Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Smallness of the Large By David Warren

Just the tiniest little thing: Jesus Christ, lying in the manger. Those who have ever held in their arms a newborn baby, will know how delicate they are. Without a word, this fragile creature tells us to be careful with him. His neck is weak, and his head must be supported. Your attention rivets on the miniature eyelids, mouth, and nose.
One of the reasons I believe in God – the proper, Triune, Catholic God – is His way with paradox. This strikes me as true to my own experience of the universe we currently occupy, which is full to busting with scale reversals.
Were Christ, indeed, the Author of this universe, I would expect Him to show the same “sense of humor” – by which of course I don’t mean, “telling jokes.” Or perhaps, there are jokes far beyond laughter.
This begins with the magnitude of the heavens: the normal human perception of distance to the stars, and to the stars beyond the stars beyond them. (It is a myth that any of our ancestors thought they were close. Regardless of their cosmological schemes, all men have known that the stars are very far away, and that they speak of immensity.)
But at the other end is a sub-atomic scale. It seems to parody the large, in smallness. There are distinct specks within specks, and specks within those, down to “force carriers” and “flavors.” We find the Singularity where, if physics has any coherency at all, we have reached the interface with “nothing.”
That is to say, there cannot be smaller, in any material scheme for small, for the same reason that the universe cannot be larger. At least, not as we have found it to be. We could run the abstract numbers up and up, or down and down – but in either case we come to that hard, material Singularity. Go any farther in either direction, and we’re not in this universe any more.
So where are we on this scale?
Man, standing around one fathom tall, is right in the middle, midway between the “nothing” and the “everything.” In the numbers we’ve been able to compile, our position is rather spookily at the intersection of all roads.
As we’ve come to learn, mostly in the quite recent past, the strangeness is insupportably great, for the universe itself is “tuned” to many dozen – perhaps many hundred, perhaps many more – precise settings of physical “law” or constants. Adjust the dial ever so slightly – adjust so slightly any one of those dials – and the very possibility of Man is obviated.
Of course, the observation is tautological, but even in that we see God’s hand: that He left us with the freedom to see, or refuse to see, what is dead obvious.
In a limited, merely scientific way, since 1931 at the latest, the existence of “God” has been irrefutable. That was the year in which the finitude of the universe was established beyond reasonable doubt: that it had an origin, at a calculable “first moment” in time; that it has from that a calculable size; and what has a beginning must have an end. (See: Georges LemaĆ®tre.)
And towards the end of that last century, in the later 1990s, the chief hint was provided to calculate that end. For not only can we now know the universe is expanding, but also that it expands at a constantly accelerating rate. We must reach a point where the universe itself comes up against the good old speed of light: and once again, a Singularity. (See:Accelerating universe.)
A small thing, perhaps, as that ingenious Belgian physicist, Monsignor LemaƮtre, once had to explain to his pope, who was on the verge of announcing that the Catholic cosmology had been scientifically proved. For as the good priest said, it is just science, which rattles about from day to day. The part that takes us from two plus two, to four, will always have to be supplied by Faith.
Science only shows what’s there, not the meaning of it. Yet the nature of the universe remains plain to see, whether on the grand cosmic scale, or in little biological facts, provided to our senses directly. The acorn and the oak are one, from never before, to never after. Whether through telescope, or microscope, we see the same in a glass, darkly.
Modern man can look at the large, and he can look at the small. There is nothing wrong with God-given eyes, should we wish to use them; nor in the blind, with the mind’s eye. Nothing has ever been concealed from a man, that the man needed to know. But oh, he is willful.
What modern man has trouble seeing, is the large in the small, and the small in the large. Our ignorance – which can be stupefying, compared with ignorance in ages past – fastens upon one thing at a time, with ever-diminishing attention spans. In effect, we have lost the ability to see and think at the same time.
And to this modern mind, as to others past in the habit of missing the point, the whole idea of God presented in this swaddled bundle of human flesh, is nonsense. God, should He turn out to “exist,” must be infinitely large; this baby is way too small.
A real God would take anything He wanted; this baby missed out on the inn.
A real God would be all-seeing; this baby sleeps in Mary’s arms.
A real God would arrive with angelic armies; this baby lacks even a security guard. . . .
We could construct a litany like this, of ways in which Jesus Christ was not very plausible. Even to many ancients, as we know, the whole idea of Him came as something of a little joke. Surely the Christians could not be serious.
Imagine their surprise when, paradoxically, that little baby conquered their world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Finding our Footing in Prayer by Dr. Anthony Lilles

Today, many are concerned about confusion in the Church and a lack of confidence about how we are to live. Angry accusations fly back and forth like arrows poisoned and barbed. Violence rips at our communities and all kinds of aggression is unleashed in our homes. It is hard to bear with one another. We want peace but we lack the common ground we need to find it.  For all the technology and information at our fingertips, we lack, among other spiritual things, the gift of understanding.

Understanding is among the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, a characteristic of the Spirit of the Christ. The great Fathers and Doctors of the Church described this dynamic disposition of mind as perfecting the stand we take toward ultimate reality, God Himself.  The gift is a readiness to be grounded by the Holy Spirit, an interior receptivity to His promptings that we need if we are to find our footing in prayer.

The Gift of Understanding is a divinely inspired intellectual propensity to be purified concerning one's judgments about God and who He is.  In ways that no mental gymnastics carried out under the impulse of reason can manage, this gift protects the soul against all kinds of idolatry by rooting it in the mystery of God's presence in real life.  The Holy Spirit convinces us concerning sin and frees us to repent of it.

All kinds of self-contradiction are laid bare as the ear of the heart attends to the surprising freshness of the Holy Spirit's secret judgments, especially about those things with which we would rather not have to deal.  But the mind raised in love can no longer put things off. Dissipation and dulness recede before this unfamiliar radiance.

This movement of the Holy Spirit leaves the soul speechless because it has rendered the mind vulnerable to splendors so wonderful no word can express them.  All at once, this mysterious rectification of the mind sobers and inebriates, humbles and exalts, bows down and lifts up.  The mind under the influence of this movement of the Holy Spirit penetrates the deep things of God even to the point that one's whole life is intensified and a source of intensification for others.   Falling in adoration, one finds one's proper footing for prayer.  

The Gift of Understanding is about standing in the shadow of our crucified God.  It is about seeing the invincibility of the Father's love in the face of our sin at the foot of the Cross of Christ.   It is about drinking in the deep things of God flowing from the pierced heart of Christ.  This gift is about the freedom to be astonished and gripped by divine tenderness in all kinds of unexpected ways.  


Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Life Free From Care – Thomas Merton

(In August 1965, Thomas Merton was granted permission to live full-time in his hermitage. This is an excerpt from the last talk he gave to the novices before moving to the hermitage. Reflecting on “freedom from care” as essential for the monk and especially for the hermit, Merton touches on a theme that has relevance for all people.)

What does the solitary life mean? It is the same as all monastic life. There is one basic, essential thing in the monastic life and in the Christian life, the thing that we all seek in one way or another, and it is some assurance that it is possible in this kind of life to put away all care, to live without care, to not have to care. Now, what do you mean, “not have to care”? Not to say: “Well, I don’t care. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care if they say Mass in Chinese, they won’t faze me.” No, that’s not it. But the life of the world, in the bad sense of the word, is a life of care. It is a life of useless care. And it is a life of self-defeating care, because it is a life which cannot confront the inevitable fact of death. It is a life which is full of death, it has death built into it and it cannot get away from that fact. A life that is nothing but a straight line towards the grave and a lot of little circular lines to forget the grave as you travel towards the grave is a life of care, and it is a life of ever-increasing care and it is a life of frustration and futility,

Ideally speaking, the hermit life is supposed to be the life in which all care is completely put aside. First of all, because it is a death. It accepts death as a completely built-in fact of life. It is a death to society, it is a death to certain consolations of society, a death to certain kinds of support, and it is a renunciation even of care. A person doesn’t  go into solitude simply to practice a lot of virtues. If that’s what is supposed to happen I’m probably not going to be able to make the grade. But you go into solitude in order to cast your care upon the Lord.

Here is this beautiful passage from Caussade about what I think that I am supposed to do, living up on top of that hill and what we are all supposed to do, one way or another: “Since God offers to take upon Himself the care of our affairs, let us once for all abandon them to His infinite wisdom, that we may nevermore be occupied with aught but Him and His interests.”  Period. That is what the solitary life means. It is a life in which you no longer care about anything because God is taking care of everything. That is why you don’t have a great many contacts with the world, you’re not terribly occupied with a lot of people and a lot of works and projects; you are simply letting God take care of all those things. You cast your care upon the Lord.  (From Thomas Merton, Essential Writings- Selected by Christine M. Bochen)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

From: THE STRUGGLE WITH GOD by Paul Evdokimov

Man’s transgression confines him to a situation that is closed to all that is not of this earth. The more material this is and the more it is made a thing, the more it appears deprived of reality and of any substance. This is the world of finance, with its temple, the Stock Exchange, and its votaries of luxury; it is the political world of ambition and covetousness, of collective neurosis of mad passions and unfaithful sensual love. It is a world vacillating above an abyss, without any consistency, being made of vapors and peopled with phantoms, and which at any moment risks disappearing “as smoke in the air and as wax melted by fire”. On the other hand, Origen compares the efforts of the hermits of the desert, in their march toward perfection, to the slow departure of the inhabitants of Plato’s cave. Leaving the silhouetted shadows for a vision of reality, where nothing is interposed between man and the truths of the divine life, the monk of the desert kept firmly to the way of return toward the kingdom. [page 68]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chesterton on Imagination, Reason, and Insanity

 From Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:
There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to a man’s mental balance. . . . Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad, but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic; I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.
The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. . . . The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
In conclusion:
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


In this competition, the new providers of religious supply - from the Pentecostals and Charismatics to the New Age - have good cards to play: an extreme flexibility, a great indulgence toward expressivity.

