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.

Silence – Life for the Soul

Silence is a prerequisite to hearing the voice of God. Actually, it is the only language he speaks. Life is filled with so much noise – iPhones and iPads. Laptops and game consoles fill my life and pull my attention away to readily. In turn the voice of God is pushed out of my life and I struggle at times – like most people – with being able to put them down.

What others call communication I am easily seeing as only distraction. These tools which can be used for so much good are also too readily used for hatred and violence. Speech which very few would have face to face is easily typed out without thought.

St. Benedict reminds us that even good speech should be measured because it can and will eventually lead us into sin: “Indeed, so important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted even to mature disciples, no matter how good or holy or constructive their talk, because it is written: In a flood of words you will not avoid sin.” (RB, 6:3-4).

It is difficult for us oblates to find silence in the chaotic world we live in. My day at work is spent in talking to patients and coworkers. Communication is not only needed but excellent communication is required for the safety of others. By the time I hit the road for home I am exhausted from speaking to others and try to remain in silence on the trip home. This is not only a moment of respite for me but also an opportunity to prepare myself to speak again but this time in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The nights are spent in more silence as I try to read for a few hours but even this is not true silence. At times I find this too pulling me away from prayer and instead filling up the mind so that random thoughts might not cross it.

Because of my need for a greater time of silence I have begun visiting Christ more frequently in Eucharistic Adoration. It seems to be the only place in which I can be present to nothing other than Him. It is a time in which I can simply be without having to do and I have found it to breathe life into my soul.

These cherished moments of adoration are not spent in reading or much prayer. In all honesty when I see others reading in the adoration chapel I’m a bit annoyed. If Jesus were physically in front of me would I pick up a book to find something to say to him or would I simply speak? That’s my thought on it but I recognize that others have their reasons too.

When I do not find the time for silence I recognize it in my daily life. More agitation and anxiety creep in and instead of peace, chaos pervades. St. Benedict is wise in instructing his followers for the need of silence, not only to avoid sin but to be more present to God and to others. If we cannot speak by our actions then maybe we should also keep our mouths shut.

Jesus, I Trust In You!

Divine Mercy is the consequence of all we have celebrated in the Lenten and Easter Seasons.

The wounds of Christ show the world that sin and death do not have the last word.

Divine Mercy Sunday calls us to ask ourselves how we are alike and unlike the God of mercy. Do we forgive and not hold grudges? Do we go out to seek those who have sinned against us or do we constantly complain about the wrong that has been done? Do we sow peace or discord? Are we patient or are we quick to judge another’s sin?

St. Benedict calls his followers to practice “the tools of good works” in Chapter 4 of his Rule. These works are an extension of God’s mercy in the world. If we want to know how we are to follow Christ then all we must do is put them into practice.

If we wish to gauge how close we are to Christ we can reflect upon how well we practice these tools. They will be difficult and at times will call us to grow in ways we never knew were needed, but St. Benedict reminds us in the end of that same chapter that we should, “never despair of God’s mercy.” (RB 4, 74)

If mercy is the “greatest attribute of God” (St. Faustian), then it is an attribute we must constantly seek to cultivate within ourselves that we might share it with one another.

Jesus, I Trust In You!

Let Us Comfort Him

Feet have been washed, Eucharistic love has been instituted and Life is preparing to die. Jesus is arrested, Peter denies, and the world condemns. Great silence falls over the Church and the world as the tabernacles are emptied, Christ is imprisoned, and a Mother’s heart breaks.

This night is filled with a sense of wonderment, anxiety and pain. What will come tomorrow but the death of Him who gives life to the world? Our Lord sets in prison with the thoughts that tomorrow all sin will rest upon His shoulders.

Thorns which He created crown His divine head. Men which He will redeem spit in His face. Friends He has loved pretend they do not know Him. And yet His heart is full of love.

A restless night it will be. Worries for His Mother rush through His mind. Feelings of betrayal break His sacred heart. I AM thinks for a moment what it feels like to become NOT.

