A Reflection on My Life and Holy Spirit

Reflection

by Sharon Connor, Oblate of St. Benedict

The Holy Spirit is my daily guide in preparation to meet our eternal God and the beginning of life on the way to heaven.
Big Job and I am just a little speck on the earth working daily toward the heavenly place God has for me.
My journey, the maze of life has been long, sometimes fun, sometimes sorrowful, but every second has been a learning experience, sometimes holy, or sometimes plodding along the road to my destiny.
I began life knowing nothing and although I learned things, they didn’t seem to fit together. The bumpy path, hardly a road, let me down many dangerous ways, habits and mistakes. If someone said hurtful things to me, I absorbed it like a sponge, and lived up to it. Gods gifts were there too, but I thought they were my gifts and it was up to me to be the one to use them good or bad–for me only.
Years of alcohol abuse muddled my mind and destroyed my family. I lost everything.
There had to be something more.
There had to be something
There had to be an Entity to help me.
Spirituality—let me try that. Things couldn’t get any worse than all the terrible things that I had done in my life.
My first spiritual experience –I heard someone say I could get help if I went to a hospital for treatment. Don’t remember who, where or when.
Second experience–a vision of Christ Jesus standing in my living room while I made the call to treatment. Could I drive? “sure”—not!
Third, I was met at the hospital elevator and told that I didn’t have to hurt like this anymore.
Miracle—yes, later I knew it was the Holy Spirit and I began a new journey, road—still bumpy, but I was not alone.
New ideas evolved very slowly and although I had read about the Holy Ghost and learned my prayers by rote. I didn’t have a clue what they meant. My blessings started small. I didn’t drink for an hour, then a day. I couldn’t have handled anything else. Many years of AA meetings, therapy, study and finally receiving the gift of courage I went back to Church.
and
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Recovery and sobriety working in little things and
Big things started to happen.
New Friends—old ones had to be dismissed
Reacquainted with my birth family—Real life things
Gradually I became closer to a Spirit, and Holy is his name. I experience a knot in my throat, a decision to be made, a prayer said and a miracle happened.
Church became more prominent in my life.
Problem, go pray—Problem solved, get on with life, gradually time shortened between pray and solve. Wow!!!!!
Many places in the bible mention that the Holy Spirit is like a breeze. Soft when gentle is needed, gale force when “Listen to me NOW” was needed (sic)
The most recent physical miracle (You would think I was from Missouri) happened a few years ago. I just purchased my 3rd kindle – Lost it and couldn’t find it anywhere. My husband looked, I looked. One afternoon, just before the trash man came, I felt this huge knot in my stomach and an undeniable urge to go get the trash can and go through it—one more time. We dumped it on the picnic table, and I started digging through it—My yellow kindle fell out on the table. “I found it” didn’t fully reflect my excitement—“oh my God” seemed a little over the top, –but wait—
Problem
Holy Spirit’s-breeze
Knot of uncertainty
Action
And the realization the Holy Spirit really works
Told ya I was a little slow.
Since that time other life problems, family problems, thought problems—If I just give them to God, the Holy Spirit, the gift of working it out is bestowed on me. The issues I have today are easier to turn in to smaller things. If I wait, If I pray, problems will be answered.
Maybe Yes or Maybe No –There is always an answer
Isn’t the Holy Spirit great!

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On Bended Knee

Reflection

When the life-giving Word of God dwelt in human flesh, he changed it into that good thing which is distinctively his, namely, life; and by being wholly united to the flesh in a way beyond our comprehension, he gave it the life-giving power which he has by his very nature. Therefore, the body of Christ gives life to those who receive it. Its presence in mortal men expels death and drives away corruption because it contains within itself in his entirety the Word who totally abolishes corruption.

—From a commentary on the gospel of John,

St. Cyril of Alexandria, bishop,
Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p. 744.