But the traditional religious providers also have substantial resources at their disposal: a consolidated “brand,” an enormous reserve of symbols and rites, a great understanding of the local markets. This is, of course, on the condition of liberating themselves from the “old” scruples of orthodoxy and orthopraxis; on the condition that they accept having less significance in order to have more visibility.

Within Catholicism as well many religious providers have adopted and are adopting the forms of a low-intensity religion.

In this atmosphere it is no accident that the Catholic Church should develop a problem with the sacrament of marriage. This is literally inconceivable in a perspective of low-intensity religion, which instead devotes great but generic attention to the well-being of the family.

Careful consideration of the features of the religious boom currently taking place is indispensable for understanding the meaning of processes and crises like those that concern the Catholic clergy. To a large extent these processes and these crises are an expression of the attempt to assimilate Catholicism with a low-intensity religion.

And great lucidity is also required to avoid resorting to solutions that are in the spotlight today, like those that would have priestly ordination no longer reserved for celibate males. The Christian traditions that ordain married men and even women, and therefore have a proportionally larger quantity of clergy available, find themselves facing exactly the same problems and often in decidedly more acute forms.

Luca Diotallevi

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Consecration of Brian.<><: October 6, 2013.

Incredible music
Mark Sanders Family
Soloist: Bernadette.

Father Rutler, an interview.

What are we not doing that we should be doing to revive Catholic life?

The first thing is to be realistic, to address the real problems in our society, secularity, instead of trying to be everything to everyone. It’s a great danger just to want to be friendly and liked instead of challenging in a prophetic way the errors of  society and caving into them. St. Paul said to Timothy, “Do not be a man-pleaser." This doesn’t mean going around and hitting people over the heads with bibles, but it does mean being Catholic, right across the board…. We’ve had a secularization of religious life. Women’s religious orders are collapsing, have collapsed. Nothing was done a generation ago to discipline the orders, and to truly reform them. The ones that are growing are the ones who are faithful to their founders’ charisms.

And a primary evangelical tool of the Church is the liturgy, and wherever the liturgy is banal, you will not have vocations. In many places it’s not a problem of heresy, it’s just a matter of sloth. People are just stuck in the 1970s. Young people don’t want to go to a church where there’s a septuagenarian playing very bad Jesuit hymns from the 1960s. But many bishops don’t understand that. The liturgy has become just sort of man-focused. One giveaway is liturgies where the bishop or the priest cannot restrain himself from interjecting his own personality. They were taught to do this: greeting people, telling jokes and then thanking everybody for being there, and at the end asking applause for the choir and the ushers and everybody else. We don’t thank people for keeping the commandments! These are commandments, not propositions.

That’s people’s main contact, and I would say my vocations more than anything else came from young men’s absorption in the liturgy. And I’m not speaking about being fussy or obscurantist. I think there’s a real problem of reaction from evangelization, a real problem of nostalgia rather than tradition on the part of many people as far as the Extraordinary Form is concerned. But that’s to be expected when people have been denied their authentic Catholic roots. The danger then, of course, become enclosed. Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about the danger of Mass facing the people as a kind of enclosure, whereas when the priest leads the people facing East it’s an opening to the kingdom of God. The priest facing the people becomes a kind of circular community lacking in transcendence. But a lot of people who embrace the Extraordinary Form run that risk too.They become ghettoized. It’s rather significant that in so many cases — I can’t cite numbers — but usually it’s been my experience that where the Extraordinary Form is, usually you have a static group of people, and you don’t have outreach for bringing others in.

So just using the Extraordinary Form is not the solution. What is the solution is understanding that the liturgy is God’s call to the people and the people’s response. Then you get vocations.

Another factor is the preaching, which is abysmal. We need catechetical preaching, where people get the basic doctrine of the faith. People should be leaving church having learned something.

Father Rutler

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The message of Benedict XVI to Urban, religions and mission.

October 23, 2014

di Benedetto XVI

I would first like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Rector and to the academic authorities of the Pontifical Urban University More Officers and Representatives of Students, for their proposal to name to my name, the Great Hall restored. I would like to thank in a special way the Chancellor of the University, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, to have welcomed this initiative. It is a great joy for me to be so ever-present in the work of the Pontifical Urban University.

Over the course of several visits that I could do as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was always impressed by the universality of that reigns in this university, where young people from almost all countries of the world are preparing for the service to the Gospel in today's world. Even today, I see inside front of me, in this hall, a community made up of many young people, and we see vividly the wonderful reality of the Catholic Church.

"Catholic": this definition of the church, which belongs to the profession of faith since ancient times, carries something of Pentecost. It reminds us that the Church of Jesus Christ was never about one people or one culture, but from the beginning it was intended to humanity. The last words Jesus said to his disciples were: "Make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). And at the time of Pentecost the Apostles spoke in all languages, thus being able to demonstrate, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the full breadth of their faith.

Since then the Church has really grown on every continent. Your presence, dear students, dear students, reflects the face of the universal Church. The prophet Zechariah had announced a messianic kingdom which would go from sea to sea, and would have been a kingdom of peace (Zech 9.9s.). In fact, wherever the Eucharist is celebrated and men, with the Lord, they become one body between them, there is something of that peace which Jesus Christ had promised to give to his disciples. Dear friends, be co-operators of this peace, in a world torn and violent, it becomes increasingly urgent to build and preserve. This is why it is so important to the work of your university, in which you want to learn how to get closer to Jesus Christ to become His witnesses.

The Risen Lord commissioned his apostles, and through them the disciples of all time, to bring his word to the ends of the earth and make disciples of men. The Second Vatican Council, taking in the decree "Ad Gentes", a constant tradition, has highlighted the deep reasons for this missionary task and did so with renewed force assigned to the Church of today.

But is it really more? - Is asked by many today, both inside and outside the Church—indeed, the mission is still relevant? Would not it be more appropriate to meet in dialogue between religions together and serve the cause of peace in the world? The counter-question: Is the dialogue can replace the mission? Today, many, in fact, have the idea that religions should respect each other and, in the dialogue between them, becoming a joint peacekeeping force. In this way of thinking, most of the time it takes for the assumption that the different religions are variants of one and the same reality; that "religion" is the common gender, which takes different forms according to the different cultures, but still expresses the same reality. The question of truth, the one that originally moved the Christians more than anything else, here is put in brackets. It is assumed that the real truth about God, ultimately, is unattainable and that at best we can to make present that which is ineffable only with a variety of symbols. This renunciation of the truth seems realistic and helpful to the peace among the religions in the world.

And yet it is deadly to the faith. Indeed, faith loses its binding nature and its seriousness, if all boils down to basically interchangeable symbols, able to postpone only from afar the inaccessible mystery of the divine.

Dear friends, you see that the issue of mission places us not only to meet the basic questions of faith but also in front of that of what man is. Within a short welcome address, obviously I can not groped to analyze this issue in a comprehensive way that profoundly affects all of us today. I would, however, at least hint at the direction that should take our thinking. I do this by moving from two different starting points.


1 The common opinion is that religions are as it were side by side, as the continents and individual countries on the map. However, this is not accurate. Religions are moving at a historic level, as they are moving peoples and cultures. There are religions in waiting. The tribal religions are of this type: they have their moment in history, and yet they are waiting for a larger meeting that leads to fullness.
We, as Christians, we believe that, in the silence, they await the encounter with Jesus Christ, the light that comes from him, which alone can bring them fully to their truth. And Christ awaits them. The encounter with him is not the intrusion of a stranger who destroys their own culture and their own history. It is, however, the entrance into something bigger, to which they are on the way. So this meeting is always at a time, purification and maturation. Moreover, the meeting is always mutual. Christ expects their history, their wisdom, their view of things.

Today we see more and more clearly another aspect: while in the countries of its great history of Christianity in many ways has become tired and some branches of the great tree grew from the mustard seed of the Gospel have become dry and fall to the ground, the encounter with Christ of religions in waiting comes new life. Where before there was only fatigue, manifest and bring joy to new dimensions of faith.

2. The religion itself is not a unitary phenomenon. In it are always more distinct dimensions. On one side is the magnitude of reaching out beyond the world, to the eternal God. Yet, on the other hand, there are elements in it arising from the history of the men and their practice of religion. Where we can (rivenirsi) rediscover, re-find, certainly noble and beautiful things, but also low and destructive, where selfishness of man has taken possession of religion, and instead of an opening, turned it into a closure in their own space.

For this reason, religion is never simply a phenomenon only positive or only negative: in it one or the other aspect are mixed. At its beginnings, the Christian mission felt very strongly, especially the negative elements of the pagan religions in which he met. For this reason, the Christian message was at first extremely critical of religion. Only by overcoming their traditions and in part also considered demonic faith could develop its renewing power. On the basis of elements of this kind, the Protestant theologian Karl Barth put in opposition to religion and faith, judging the first in an absolutely negative as arbitrary behaviour of the man who tries, from himself, to grasp God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has taken answer to this setting in favor of a Christianity "without religion. "It is without doubt one-sided view that can not be accepted. Yet it is fair to say that every religion, to stay in the right, at the same time must also always be critical of religion. Clearly this is true, since its inception, and according to its nature, the Christian faith, which, on the one hand, looks great compared to the deep hold and the deep richness of religions, but on the other hand, sees a critical Also what is negative. It goes without saying that the Christian faith must constantly develop the critical force also in relation to its religious history.

