73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 25

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 25th step:

(25) Not to make a false peace.

This may catch us by surprise. We might reason, wouldn’t some semblance of peace be better than war. But, again if we think about the ramifications of someone who we think is at peace with us but really isn’t, we can see how damaging this “show” of peace can be in the long run.

St. Benedict isn’t saying that we shouldn’t be at peace with everyone, he is telling us not to make a “false” peace with anyone.

We are to be honest, as the previous counsel has instructed us. We are to make peace with our brother or sister that is genuine this step counsels us.

But what if we find ourselves incapable of being at peace with someone?

We must bring our warring heart to God.

People, from a distance, often are amazed at how certain groups of the same people can foster hatred toward one another over so many years. Sometimes it is religious belief (in the case of most religions, it is against the very belief that they fight over) that keeps people enemies. Military might is often used, sometimes by a third party to keep the peace. But as history proves time and again such peace is no peace at all. Soon the parties are warring with one another again often with a conflict that has inflamed while it was dormant.

What then?

If we hold peace with each other as a goal, then we must use every means to achieve that goal. Most of the time peace is achieved by simply acknowledging the others right to exist with dignity and to acknowledge their right to believe differently. What this requires for both parties to reach this goal mutually, is for both of their egos to die.

For the follower of Christ this is not an option.

“Love your enemies.” “If they press you to go one mile, go two.” “If they strike you on one cheek, offer the other.” “Forgive seventy times seven.”

Amazing how anyone who follows Christ could ever set out to make anything other than true peace.

Our Lord’s parting words to His disciples was, “My peace I give you, not as the world gives do I give.” He was probably referring to the fact that at the time (and even today in Israel) that people didn’t say “Goodbye” but rather they said “Peace.” The Romans said Pax Vobiscum, the Israelites said  Shalom.

But did they mean it? It was a convention and very well often was said with no conviction.

Our Lord’s peace is not a convention, it is true. We should follow His example and make true peace with all we encounter.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 24

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 24th step:

(24) Not to entertain deceit in the heart.

Our Lord is the way, the truth and the life. Anything that tempts us toward falseness is not of Him. Again, St. Benedict warns us not even to “entertain” the idea of deceit in our emotions, symbolized by the heart.

Everyone deserves the truth. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.”

Unfortunately many people do not believe that the truth is helpful to others. To quote a phrase from the movie A Few Good Men, that was a favorite of students that I once taught Ethics to, “You can’t handle the truth,” seems to be most people’s guiding principle.

Doctors are not honest with patients who come to them expecting honesty. Parents, sometimes keep the truth from their children, leading them to search for it elsewhere. Even bishops now are not known for standing for the truth but rather hiding and trying to conceal it.

The result of such deceit lives with us for years. It destroys our capacity to trust. One can see how it could destroy a tight knit community like a monastery, but we should not let that excuse us.

A meditation on the effects of deceit that we have been on the receiving end might help us to appreciate why as St. Benedict counsels us, we should not even entertain the idea of being that way to anyone.

Everyone deserves the truth. The truth is a good and valuable commodity. Whatever perceived good we might think that hiding the truth from someone might bring, usually back fires.

St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the natural purpose of speech is to communicate the truth. Can you imagine a bird warning of an intruder to another bird , if in fact there is no intruder? A dog barking out lies to another dog?

Yet we humans can abuse this gift of speech that we have at our disposal.

Ultimately, it is a choice to reject God and to make something else a god in our lives. Whatever we feel is more important than telling the truth is what we really believe in. Our reputation, our pride or our sins all can keep us from fulfilling this counsel.

The confessional, then is a good place to begin. Opening our hearts to God and not even entertaining the thought of deceiving Him. As St. Paul says, “God will not be mocked.”

God not only can handle the truth about us, He can teach us the truth about ourselves. Something usually hidden from the deceitful person.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 23

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 23rd step:

(23) Not to foster a desire for revenge.

One of the genius’ of St. Benedict’s steps is that he teaches the monk to pay attention to what it in his heart. In the previous step it was anger that he counseled we should not give “way to, now it is revenge that we should not “foster a desire” for. If you have been hurt by someone you have a choice how you will respond to that hurt. Our Lord counseled us to forgive, forgive, forgive.

Forgiveness is more than just saying, “I pardon you,” to those who hurt us. It also requires an act of the heart that we actually wish the best for our enemy–who may very knowingly and willfully have hurt us.

This usually shocks people.

“Why should I?” “Isn’t doing so, making what they did to me right?”

No, in doing so you are not making them or what they did “God” in your life.

Too often we are motivated by anger and desires that have nothing to do with God but everything to do with what other people have done to us. We are not free as a result, but merely puppets of those who have hurt or harmed us in the past.

Not fostering a desire for revenge may seem impossible in some cases–but everytime that we are faced with a task that seems impossible to us–there is a new opening to our great need for God.

That’s why these are “steps” toward communion with God, because they make us face our great need for Him at every twist and turn of our lives.

In the same way that “lust” can lead one to commit acts of infidelity–so too in this case fostering a desire for revenge can only lead to the victim becoming the perpetrator of an evil act themselves. Better to cut the growth of something evil at the very roots and “fostering the desire” of something evil is the root of an evil act.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 22

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week’s archives. Here is the 22nd step:

(22) Not to give way to anger.