Every time I enter the chapel at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital for our oblates’ corporate prayer, I dip my fingers into the waters of the font. Then their moist touch inscribes on my forehead, heart, and shoulders the outline of Christ’s cross. This reminds me of His victory over sin, death, and the devil and of His Father’s act to pour out upon me at my baptism His Spirit of adoption. By habit, I then turn to my left to put my bag and coat on a chair. As I do, I am always aware, out of the corner of my eye, of the gentle light emanating from the side room where the Tabernacle sits quietly and invitingly. I know that Father Clooney keeps there the reserved and consecrated hosts from the hospital’s celebration of the Mass. I know, too, that my Catholic and Episcopalian friends turn to face the Tabernacle when they enter the chapel and then offer their reverence to our Lord. But so far, I have not shared in that practice—and as I reflect on this, I am disturbed—because I have no good reasons not to offer that act of reverence. My only reasons are the weak ones of habit and inertia. I suppose that tradition explains why Lutherans and other Protestants have not genuflected, as that devotional act’s posture and gesture have smacked of acting “too Catholic,” which many have seen as not a good thing. But the truth of the matter is this appeal to tradition—we’ve always not done it this way—is no better reason to not do something than are habit and inertia.

So instead, as I reflect upon what I am not doing, a more reasonable and faithful question almost asks itself: Why would one genuflect, offering bodily a sign that one acknowledges the risen Christ, present in the consecrated host, as one’s Lord and Savior?

Because one can hardly go wrong by listening to the voices of Scripture and Tradition, it helps to turn to the New Testament, which provides Christians with several inspiring pictures of life in heaven, a life of worship of God, where His faithful offer endless praise to the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of their Spirit. One example arises in St. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, where he writes:

Have among yourselves the same attitude
that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father
(Phil. 2:5–11, NAB; emphasis added).

St. Paul provides us with a vision of heaven, one in which a great gathering congregates (meaning “flocks together”) about the Father’s exalted Son. All who join this throng adopt a special posture, the posture that embodies the congregants’ acknowledgment of the lordship of Jesus Christ. Every knee is bent, so that all people and creatures—those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth—are bowing in homage to our Lord. At the same time, the vision tells us that every voice makes a common confession: Jesus Christ is Lord—κύριος Ιησους Χριστός (Phil. 2:11).

After St. Paul’s time, later in the life of the people of God, but still early in the history of the Church, St. John wrote his apocalypse. His Revelation builds upon the vision of St. Paul, saying:

After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”
All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed:
“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 7:9–12, NAB; emphasis added).

Here St. John’s beatific vision and audition come alive with more glorious details than St. Paul offers, but at the same time, the essentials remain consistent: God the Father sits on His throne; His Son, the Lamb, flanks Him; and they are encircled both by the uncounted multitudes and by the whole company of heaven. As the vision tells us, “They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed” their praises.

These are just two instances from the New Testament that envision the life of the faithful in the presence of the Lord of heaven. Digging deeper would help to extend the list. One could turn, for example, to Abraham’s prostration before the three visitors who came to him under the oaks at Mamre. One could also recall the time when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary embrace the feet of their risen Lord and offer Him homage when He meets up with them on their way to tell His disciples that the angel at the tomb had just told them He was risen. At the root, these and other testimonies from the Scriptures tell us that the faithful naturally bow before God and offer Him worship and praise.

We don’t live in the times of the Testaments, but we do live in the time of the Church, a community that thrives in continuity with those Testaments and the Traditions that gave rise to them and that flow from them. One can see in many places, then, the influence of the tradition of bowing. Christians often bow their heads to pray. Many bow at the naming of the triune God in corporate prayer, either by inclining the head or by bowing profoundly. Even in many Protestant traditions, acolytes will bow at the altar before and after lighting the candles. In some traditions, when the cross or crucifix is carried in procession, congregants will bow as the emblem of faith passes by them. In the Stations of the Cross, kneeling accompanies the offering of praise at each station: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” Kneeling for the reception of Communion is common, especially in churches that practice more traditional forms of worship and that desire to emphasize the humility one feels in coming to the Lord’s Table.

But having inventoried those many ways that inclining the head, bowing, and kneeling form parts of the vocabulary of gestures in worship, most Protestants draw a hard, uncrossable line at genuflecting in the direction of the Tabernacle in a Catholic Church. What really could be the reason?