For us Christians, Jesus Christ is the Logos of God, the light that helps us to distinguish between the nature of religion and its distortion.

3. In our time becomes ever stronger voice for those who want to convince us that religion as such is outdated. One critical reason should guide the actions of man. Behind such views is the belief that the positivistic thought the reason in all its purity has finally acquired the domain. In fact, even this way of thinking and living is historically conditioned and tied to certain historical cultures. Consider it as the only valid belittle the man, taking away essential dimensions of its existence. Man becomes smaller, not larger, when there is no space for an ethos that, according to its true nature, to over pragmatism, when there is no more space for our gaze fixed on God. proper place of reason positivist is in the major areas of action of the technique and the economy, and yet it does not exhaust all that is human. So, it is up to us again and again that we throw open the doors, beyond mere technique and pure pragmatism, leading to all the greatness of our existence, the encounter with the living God.


1 These reflections, perhaps a little 'difficult, should show that even today, in a world profoundly changed, it remains reasonable to the task of communicating to others the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And yet there is also a second way, easier to justify today this task. The joy demands to be communicated. Love demands to be communicated. The truth demands to be communicated. Who received a great joy, he can not simply keep it for themselves, they must pass it on. The same applies to the gift of love, for the gift of recognition of the truth that is manifested.

When Andrea met Christ, he could not help but say to his brother: "We have found the Messiah" (Jn 1:41). And Philip, who had been given the same meeting, he could not help but say to Nathanael that he had found him of whom Moses and the prophets had written (John 1:45). We proclaim Jesus Christ to bring to our community as many members as possible; and much less power. Let’s talk about Him because we feel we need to transmit the joy that was given to us.

We will be credible proclaimers of Jesus Christ when we have truly met in the depths of our existence, when, through the encounter with Him, we will have been given the great experience of truth, love and joy.

2. It is part of the nature of religion, the deep tension between the mystical offer to God, in which we totally over him, and responsibility for others and the world he created. Martha and Mary are always inseparable, even if, from time to time, the emphasis can fall on one or other. The meeting point between the two poles is the love in which we touch at the same time God and his creatures. "We have known and believed the love" (1 Jn 4:16): This phrase expresses the true nature of Christianity. The love that is achieved and is reflected in multifaceted way in the saints of all time, is the authentic proof of the truth of Christianity.

Benedetto XVI

The language does not flow well because it was translated from Italian by and online translator.


Monday, October 27, 2014

How do Law and Love relate, by John Bergsma

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him,
"You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." 
Matthew 22:34-40:

Let’s recall where we are in the Church year.  We have been working through the Gospel of Matthew throughout Ordinary Time in Year A.  We have moved from the beginning of the Gospel all the way to Passion Week, and now we are in Jerusalem listening to Jesus teach and debate before he goes to his death.  Last week we read about the Pharisees and Herodians questioning him about paying taxes to Caesar.  After that, the Sadducees came and questioned him about marriage and the resurrection—although that unit is not read in the Year A cycle.  Now, one of the better scholars among the Pharisees tests him with a question about the Law.

We should note that there is Davidic kingdom typology going on in this passage.  Solomon sat on his throne in Jerusalem and was tested with hard questions from a great number of people, most notably the Queen of Sheba, who came for that very purpose (1 Kings 4:34; 10:1).  The whole scenario of Jesus sitting in Jerusalem and defeating all comers with his divine wisdom fulfills the image of wise King Solomon of so many centuries before.  Jesus is the greater son of David, and that concept ties in with our responsorial, Psalm 18, which was a royal Davidic Psalm.  We also recall that the Law of Moses required the King to meditate constantly on the Law (or Torah; Deut 17:18-20) and thus become an expert in its concepts and application.  This is what we see Jesus doing: he has brilliant insight into the interpretation of the Torah, and a very clear view of which laws express principals of primary hermeneutical importance, and which are of lesser significance.  He is the Davidic king who has meditated on the Law.

Although the text says the Pharisee meant to “test” him, this question is not asked with the same ill will as the previous questions from the Pharisees and Sadducees.  There is not necessarily a trap here.  Rabbis debated which laws within the Torah carried precedence, and discovering the way an individual Rabbi prioritized or ranked the Mosaic laws gave insight into his interpretive approach or legal system.

Jesus replies that the greatest commandment is love of God, followed closely by love of neighbor.  Our Lord’s reply is not entirely unique: other Rabbis might have given a similar or identical answer.  In fact, in Mark’s fuller account of this passage, the Pharisee who asks the question agrees enthusiastically with Jesus’ response (Mark 12:28-34).  Our Lord takes the first and greatest commandment from Deut 6:4-5.  This is a famous passage known as the Shema, which to this day is recited multiple times a day by pious Jews, similar to the way the Our Father is recited by Christians.

The second, Love your neighbor as yourself, is taken from the so-called “Holiness Code” of Leviticus (Lev 19:18). Many think Jesus invented this law, but he is actually quoting from the Pentateuch.

It is a common misconception that by summarizing the Law with the two commands of love, Jesus was somehow making the law less challenging or demanding.  That is hardly the case.  Perfectly to live out love for God and love for neighbor is all-consuming and very challenging.  It is also a common misconception that the Pharisees had high moral standards, and Jesus criticized them for their high standards and instead dumbed things down to a generic “niceness” to everyone.  This is also a completely wrong view.  The Pharisees did not necessarily have high moral standards, although some among them (like the Pharisee asking this question) were decent men.  The Pharisees had rigorous ritual standards, but frequently low moral demands.  Jesus primarily criticizes them for (1) hypocrisy, in holding to high ritual standards but neglecting matters of morality, or (2) using legal reasoning to create loopholes in the moral law that allow them to evade the high demands of love of God and love of neighbor.

By emphasizing that the whole law is summed up in the two commands of love, Jesus does not make it easier to fulfill the law, he makes it more challenging, because there are no loopholes in love!  If the criteria for evaluation of moral behavior in any given situation is the imperative of love rather than some external physical criteria, it becomes impossible to create legal ways to evade God’s will.

Of course, love has to be properly understood. Many reduce love to an emotion, or confuse love with “niceness.”  There is an emotional component of love, and love can express itself in being nice.  But love has to follow truth, and it is not ultimately loving to tell people falsehoods or encourage them along a false path that will not lead to their happiness.  The difficulty arises when we love someone who is engaging in self-destructive behavior, but does not realize it.  And when we point it out—motivated by love—they perceive us not as loving but as hostile or narrow-minded or “traditional” or intolerant or some other category.

Let’s discuss what it means to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind.  The heart (Gk. kardia) can be understood as the seat of the emotions or affections, so loving God with the heart means cultivating our affection and emotional attachment to him.  The soul (psyche) can be understood as our spiritual nature, so loving God with one’s whole soul is seeking spiritual union with him, the “unitive way.”  Loving God with the mind (dianoia) is an intellectual endeavor, seeking to know God, to understand the truth about Him, his nature, and his creation.  An anti-intellectual spirituality would be a failure to love God with the mind.  We can observe a rough analogy to the classic three stages of the spiritual life: the purgative involves learning to love God with the heart vs. disordered passions or desires; the illumanitive involves loving God with the mind, as our minds are enlightened with the knowledge of God; and the unitive involves spiritual union, loving God with the soul.

Jesus wasn’t a lawless hippy or an anarchist revolutionary.  He respected the role of law in human society and personal life.  He and his parents were careful to observe the laws in force at the time, as we see from the infancy narratives in Luke.  However, Jesus stressed that the law was ordered to love, and has to be interpreted in light of love, which is more than an emotion, but fundamentally an act of the will in which we will the good of the person who is loved.  Love needs to be understood as an act of the will based on truth—this is where our culture misunderstands love.  In any event, Jesus taught that law was ordered to love and had to be interpreted in light of love.  This is more than we can humanly live up to, which is why we need to exercise faith and receive the sacraments.  Through faith and the sacraments, Jesus can fill us with his love, such that St. Paul will say:

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Rom 5:5)

Rom. 13:8   Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.  9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

But the love of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts is key.  We can’t live up to the command of love until we learn to love with the love of God which has been given us.  Our own feeble efforts are not going to be sufficient; that would be Pelagianism.

John Bergsma

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hermitage pictures.

A few more across the valley pictures.

"Divino amore ferventes"

THE SACRED HOST BY edward emery

Ours it is to learn from the contemplation of the Sacred Host how to be silent, how to disappear, how to leave the world. I look at Our Lord in the Sacrament of His redeeming love. There He is silent. There He is hidden. There He is separated from all things and, at the same time, present to all things. The Host is the pattern of Pope Benedict XVI’s cloistered life. The Host is the pattern of our life here. “One thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Desert Experience in Mongolia

by Father Peter Turrone

“I am going to allure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:16

The desert is an arid and lonely place. It is hostile to all forms of life. It requires a great deal of patience, suffering and sacrifice to survive. Few people are willing to live in the desert. In fact, the population density of the Gobi desert is 0.3/sq km compared to 195/sq km in Ulaanbaatar . Metaphorically, however, the desert refers to any place of retreat from everyday life. This can be either an ancient monastery, the mountains, the beach, a chapel, one’s own room, and, most especially, one’s heart.

Throughout the Old Testament, the desert is seen as a testing ground for God’s chosen ones. It is the place where each person is called to come face to face with his or her own truth in the presence of God. There is literally nothing else but us and God. Everything that lies hidden within our hearts will eventually manifest itself if given enough time. In the New Testament, the importance of the desert is once again underscored. Our Lord himself retreats into the desert to be tempted by the devil before beginning his public ministry . The desert becomes a testing ground for the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity himself. Furthermore, the Evangelists also record other incidences of Jesus retreating into the desert to remain in solitude and prayer with the Father .

