A Time of Expectation

Advent has always been a rather fascinating season for me. It is a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ in Christmas yet it is also a time when we prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming to us in other ways.

This season helps us to focus not only on Christ’s coming to us at Christmas but his coming to us in the sacraments and his final coming at the end of time.

The incarnation is the coming of God in the flesh. The sacraments are an extension of the incarnation and brings into our time and place the grace that was bought for us by Christ. Death and then the final judgment shows us the fulfillment of the incarnation where we experience God’s face in our resurrected bodies.

Advent allows us the time to focus on how God reveals himself to us in our lives and requires us to reflect on how we respond to that revelation. One day we shall be required to give an answer to that!

Benedictine life is sometimes called one long Lent yet I would argue that it is also one long Advent, for as Benedictines we strive to make our lives into a great vigil for the Lord.

This is a time when our hearts should be filled with longing. This is a time when we should review our spiritual lives to see how we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in various ways. This is a time when we must remind ourselves and the world that God so loved us that he gave us his only Son to become like us.

Let us celebrated Advent with a longing heart so that we might truly rejoice in the joy of the incarnation.

The Presentation – of Mary and Ourselves

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Mary. Today is also the day when Benedictine Oblates throughout the world renew the promises we made at our final oblation.

This feast celebrates Mary being set aside as an offering or oblation to God for His glory and service. It is fitting that we renew our promises on this feast for we too have been called to become an offering for the Lord.

I find great joy in being an oblate. I recognize all the more that God called me to this vocation. It is both a blessing and a responsibility that has been laid upon me and I once again promise to strive to live this vocation through stability, conversatio morum and obedience.

I recognize my limitations and see my shortcomings, which are great. Thankfully, God gives me the opportunity to begin again each day and on this day He offers me the chance to renew my promises to Him.

The Mother of God should always be my guide for she continually points towards her Son. She can show me how to offer myself totally to God’s service and teach me how to pray.

“My soul magnifies the Lord…” Mary’s song of praise is what we continue in the Divine Office. She is the great example for all oblates on how we can best live the offering we’ve made of ourselves to God.

May her prayers guide us along the way!

Community with the living and the dead

Community comes in a variety of ways and it is something which is intrinsic to the Benedictine way of life. Family, friends, coworkers and fellow oblates help form the community I’m a part of. The same can be said for most others.

We forget that there is a community of faith within the Church – the Church Militant, Church Suffering and Church Triumphant. The month of November helps to remind us that other members of the Church – those who have died and are in purgatory – depend on us.

Death cannot break the bonds of community life. In a certain real way it strengthens them. Although no longer present on this earth, our brothers and sisters see God face to face. Some may need the assistance of our sacrifices and prayers while others stand before God. Do we really think they forget us? Quite the contrary!

Too often we forget those who have died and are in need of our prayers. We do a disservice to those who have completed their earthly life when we do not remember them in prayers.

Praying for the living and the dead is an act of charity and an act of mercy. It also reminds us of our own mortality and that we too may very well one day rely on the prayer of others.

Community definitely comes in many ways, shapes and forms. The Holy Souls ask that we not forget that they too are a part of that community which helps to form us.

May the souls of the faithful departed Rest In Peace!

My Patron, My Spiritual Friend

Today the Church celebrates a giant of the faith – St. John Paul II. Today I personally celebrate this man who has had such a huge influence on me even though I never met him.

My conversion to the Catholic Faith is in no small part due to to John Paul II. His writings and holiness of life made me proud to enter the Catholic Church. I was proud of him and how he showed the world the beauty of the Catholic faith.

John Paul II’s love for the Virgin Mary has always been a great inspiration to me. Although my devotion to the Mother of God pales in comparison, he helped me to see the necessity of turning towards our Mother that she may show us how to love her Son.

Faced with illness for the greater part of my life, John Paul II was a wonderful example of how to embrace the cross and redemptive suffering. In the midst of such a great pontificate, his last days spoke more to me than any other. How can we forget his embracing the cross with devotion and love on the last Good Friday?

When the time came for me to make my oblation I knew without a doubt that St. John Paul II would be my spiritual guide. His name I would take as I made my oblate promises. I sought not only his prayers and guidance but a small part of his spirit too. St. John Paul II is the epitome of a Benedictine even though he was never one.

