Living Benedictine: Topics for 2014-2015
We're happy to hear from inquirers anytime!
Vocation: Benedictine Perspectives
Benedictine Family Life
Benedictines & Other Monastics
Celebration of Oblations
Jan 11 (2015)
Benedictines & Leadership
Benedictines Around the World
Apr 18 (Sat)
Retreat: Benedictine for the Long Haul
Living Your Oblation
Beginning today (Friday, December 19, 2014) oblate Beryl Singleton Bissel’s book The Scent of God (kindle edition) is scheduled to be available for $ 1 .99 (list $7.99) — part of a 7-day countdown sale during which the price will gradually rise until the sale ends on December 25, 2014. I checked this morning and don’t yet see that deal – but it’s worth checking out!
Here’s a short description of the book:
On the day following her eighteenth birthday, Beryl enters a cloistered convent in New Jersey, believing that God has called her to this way of life. After ten years in the convent—years spent experiencing periods of bliss and others of inner torment—she is called to Puerto Rico to help care for her ailing father. Once there she meets Padre Vittorio, a handsome Italian priest, and discovers that her religious garb cannot protect her from her budding sexuality. For the next three years, as she travels to and from the island, she struggles to reconcile human desire with spiritual longing. Unable to confide in either her mother or abbess, she tries to find the inner freedom that would allow her to love fully. The events that follow take the reader on a dizzying journey into the heart of desire, both spiritual and human.
In spare but lyric language, Bissell weaves a powerful story of love, death, guilt, and redemption—a pilgrimage that reaches beyond dogmas to personal truth and evokes a transformation that changes not only Beryl but the lives of those whom she most loves.
I sat in church today, paid the Lord a short visit, and smelled apple crisp. The combination was the best lectio I’ve had in a while.
When your church is connected to an elementary school, good smells from the kitchen waft everywhere, even down the church aisles. They bring back memories to me from my own Catholic school days. Apple crisp was Mrs. Kruzona’s specialty, full of butter and sugar and things we’re told we can’t have these days.
It might be too whimsical to say, but I wonder if the smells bring back any memories to Our Lord, sitting there in the tabernacle, just a hallway away from the gym/cafeteria. I wonder if he thinks of the smells from his own boyhood home, where Mary cooked up whatever goodies were popular. No brown sugar or apples, I suppose, but maybe dates and honey for the special feasts.
Advent is a time of preparation, of waiting to celebrate the Lord’s coming in history and into our hearts. It’s a time of food and family, of visits to good friends and even to people seldom seen. It’s an earthy time of straw and barnyard, sticky tape and wrapping paper, shared gifts and shared time.
Advent is a time of anticipation for the day when God reached down and mingled with us more personally that had ever been imagined. He loved us so much it brought him into existence as a human being.
I think, sitting there in the tabernacle, the wafting scent of apple crisp reminds him of our ordinary lives with their simple pleasures, and the very ordinary life he chose to live on earth–until it was ended and recreated in such an un-ordinary way. Advent is the time of the people of God, waiting for the son of God, gifting him with their daily tasks.
I think the sounds of children’s laughter is a choir of music he just might love most; and the smell of apple crisp is better than that of any incense.
[The topic for our December meeting is “Benedictines and Other Monastics.” John Pastor will lead a portion of the discussion, and offers a message and a short selection from the book Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict.
Towards the end of his life, Thomas Merton became interested in how monastic traditions of different faiths were similar and how they differed. Buddhism has had a long tradition of monastic practice and Merton was exploring this on a trip to southeastern Asia when he died suddenly. However, his monastery, Gethsemane Abbey, continued this tradition of reaching out to other monastics. In 1996, the Abbey brought together a group of distinguished Buddhist monastics to read and reflect on The Rule. Their reflections were compiled by Patrick Henry in a book called Benedict’s Dharma, published by Penguin Books.
This is one of the most thought-provoking books on The Rule I’ve read. Much of the time, the authors agreed with The Rule, but with a somewhat different approach than we generally take. However, they had considerable difficulties grappling with the concept of humility (as do we all).