A thought experiment might help. If any of us were to walk into a sanctuary and were to see, out of the corner of the eye, the risen Christ Himself sitting on a chair off to the side, is there anyone who would not bow? I believe we’d be safe in saying that we would—all of us—practice the most profound of bows, the one the New Testament Greek (προσκυνέω) characterizes as “falling upon one’s face in worship.” So if we would do bow like that if we saw and recognized Christ with our eyes of sight, what ought we do when we see and recognize Him with the eyes of faith? Our bowing for prayer and our kneeling for Communion tell us we have at least a vestigial muscle memory of genuflection. So, when our eyes of faith perceive Christ present in our midst, we naturally show Him the honor due Him.

Does this mean that our eyes are blinded to His presence in the Tabernacle? Maybe they are, but that’s when we ought to rely upon our Catholic and Anglican brothers and sisters to serve as our seeing-eye dogs. We can trust their eyes of faith to see what we cannot see for ourselves.

One final question to ask is whether, by not genuflecting at the Tabernacle, we are in fact confessing by our actions—or inactions—that we believe Christ is manifestly absent from the consecrated Host. For some Protestants, this may be the truth of the matter, as they believe that in Holy Communion the bread and wine never become the body and blood of our Lord. The elements signify His body and blood; they remind us of His sacrifice; but they remain bread and wine, and only bread and wine. On the other hand, some Protestants trust that in the Eucharist they encounter the real presence of the risen Christ in the bread, His body, and in the wine, His blood. They would say that He is physically present to the Church in the elements, just as touchable in Communion to the congregants in the nave of the Church as He was palpable to the disciples sitting in the bow of one of their fishing boats on the Seas of Galilee. One might think this view of Holy Communion would lead to reverence for the elements—the bread and the wine—even after the liturgy has ended. In some cases, this may be so, as in the occasional Lutheran parish with a Tabernacle. But for the most part, Protestants will “clean up” after Communion by putting leftover wafers back in the box or in a plastic bag in the freezer and by pouring leftover wine back into its bottle or down the drain. Sometimes the altar guild or the clergy will consume the remainders or pour the wine onto the ground, but rarely in Protestant churches will Christians reserve the elements and hold them in reverence.

So, despite what any formal Protestant theology may hold, the functional understanding of the mystery of Holy Communion is that the presence of Christ is temporary, lasting as long does the liturgy, or perhaps long enough for parish visitors to take Communion to the parish’s shut-in members. Digging into the history of theology to understand more deeply how some Christians came to understand Christ’s promises to give Himself to us in the bread, His body, and in the cup, His blood, as having a kind of spiritual freshness dating—best by noon on Sunday—is a journey down a long, winding, and tangled road that leads beyond the bounds of this particular reflection.

In the end, then, would I place enough trust in a theology that claims Christ has placed an expiration date and time on His promise to come to us in the bread and cup? My own answer must be “no.” And if that is the case, then I can do nothing else than to confess that I trust the lived faith of my sisters and brothers, made visible in their honoring of Christ’s presence in the Host reserved in the Tabernacle.

This leads me to and leaves me in a wonderful and wild place. The next time I come to the chapel at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, or to any Catholic Church, I am entering into the presence of the risen Lamb of God, the crucified and exalted Christ. In His presence and with the sound of His name on my lips, I join the unnumbered throng on bended knee, our voices rising as one to say, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” to the glory of God the Father. This is the posture and the proclamation of all who adore our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Authorship

This reflection was written by David Frye, who made his final oblation in 2009.

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Preparing Our Hearts

Preparing Our Hearts

I want to share a few insights about how we should prepare our hearts for the work that we do, with the help of Esther de Waal, Joan Chittister, Richard Foster, and others. During our group discussion this evening, we can talk about the “how to” of Benedictine work. Benedictine work is not about what to do or what not to do. It is about stability, conversion, and obedience, which are bound together by common threads. They are so intermingled with one another that it is difficult to not talk about all three when attempting to define just one.

“My heart is fixed O God, my heart is fixed!” —Ps. 57:8

To accept that whatever situation we have—our place of residence, our family/friends, our career or retired life, the people we run into every day—this is the Way to God, and no other! There should be no evasion of this duty, but that is what many of us do very well. Whether that is by procrastinating the things we do not want to do because they may slow us down, or they are depressing, and we avoid them by filling time up with activities like checking our Facebook account every few minutes. One that is able to be “at home” so to speak, in each aspect of their life; not behaving as if irritated or annoyed with tasks that come up each day, has his or her heart prepared for God’s work. It is certitude that God is everywhere and we have no need to seek God elsewhere, as the kingdom of God begins within each of us.

