A Different Way of the Cross

This morning, I was surprised by a phone call as I was beginning the Way of the Cross…”this is the University of Wisconsin, letting you know that you have been chosen to participate in Phase III trials for the COVID-19 vaccine. Um, what? Oh yes, I do remember submitting my name for that, not really thinking I would be called.

After 15 minutes of being asked more personal questions than I typically get asked in the confessional, I was told that I was definitely approved and they wanted me there – tomorrow! With a quiver in my voice, I told them that I could be there.

Hanging up the phone, I realized that God might have had a different Way of the Cross He was asking me to make. Was I there to just see this beautiful Basilica and make this devotion or did I really want to walk with Him? This thought wouldn’t leave my mind.

Unnerved, to say the least, I continued on with the Stations, recognizing at that moment that things were getting ready to change. What was I doing? Is this really something I wanted to do? Is this ethical/moral? Is this rushed? Most of those questions, I’ve had answered, yet there still remains some trepidation in dong this.

I found out that I have a 2 out of 3 chance of receiving the vaccine versus a placebo (saline). I also found out that I won’t know which one I have received. This is to ensure that the results of the double-blind study are not skewed.

What will come of this? I’m not sure. Why am I doing this? Because I know that there are hundreds of millions, if not billions of individuals who could potentially benefit from this. Someone has to, so why not me?

As my fear crept in on the way home, St. John Paul II quickly came to mind. He is my patron, my guide, my friend, even though I never met him. His name I chose as my Benedictine oblate name when I made my final oblation. He showed us how to live out our faith with heroic virtue. He showed us how to embrace sickness, suffering and death, wrapped in the arms of Christ crucified. He also took a bullet at age 61, certainly I could take a shot at 46!

After returning home, the desire to receive the Sacrament of the Sick quickly entered my mind. Thankfully, I was able to contact my pastor and he readily agreed to administer it to me.

I started off my day thinking that I would make the Way of the Cross, and I did. I received three sacraments today – Confession, Eucharist, and the Sacrament of the Sick, all in preparation to embrace the cross, which is giving oneself in love for others. It’s certainly not how I had anticipated making the Way, yet God always seems to outdo us in love.

I understand that this may be controversial to some. The only thing I have to say in response is that it shouldn’t be. Sometimes we have to step out of ourselves to help others. It’s controversial only because the world says life should only be about me, me, and me.

I’ve certainly lived that way before but apparently Christ took me at my word today when I asked Him to let me imitate Him a little. He also quickly reminded me not to get a big head because I’m not doing anything special, only what I should be doing all along – trying to love as He loves.

I was reluctant to write about this because I did not want to promote anything I was trying to do nor encourage others to do the same. This is a serious decision to make and should not be taken lightly. I write about it because it will be a big part of my life for the next 13 months – the time they want to follow me and see how I am doing.

I am also writing about it because others may want to know of someone who has gone through this and I am willing to share my experience with you, in the hope to alleviate any fear that may be associated with this.

Pray for me but pray especially for those who have been so deeply affected by this horrible pandemic.

St. John Paul II, here we go!

The True Face of Love

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb

To what depths did God go to love us? Look above.

To what depths did God go to save us? Look above.

We sugarcoat the crucifixion. We are all very good at sugarcoating death, but if we are to truly understand the depths of God’s love for us we must look the dead Christ in the face.

Take your time, for his mouth is gaping wide and his eyes are not yet fully closed. His hands show sings of rigor mortis and his face is contorted with pain.

We know this isn’t the end of the story but too often we gloss over the reality of Christ’s crucifixion and death.

If we want to know the ways of God…Look above.

If we want to know how far God went to bring us to himself…Look above.

Don’t gloss over it because it is vile. Gaze into the shattered face of Christ, caress his broken body and touch his green hands and feet.

We cannot begin to fathom the depths of God’s love until we first allow his lifeless eyes to gaze back at us. When we do, we begin to see the depths God plunged himself into so he might recklessly give himself away.

Throw a Wrench

Too much vitriol consumes our world. It’s also consuming a lot of our Church.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the hatred which so easily flows from peoples mouths. It’s exhausting and destructive, regardless of what “side” it comes from.

We so easily vilify anyone or anything that is different from ourselves. It certainly must be lonely up there on our pedestal.

The past few months, years, begs the question…”what the hell is going on?”

I have neither the time, energy, or competence to adequately answer that question but I do know the solution.

We stop. That’s it. We just stop. You would think as adults we know that. You would think as adults we would have learned that infantile behavior is well, stupid and childish. But, I’m wrong. We haven’t.

To LIBERALLY quote St. Benedict, we need to shut up for a moment, go to our rooms, and listen to the only voice that really matters.

If the creator of the universe only spoke one word – Christ – than maybe we should have him on our lips before we ever think of speaking another word again.