I’ve chosen one of the commentaries about humility for discussion and I will read some more during our meeting. The commentary [on the reverse side of this sheet] is by Norman Fischer, former co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, one of the largest Zen Buddhist monasteries and retreat centers in the United States
From Benedict’s Dharma, the chapter on Leadership and Humility
• Norman Fischer
On first reading that the angels assigned to care for us report our deeds to the Lord day and night (7.7) , I thought: This seems a little paranoid! It might make a person nervous. But then I recalled a practice that I do myself and have recommended often to others. When you are alone, behave as though others are with you, and when you are with others, behave as though you are alone.
In recommending this practice, I am trying to encourage the imaginative cultivation of a sense that there is more dimension to my acts than I reflexively belive – that all my acts are taking place eternally and everywhere, so I had better find a sense of depth and accuracy in what I do. I can’t afford to be lazy or automatic. I must rouse myself to awareness. I think this is the sense of Benedict’s words here. They encourage connection rather than isolation, belonging rather than alienation.
It seems to me that Benedict’s twelve steps of humility represent a pretty fair method for the development of this useful attitude. The first step is to set aside any idea you may have about getting somewhere with this practice. To make an effort to do this is to notice how persistent, how tricky, and how ultimately destructive is the mind’s manifestation of desire. The mind that desires to be humble, and evaluates progress, or compares itself to others, is the same mind that restlessly wants to eat too much, avoid cold or heat, escape to another world. This painful mind blocks off the doorway to peacefulness. So one tries to be patient and endure, even though this mind arises again and again. To be obedient in this case means to be patiently aware of this mind and to bear it without trying to go around it or override it.
Part of what it takes to do this is a radical honesty with oneself, which is developed only through the relationship with another person whom you can trust and confess to. In the Rule it is the abbot or abbess, but in our practice it may be another of the senior teachers. In the many private interviews that take place daily in our three temples, students come to their teachers with open hearts, sharing whatever is true and most relevant for them in their practice. Certainly, this is not always easy to do, and for many of the students, honest sharing is something for the future, something they can only struggle with now, through the course of each and every interview, as they try over and over to find out what’s true and have the courage to speak it clearly.
Benedict’s next step in humility requires the monastic to regard himself or herself lower than all the rest of the community, and to be content with lowly and humble tasks. Such practices need to be understood carefully, because they could easily play into a student’s condition of self-loathing, strengthening this particularly potent form of ego, when of course the opposite is intended. It might be more efficacious, in some cases, to stress not that the student is lower than all others, but rather that she or he is neither lower nor higher than anyone else in the community.
The final steps have to do with outward manifestations of humility: that one speaks and comports oneself modestly. While such training may seem artificial, I have found it beneficial. What is practiced on the outside is eventually realized inside, so to make a special effort to speak quietly, even though it may seem artificial and annoying at first, will eventually create conditions for the spontaneous arising of a quiet mind.
The injunction against laughter seems at first too dour. Monasteries seem eternally to have the potential to be humorless and introspective, perhaps even lonely places. Why not laugh once in a while to express the joyful side of the monastic life? I have thought about this point and have wandered around the grounds of our monastery holding it in mind. Keeping my ears open, I have found that there are two kinds of laughter. One kind is gentle, quiet, and joyful, expressing appreciation and gratitude for a remark or a gesture. The other is loud and nervous, and sounds, to the passerby, like distraction. I think this is the kind of laughter Benedict warned against.
LADDERS AND BRIDGES
• Norman Fischer
Benedict uses these twelve steps toward humility as rungs of a ladder taking us up toward God, away from all the confusion below. I prefer to see the practice of humility as a bridge across the chasm that separates the shore of selfishness and ignorance from the shore of love and vision. Wise and loving monastics are always going back and forth across this bridge until finally they can’t see the difference between the two shores. There is only the bridge, the bracing, wide-open view of the chasm itself, and the brisk feeling of moving legs and air-filled lungs. Wise and loving monastics are then truly and necessarily humble – and everyone can see this but them!
[The December Oblate Letter is going out in the mail today – available online early!]
Happy New (Liturgical) Year! Winter seemed to arrive even before Advent this year, but nonetheless, I am always grateful for this time of quiet and waiting, clearing a space in our lives and in our hearts in which the Savior can be born anew.