The desert also occupies a central part in the early Christian spiritual tradition. The Desert ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ were those people who abandoned everything related to the world in order to draw into a deeper intimacy with God. The lessons they learned continue to be of value for each new generation of Christians because the wisdom they learned was given from above, and, moreover, emerged from having learned to live in solitude and silence.

Called to be Evangelized

Speaking to a missionary a few months back he had mentioned something very interesting. When he first learned of his destination to Mongolia he had thought that his main work was to evangelize the Mongolian people. While this will always hold true for each of us missionaries, the most surprising discovery for him was the fact that God wanted to first evangelize him in this land of mission.
In The Inner Voice, Father Henry Nouwen mentions something along these lines which bears repeating over and over again:

“The more you are called to speak for God’s love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of that love in your own heart. The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. Only when your roots are deep can your fruits be abundant”. (p. 35)
The question we are then faced with is to figure out how to go about entering into an authentic journey which goes beyond mere words.

Interior Evangelization 

There is an excellent book entitled L’evangelizzazione del profondo. This work is the fruit of several years of prayer and psychotherapeutic experiences of several people who were not afraid to enter into themselves and begin a process of self-discovery and healing. They took seriously St. Augustine’s observation that by really knowing ourselves we are better able to know God.

The opening line of the Introduction begins with a question. “Are we really evangelized right down to the depths of our being, in all of our components?” (p.11). Each one of us has our own personal history whose entirety is only known to God. We are born into an environment which, for good or bad, shapes our personality. Over time, we either make choices, or have them made for us, which has a further impact on our identity. For the most part, each of us comes out unscathed, at least on the exterior. However, each one of us carries one or more wounds resulting from others, or from those we have inflicted upon ourselves through sin.

Each of us passes through various stages of life that are common to all, although our past will influence how we are able to cope with these transitions. These transitions include leaving home, beginning a new career, being destined to a particular mission, being diagnosed with an illness, growing old etc. What is crucial here is that these bio-psycho-social milestones unmasks our personality structure and, more importantly, how we understand and relate to God. They can often present themselves are “crises” or difficulties. What is remarkable about them is that they are given to us by God as opportunities for human and spiritual growth.

It is important to recognize that being aware of what lies hidden within ourselves requires solitude and silence. If we spend more time on the internet or in superficial conversations than in prayer and contemplation (which does not mean living in the chapel day and night) we will remain at a superficial level of existence. This is not meant to be an exercise in self-absorption but as a means to draw closer to the Lord, and moreover, to be more compassionate towards our neighbor. In this regard, knowing our weaknesses and strengths is still not enough to mature. We have to accept them too otherwise we will be slaves to them or project them unto other people. If, however, we recognize and accept our identity in its totality, we are more likely to advance humanly and spiritually. We are more likely to live in relative peace with ourselves, God and other.

This process requires a free decision to open ourselves to God. When we are caught up with many activities on a regular basis without being grounded in solitude and silence we might find ourselves becoming further removed from our core. For some people, they cannot stand silence and solitude because their whole identity is based on their work or relations with others. Being alone feels like being with a stranger. Moreover, many men often become sick with cancer and depression immediately after retirement. Their whole life was spent building their identity on what they did instead of on who they are .

For us here in Mongolia, we find ourselves in an unique situation. It is difficult to understand the culture and the language. We may be used to a certain style of mission which is not feasible here. We may find ourselves in a sort of desert. We are down to the essentials.

However, God was always calling us to enter into a deeper more authentic intimacy with him by virtue of our religious consecration (and ordination), however, we are now ‘forced’ to enter into it. Yet, we need to want to enter into it. Jesus is helpless in front of our freedom. He knocks at the door. We have to let him into our hearts. We need to be able to want God to empty us of all the idols and masks we have developed over time so as to be transformed into “new” men and women .

The struggle for holiness occurs within the privacy of the soul and we will not be aware of this without a certain measure of solitude and silence. When we are driving a car and want to give full attention to something up ahead we always lower or turn off the music. If we want to pay attention to what our hearts and God are telling us we need to do the same. This is why solitude and silence are essential to self-awareness and spiritual growth. God does not shout, He whispers.


An essential element of the desert is silence. The only noise we often hear is that produced by the wind. This is good because we are likely to become more self-aware. It is usually in these circumstances that all of the inner noise within us begins to emerge. We become more conscious of our thoughts, basic drives and feelings. The Desert Fathers often wrote of their experiences with the devil. While some of the devils they fought with were real rebellious evil spirits that sought to ruin them, there are also those ‘devils’ which were personifications of interior negative sentiments and thoughts.

While many of those at the beginning of their spiritual journey often have a romantic view of silence, we know that it can be rather heavy at times. We can think of the dramatic example of a prisoner who lives alone in his or her cell. This experience can lead to depression or despair if it is not grounded in God. It is only when we fill our silence with prayer and contemplation can we transform it into a spiritually profitable experience.

If we have the courage to live in silence we will eventually come face to face with our deeper self. It sounds frightening at times because we may not know who we are going to meet. We may have constructed an image of ourselves that is not real, or only partially real. There, we will find out the truth about the extent of our conversion. There we will find out how much we are in need of salvation.


The deeper we enter into ourselves, the deeper will be our experience of solitude . We go beyond our affective attachments with others which form a large part of our identity and enter into that part of ourselves where we stand alone. Again this can be a painful experience. In Arvaiheer, we see several cases of women remaining in abusive relationships for fear of living alone.

In reality, the experience of solitude can be very positive. We are Christians and know in faith that at baptism we were drawn into the life of the Holy Trinity and have become Tabernacles of the Most High. Jesus never leaves us alone. He is always present in us. Therefore, the experience of silence and solitude can give rise to joy and peace of heart because we discover that we are not alone, and that we are loved by God as we are and not as we think we would like to be. Jesus’ love for us in without measure. It is in this experience that hope is born and we even begin to live in right relationship with our neighbor. The other person is no longer sought out so as to fulfill an emotional need but to love for their own sake.

This is important for us working here in Mongolia, but also everywhere in the world, where we are called to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. By allowing God to heal us and transform us we begin to become not only hopeful, but, as Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, become hope itself in a world where many of its citizens live without hope and are dominated by fear and cynicism.

Prayer as Mission In Mongolia

Prayer and liturgy are the centre of the Christian missionary life . During the Asian Assembly most of us participated in last year in South Korea, we were almost unanimous in stating that prayer is necessary for our own personal growth as consecrated men and women, and, moreover, it was a form of evangelization itself.

One example used by Father Paul Devreux would be useful here. He states that “if I begin to look at a painting in a museum, the painting will slowly begin to evoke the curiosity of others who eventually might stop to take a look themselves. The people will not stop to look at me, in fact, they may not even care whether or not I exist. However, they will stop to look at the cause of what is drawing so much attention and honour the painting itself” . The above example is an excellent metaphor for our daily Prayer of Adoration held each morning after the Eucharist in our ger church in the mission of Arvaiheer.

The central importance of prayer and contemplation in missionary life is evident when in 1927, Pope Pius XI declared Saint Therese of Liseux the patroness of missionaries. Even though she never left the cloister, she dedicated her entire existence to bringing all non-Christians before the Holy Trinity in prayer.

While we may not live in a cloister, we are all called to enter into an authentic journey of transfiguration in order to become holy missionaries. This does not mean that we are going to be without faults and stop sinning altogether, however, our main goal will be to let God work through us and with us for our own salvation and of those we serve.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

“In the Heart of the Desert” by John Chryssavgis.


“‘Desert’ (eremos) literally means ‘abandonment’; it is the term from which we derive ‘hermit’.  The areas of desertedness were where the demons bred. . .There is no water in the desert, and in the mind of the Jews that was the ultimate curse.  No water also meant no life.  The desert signified death; nothing grows in the desert.  Your very existence is, therefore, threatened.  In the desert you will find no one and no thing.  In the desert you can only face up to yourself and to every aspect of your self, to your temptations, and to your reality.  You confront your own heart, and your heart’s deepest desires, without any scapegoat, without any hiding place.”

“Yet the desert was also endowed with sacred significance for Jews and Christians alike.  The Israelites had wandered in the desert for forty years.  It was there that Moses saw God.  It was there that John the Baptist preached the coming of the Messiah.  Indeed, it was in the desert that Jesus Himself began His ministry; it was in the wilderness that He was first tempted by the demons. . .  .”

“So the desert, while accursed, was never seen as an empty region.  It was a place that was full of action.  It was a space that provided an opportunity, and even a calling, for divine vision.  In the desert, you were invited to shake off all forms of idolatry, all kinds of earthly limitations, in order to behold – or rather, to be held before – an image of the heavenly God.  There, you were confronted with another reality, with the presence of a boundless God, whose grace was without any limits at all.”

“The desert is an attraction beyond oneself; it is an invitation to transfiguration.  It was neither a better way, nor an easier way.  The desert elders were not out to prove a point; they were there to prove themselves. . . Nothing should be held back in this surrender.  It is all or nothing.  The abandonment to God is absolute.”

