May 25, 2014

Opening Our Hearts with Love

                                                                                                                                Sr. Nettie
                                                                                                                                6th Sunday of Easter

Today’s 2nd reading says, “Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.”  And the Gospel says, “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”  These quotes point to the goal of our life, what we long for and what our monastic lives are oriented toward, union with God. But even though our Rule and Constitutions do everything they can to provide a way of life that helps us toward our goal, legislation is not enough, as we know well. Everything in our life can try to turn our minds and hearts toward God, but if our hearts are not longing for the Lord, if we do not daily make an effort to quicken our desire for the Lord, our hearts will find something else to desire. It is a great mercy that God has led us to a life that daily reminds us of our very real and most basic longing for God because without the support of community and Liturgy, we would quickly forget to listen to the calling of our Good Shepherd, our Beloved. We need this help. Unfortunately the reality of our life is that we will daily be up against ourselves, for we ourselves are our greatest obstacle on the road to Eternal life. No one else is, no other thing is. We can daily thank God that he does not leave us alone with ourselves. We are never alone, and I don’t refer to community living! Jesus says, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth.” So already our Gospel readings are looking forward to Pentecost, as Jesus prepares his disciples for his Ascension, assuring them that they will not be left alone. I’ll leave these feasts to other chapter talks.

Instead, for my second thought, I’ll backtrack to the second reading. After Peter says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts”, he says to meet the consequences of Christ’s indwelling presence with gentleness and reverence because we will suffer for it. He doesn’t say if we suffer, but when we suffer, for Christ also suffered. This reminds me of the chapter on humility in the Rule of St. Benedict, especially the 3rd and 4th steps, where Benedict calls us to imitate the Lord in our obedience because Jesus became obedient even to death, and in this obedience our hearts should quietly embrace suffering. And what is our obedience, but to keep his commandments because we love him.  Or, as today's Gospel says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is putting things in the right order – keeping the commandments is the result of our loving him. It does us no real good to do what we should for the wrong reasons, such as to avoid being hassled, or to look good or be thought better of. Without love, our actions are not forming our hearts to be the light-bearing, loving person we were created to be. With love, our obedience, our actions will, with God’s grace, enlarge our hearts to love more. This is our call, our center, our hope, that he loves us, has touched our souls most intimately, and wants to remain in us forever, and he wants us to respond to his presence more and more until we abide in him as he abides in us. The fruits of this love are revealed and matured in sharing this love with everyone whom our lives touch. But this is possible only if we have let ourselves be formed by Christ’s humble obedience to the Father. Then, as the end of RB7 says, all that we do will be done out of love for Christ.

So let us be taught by Christ in the Liturgy these days to open our hearts more and more to our Risen Lord and to the Spirit of truth who is given to us to guide us and strengthen us even as it shows us our own poverty and the abundance of God’s love.

May 19, 2014

Our Journey to God

Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue:vs21:   “Therefore, with our loins girded with faith and the observance of good works, let us set out on this way with the guidance of the gospel, so that we may be worthy to see the one who has called us into his kingdom.”

The translation in RB80 is “let us set out on this way” but Michael Casey says a more accurate translation is “let us set out on his journeys”.  Casey emphasized that the journeys are plural and that they come from Christ’s invitation, not our own.  There are many journeys we travel in life – some are minor and some are major; some smooth and some stormy - but all of them are with the intention of leading us to God. 

Realistically however, we sometimes wander and deviate off His path.  But even then Jesus is with us, following us on those dead-end excursions, gently encouraging us to turn back to Him.   We came to the monastery not to follow our own desires but to follow the way of life set forth in our Rule.   This verse, then, is a call to examine our life and see what places we have drifted from “the Way”…and as Cistercians, from our Rule as well.

The first thing we are told to do is “gird your loins”.  This is a phrase we don’t use anymore – I would never say “let’s gird our loins and go shopping”!  But it was a frequent phrase used in Scripture for one who is ready to set out on a journey or a battle.  My Bible has a footnote explaining that loose garments were usually worn so when people set out on a journey or soldiers headed into battle they would fasten up their loose clothing with a belt so that it did not hinder their walking or movements.   This can be a metaphor for us, in our journeys toward God; we must get rid of the excess clothing…nothing to hinder our movements or cause us to trip and fall along our journey.  In the spiritual sense, the movement of our heart can be hindered by excessive desires; just as our vision and direction can be clouded by excessive thoughts.  Single-heartedness and single-mindedness are necessary practices to stay straight on the pathway.  This is our monastic striving for purity of heart.  This “girding of the loins” is preparing us for a pure heart so that we are “worthy to see the one who has called us into his kingdom”.  The Beatitudes promise that “those of pure heart shall see God”. 

But this “girding of the loins”, and girding of the heart (!), is not only for journeys and battles, it is also the stance given for the Passover in the Book of Exodus: “Gird your loins, your sandals on your feet, your staff in hand…for it is the Passover of the Lord”.  At the Passover meal in John’s gospel (13:4) we also hear that Jesus (quote) “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.”   So we also have implications of the Eucharist in this journey of faith and good works towards God’s kingdom.   Not only is He the Way but He is our food along the way.

I noticed also that St Benedict does not focus on the kingdom as the goal, but rather seeingthe One who has called us to his kingdom”.  We seek not a place but a person; it is not a region but a relation.  We are hearing Cassian’s immediate goal of purity of heart and the ultimate goal of the vision of God.  However, to see Him IS to see His Kingdom.  When we can recognize Christ in our present life, the Kingdom of God is among us…within us.  This is a second challenge for us to reflect on:  Can I see Christ in my sisters – even when my sister seems to have rough edges at times?   Can I recognize Christ’s presence in my tasks - even when they seem laborious, hidden, or menial?  Or, as those disciples on the journey to Emmaus, can I recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread – not only at the altar but even when we are at the common table?  This requires faith…this requires good works.  Sometimes the journey is easy but sometimes it is a battle!...a battle with  our clamoring or wounded ego.

So, today as we journey on the road, let us keep our hearts pure and our minds focused, so we can clearly see Christ in all things.  This is purity of heart and this is our call…these are His journeys chosen for us.  So let us “gird our lions with faith and good works” today – remembering who we journey towards and with.