Christ calls us to break the cycle of violence. He calls us to throw a wrench into the destructive words and actions we see too often today.

Maybe, just maybe, we should sit in our rooms, turn off the TV, close our mouths, and listen.

It might not seem like much but it is one way we can throw a wrench in the middle of a world which seems to be collapsing in on itself because too many people can’t keep quiet.

On that note, I will take my own advice and end here.

Peace!

A New Journey Begins

The past few months have seen many changes including a recent move. As our world seems to be turned upside down and life seems to bring many struggles, I have found that God is present in ways we cannot begin to comprehend.

Instability seems to be the norm yet we must remember that Christ is the same, “yesterday, today and forever.” We must also remember that stability, a promise we Benedictines make, anchors us in Christ and His Church – 1,500 years of history has shown that Benedictines understand how to ride the waves of uncertainty.

None of us really knows what lies ahead and maybe this is what God is reminding us. Our future is in His hands, not ours. Abandonment to God and his will is really the only way we can keep from getting caught up in the chaos that seems to surround us. That doesn’t mean that anxiety doesn’t creep in but it does help us realize that when we surrender to His will we find new adventures placed in our lives.

I’m not sure where God is leading me at this time, especially since I will most likely be leaving a career in medicine, but I do know that an excitement and peace has come with this new change.

May God lead us all during this time and as St. Benedict says, “may he brings us all together to everlasting life.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72)

An Anxious Oblate

These past few months have been filled with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about the future. Church’s have been closed, the sacraments have been without (not without some good reason) and thousands have died.

I would like to say that I have personally handled some of these struggles in the best way but that would not be the truth. I’ve struggled with anxiety for decades if not most of my life. Numerous things have happened over the course of the past 6 months where it feels as though life has been one chaotic moment after another.

Prayer becomes elusive when anxiety is through the roof. Blind faith is the only thing one has to hold on to, especially one who struggles with anxiety. These times have certainly not helped. What is a Catholic and an oblate to due when faced with anxiety and stress? Is there anything St. Benedict can help us with?

The promise of stability which oblates make comes to mind. It calls us to stick with it through the good and the bad. It reminds us that God is in every moment especially days like these. When stress and anxiety gets the better of us, stability reminds us that we still have a commitment to the promises we made and how we are to express those promises – prayer, lectio divina, etc… Keeping a routine has been helpful when everything else seems a bit chaotic.

Millions of individuals are currently suffering in ways that I cannot begin to comprehend. There very well may be more suffering and death in the near future. Fear and anxiety can easily strangle the life within us that God wishes to give. Hunkering down in the monastic practices we have learned as oblates is a sure means of keeping our eyes on Christ and not on something we have little control over.

Even though Lent seems to have lastEd far longer this year than expected, we must remind ourselves that we are an Easter people living in the Easter Season. Death, anxiety and fear are real struggles for many yet Christ our life, our peace and our hope dispels/ the darkness we all to often see today.

A lot of the anxiety and darkness was dispelled this morning as I was able to attend Mass for the first time since this began.  I was blessed to be able to carry everyone in my heart who could not attend.  There is a certain grace that comes with not being able to receive the sacraments.  A longing grows in ones heart.  Maybe God is calling us during this time to cultivate that longing for him.  May he bless us all during these difficult times!

Christ in the Pandemic

“Care of the sick must rank above and before all else so that they may truly be served as Christ…” Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 36

I have been quiet over the past few months because I have been sick with a cold that seems to not have wanted to go away. No, I do not have COVID-19! But what I do have is a small sense of anxiety because I work on the front lines of this pandemic and am myself not in the best of health.

I have been seriously considering what I should do. Should I seriously discern whether God might be calling me out of the medical field? Shouldn’t I think first of myself and those I love and not risk being in the midst of something like this? Why chance it? It’s just a job, right?

This evenings reading from the Rule of St. Benedict brought comfort to my soul. Let’s be honest – God did not call me to work in medicine to then abandon me. If I am called to serve Him in the sick and suffering then I must trust that His grace is there with me.

It’s only human to be fearful in situations we can do very little about. The unknown scares us. Our anxieties must be tempered with a good dose of faith in the God who does not abandon His people. Christ is both in the pandemic and in those suffering from it.

As an oblate I am to remind myself of the promises I made. Conversatio Morum calls us to a continual deepening of our monastic way of life. Am I really to turn my back on my sick brothers and sisters when St. Benedict tells me that their care must “rank above and before all else so that they may truly be served as Christ?” In thinking of myself would I not be turning my back on my sick brothers and sisters and essentially on Christ himself?

In sharing in Christ’s sufferings may we also come to share in His resurrection. Let us pray for all medical workers and all those affected by this pandemic. Let us pray that our fasting, prayer and almsgiving during this Lenten Season may be offered on behalf of all who suffer at this time.