Change and growth will occur in our lives if we allow it to happen; it is the ability to recognize God’s unpredictability, and is a vow of openness. Esther de Waal writes: “seeking God is giving God the opportunity to find us.” We have to prepare our hearts for God’s influence on our lives. To be open is to have space for God and others in our lives. It is something we have to agree to and act upon once the awareness of God’s presence is made known to us. Humans are rhythmic creatures, and in Benedict’s time this rhythm was of rest, prayer, work, and reading. Although known by different names today, it can be much the same in our time. If we honor the cycles that come naturally to us (and we have to be aware of them first, to listen closely to our bodies, our emotions, our behavior), then we won’t lose so much energy in making decisions or in avoiding them, or trying to stay “busy” so that we feel we have completed our to-do list and justify our expenditure of energy.

Sister Joan writes: “Work done in the Benedictine tradition is supposed to be regular; it is supposed to be productive, it is supposed to be worthwhile, but it is not supposed to be impossible.” How many of us feel like our days seem to be overwhelming; that we have allowed the day to overpower us and we feel we cannot break free? What do we do when we feel that way? Have we tried to do things differently?

From the Prologue of the Rule:

“The Lord himself has given us the time and space necessary to learn and put into practice the service of love that He continues to teach us. In this school of his let us hope that following faithfully his instructions, nothing distasteful nor burdensome will be demanded of us, but if it has to be so in order to overcome our egoism and lead us into the depths of true love let us not become disheartened, nor frightened and so ignore the narrow path in spite of its tight entrance—the path which leads directly to the fullness of life.”

Wil Derkse shares the concept of “free space,” of a freedom to be open to another person, a job, a task. This means to attend to that person or task, to not jump to conclusions, to complete one’s thoughts, to listen intently.
Allow “space” between tasks at hand (i.e., not multi-tasking)
Allow “space” before responding
Allow “space” to listen to others
Allow “space” for rest, renewal
Allow “space” for silent time with God
Allow “space” to focus one’s mind on God

The Abba Moses asked the Abba Silvanus, “Can a person everyday make a beginning of the good life?” The Abba Silvanus answered him, “if he or she be diligent, he can every day and every hour begin the good life anew.”

This is reassuring, as we often feel that perhaps this “work” is too difficult. It doesn’t have to be. We can start by being grateful for the gifts we have to share in God’s work.

Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline speaks of self-righteous service, which carries with it a negative connotation and one that we should not follow.
Self-righteous service:

  • Expends a great amount of effort
  • Is impressed with the big “ideal” (ie large scale, impressive feats)
  • Requires external rewards—others need to see and appreciate the effort
  • Highly concerned about results, often leaving a bitter feeling when they fall below expectations
  • Picks and chooses whom to serve
  • Is affected by moods and whims
  • Is insensitive
  • Fractures the community, as it centers on glorification of the individual.

Here’s an antidote to self-righteous service or work from Macrina Wiederkehr’s Seven Sacred Pauses:

Living mindfully is the art of living awake and ready to embrace the gift of the present moment.

She shares what she has learned from the monastery bell, calling the sisters to prayer several times each day: “The bell is good, it calls us to prayer, and the bell is annoying ….” But she learned to change the annoying sound of the bell into an instrument of invitation. How can we do that in response to those things that are annoying to us?

From whom must we seek permission to work mindfully, heartfully, soulfully? The permission we need may be from our very own selves.

Authorship

Reflection by Carol Olson, Benedictine Oblate, March 11, 2013

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Lectio Divina with St. Therese of Lisieux

From a meditation by St. Therese of Lisieux

Jesus called those he wanted, and they came to him.

When he had gone up the hill, Jesus called those he wanted and they came to him.

Jesus does not call those who are worthy to be called, but those he wants, or as Saint Paul says, God takes pity on whomever he wishes, and has mercy on whomever he pleases. So what counts is not what we will or try to do, but the mercy of God.