Obedience to the will of God lead John Paul II to places he never could have imagined. Stability kept him close to the deposit of faith, his beloved Poland and to the world. Conversatio Morum was his way of life as he strove to live Christ more fully in his state in life.

I am privileged to be called a son of St. Benedict. I am honor to have St. John Paul II pray for me that I might be worthy of such a life.

St. John Paul (the Great), pray for us!

A Better Understanding of Community

It has taken me much longer to recover from the two surgeries I’ve had. As difficult as it has been, my inability at times to say the Divine Office has caused me more difficulty and pain than the recovery.

Recently, I came to realize that the community I am attached to – St. Meinrad – with all its monks and oblates, has always been taking upon itself the duties to the Divine Office even when I could not.

I am not the community but part of it. When I am sick I must recognize that the community becomes my voice at prayer. Although it may await the return of my voice in the Office, it is not dependent on it. And although my voice must once again take up that same Office, I must remind myself that my brothers and sisters have been praying for me, with me, and even in my place, all along.

My obligation to the community of St. Meinrad also implies that in some small way it has an obligation to me. Through oblation I was brought into the fold, thus allowing me to not only strive to meet my obligations but to also participate in the fruits of others.

Real community is reciprocal. It does not count the cost. I’ve learned a very good lesson about community over the past few months and I’m grateful I did.

It has been a humbling experience to recognize that my voice has been united in the Divine Office with, in, and through my oblate confreres and the monks. And I’m deeply grateful that I have these individuals to rely on when life gets in the way.

Sacramental Participation and the Oblate

Part of any spiritual life is an active participation in the sacramental life of the church. Benedictine oblates are called to this participation in an even greater way because of the offering we made of ourselves to God. Signing our oblate promises on the altar is something more than just a formality!

In a very real way oblates have united themselves to Christ on the altar, not in a sacramental way such as the priesthood, but as a sign that we are called to be deeply conformed to Christ, who gives himself to the Father for the good of the Church and the world. The sacraments are the means to that deeper conformity.

Recently, I have been blessed with being able to conform myself more closely to the suffering Christ as I’ve had surgery a few month ago and as I prepare for another surgery in the next few days. The means for this has been the sacrament of the sick. This sacrament of healing is also a sacrament of conforming one to the suffering Jesus who chose suffering as the means of redeeming the world. The anointing one receives sets the sick individual aside to suffer with, in and through Christ for the good of the Church and the world.

As a convert to the Catholic faith, I’ve know life without the sacraments. It is a dull and boring spiritual life. It is a life that leaves much to be desired.

Although oblation isn’t a sacrament of the church it definitely points to them. It is a way of participating in the offering of Christ to the Father. It is a life which must continually be strengthened by the sacraments Christ gave to his Church long ago.

Failing to participate in the sacramental life of the church is spiritual suicide. It is certainly necessary for any of Christ’s followers. How necessary it must be for those of us who have chosen to dedicate our lives to him under the title of “offering/oblate?”

Enough Said – it’s what we need!

“Let us do what the Prophet says: ‘I said, I will take heed of my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I have set a guard to my mouth, I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence even from good thing’ (Ps 38). Here the prophet shows that, if at times we ought to refrain from useful speech for the sake of silence, how much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 6)

Words can definitely be good but we see that they can quickly turn into evil and sin. St. Benedict reminds us that our words have effects and consequences. We see this happening in our country today. Vile insults and name calling is bad in itself. It has no place in society or the church. It is not nor shall it ever be acceptable.

Restraint in speech must come from all sides. We cannot justify what is being done today simply because we think we are in the right – politically, ideologically or morally. It is better that one keep quit and pray then self-righteously proclaim to the world own goodness and the bad we may see in others.

Our country and our church are filled with this attitude. It has infected many to the detriment of all. One day our words will condemn us and it appears that day is arriving at our doorsteps quicker than we might think.

True conversion of our country and our church starts with us closing our traps so we at least try not to add to the disruption and distress we see around us. Nothing will ever get done if we first can’t shut up.

New Benedict(ines)

We live in a time that is filled with chaos. Truth is replaced by the days latest fad, faith has been lost to the “new age” and life is continually threatened by the culture of death. In a very real way we live in times not unlike St Benedict himself.

To often our society seems to be collapsing in on itself while many “saviors” seek to tell us how we change it. Politics seeks to repair that which it helped tear down while the Church appears to be tearing at its seams through scandal after scandal.