“The desert is a place of spiritual revolution, not of personal retreat.  It is a place of inner protest, not outward peace.  It is a place of deep encounter, not of superficial escape.  It is a place of repentance, not recuperation.  Living in the desert does not mean living without people; it means living for God.  Anthony and the other desert dwellers never forgot this.  They never sought to cut off their connections to other people instantly.  They rather sought to refine these relationships increasingly.”
However, Chrssavgis is quick to point out that the meaning of the desert extends far beyond the sands of Egypt.  It speaks of a personal way applicable to each of our lives.  It is a “spiritual way that was present everywhere, including the large and busy cities.  ‘It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was someone who was his equal in the city.  He was a doctor by profession.  Whatever he had beyond his needs, he would give to the poor; and every day he sang hymns with the angels.’

“It is the clear understanding of these elders that one does not have to move to the geographical location of the wilderness in order to find God.  Yet, if you do not have to go to the desert, you do have to go through the desert. . . Everyone does go through the desert in one shape or another.  it may be in the form of suffering or emptiness, or breakdown or any other kind of trauma that occurs in our life.  Dressing this desert up through our addictions or attachments . . . will delay the utter loneliness and inner fearfulness of the desert experience.  If we go through this experience involuntarily, then it can be both overwhelming and crushing.  If, however, we accept to undergo this experience voluntarily, then it can prove both constructive and liberating.  The physical setting of the desert is a symbol, a powerful reminder of a spiritual space that is within us all.”

The deserts of Egypt and the experiences of the elders may seem far removed from those who live many centuries later, but in reality they speak of that which is closest to us – to the desert within the human heart, the place where we too must make the ultimate surrender to God and abandon ourselves to Him, the place where we must fight the good fight of faith, struggle with our own inner demons and wait for God in the silence of prayer.

Being fully alive.

The writings of the Desert Fathers have always had a special hold on me.  Although I have been exposed to many other great writings in the spiritual tradition, I have found myself returning again and again to their works.  It is, I believe, their focus on the practical that speaks to me – their focus on the lived faith.  Paradoxically, while they removed themselves from all contact with others and retreated to the barrenness of the desert, they also seemed to enter more fully into the depths of the human heart to discover not only the hidden mysteries therein, but the mysteries of the kingdom.  Their writings, or most often simple sayings, speak with the clarity that only the silence of the desert could produce.  Having stripped themselves of so many of the things that clutter our lives and hide the truth from our view, they came to see with utmost clarity the truth of their own poverty and the mercy of God.  Naked, as it were, they came to know the naked Christ – the richness of crucified Love. In this their lives speak to us about who we are and who God is.

John Chryssagis in his book “In the Heart of the Desert” speaks of this special and very personal appeal of the Fathers:
“There is a fourth century Eucharistic prayer of Sarapion of Thmusis that expresses the center of the experience for the early Christians and of what their faith means for them.  The prayer addresses God: ‘We entreat you, make us truly alive.‘  All of us know about the deeper longing to be truly alive. We have all felt the need to be more than ‘mere survivors‘ or ‘mere observers‘ in our world.  Through the centuries people have had the same hope, the same dream. . .”

“One place, where men and women sought aggressively to understand the deeper meaning and the fuller measure of human existence, was the desert of early Christian Egypt.  That dry desert . . . became the laboratory for exploring the truths about Heaven and earth and a forging ground for drawing connections between the two.  The hermits who lived in that desert tested and studied what it means to be human – with all the tensions and temptations, all of the struggle beyond survival, all the contacts with good and the conflicts with evil.  And in the process, some of them made many mistakes; others made fewer mistakes.  Whoever said that there is a clear and simple answer to the questions of life?  Yet, these men and women dared to push the limits, to challenge the norms. . .”

“The stories from the Egyptian desert are more than just a part of the Christian past.  They are a part of our human heritage: they communicate eternal values, spiritual truths.  Theirs is a silence of the deep heart and of intense prayer, a silence that cuts through the centuries and cultures.  We should stop to hear that heartbeat.  Sometimes, in fact, we shall need to stoop low in order to hear the sounds of their past.  For, while they present us with models of the spiritual way, they do so in peculiar ways and with strange examples.  In fact, these stories and sayings offer not simply models for imitation, but witnesses of a fullness and freedom to which we all aspire. . .”

“The words of these Egyptian hermits resemble flashes of light; they are sparks of fire.  And the reader should neither be overly impressed nor even be greatly distressed by their comments.  Instead, the reader is supposed to catch alight, to catch afire.  It is critical to remain open enough, to be sufficiently vulnerable to their austere yet suggestive counsel. . .”

“The words of these elders smash the structures of complexity and rationalization with which we often clutter and confuse our lives.  Their lives somehow seem to locate pockets of deadness in our lives, enabling us to become truly alive  What they are in fact saying to us most of the time is quite simply: be what you are called to be!”

****All quotes taken from “In the Heart of the Desert” by John Chryssavgis, pp. 1-13.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


In the eyes of the Lord giving a detailed explanation to the Father of all the needs of all we have been asked to present to him is not what matters; what matter is that we should stand before Him with a pure heart, and with boundless trust in His tender love for His children. This attitude is no easy way out; it is far more reassuring to rely on our words or activity than to have complete and blind trust in the love of the Father known in faith. We should be bearers of the poverty of mankind not by spelling it out, but by experiencing it, in the vivid awareness that we are in the presence of God with empty hands, and that we must count totally on Him.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Deafening Silence of Monastic Life

Interview With Museum Director of Serra San Bruno Monastery

By Antonio Gaspari and Maurizio Tripi

ROME, JAN. 26, 2011 ( Benedict XVI has traveled to various monasteries, and plans to visit the Carthusian monastery of Serra San Bruno on Oct. 9, reaffirming the value of this vocation to silent contemplation.

ZENIT spoke with Fabio Tassone, director of the monastery's museum, about the significance of the Pope's upcoming trip to Italy's Calabrian Diocese of Lamezia Terme.

Tassone spoke about the history of this particular monastery, and how monastic life in general continues to send a deafening message to the world of today.

ZENIT: Why has the Holy Father decided to visit the Carthusian monastery of Serra San Bruno?

Tassone: We don't know the specific reason that drove the Holy Father to make this unexpected but very gratifying decision.

It is true that this Pontiff, in the course of his pontificate, has visited monasteries on several occasions and has in himself a contemplative spirit; he will want to affirm his esteem and appreciation for this form of consecrated life.

In this place St. Bruno, who is considered the founder of the Carthusian order, ended his earthly experience, and from then on, around 900 years ago, this monastic presence profoundly influenced the Calabrian heart and territory.

From this place, rich in history and a crossroads of experience of faith and culture, the Pontiff would probably like to send a new message to the monks of today, as well as confirm the value of the contemplative life.

ZENIT: Who was St. Bruno?

Tassone: St. Bruno was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1030, when there were strong manifestations of evangelical radicalism and many movements were active that propounded an ever more intense return to God and to conversion.

A very young Bruno went to Rheims, France, to study and soon he became first a docent and then rector of the chapter school of that city. He immediately showed striking intellectual capacity, which he succeeded in uniting with a conduct of exemplary life, and a coherence between what he studied and his everyday life.

This coherence led him while still young to line up against his bishop, Bishop Manasse, who was guilty of simony. The sad affair ended and Bishop Manasse was deposed, and while thought was being given to making him the successor, Bruno began to look for something different.

Beyond his teaching experience he wanted to find a place and way to live in greater communion with God. For this reason, after some experience of hermitic and monastic life, he went to Bishop Ugo of Grenoble, France, to request to that he make available land to begin a new religious experience.

Thus in the valley of Chartreuse, Bishop Ugo supported this small group of devotees and in a wonderful natural framework, the monastic experience began.

The hermits began to live their lives in small wooden cabins built around a small church in which, periodically, the monks gathered for community prayer.

It was a design that was already clear in Bruno's mind: to create an environment that would make possible solitude, but avoid the evils of isolation. And he created in this way, based on the example of the desert Fathers, a place favorable to the encounter with God.

After close to six years Bruno was obliged to leave the hermitage to go to the court of Pope Urban II, who after having had him as teacher in Rheims, wanted him as personal adviser.

The times were troubled and the papal court, fleeing to southern Italy, was certainly not an environment consonant to a person who harbored the desire of an isolated life and wished to live in profound relationship with God.

The meeting between Urban II and Ruggero d'Altavilla resulted in creating conditions to allow Bruno to recreate the monastic experience in the land of Calabria, Italy, based on the model of that carried out in France. This design, though responding in part also to political motivations that made the Pope and d'Altavilla determined to restore Calabria to the spiritual dominion of the Church of Rome, created the providential conditions for the beginning of this now 900-year-old monastic experience to be carried out in the Calabrian Serre.

ZENIT: Why did St. Bruno build monasteries and found the Carthusians?

Tassone: St. Bruno, strictly speaking, cannot be considered the founder of the Carthusians, because in fact he didn't write the Rule.

Rather, he was the initiator of a new monastic experience, which though taking into account the preceding monastic experiences, above all the most ancient, proposed an innovative model of consecrated life to God.

The Carthusian monastery is an environment in which the solitary life and community life are wisely balanced -- communities of solitaries that had no precedents in the Latin tradition of monasticism.

This life is made up above all of extended moments in which the monk lives the solitude of the cell, which is the place of his consecration and the altar of his sacrifice; it is the mountain of the Lord's revelation.

The Carthusian statutes, however, provide that in the span of the day and of the week, there are also occasions that help the monk attain that intimate communion with brethren and with the world that renders solitude fruitful.

ZENIT: What are the reasons and what is the timeliness of the spirituality and the ways of contemplation of the Carthusians in today's world?

Tassone: Monastic life does not seek justification.

The monastic choice has in itself a component of provocation addressed to the world and its contemporaries, today as previously, whether in Christian churches or in any religion. Monasticism says to the man of today that another life is possible, that there are values for which it is worthwhile to commit one's whole life.

