, extra large. Something in dark colors.”



I would go to the rack of men’s clothing and look for something that fit that description. Often the item would be an expensive shirt donated by someone who no longer felt it fashionable enough for their taste. Hardly ever was the clothing in any form of disrepair.



The poor man would usually snatch the piece of clothing from my hand and look at it before grunting and moving onward toward the kitchen. Some would thank me, many would avoid looking at me in the eye—embarrassed, only once did someone ask for the shirt that I was wearing—which I wish I could say that I had given to them.



None of the people I handed clothing to were ever naked.



So who are these “naked” that we are to clothe?



Are they the rich who in their warmth, security and pleasure filled lives, find in their nudity a way to recreate Eden without God?


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 14

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the fourteenth step:



(14) To relieve the poor.



I find the wording of this counsel of Saint Benedict rather interesting. In fact I felt that I had better check the translation to see if the one I was using was correct. What I found is that the word Benedict uses, that is translated as “relieve,” is “recreare” which literally means “to create again” or to “revive.”



With that in mind we see that the counsel that Saint Benedict is giving applies to a variety of the poor. The material poor as well as those who are poor in spirit.



While attending school at Saint Meinrad College I worked several work study jobs. One of these jobs was a weekend one where I assisted the Guestmaster at the Guest House. I greeted people who came to the guest house usually to inquire about the Monk’s schedule or the history of the monastery. But another group, that often made their appearance on a regular basis, were those looking for help--the poor.



Some of these were looking for food. The monastery had tickets, that I gave to those who asked for them, and they in turn would go to the monastery kitchen where food would be given to them. No questions were ever asked apart from how many members they had in their family which was a determining factor in how many tickets I would hand them.



A few of these poor souls, I recognized from my visits to the local pub in town. I did not judge them or deny them the tickets even though I knew that they had some money (at least some to buy drinks). One reason for my lack of judgment, was due to the fact that giving the monks food away, did not cost me anything. I wonder though, if the money had been coming out of my pocket, if I would have been as understanding.



Others came to the door looking for food of a different sort.



Thomas Merton in Bread in the Wilderness speaks of the psalms as God’s manna, given to feed the soul in the desert of life. The monk’s prayer, made up almost entirely of praying the psalms, provided that nourishment for many who had suffered loss or hurt from great struggles of faith.



All of us are poor. It is arrogant to think that I am somehow better than anyone else. If there is anything that I have hated throughout my life, it is those who look down on others. Sadly, it is also the part of myself that I hate the most—and the part that I know could ultimately condemn me if I do not let go of it.



Saint Benedict did not leave counsel to “help” the poor, even though we could interpret this counsel as concretely doing this. He told them to breathe life into them.



I could feed the poor with food, but if I made them feel like I was doing them a great service, I could leave them with their bellies full but still feeling very poor. If on the other hand, I fed them in the way I might some friend who I hoped to impress and win favor from, how might that leave them?



The famous, the wealthy and those in power often find that doors are opened for them and everything provided for them, although they usually have done nothing to deserve it. We may not have a “royal” family in this land of ours, but some are treated that way nonetheless. Why should some be treated that way and while others are neglected?



I can not change the way the world around me acts toward the poor, but I can change the way I act. I also cannot tell, from outward appearances, who the poor are by the way they appear. This counsel of Saint Benedict’s does not apply to one or two individuals but rather to everyone that I meet.

Monday, July 4, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 13

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the thirteenth step:



(13) To love fasting.



Most of us are not familiar with fasting, but we are with dieting. They are not the same thing. Dieting has to do with vanity, fasting has to do with a higher good. We all feel so many needs that are not real but remain unaware. Fasting is a traditional means of gaining the wisdom of what we truly need.



Notice that St. Benedict’s counsel is not simply to “fast” but rather to “love” fasting. He wishes that the monk’s desire be-- to do without.



I am reminded of an old distinction made by Archbishop Fulton Sheen on his Life is Worth Living series. We have little choice over what we like, but love is an act of the will. We can choose to love something and we usually do learn to love both things and people that initially we may not have liked. We can also learn and choose to hate.