For a long time I wondered why the good God had preferences, why every soul did not receive grace in equal measure. I was amazed to see him lavishing extraordinary favors on saints who had offended him like Saint Paul and Saint Augustine, and whom he practically forced to accept his graces. Or else, when I read the lives of saints whom our Lord was pleased to cherish from the cradle to the grave, allowing no obstacle to stand in their way that would have prevented them from rising toward him, and visiting them with such graces that it was impossible for them to tarnish the immaculate brightness of their baptismal robe, I wondered why, for instance, poor people were dying in great numbers before they had even heard God’s name. Jesus kindly explained this mystery to me. He placed the book of nature before my eyes, and I understood that all the flowers he has created are beautiful, that the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent or the daisy of its delightful simplicity. I understood that if all the little flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose its spring adornment, and the fields would no longer be spangled with flowerets.

It is the same in the world of souls which is the garden of Jesus. He wanted to create the great saints who may be compared with lilies and roses; but he also created smaller ones, and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to gladden the eyes of the good god when he looks down at his feet. Perfection consists in doing his will, in being what he wants us to be.

I understood too that the love of our Lord is revealed in the simplest soul who offers no resistance to his grace as well as in the most sublime soul. In fact, since the essence of love is humility, if all souls were like those of the learned saints who have illuminated the church by the light of their teaching, it would seem as if God would not have very far to descend in coming to their hearts. But he has created the baby who knows nothing and whose only utterance is a feeble cry; he has created people who have only the law of nature to guide them; and it is their hearts that he deigns to come down to, those are his flowers of the field whose simplicity delights him. In coming down in that way the good God proves his infinite greatness. Just as the sun shines at the same time on cedar trees and on each little flower as it was the only one on earth, so our Lord takes special care of each soul as if it was his only care.

Suggestion for Lectio Divina: RB 7:7–9.

Authorship

Reflection by Carol Barry, Benedictine Oblate, Feb. 10–11, 2013

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Consider the Wallaby

Reflection

Consider the Wallaby, Yes the funny looking miniature kangaroo
The one who visited me in my dreamtime
As I was preparing this reflection piece on silence.

I was practicing silence, when this critter shows up.
Why do you hop into my silent space …
Disturbing my peace … Fixing a stare into my eyes?

Why a Wallaby, you might ask? What is its dream message?
Yes, dream message. I always encourage my spiritual directees
To listen to their dream messengers of the spiritual.

Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions;
And attend to them with the ear of your heart.
The opening lines in the Rule of St. Benedict.

I came to this silence seeking you. I come seeking
Divine Manifestations in the Epiphany time.
I await for the Christ to awaken in me.

I come to take possession of what is already mine
As Frs. Keating and Merton describe:
“To become who we already are.”

“Through the Incarnation of His Son,
God floods the whole human family
Past, present and yet to come—

With His majesty, dignity, and grace.
Christ dwells in us in a mysterious, but real way.
I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”

So, I come in stillness and silence,
I am letting my thoughts flow like a river
I am on the river bank watching them go by.

I am still, and waiting patiently for Him.
As the Psalmist says: Be still and wait
Patiently for the Lord.

Then this Wallaby hops into my silence.
He hops along the river bank …
He stops in front of me and STARES

He stares deep into my eyes.
It unnerves me, it makes me unsilent …
What are you doing here?

I wait for the Lord and I get a Wallaby??
Maybe you are a creature messenger;
Like Jonah’s Whale or Balaam’s Ass.

What … have … you … to …say … to me?
I am determined now…
She stands there and STARES …

Without a word from her
I start to associate her meaning.
I move to an interpreter’s ego-stance.

She hops and does not walk steadily.
Maybe I am hopping around too much,
Or should I get hopping?

She carries her “joey” in her pouch.
Maybe something is birthed in my soul
Am I quietly nurturing something?

She can not move backwards
She can only hop forward.
No going back, only forward?
OR
Maybe I am trying to hard
To guess the meaning of this Wallaby.
She neither confirms nor comments, just STARES

Stares into my eyes, into my own eyes.
Oh, wait, she is looking to me into me
To see something deeper within.

Maybe she is no bearer of a message
No external meaning that I should decode.
That truly maybe her mystery.

She comes with nothing to say, but just to stare
Not a familiar beast, but a mystery.
Is she coming to see the Christ in me?

I chanted earlier the words of St. Paul.
“I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Has she come to see the Christ in me?