No system can help heal the damage caused by sin. A deep conversion – in the world and the church – is desperately needed and it is my belief that the monastic orders are being called to help usher in a reconversion of the church and the world.

Benedictines helped save western civilization over 1,500 years ago and they are called to be on the frontlines of saving it today.

Our world needs holy men and women who can bring Benedictine values into a world filled with sin and strife. I am confident that this is why we see the Benedictine oblate vocation growing throughout the world.

The church and the world are crying out for a new Benedict which can lead it back to the gospel. Maybe, just maybe this is slowly being done by the great increase of Benedictine oblate vocations we see today. And maybe, just maybe God is calling you to be a new Benedict(ine).

That in all things he may be glorified!

A Life Worth Living

To be set on fire with the love of God – this is what our vocation as Benedictine Oblates calls us to. Everything we do – the promises, the Divine Office, the practices, the Rule – all lead us to the love of God if only we allow His Spirit to penetrate our hearts and souls.

It is to easy to go through the motions of life and this is no less true for oblates. So much of our time is consumed by work, family and friends not to mention the difficulties of illness and the other struggles we meet.

There have been to many times in which I have found myself having said the Office without really knowing what I had just prayed. To many times have I met others without recognizing Christ’s presence in them. And to often I have placed far to much trust in myself instead of God.

My mind and heart are certainly not fully converted from the world. Many times I find myself asking how I should act or respond to a situation with St. Benedict’s Rule as my guide. Far more often I find that the world is still grasping at my heart and I respond in ways that may not speak positively to my vocation as an oblate.

The vocation of being a Benedictine Oblate is one which calls us to seek God – plain and simple. Nothing else really matters. I’m finding more and more that I must slow down and be present to the tools which St. Benedict offers us who wish to follow in his footsteps. Being more present to the Divine Office, continually having before my eyes the promises I made years ago, and keeping the Rule within my heart might not always be easy but it is certainly needed.

The Benedictine way of life is not easy nor should it be. It calls us to rethink just about everything in life and to respond with a generous heart. The thirst for God is never fully satisfied this side of heaven but being a part of the Benedictine family surely helps quench that thirst if we put into practice all that our Holy Father Benedict has instructed us.

May he pray for us on this Feast of Pentecost!

Examen Yourself!

About six weeks ago my spiritual director suggested I start making the Ignatian Examen each night. I’ve been finding myself in a rut when it comes to prayer and he thought this might be a good avenue to take.

The daily Examen calls us to take a look at our day with God. It asks us to sit for a few moments with him to review our day, thank him for the goodness we’ve experienced in it and the sins we may have committed. It’s very much like an examination of conscience yet I have found myself spending more personal time with Christ then I do when I go through just my sins.

I find myself spending more time trying to see where God has been working in my life or at least where he has been trying to work in my life. It requires me to strive to see his presence and grace in every aspect of the day. Many faults and failings might come through yet there are many instances in which I am reminded of how God showed himself to me.

The smile of a coworker, the kind words from a patient, the moment which seemed bothersome all reveal God to me. And then there are the instances in which I may recall where I did not fully live up to the life I am called to both as a Catholic and an Oblate. The rushing through prayer, the forgetfulness of God in the business and chaos of life. Each instance calls me to look with Christ at these moments where I could have cooperated with him better and to make the resolution to do so.

The ending of the Examen asks me to look forward to the next day with all the challenges and all the joys I might experience and to place them in God’s hands. I resolve to do better with that difficult individual or to speak kinder with the one the tests my patience. I resolve to go a bit slower in prayer and to see his presence in all situations and all people that come my way.

How does this relate to my life as an oblate? In a variety of different ways. Making the Examen helps me to see the graces God has given me through my life as an oblate. I have grown closer to God as I strive to live out the monastic idea in my secular life. I find myself each day trying to be not only Catholic values but monastic values into my life and the lives of others. It also helps me to see where I have failed at times to not live up to the promises I made years ago.

I have also found that this time is an intimate moment with God. It allows him in to the humdrum moments of my life and to sanctify them. It allows him to teach me in ways I would never have been taught if my life was not examined.

Although this practice might be “Ignatian” I think it fits quite well into the monastic life. The monastic promise of conversatio morum calls us to a life of conversion and a life of dedication. One cannot grow if that life is not examined in the light of Christ.