Sitting with Him in silence, our hearts are full of sorrow. Nothing can console us or His Mother. No sorrow has ever come upon earth like His sorrow. Tomorrow all shall be consumed in divine love, but tonight the weight of it all comes crashing down.

Jesus, let us spend this night with you if only to comfort you.

Notre Dame, pray for us!

Today the Church and the world have suffered a great loss. The Cathedral of Notre Dame has been decimated by fire. The loss of this great edifice is a reminder to us that all can be lost in a brief and unexpected moment.

It is especially difficult for this to happen during Holy Week. We inevitably have to ask ourselves why God allowed this to happen and why at this time? Although there may be numerable human explanations, we as people of faith must try to go deeper and understand why God willed or allowed this to occur. What is he saying to us? Maybe he is suggesting that in these troubled times within the Church and the world we need to turn to Our Lady all the more!

Our Lady (Notre Dame) is the surest and quickest way for us to grow closer to Christ. It is she who calls us time and again to focus on those things which are important. She reminds us that at times we must endure great pains in the hope of being cleansed of sin.

Notre Dame always leads us on the path of conversion, always assures us that we are loved, and always reminds us what the pascal mystery is about – suffering, death, and resurrection.

If we turn to her, if we pray to her, if we keep her close to our hearts we will know that although at times we must endure suffering, it will never have the last word. The edifice might stand tall while the insides are gutted but this is so that it might become a more worthy dwelling place for that which makes it holy – the Trinity.

The voices of many Parisians heard this night singing the Ave Maria reminds us that in great tragedy and seeming defeat, we must turn to Our Lady who never fails.

Notre Dame de Paris, pray for us!

Entering Deeply Into This Week

Holy Week has begun and it calls us to delve a little deeper into the liturgy of the Church so that we might experience with Christ the saving events done by him so long ago.

The only response to this week can be silence so that we might better understand and participate in the pascal mystery that plays out in the Liturgy of the Hours and Masses of this week.

The Church is at her best when she proclaims Christ in her liturgy and this time shows her beauty more then any other.

Holy Week calls us to experience with Christ the triumph of Palm Sunday, the fear, pain and anxiety of the passion, the loneliness of laying in the tomb, and the great joy of the resurrection.

More then any other time of the year we should seek to enter deeply into the mysteries the Church offers us in her liturgy. The great cosmic drama of the pascal mystery envelopes our souls if only we allow the liturgy to play out in and through us.

May Holy Week lead us ever closer to Christ!

All Guests Are Christ. No Exceptions, No Excuses!

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB, 53)

This saying from St. Benedict’s Rule is one of the more famous. Many who know the Rule have heard of it and those who strive to live the Benedictine life know that hospitality is a very Benedictine quality. St. Meinrad Archabbey takes its name from the martyr of hospitality and seeks every day to provide this care to all who enter her doors.

A time like ours has a great need for hospitality. Endless news cycles tell us why we should reject the orphan, the immigrant and those not like us. Anger and fear have become virtues which hide behind the banner of Democrat and Republican. Instead of being for things we are told or even demanded to be against everything.

Those of a different color, religion, and sexual orientation are looked down upon by many who seek to make themselves feel better simply because they can say, “At least I’m not that.” And the very foundation of life is threatened by those who idolize their “rights” without considerIng the right of those who wish to be born.

Our world more then ever is in need of the Benedictine charism of seeing Christ in everyone. No distinction or qualification can be made when receiving those that come into our lives. Who they may be, what they may have done, or where they might be going is irrelevant to us if we strive to follow St. Benedicts way of life.

What surprises me more then anything is the vitriol one sees on the internet especially when coming from those who claim Christ as their savior and St. Benedict as their father. Bending over backwards, they claim that it is their duty to teach others the “truth” while living lives of hate. Praising God and condemning others in the same breath, they show the shallowness of their faith which hides behind rules and regulations that make them feel safe.