Although monasteries are silent, their silence is deafening. It could be said that the contribution of the contemplative life to the world is as the vital sap of trees, which runs silently and rises from the roots to the last leaf.

If there were no monks, the world would probably be worse, but the fact that they continue with their experience, to lead their lives in a silent way, leads them to seem strange and detached. However, they know the problems and vicissitudes of the world and of the Church, but their charism and their task keep them outside of the fray; they cannot be dragged in by anyone.

Contemplative life would be necessary to the world even if the world itself were to banish it completely.

ZENIT: Does the Pope know the story of St. Bruno? What does he think of Carthusian spirituality?

Tassone: The figure of St. Bruno of Cologne is very well known in Germany; certainly the Pope does not ignore it.

The very fact that the Holy Father decided to come to visit this Carthusian monastery could also be in relation to a certain interest of his in the figure of St. Bruno and Carthusian spirituality.

On October 6, 2006, in an impromptu homily to the International Theological Commission, Benedict XVI said, referring to St. Bruno: "But silence and contemplation have a purpose: They serve to preserve, in the dispersion of daily life, a permanent union with God. This is the purpose: That union with God always be present in our souls and transform all our being. Silence and contemplation -- characteristic of St. Bruno -- serve to give us the ability to find in the dispersion of every day this profound, continuous union with God. Silence and contemplation: the beautiful vocation of the theologian is to speak. This is his mission: In the loquacity of our time, and of other times, in the inflation of words, to render present the essential words, to render the Word present in words, the Word that comes from God, the Word that is God."

Also, recently the Pope reflected further on Carthusian spirituality when in the general audience of November 3, 2010 he reflected on the figure of Margherita d'Oingt, 13th century Carthusian, reviewing her extraordinary spiritual experience.

ZENIT: If you had to explain to a youth the reasons for the beauty of the contemplative life, what arguments would you give?

Tassone: It seems to me that today young people are attracted to the contemplative life, and even in this period of vocational crisis, monasteries continue to receive requests for admission by young men.

Monastic life has a certain fascination, even if the distance with our way of living in the world is ever greater and this could lead to a certain diffidence and hardship.

If I had to say what I like about monastic life, though not being a monk, but living on the margins of this monastic community, I would say that I like the opportunity I have to be deeply in the monasteries themselves.

Only before God we cannot pretend to be different, to be other than ourselves. Only God can love us without reservations and without conditions just as we truly are.

Freedom is another element, which although it is limited by the physical space of the cell walls, is an essential element of Carthusian life. Only if man willingly gives himself limits can he enjoy true freedom.

And finally, I like the coherence, not that to live in a monastery is necessarily a sign of coherence and dedication, as if it is not, necessarily, having promised fidelity to live with one's wife, but as I said earlier, the path is traced and one tries to live it daily as if it were a climb to ever loftier aims.

ZENIT: Why can one never visit the Carthusian monastery of Serra San Bruno?

Tassone: Carthusian monasteries are environments of strict cloister that are not compatible with daily visits of tourists, and all the Carthusian monasteries that at present can be visited in Italy are either entrusted to other religious orders, which have need of less pressing isolation, or are true and proper monuments/museums open to the public.

The Carthusian monastery of Serra San Bruno, precisely to respond to the needs of tourists and pilgrims, following the example of the Grande Chartreuse, has been equipped with a museum that is ideal to respond to the needs of the public. It is not a museum understood as the exhibition of treasures of the monastery, as in other cases, but rather a course that helps the visitor look through history, objects and the reconstruction of the environments, through the use of teaching and multimedia works, to be immersed in the atmosphere of the monastery and to know in depth the existence and habits of monks that live in Serra Saint Bruno.

An attempt is made to liberate the Carthusian experience of the superstructures of the traditional curious and of popular beliefs, to help persons who approach the museum with the desire to know monastic life more profoundly to come into contact with the essential nucleus of the existence of Carthusians, that true venue centered on solitude and communion with brethren and with God.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Heart of Wisdom by Stratford Caldecott

There is a book that caught my attention and may well hold it to the end of my life. Written by an English hermit—Priest-Monk Silouan, a convert to Orthodoxy now living in a retreat on the Shropshire hills—Wisdom Songs is a collection of “Centuries”, chapters of a hundred meditations each, on a series of spiritual themes. The erudition and wisdom of the author makes these meditations impossible to ignore, and throws the reader deep into a state of yearning for spiritual wisdom.

The book is too complex and multi-faceted to summarize easily. The themes—the Name of God, Wisdom, Beauty, and spiritual Eros via a commentary on the Song of Songs—are the most profound to be discovered in the Christian tradition. Fr Silouan is concerned to show that Christianity, and especially the heychast tradition of the Eastern Church where contemplation has been kept alive for two millennia, offers a wisdom that many modern seekers of truth assume is only available through non-Christian traditions.

The style in which the book is written deserves comment. It is neither prose nor poetry, but a kind of mixture of the two. “Be this seeing, sheer grace of being in this seeing in the ground of being” (p. 17).

The richness of the imagery can sometimes be overwhelming.

“He is the axis in the midst of subtle whirling wheels within. His are the sparkling rainbow rings that surround us within. His is the single eye at centre in the inmost heart of all hearts. It is his wisdom that surrounds us like a boundless expanse, for his glory is our firmament. Clear like crystal, translucent and bright, his glory shines through us as light from his throne in the midst. Wheels whirl like winds, all light and winged, resounding through all subtle centres and circles of our being” (p. 200).

None of this is self-indulgent. Each poetic phrase, each startling, colourful metaphor, has a metaphysical edge or purpose, as well as a biblical reference point. What I want to focus on here is the most central theme of all, the Name of God revealed to Moses in the Burning Bush—the God who reveals himself through a Covenant that is also a marriage. This is the key to our own discovery of God within and among us: I, Thou, and We. The Name is the theme that links all the parts of this book together into a single tapestry.

Fr Silouan’s insight into the Name is important because it overturns the entire edifice of modern philosophy from Ockham to Descartes to Kant and everything that follows.

Answering Descartes

Descartes sought for an indisputable first principle on which to base his philosophy, and concluded that “the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind.” I think therefore I am. For Descartes, then, the very fact that I am thinking – or that I can doubt that I am thinking – is proof of my existence, and for Augustine, too, fallor, sum (“If I am mistaken, I am”) (City of God, XI, 26). But where does the “I” come from, and to what does it refer? Thinking is certainly taking place, but all that is proven here is that thinking exists.

The foundation of thought is not “I am”—that is too specific, too hasty—but “something is” or “being is”. Being is that in which there can as yet be no distinction between what it is and the fact that it is—essence and existence. It is that whose nature is to exist. Everything else exists against the background of that necessity, a Presence or Principle which contains every possibility. And all human knowledge is rooted in the intuitive apprehension of being through a participation in the uncreated light of God’s own intellect. It is in this light that we contemplate the melody of nature, the thoughts of God expressed in creation, and the Logos holding it all together.

What of the “I”? This is where Fr Silouan comes in. My “I” comes from that same infinite Being and is a reflection of it. Being must therefore be an “I”. We know this, because every effect is an expression of its cause. Being is the “I” that lies deep within my own “I”. It is the presence of the all-holy, the spark of divine light at the core of our being—“at centre” or “in the midst” as Fr Silouan would say. In the Book of Exodus, Moses is told that God’s proper name is “I AM”. “This is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). The sacred name of God then echoes throughout the Old Testament (YHVH) and the New (“ego eimi”). In John 8:58, Jesus tells the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (Fr Silouan points out that in the Gospel of John there are seven times that Jesus names himself “I am” with a predicate, and seven without.)

When God names himself “I AM” (Exodus 3:13-15), he is in a sense only confirming the identity of transcendental Being with transcendental Selfhood. This is the deepest answer to Descartes, for the gap between the “I” and the action that manifests its existence (thinking) is overcome. The first act of being is also the beginning of “I”. The Name is sacred and unpronounceable because it is a name that only God himself can utter, since he is the Self in question. Anyone who is not the “I” to which the Name refers is usurping the Name.

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him (1 John 4:16). To love is to give, to share, to participate, to coinhere. The Name of God, “He who is,” is the same as “I AM,” because to BE is to be nothing other than MYSELF, and the act of being is the act of affirming my own existence, which in the end only God can do. I cannot affirm my own existence, because I am dependent on others. God can, for he is not dependent on anyone.

And so the Name is not merely a label attached to one person by another (as for the nominalists), but an expression of who God is. It is the self-expression of God, the beginning of the revelation that becomes complete in Jesus Christ, when the self of God is united with the soul and body of a human being, expressing itself not just in human language, but as a human being.

The Name in the Midst

Everything that exists does so by virtue of the Name (I AM) in which it participates, the act of Being in which it shares. “Everything above and below is saying I AM, glory loved and known. Everything is a divine name saying ‘I AM,’ and divine names are modes of love unfolding from God to give God glory, enfolding all in all. The beauty is the harmony, unfolding and enfolded” (p. 281).

The word “I” also implies community. An “I” only exists as such in relation to the not-I. My own sense of identity is awoken when I feel called by another, another deep within myself. I am called to holiness, to perfection. But when an “I” is born, so is a “Thou” and a “We”—a communion of persons. And so “the divine name ‘I am’ is equivalent to an ‘I give myself wholly to a Thou,’ and ‘I am one with a Thou,’ and therefore also with a ‘We are’ ” (Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 350). The “I AM” of God, speaking to Moses, implies such a community, which is later revealed as a Trinity by the incarnation of the Word.