Oh, the unsettling silence, the ego-shattering awareness,
No interpretation, no rationalizations, no affective surge.
Just be still and know that I am God.

With that the Wallaby closes her eyes …
Bows her head, hops a turn æ
And bounces down along the riverbed.

Authorship

Reflection by Steven E. Liechti, Benedictine Oblate, Jan 13–14, 2013

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“Like a Weaned Child”—Seeking Humility

Reflection

About four and a half years ago, I was struck by a kind of imbalance in my life. I felt the need to “do something” to cultivate more fruitful spiritual practices to ground my days. I’d accumulated a lot of knowledge and information about life in the Church—its liturgy, theology, history and biblical study. But my spiritual life seemed weak. I did not pray regularly or practice service to others.

As I was casting about for guidance on what to do, I remembered somebody somewhere saying something about having made a good retreat at a monastery in Schuyler. Thanks to Google, I located the Web site for that community’s Benedictine Mission House and found the schedule of retreats. One title beckoned to me: “Experience the Life of a Monk for a Weekend.” I signed up and prepared to go, not really knowing what to expect. But that decision was for me a risk, inviting me to step out into the unknown.

For a few months at that point, I’d been trying to use some different devotional resources. I don’t remember now which one I was using for my morning prayers, but I do remember reading the New Revised Standard Version’s translation of Psalm 131 in my room at the retreat center after I’d gotten ready for the day.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

(Psalm 131, NRSV)

That seemed to be a good fit for the hours ahead. I was preparing for a taste of a life with rhythms and practices and notions unfamiliar to me. I knew the bell calling the community to prayer would ring soon, so I left the room to walk from the retreat house to the oratory to join the brothers for the Office of Readings.

The small card in the pew stated the page numbers for the office in The Liturgy of the Hours and said that today was Saturday of Week I. As the seven resident monks and the scattered guests began praying together, we came to the first text: Psalm 131:

O Lord, my heart is not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother’s arms,
even so my soul.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
both now and for ever.

(Psalm 131, The Liturgy of the Hours)

A coincidence? Perhaps. But there’s nothing unplanned about the cycle of the psalms in the Divine Office. What if I’d chosen a different book for my devotions? What if the retreat were on another weekend? What if …?

What did happen is that the same psalm appeared twice to me in the same morning as I was seeking God and His guidance for my life. That’s how this day started for me. Later that same day, while walking from the oratory to the retreat house, another man on the retreat told me he was a Benedictine oblate and explained what that meant to him. That conversation struck me and stuck with me too. When I got home from the retreat, I Googled some more and found out about Sister Phyllis and this chapter. The retreat, that man’s witness, and my exploration became the first steps on my journey to becoming an oblate.

This short story explains why Psalm 131 is special to me. Through it, the Holy Spirit worked to change my life, to lead me down a new path, to guide me to seek admission to this “school for the service of the Lord” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Prol. 45). As a happy consequence, my ears always are perked up to listen for this psalm and my eyes remain vigilant to watch for it in my readings.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate the depths these brief verses contain within them. Often I find that when I pray this psalm, I am aspiring to a state that does not yet describe my life. When I look unflinchingly at my own actions and thoughts and feelings, I often see that my heart is proud. My eyes are haughty. I am preoccupied with things beyond my control. I drag my soul down into the depths of turmoil. I am restless, kicking against God’s embrace and trying to escape from His lap.

Pride and arrogance, feelings of superiority, self-appointment as judge of others—these are the spiritual challenges I often face. So thank God He guided Saint Benedict to turn to Psalm 131 for the biblical grounding of the first thoughts recorded in Chapter 7 of the Rule, the chapter entitled, “On Humility.” Saint Benedict writes:

Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us, saying,
“Everyone who exalts himself
shall be humbled,
and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
In saying this it shows us
that all exaltation is a kind of pride,
against which the Prophet proves himself
to be on guard when he says,
“Lord, my heart is not exalted,
nor are mine eyes lifted up;
neither have I walked in great matters,
nor in wonders above me.”
But how has he acted?
“Rather, have I been of humble mind
than exalting myself;
as a weaned child on its mother’s breast,
so You solace my soul.”

(RB 7:1–4. The Rule of Saint Benedict, Leonard Doyle, trans.
Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press.)