Pax!

P.S. WASH YOUR HANDS!

Oblation Anniversary

Signing my oblate vows

Today I celebrate the 4th year anniversary of my Final Oblation as a Benedictine Oblate of St. Meinrad Archabbey. The past 4 years have been filled with many blessings. The greatest being a deeper understanding of what God has called me to in this vocation.

The oblate life calls one to a deeper understanding and love for the liturgy of the Church. As Benedictines we are called to be active voices in the continual prayer of the Church in the Divine Office. We are to be formed in the liturgy of the Church and become voices which praise God throughout all time.

We cannot properly participate in praising God if we have not first listened to Him in His word. An attentive ear is always necessary, for to hear God’s voice one must always be open to how He wishes to reveal himself.

Listening with an open heart requires the oblate to respond. Obedience is found in the many situations of life. We are called to live our lives as best we can and respond to the daily demands. God is not found up in the clouds but in the menial things of life. How do we respond to Him there?

All this requires a certain amount of stability and follow through. One cannot possibly grow or hear God’s voice if they are continually on the move. What are we running from if we can’t possibly sit for a moment to learn what God wants from us?

The life of a Benedictine oblate is one of beauty. The liturgy, the Rule, community, and the word shows the oblate that life is beautiful and should be lived with purpose.

Being a Benedictine oblate of St. Meinrad Archabbey is a happy life. God has not been stingy with His grace in my vocation and He most certainly has not been in showing me how wonderful this calling is.

May St. Benedict, St. Meinrad and St. John Paul II pray for me and all oblates this day as I celebrate with joy my 4th anniversary of oblation.

Looking at life with open eyes

Getting older isn’t much fun. Soon I’ll turn 46. I’m grateful that I am alive and in good health. But this time also brings things into your life such as my mom being diagnosed with breast cancer.

You are forced to face the mortality of your parents and yourself. When my parents go to God, I must realize that I’m next. This is disturbing.

Saint Benedict tells us in Chapter 4 of his Rule to “keep death daily before your eyes.” I never really thought much of death until recently. It is something I need to focus on.

There are a lot of wonderful things that come with getting older, yet one is forced to look sickness and death in the face.

St. Benedict’s practice of keeping death daily before our eyes is a practice that should be done, because if we can face death with peace and the knowledge that we will be with God then we can accept what lies ahead.

How should an oblate react to things like sickness and death? We must realize that if we believe that God exists and the perfect place is to be with him, then we should not weep much over the loss of others or our own sickness because heaven awaits us when we close our eyes to this world.

Thanks be to God!

The Incarnation is Everything

Mass at midnight seems odd to many but it is only so to those who do not understand the Church.

The long awaited time has come for the Messiah to appear. Century after century has longed for him and the earth can no longer wait. At the stroke of midnight, the very moment Christmas Day begins, the Church must cry aloud, “he is here…come let us adore him!”

So many reasons come to mind as to why God chose this way of redeeming us. When the word of God, that one word spoken by the Father took on our flesh God for the first time could truly understand what it was like to feel, taste, see, smell, and love with a human heart.

The incarnation allowed God to understand us by experiencing things as we do. The inevitable consequence of the incarnation turned out to be the sacraments, for in them God allows us to touch, taste, smell, and hear him in ways he now knows we need and understand.

God becoming like us opened up for us a way to become like him and to directly share in his divine life. Our lives as Catholics and especially as oblates should always be focused on the incarnation for it is the first cause of so many joys we have in the faith.

Without the incarnation – dare I say – we would not have the sacraments. Without the incarnation we would not have the liturgy. And without the incarnation we would not truly have the understanding that God loved us in such a profound way that he chose to experience life just as we do.

St. Leo the Great reminds us, “Christian, remember your dignity!” The incarnation is the reason we have any worth and it is the reason we thank God on this most solemn and silent night.

The O Antiphons – the Church’s Cry for Christ to Come

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

As the days get closer to Christmas, that great celebration of God becoming man, the Church begins her cry of longing in the “O antiphons.” The liturgy is ripe with passion and longing for the Lord to come.

All creation cry’s out to the Lord for him to come in the incarnation. This is what we have desired for so long – God to come in the flesh and set us free.

The “O antiphons” are the Church’s prayer of longing and expectation for the Lord. They resonate in the heart of any oblate who has prayed the Divine Office for some time. This is the time of expectation and we are called to actively participate in it.

The heart of an oblate is one of longing and expectation for the Lord. It is formed by the Psalms in the Divine Office and is fed by Lectio Divina. Keeping vigil is what we do as oblates. We wait for the Lord to reveal himself to us and we join with the Church in her longing.

The liturgy is rich and colorful this time of year. Let us join in this longing and expectation by praying the Divine Office and entering deeply into the life of the Church.