We have much to celebrate, too, at our Advent Oblate Meeting on December 14: we will welcome Erin, Casey, and Francesca fully into our Benedictine Oblate family with the Ritual of Oblation. We will follow a revised schedule:
- 1:00pm Meeting opens with Announcements: No Midday Prayer
- 1:15pm Benedictines and other monastics: Short presentation about other Christian monastic traditions
- 1:30pm Buddhits Perspectives on the Rule – presentation by John Pastor; Discussion follows
- 2:30pm Break / Rehearsal for Candidates / We will try to have the Gift Shop open
- 3:00pm Rite of Oblation – Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel
- 3:30pm Reception – Rockhurst Dining Room
Oblates: Please do all you can to be present for these newest full members of our Oblate family: your presence makes visible the spiritual community which they are promising to support. Inquirers: I encourage you, too, to be present. The ritual of oblation is one of the ways in which you can explore the possibility of becoming an Oblate yourself. Early in 2015, we will have an opportunity to enroll candidates. If you are interested in becoming a Candidate, please let me know.
Our topic this month is very timely. Pope Francis, in his Message for the Opening of the Year of Consecrated Life (which began on November 30), called for dialogue across denominations and also with other religious traditions. I have included a few paragraphs from his Message on the back of this letter. Oblate communities are a wonderful place for such dialogue to occur, as they often include a variety of Christian perspectives. I invite each of you to think about the way the monastic tradition blends with your own faith tradition, and bring something to share in the discussion. With the message John Pastor wrote and his short selection from Benedict’s Dharma (see next post), we are sure to have plenty of ideas for a lively discussion.
From Pope Francis’ Message for the Year of Consecrated Life
3. In this letter I do not hesitate to address a word to the consecrated men and women and to the members of fraternities and communities who belong to Churches of traditions other than the Catholic tradition. Monasticism is part of the heritage of the undivided Church, and is still very much alive in both the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. The monastic tradition, and other later experiences from the time when the Church in the West was still united, have inspired analogous initiatives in the Ecclesial Communities of the reformed tradition. These have continued to give birth to further expressions of fraternal community and service.
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life has planned a number of initiatives to facilitate encounters between members of different expressions of consecrated and fraternal life in the various Churches. I warmly encourage such meetings as a means of increasing mutual understanding, respect and reciprocal cooperation, so that the ecumenism of the consecrated life can prove helpful for the greater journey towards the unity of all the Churches.
4. Nor can we forget that the phenomenon of monasticism and of other expressions of religious fraternity is present in all the great religions. There are instances, some long-standing, of inter-monastic dialogue involving the Catholic Church and certain of the great religious traditions. I trust that the Year of Consecrated Life will be an opportunity to review the progress made, to make consecrated persons aware of this dialogue, and to consider what further steps can be taken towards greater mutual understanding and greater cooperation in the many common areas of service to human life.
Journeying together always brings enrichment, and can open new paths to relationships between peoples and cultures, which nowadays appear so difficult.
From the Vatican, 21 November 2014,
Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Good Sams will commence the cycle in Kiribati, near the International Date Line as they gather for prayer on the evening of November 29. And it moves on from there.
World Religious asked to wrap the world in prayer for peace
In solidarity with one another throughout the world, Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) suggests that consecrated men and women begin the Year of Consecrated Life by PRAYING FOR PEACE at First Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent.
Prayer for peace will continue for 24 hours around the earth by those in consecrated life. All religious women and men are invited to join the CIB in making this a universal prayer for peace.
“Together, religious of the world can make a significant impact at a time when our world is in desperate need of peace.”
S. Judith Ann Heble OSB, Moderator of CIB
Oblates, an integral part of the prayer ministry of our monasteries, are warmly invited to join us in prayer in person or in their homes.
h/t to What’s New OSB?
- Pope authorizes plenary indulgence for Year of Consecrated Life (catholicnewsagency.com)
- Oblates: You’re invited! (oblosb.wordpress.com)
- INDONESIA – Indonesia’s Year of the Consecrated Life celebrates the “beauty and dignity of vocations” (asianews.it)