What they and others fail to understand is that as Christians we are not called to play it safe or stay within our own little boundaries in the hope of growing closer to Christ. The Benedict Option is to see all as Christ.

We are called to be challenged to see Christ in everyone – the sinner, the saint, the refugee, the illegal immigrant. We are called to see Christ in the man or woman who is living and dying with HIV/AIDS, the addict who has overdosed for the tenth time on heroine, and the woman who sells herself so that she may feed her children. We are called to see everyone who comes into our lives and the lives of others as Christ living and dying, rejoicing and in sorrow, and we are asked to respond with love. Our presence is what is asked of us. Our judgment should be reserved.

ALL GUESTS are to be received as Christ. The key word in that simple phrase is ALL. It makes no distinction and leaves no room for you or I to determine who we can or cannot allow in, for the moment we shut the door on another is the moment we slam it in Christ’s face.

Lectio Divina

The art of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) is an ancient monastic practice that we are called to participate in as oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey. St. Benedict instructs his monks in this practice (Rule of Benedict, 48) and allots quite a bit of time for it. But what exactly is Lectio Divina and how should we put it in to practice?

Much information can be found online about how to practice Lectio Divina. Formulas have been created as to how one can go about putting it in to practice – “Reading, Meditation, Prayer and Contemplation” is the typical steps one tries to take when doing Lectio Divina, yet we are not bound to this form.

Some may wish to go through an entire book of the Scriptures while others may feel more comfortable taking the readings from Mass. Personally, my desire is to sit with one book of scripture and go through its entirety. Currently, I am in the Book of Isaiah.

My practice of Lectio Divina has been a struggle. I am not one who likes to follow set rules and or steps, hoping that the Spirit will speak to me through it all. Maybe this is a little pride on my part of maybe it is simply my attempt to pray as I can and not as I can’t.

As I sit with the scriptures I slowly read the passage before me. Throughout the reading there may be a word or a phrase which stirs my soul or prompts me to stop at that moment. I am reminded of one instance in the Gospel of John when the word “alone” stuck with me for quite some time. That simple word lead me to a place in prayer that I can remember to this day.

As I continue to read what has been placed before me I try to remember that this is a conversation I’m striving to have with God. In the Divine Office it has mostly been me who speaks or Christ who speaks through me. In Lectio Divina I am to listen for a response. It’s not so much an active listening. For me it is more passive. The moment I try to hear what God wants me to hear, the more I seem to get in the way of it all and silence God’s voice. Simply being present to the word which is read allows me to be more receptive.

When stirred by a word or phrase I then sit with it. I allow it to sink a little deeper in to my mind and soul and allow a response to come forth from within. Again, the moment I try to think my way through it is the moment Lectio stops being what it needs to be for me. Being passive and receptive is extremely necessary for me when it comes to practicing Lectio Divina.

After allowing that word or phrase to sink in I strive to respond to God in whatever way seems appropriate at the time. That might be praise, adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, or all of the above. It might be a moment to also sit and allow my response to be silence. Again, striving to be passive and respective is necessary here for it is God who is really at work during Lectio Divina. I’m simply here to receive that which He wishes to give me.

As someone who likes to try and control everything I find myself a little vulnerable during this time. That may be why Lectio Divina has been so difficult for me. Numerous excuses come to mind as to why I cannot practice Lectio today. Putting off Lectio Divina has been the biggest defect in my vocation as an oblate and it is something I most certainly need to work on.

Sitting here writing on this topic has not been easy and I’m not so sure that I shared much about my experience with Lectio Divina, or at least not so much that was really helpful. Advice that I recently received on this topic keeps coming to mind, “be faithful to Lectio, it is an important part of monastic life.”

Maybe we accomplish more with Lectio Divina not so much by where we end up but through the journey it takes us on when lead by the Spirit of Christ. May He helps us all to keep this practice which is so important to the vocation we have been called to!

Transitus of St. Benedict

The life of St. Benedict was an ordinary one. This is something he most certainly desired. Ordinary in the best of ways of course. I’m sure that Benedict never wanted to form a monastic community and most definitely not an Order. His desire was simply to follow Christ and that he did!