The Name is therefore our eternal home, waiting for us; it is the city of light, the womb we seek, the peace we lost long ago. If we start with being, instead of the “I” proposed by Descartes, we will be able to resume the conversation he interrupted. It is the apprehension of being (as John Paul II indicated in Fides et Ratio) that is the foundation of philosophy and of all human thought. A less technical name for it is “wonder”. All philosophy begins in the awakening of the question as to why anything at all exists. To wonder in awe before the world that reveals itself to us is to open the door both to philosophy and to religion.

This Wisdom is the key to an enlightenment that transcends the “neo-pagan humanist renaissance,” the “new age,” and any reduction of Logos to Ratio (Silouan, p. 240). It is the key to understanding insights that remain perennially valid within the Asian traditions, where Atman is identified with Brahman. It is not that the human self is the divine Self, but rather that the divine Self (I AM) is the only perfect being, and is reflected in all else that is. We are not God, but God is the centre of all, so when we turn to our own centre we find, not ourselves, but God. The centre of not-God is God. I exist because a centre exists in everything. Nothing exists without a centre.

Being is also Light, because “Light” is a physical symbol of the giving of self so as to share it with others, to reveal it, to manifest its essence. There is no separation in God between “I” and “AM,” for both are one single shaft of light in the midst, in the centre of all. “No I without AM. No AM without I. The Name re-unified overcomes all dualistic divisions. The Name in its great perfection is complete. The Name is the Great Peace” (p. 27).

“The quintessence of the manifest Name is the unmanifest divine NO-THING, which Jewish mysticism calls AIN SOF. As origin of the generated Name, at once pure awareness, ANI, and pure presence, SHEKINAH, the divine NO-THING is the eternal Father. Unimaginably and inexpressibly, the paternal NO-THING generates the filial no-thing, the ‘I AM’, EGO EIMI. Primordial uncreated awareness says ‘I’. Spontaneous eternal presence says ‘AM’. Before the Big Bang, ‘I AM’. After the big rip, ‘I AM’. Standing under all, ‘I AM’.

To be is to be “I.” It is to be who-one-is – and who is God but to-be, the perfect act of being, which is the act of giving, light from light, true God from true God. All of this is implicit in the revelation to Moses, and the symbolic revelation of the Burning Bush, which gives light but is not consumed.

“We are graced with freedom in these flames. Radiant communion, unconsumed, consumes dark confusion. The flame of the Name reveals God in a burning bush” (p. 293).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Understanding Desert Monasticism by Trevor Miller

In the early centuries of the Church’s history, spreading as it did along the trade routes of the Middle East and the Mediterranean and Aegean coastlands, places of worship were the homes of believers or the open air, wherever they could meet unseen because there was much persecution of the followers of Christ.
Constantine1This all changed early in the 4th Century, when the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, elevating it to the state religion through the Edict of Milan in 313 AD and by doing so ushered in a major cultural shift. After 3 centuries of ‘being homeless in the world’ Christians began to find themselves in favour, rather than persecuted. The result was confusion and bewilderment in those who had accepted themselves as aliens and strangers in this world. Many accepted Constantine’s edict of toleration but it resulted in the cutting edge of the Church’s life being blunted as for the first time nominalism took root (believers in name only) further resulting in mediocrity, accommodation and compromise as social standing became the reason for faith and not love of Jesus Christ.
It was at this point, when Christians began to find themselves at home in the world, where those who had previously persecuted the Christians were putting out the welcome mat and sitting in the ‘same pew’, that the response to the ‘call of the desert’ began to gain momentum, beginning at first with a few, and then a multitude.
Thomas Merton wrote “It should seem to us much stranger than it does, that this paradoxical flight from the world attained its greatest dimensions (I almost said frenzy) when the ‘world’ officially became Christian.”
Was this Christian withdrawal into the desert purely a negative move? Was it a retreat from all the complications and compromise in those attempting to Christianize society? Was it a judgmental act, motivated to shame those Christians who had decided to stay and work out their salvation in the city? Which group of Christians made the right response to this new and ‘favourable’ situation, those who stayed in the ‘city’ or those who withdrew to the desert? In the mystery of God the answer has to be – BOTH.
One of my favourite stories, which I think will illustrate this point, comes from Elizabeth Goudges’ book on the life of St Francis of Assisi. There is a moment when St Francis meets with Cardinal John, and the two embrace. You can imagine the scene, Francis in his robes of poverty and the cardinal dressed elegantly. Yet as they embrace they realise they share the same heart and devotion for the Lord. Yet, one is called to the temptations of poverty, and the other to the temptations of riches or, to put it another way, one is called to the temptations of the desert, and the other to the temptations of the city.
The moral of the story is that we each have to follow our vocation; to be who we are. Our Hild liturgy puts it well as we each pray, ‘Lord, show me the right seat; Find me the fitting task; Give me the willing heart.’
The Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated to the outskirts of the cities and into the Deserts of Egypt, Syria and Palestine to think through the meaning of such change and to find a different way of being a Christian in the world.
St_Anthony3Paradoxically so many people came to them for spiritual guidance, help and instruction so that within 50 years eyewitness accounts reported that the population of the desert equalled that of the towns. Some of the pilgrims stayed and this became the beginnings of Community. However, the Desert Fathers again sought solitude and withdrew from the new Community expression but the cycle repeated itself, resulting in many Communities springing up all over. Much of what was taught was in the form of pithy sayings and observations of wisdom. Here is a good example:
A brother came to visit Abba Sylvanus at Mount Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard, he said to the old man, “Do not work for food that perishes, for Mary has chosen the good part.” Then the old man called his disciple, “Zachary, give this brother a book and put him in an empty cell.” Now when it was three o’clock the brother kept looking out of the door to see if someone would call him for the meal. But nobody called him, so he got up, went to see the old man, and asked: “Abba, didn’t the brothers eat today?” The old man said, “Of course we did.” “Then why didn’t you call me?” he said. The old man replied, “You are a spiritual person, and do not need that kind of food, but since we are earthly, we want to eat and that’s why we work. Indeed you have chosen the good part, reading all day long, and not wanting to eat earthly food.” When the brother heard this he repented and said, “Forgive me, Abba.” Then the old man said to him: “Mary certainly needed Martha, and it is really by Martha’s help that Mary is praised’.
Antony of Egypt is generally regarded as the original desert father. He exemplified the Anchorites, those who were largely hermits, living in isolation. His life became the first written account of the monastic expression becoming widely read and revered.
Community life in a monastic sense first appeared with Pachomius in the 4th Century. These were Cenobites, paradoxically described by Pachomius as ‘a community of hermits’, each living alone in their own cells yet together in work and worship.
St_Anthony2The term Monasticism helps us to answer the question, what is a monk? The root word Monachos means ‘alone, solitary’. In the beginning it stood for the ascetic who was not married and lived alone. Cenobites did not use this word in the beginning preferring ‘brother’. However it quickly acquired a deeper meaning: a person who is ‘one’ in his inmost being. It means a person united within himself, a person with a single gaze, a single desire. Monos = monk, one, single minded; and this ‘one thing necessary’ was seeking God in repentance because it was a continual confrontation with the Cross, with self, with sin, with the wrong of the world.
The link between Celtic spirituality and desert spirituality is monasticism and Celtic spirituality embraced the meaning of the desert symbolically and metaphorically. Jesus used the term ‘desert’ in this way – a good example is Mark 6:31 where Jesus using the word for desert says ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ Not a reference to desert dryness, uninhabited waste but a picture of solitude, stillness, the heart alone with God. Same word used in Luke 4:42 ‘At daybreak Jesus went to a solitary place.’ Also Luke 6:12, 9:18, 11:1 – a place of privacy, aloneness, often whole nights in close company with his Father, expressive of his single minded devotion to the Father’s will. Latin = solitudo. Russian = Poustinia, Greek = Eremos – stillness, desert, lonely place. A further understanding was seen in the example of the Temptations of Jesus. The desert for Jesus was a period of testing and discovery and just as He was ‘led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted of the devil’ so it would be for those who sought to follow Him. There is a strong tradition that Jesus (like his cousin John the Baptist before him) spent many of the so called hidden years in the desert regions. Jesus spent 18 years hidden; and only 3 years in public ministry.
Desert_isolationSo putting these together the desert was not just a place, a physical location but a type of Christian experience. It was a journey – an inner journey of the heart. The Bible begins in a Garden and ends in a City but much of the terrain in between is a desert. This was the ethos of what became monasticism – the inner journey of abandonment, stripping away, a place of encounter and discovery, of identity and vocation, of testing and preparation of heart for the life God has for us.
As a Community we are following on in our own generation this tradition. Our core vision is to respond to the call of God to seek Him in and through the embracing, exploring and expressing of a new monastic spirituality as a different way of living in and relating to, today’s world.
This is our heart, our reason to be, the constant theme of Psalm 27. ‘One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. To behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.’ It is the daily renewal of our vows encapsulated in our morning office ‘Who is it that you seek?’
It is the continual commitment to ‘the one thing necessary.’ Single minded focus on the mystery of God in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, not only in the narrow ‘evangelical’ interpretation of doctrinal exclusiveness but in the deeper awareness that all things come together in and through Christ. Then to offer the fruit of our life in incarnational ordinariness with all who come our way, cross our path in the everydayness of our roles, responsibilities and relationships, asking with them ‘How then shall we live? How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