In a society such as ours fasting happens often enough but not for it’s own sake. People traveling or involved in work regularly skip meals for the sake of whatever has their focus. The problem is that in the long run we tend to be like camels and when we do sit down to eat, we gorge ourselves in case it might be awhile before we set down again.



What if we choose rather to only eat what we need? This has been suggested in numerous weight loss books as the most effective way of losing weight. It seems simple and reasonable. Notice that it essentially involves an act of will—but also notice that it is based on another truth that we tend to take more than we need.



What we need is the issue here. We seem totally out of touch with what we need to live healthy and productive lives versus what we are constantly being told we need to be happy.



It perhaps is wise in this environment to modify St. Benedict’s counsel to a more moderate course of action. We should love to fast from all excess. Since most of us are so caught up in a life of excess and are bombarded with messages that seek to convince our wills that we need more in order to survive, perhaps what we need to do first is to simply convince ourselves that we don’t need as much.



A simple meal will suffice. Does something in the back of my mind tell me that I need more?



Yes, I tell myself I need God. God is the "more" that I need and desire at all times!



Yes, I need the Bread of Life, but thank God this meal has given me the nourishment that my body needs and now I am ready to go on to the next part of my day.



I am not talking about dieting here, but I am talking about an attitude adjustment. A metanoia, “a complete turning around”, is what is necessary here. Years of being told we need more and more have left us unsatiated no matter how much we have acquired or have placed before us.





To "love" fasting is to fall in love with the feeling of incompleteness that only God can fill.

Friday, July 1, 2016

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God - 12

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the twelth Step:



(12) Not to seek after pleasures.



This is not a popular counsel in our culture. We may be the most pleasure seeking culture that has ever existed. Indeed it may well be that of all the maxims that St. Benedict gives us, this is the hardest. I suspect some will find it nearly impossible to accept even intellectually.



St. Benedict here is not counseling and individual to reject pleasure when it is experienced but rather he is saying that one should now seek after it.



Most of us actively look forward to experiences that we believe will give us pleasure based on our past experiences. As a child we looked forward to Christmas each year, because at an early age when gifted with presents that we had not expect, we were filled with pleasure. But something strange happens, when we start expecting the pleasure and actively seeking after it, the reality never seems to live up to our expectation.



The gift that we beg for arrives and quickly is seen for what it is--"a false advertisement". The elusive relationship is finally gained but the reality never lives up to the fantasy.



The wise person learns this at an early age, but most of us become more creative in our explanations as to why our plans for pleasure are failing to pleasure us.When we seek after pleasure it become unattainable. Nothing ever lives up to our expectation. The act of seeking is a guarantee that we will not achieve the pleasure that we desire.



The longed after vacation, when it arrives, moves to quickly and is destroyed by the delays in travel, the lousy weather, etc.



If we are wise we will find that pleasure comes when we do not desire it but simply are present to the events of the present moment.



Our expectation is that God can come to us at any moment and this expectation will lead to pleasures and joy that we can not dream of.



The seeker lives in the past. He or she is trying to recreate the unplanned moment when everything seemed to be right. If only the moment could be recreated the pleasure would once again be experienced. But the reality is that that moment is past.



The reality is also that the future is ahead with all of its unexpectedness. “Seek first the Kingdom of God!” is the counsel of Jesus. Everything else is secondary. Everything else is illusion.



If I make it my goal to be totally present to the reality of the moment, rather than to be focused on some illusory happiness that lies in the future, I will find true joy right now.



The radical nature of this claim will find it’s confirmation when I am stuck in traffic or sitting in the waiting room of the doctor or dentist and I thank God for the extra time I have been given to relax, to read a magazine that I usually don’t have time for, to gently reflect on where God has led me in the past and how futile our my plans for anything without God’s co-operation.



“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the labors labor.” The future is ours only in so far as it is the Lord’s also. The pleasure seeker, seeks pleasure because they feel none in the present moment. In the seeking they suffer from their want.