More then fifteen hundred years have gone by and yet the Church and the world remembers the life and name of this humble monk. Thousands continue to strive to live the life laid out by Benedict in his little Rule and find great honor in being a part of the Benedictine family.

What comes to mind most for me on this Solemn Feast of the Transitus is that I must remember that simple and ordinary acts – when united with Christ – can change the world. St. Benedicts life proves that.

Time and again we see within the Rule that Christ is found in the humble and ordinary things in life – service in the kitchen (RB, 35), care of the sick (RB, 36), food and drink (RB, 40). The “tool for good works” (RB, 4) is a laundry list of ordinary things which we must strive to do for God’s glory and the good of others.

There’s something extraordinary about the ordinary when done in Christ’s name. This is the essential teaching of the Rule which is the life St. Benedict lived. I think this feast should remind us that God is calling all of us to make simple and humble acts into a gift of prayer and praise which will resound throughout history. I’m not so sure that those acts will be remembered 1,500 years after we’re gone from this earth but neither did Benedict!

I pray that St. Benedict will help us to make our own transitus (crossing) into a life which sings the praises of God in every action we take up in His name.

Holy Father Benedict, ora pro nobis!

Gritty Holiness

Too often we read about the flowery side of the spiritual life where everything is roses and all is easy if only done for God’s glory and the good of the Church. Many biographies of saints give the impression that these holy men and women were somehow born that way and that miracles abounded throughout their lives.

This false notion of spirituality has done more harm then good in my opinion. It lowers the Christian religion into a myth or fairytale which seems just within ones reach yet never close enough. It’s a religion that somehow seems made for others and not myself.

The tales of saints performing miracles with every breath they took, levitating off the ground in rapturous prayer most certainly isn’t something I’ve ever experienced or seen. This certainly isn’t to deny the miraculous which Christ can and does work through his holy ones. It’s simply the realization that for most of us this simply isn’t the case.

So let’s be honest. Spirituality is tough. At times it can seem like a long and arduous process which has no end in sight, for the moment one catches a glimpse of the Divine He disappears.

“Love thy neighbor” many times is met with “try not to kill him today” because as we all know human weakness abounds!

More often then not our desire to sit in silence with the Divine Office is overruled by the exhaustion we experience from the endless needs of the day. Lectio Divina is pushed away by that one last email that needs to be responded to. The moment we can catch our breath no time is left for those things which we wanted or needed to do all along.

There are endless things which pull us away from our spiritual lives. This is nothing new. Most of us are not called to live out our lives in the desert contemplating the life of Christ or healing in mass those who seek our guidance and help. Like most, we simply strive to do our best and hope that we find God in the process.

Holiness isn’t something you find in books and it certainly isn’t like many of the depictions we see from long ago – at least not in the ways they were described in their literary form.

True holiness is the parent who does their deeds with the greatest amount of love they can muster. It is the nurse who prays for their patients even after they were cussed out and spit upon by them. True holiness lies in the prayer that is a sigh of exhaustion from the work done for the kingdom versus the Ave Maria that was offered up 150 times in Latin.

Give me the saint who tells me he’s been beaten down by the rigors of life yet tries to love God over the one who seems to have had nothing but sweetness in his life. Give me the saint who says, “today God I praise you with my sleep” versus the one who neurotically tries to find security in rules and regulations. Give me the saint and the spirituality that shows me the muck and grime and filth one gets upon oneself when carrying the cross and while striving to help others carry theirs.

Holiness is gritty and grimy and sometimes downright nasty when we get into it simply because it’s about being fully human in a world where we’re called to share in the Divine.

St. Benedict reminds us that God is both in the Divine Office and the kitchen utensils. Holiness is found in the praise of God and in the simple chores of the day. When we work with our hands and get the filth of the world upon us, “that is when they are truly monks.”

Benedict knew that one has to get a little dirty to touch the face of God.