As a Community we have been and are united in this quest for ‘a new monasticism’ a Northumbrian spirituality. Not as an escapist, nostalgic quest for a golden era that didn’t exist or to replicate the past but informed by the Celtic monastic tradition which is our heritage, we are ‘looking with them to Him who inspires us both’ in order to find a way to engage with the paradox and complexities of real life as it is, by drawing from the well of faith and love for the Lord expressed in that period of our history, and applying it to our contemporary situation.
Bonhoeffer17Two of the more significant milestones in the journey of seeking to understand ourselves was a] the discovery of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and in particular his belief that ‘The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this’
And b] strongly identifying with those believers described by William Stringfellow in his book ‘An ethic for Christians and other aliens in a strange land’ as the hidden future of the Church ‘Dynamic and erratic, spontaneous and radical, audacious and immature, committed if not altogether coherent. Ecumenically open and often experimental, visible here and there, now and then but unsettled institutionally. Almost monastic in nature but most of all enacting a fearful hope for society.’
All this resonated with us as we firmly believed (and still believe) that we are experiencing as a Community, (along with many,seeking3 many others) a ‘holy restlessness’ and a ‘divine concern’ regarding the nature of faith, which for us has only begun to make sense of the nonsense within us and around us through an embracing of monastic values and disciplines. Why is this? Because these distinct values enable us to ‘marry’ the inner journey, the landscape of the heart – a call to repentance, a call to self denial, and a call to recognise and to resist evil – with the outer journey, the landscape of the land, which has given us a platform to ‘find a different way’ of being a Christian in the society that we live in.
The whole purpose of the Nether Springs was to have a place, a residential centre, rooted in the spirituality of Northumbria, where we could explore and research this call of God, where we could be ourselves, no pretence or having to behave, while seeking God for Himself and getting to know our own hearts and at the same time, provide a facility for others to join us in their individual search for God.

In order for us to understand about ‘a new monasticism’ we needed to understand a little about ‘old’ monasticism because it was from that tradition that we drew so much. In this we were influenced by the way of life expressed in the monasticClonfertCommunity’s at Roslin in Scotland and at Clonfert in Ireland, where Roland Walls and Michael Cullen respectively gave significant example.
We discovered that monasticism is ‘a way of life with a spiritual goal which transcends the objectives of this earthly life. The attainment of this goal is considered the ‘one thing necessary.’ Christian monasticism i.e. that which is centred in and consecrated to Christ being informed, inspired and illumined by His Love) has three essential elements namely, Separation from the world, Ascetical practices, Mystical Aspiration.
A] Separation from the world – the physical separation of the enclosure; a tonsure, a distinctive habit etc. all of which marked the separateness.
B] Ascetical Practices – Poverty, chastity, obedience, regularity of life in a Community under a Rule, stability, self denial, silence, solitude, cultivation of lectio divina, public prayer of the Church e.g. the story in Exodus 17 where the continuous prayer of the liturgical offices is likened to the holding up the hands of Moses, and engaging in spiritual warfare.
C] Mystical Aspiration – Searching for God in his Absolute Mystery and Beyondness. God is both concealed and revealed. Contemplation of Christ the Living Word and of Christ in the written Word, allowing self to be caught up in the movement of repentance, of returning to God. Giving oneself to His action in us thro Availability and Vulnerability, surrender, abandonment, and prayer.
A new monasticism which is ‘An interior monasticism of the heart’ seeks to draw from these truths and attempts to live a contemporary expression of ‘contemplation in a world of action.’ So the differences are in emphases
A] Separation – not separatism, isolationist but withdrawal as strategic retreat. An awareness of the importance of the inner journey, poustinia, cloister of the heart, solitude, hiddenness, alone yet together.
B] Ascetical practises – a way for living that incorporates the spiritual disciplines to encourage this interior vigilence. Ascesis = training, living. It is training for life needing a Rule of life, a rhythm of prayer, a reason to be. Seeking God, knowing self so as to better live with others. So we have both solitude and Community, both Alone and Together as spiritual disciplines. This is seeking “truth in the inward parts” Ps 51, a life of repentance, humility and teachableness with a willingness to embrace the spiritual disciplines that bring life.
C] Mystical aspiration – awareness of God as Mystery, seeking God, longing, monasticism of the heart, compunction, a contemplative approach to life and prayer where an awareness of the cell, Desert, dark night, inner life, logismoi, monsters is needed. This is where God is concealed from us yet revealed to us in the paradoxical ‘ever-present absence of God’..
All the spiritual disciplines and monastic values are there not as ends in themselves but as aids, tools, signposts to the heart of it all which is Christ. Thus we have many of our daily meditations (e.g. Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 17, 21 etc ) pointing to the inner journey as paramount and foundational.
This is our ethos, our heart, that which gives us identity. It is something we can only do alone but we are Together in our Aloneness. We have many Companions sharing our journey. It is the ‘single minded search for God’ given coherence by desert and Celtic spirituality which was essentially monastic and any expression of Monasticism stands in the wisdom tradition which is not an accumulation of knowledge for its own sake, but a constant application to life actually lived ‘A wise person does not gather and dispense insights, but rather has the heart to live those insights’
1] MONASTIC DISCERNMENT – Relationship with God, self and othersold_and_new
2] MONASTIC DISCIPLINE – Rule of life – Availability and Vulnerability
3] MONASTIC DAY – Rhythm of prayer and life, giving a pattern to my days
This was the purpose of going to the Cell. Your cell may have a physical representation; a hut or poustinia, a chair in a corner of a room etc. But whatever it is, it is symbolic of the heart alone with God. This is the heart of the inner journey. It is encounter and discernment of that which is constructive and destructive, enabling us to choose life and not death.
That process of looking inward in order to discover the true self as opposed to the false self, the deeper meaning of all your actions and reactions, and this ‘going to the cell’ would eventually teach you everything and so bring you closer to the true humanity of Christlikeness.
One of the first effects of ‘going to the cell’ is the release of the energies of the unconscious, which gives rise to two different psychological states:-
a] Exposure to the love of God: expressed and experienced in our personal development in the form of spiritual consolation; experiencing his mercy, grace and forgiveness in Christ through his Cross.
b] Exposure to the sinfulness of humanity: experiencing our own human weakness through humiliating self knowledge and encounter with the false self, the dark side of our personality. ‘It takes a moment to get you out of Egypt but a lifetime to get Egypt out of you.’
This dual awareness is what the Fathers called ‘compunction’ and it’s captured in the hymn ‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus two wonders I confess: the wonder of his glorious love and my own worthlessness.
This is why a Rule of life is absolutely essential to any monastic expression. It says this is who we are, this is our story and all Rule11who are part of us must keep to and live in the story that God has written as foundational. Monastic stability is to be accountable to a Rule of life NOT to a set of rules that restrict or deny life. It is, to use the words of Benedict ‘simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life’.
A Rule is like a pair of eye glasses (spectacles) – we don’t look AT them but THROUGH them to life. How foolish to constantly look at them, the gold frames the bi-focul lenses and never look through them so as to actually see.
The word comes from the Old English REULE. In Latin it is REGULA which means ‘rhythm, regularity of pattern, a recognisable standard’ for the conduct of life. Esther De Waal writes that the Latin REGULA ‘is a feminine noun which carried gentle connotations’. Not harsh negatives that we often associate with the phrase ‘rules and regulations’ today.
Esther De Waal tells us that the word has a root meaning of ‘a signpost’ which has a purpose of pointing away from itself so as to inform the traveller that they are going in the right direction on their journey. It would be foolish to claim we have arrived at our destination if in fact we are only at a signpost, however near or far from the destination it is.
Another root meaning of REGULA is ‘a banister railing’ which is something that gives support as you move forward, climbing or descending on your journey.
A Rule of life gives creative boundaries and spiritual disciplines while still leaving plenty of room for growth, development and flexibility. It gives us something to hold on to as we journey in our search for God, and when we be blown off course, it gives a safe haven to come back to. It gives us a means of perception, a way of seeing so that we can attempt to handle our lives and relationships wisely. This is why we can all be helped by embracing a
A workable rhythm to your day that draws from Monastic values that actually works for you according to your own unique situation and circumstances. It has to bring life and freedom not straightjacket you.
Our Rule of life is deliberately flexible and adaptable. It is also timeless because it does not PRESCRIBE, it PROVOKES. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive! It’s the very opposite – its seek God for yourself, who you are, where you are – with your unique experience, knowledge and understanding of life. With all your idiosyncrasies, prejudices and crap – bring it all to the Rule of Availability and Vulneraility. We must hold it loosely so as to make our own discoveries. To realise there won’t always be an answer so we keep asking/living the questions.
How then shall we live? Who is God? Who am I? What is Real?
It is to realise that God gives different answers to different people in different situations and circumstances, which is why we can’t prescribe, can’t meet individual agenda’s and expectations.
In many ways it would be so much easier to say this is the prescription – do this, don’t do that – take 3 Hail Mary’s, 2 Our Father’s 4 times a day. It has to be broad strokes, general principles to which you apply your specifics – your own unique set of circumstances and relationships.
Henri Nouwen expresses it well when he speaks of the spiritual life being a constant reaching out in the midst of paradox and chaos to these three areas of connectedness. This Reaching Out constitute the three Movements of the Spiritual Life.
1] Connecting in relation to self – From loneliness to solitude. With courageous honesty to our inmost selves, facing inner restlessness, our passions, weaknesses.
2] Connecting in relation to others – From hostility to hospitality. With relentless care to others, despite our mixed feelings and hostility.
3] Connecting in relation to God – From illusion to prayer. With increasing prayer to God, facing our doubts, disappointments and darkness. Living in incarnational reality.
It is the call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength – to love our neighbour as ourselves – to love one another as Christ has loved us.