Here Saint Benedict uses portions of Psalm 131 to reinforce our Lord’s teaching from Luke’s Gospel—those who exalt themselves shall be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted. The Rule teaches that pride and humility stand in opposition to one another. So long as I take pride in myself, I cannot be humble. And since our Lord desires for His followers to be humble, like Him, my pride stands in the way of following the Lord.

So, is there hope? How can one who battles with pride, with high regard for oneself at the cost of looking down upon others, be infused with a spirit of humility? Saint Paul tells us the way. He writes to the Church at Rome, saying:

Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

(Rom. 6:3–4, NAB).

Our baptism makes us participants both in Christ’s death and burial and in the promise of His resurrection to life anew. This is the path of discipleship, the road we follow as oblates, who, like all Christians, seek to live as Christ does.

Saint Paul has another way to describe the trajectory of Christ’s life—and ours. In his letter to the Philippians, he writes:

Have among yourselves the same attitude
that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(Phil. 2:5–11, NAB)

This helps me to see why humility so often eludes my grasp, why I cannot achieve it on my own. The path of humility that Christ blazes for us is one that we travel only in obedience to Him. It leads inexorably to death. But the good news is this: because we have been baptized into that death and because we live by the promise of new life, we can trust the Father’s promise that we will share in His Son’s exaltation through the working of their Holy Spirit. When the great day dawns, we will bend the knee with all who gather around the throne. We will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

In the meantime, we have Saint Benedict’s Rule to guide us along the path between the font and the grave. He turns to Psalm 131 and advises us to emulate the Prophet, who says,

“Rather, have I been of humble mind
than exalting myself;
as a weaned child on its mother’s breast,
so You solace my soul.”

(RB 7:4).

That is good enough for this mean time in which we live. The Father has delivered us from sin through the waters of baptism; we feed upon His Son’s body and blood in the Eucharist; and, like weaned children, we find solace and nourishment for our souls in the Spirit’s embrace in the arms of Mother Church. Amen.

Authorship

This reflection was written by David Frye, who made his final oblation in 2009.

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Monasticism’s Attraction

Reading

Jesus said, “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food.”

Matthew 10:9–10, RSV

Reflection

“We should not be surprised, therefore, that monasticism has always remained one of the most effective forms of Christian witness, for monks and nuns must learn to travel light, to offer and receive hospitality, to trust one another for the very ability to live. Monasticism was not, of course, necessarily founded as a form of witness to those not Christian, but the attractive character of monastic life makes monks and nuns witnesses to strangers almost in spite of themselves, for the joy that radiates from truthful worship of God proves to be an irresistible witness to those who have not yet been confronted by Jesus’s summons. All people are created for such joy.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2006, p. 107.

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Practice and Perseverance

Readings

Proverbs 2:1–9
Psalm 1
Luke 14:27–33

Reflection

Since early 2000, I have studied Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese art that adapts moves designed for self-defense into patterns that carry strange and wonderful names like “Crane Spreads Wings” and “Ride the Wild Tiger.” My teacher continues to remind me that practicing Tai Chi is just that—practice. One does not perfect the practice; even the masters continue to refine their movements throughout their lives.

That’s an insight that helps to shed some light on the treasure we inherit from St. Benedict, whose Rule forms the foundation of western monasticism. In the Prologue, he writes:

And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow. For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love. Thus, never departing from His school, but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom (RB Prol. 45–50, The Rule of Saint Benedict, Leonard Doyle, trans., Collegeville, Minn., The Liturgical Press, 2001).

In today’s Church, the religious—monks and nuns—live by this rule in cloistered communities. Others are oblates, who live by the spirit of this rule beyond the walls of monasteries. All of God’s people, as Proverbs tells us, hear His summons to seek to “incline our hearts to understanding” His wisdom. As Jesus reminds us in Luke’s gospel, He calls us to “carry the cross and follow him.” In that way, Benedict writes, “… we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ …” (RB Prol. 50).

These acts of discipleship and obedience are ones we practice, but do not perfect, despite a lifetime of attending “a school for the service of the Lord.” St. Benedict encourages us not to lose sight of the benefits of our practice: “… as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love” (RB Prol. 49). Amen.

Authorship

This reflection was written by David Frye, who made his final oblation in 2009.

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