Whenever Christians think of anger, they usually think of Jesus cleaning house in the Temple. If Jesus got angry, then why is anger a bad thing, most reason? I could add a few more scenes from the Gospel. When Jesus’ disciples awaken him during a storm, he stills the storm and then reacts in anger–rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith (this should not be lost on anyone who has ever been awaken from a sound sleep–which obviously Jesus was enjoying and is a sign of his deep trust in God). When Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the time, he does not refrain from reacting angrily to what they say and do.

So it is obvious that anger has a place in the perfect human life of which Our Lord’s is an example. There are times when anger is the right reaction. When we see someone being abused or misled it is appropriate and even holy to be angry–as long as we do something about the anger. It should motivate us to act out in a righteous way.

But “to give way” to anger is another way of saying “to let it fester,” or “to let it take over”. We do nothing about it, but rather let it eat away at us. We allow it to grow into resentment and skepticism. This is neither healthy nor spiritual.

There is a certain school of spirituality that often counsels us to remain silent. Not to speak out but rather suffer silently. Of course, there is some truth to this and Our Lord’s example before Pontius Pilate is an example of when such a practice is right. But there are other times when such silence would be sinful, not spiritual.

The early Christians called their movement not Christianity but “the Way.” Jesus had given his followers a new path to walk. This path is a way of truthfulness and life. Reflecting on the previous step, “to prefer nothing to the love of Christ,” in this step we reject making “anger” the way.

Anger has a place in creation, it was created by God for a purpose, but it’s purpose is not to control us but to motivate us to act.

The imitation of Christ is the sure “way” to making sure that we do not give “way” to anger.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 21

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week’s archives. Here is the 21st step:

(21) To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

This is without a doubt the most quoted counsel of St. Benedict.

It an excellent guide for the spiritual life– to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

One might ask, are we to focus on being loved by Christ or the act of loving Him? I think it is both.

In Mark 10:21 we have the account of the rich young man. The Gospel says that Jesus, ” looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Notice that when Christ loves the rich young man, He points out what the young man lacks. It is out of love, that Jesus tells him to get rid of all his possessions.

Being loved by Christ will reveal similar deficiencies in us.

Our Lord looks upon us and recognizes what we really need. We often come to him with our own ideas about what we need.

If we prefer our ideas to the love of Christ, we too will join the rich young man who walks away sad “for his possessions were many.” We may possess the world, but without Christ it is nothing!

In John 8:42, Jesus is engaged in a heated argument with those who oppose him. He says to them “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”

This takes us back to the first counsel of St. Benedict, to love God. Jesus is God and so we should prefer nothing to God and His love that Jesus has revealed to us perfectly.

How do we know if we truly love Our Lord? He addresses this in John 14:23-24 ” “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

A concrete way to always prefer the love of Christ throughout the day when faced with countless other choices might be to adopt the phrase that Jesus spoke to Peter and to hear it addressed to ourselves–continuously: “Do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)”

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. 20

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week’s archives. Here is the twentieth step:

(20) To hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.

If you are like me, you can readily come up with a list of what “worldly ways” means, but too often this list have very little to do with what most spiritual masters mean when they use the term.

St. Benedict, again is writing these counsels for monks. Monks take a vow of obedience to an abbot. The abbot, a term that could be translated “father”, watches over the monks and assigns them various tasks for the good of the monastery.

About a year ago, I visited a monastery where the abbot invited me to join the monks for dinner. During the meal taken in silence, while a monk read from one of the Fathers of the Church, several monks had to kneel in front of the abbot’s table. They were being punished for some infraction of the rule that they had committed during the day (one monk told me that he had forgotten to put his napkin back in its holder).

As I sat there, in my forties, and witnessed the grown men who were around sixty years old, I momentarily thought of the ways of the world and how foolish this all seemed. But then, I remembered the counsel of Our Lord, “Unless you become like a child, you can not enter the Kingdom of God.”

All of us must be like children in God’s kingdom. Worldly ways might best be defined as acting in a way of a “self made man.”

There is a story of a man’s employer coming to the man’s home for dinner one night. The employer was brash, rude and made inappropriate comments throughout the meal. All the while the young son of the employee stared at the man. Finally, the boy spoke, “my dad says that you are a self-made man.”

The employer beaming, said, “Well, yes son I am.”

“Why did you make yourself so bad?” The young boy asked.

Keeping aloof of worldly ways, means leaving behind any notion that we are ultimately in charge of our lives. It requires total surrender to God.

Jesus lays out the best commentary for this counsel in Matthew’s Gospel, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and body more than clothing?…So I do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil, (Matthew 6:25, 31-34).”

I like to carry the image of those monks, all dressed in black, sitting and silently eating and drinking while they listen to someone proclaim the Kingdom of God to them, as I go about my dealings everyday–never allowing myself to be drawn away from our true purpose here.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 19

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week’s archives. Here is the nineteenth step:

(19) To console the sorrowing.

Those who sorrow at the loss of a loved one can often seem inconsolable. In fact the Scripture passage related to the slaughter of the innocents comes to mind, “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more (Matthew 2:18).”

It is important to remember that death is not part of God’s original plan. When God creates Adam and Eve, he warns them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or they will die. Death, is the result of original sin and indeed there is nothing that could console Rachel at her loss when the knowledge that death was eternal separation.

But for the Christian–there is Christ!

Death no longer is the final word. Jesus has overcome death and has opened up the possibility that all of us, if we believe in him, can share in his resurrection. The key, it would seem then to consoling the sorrowing, would be to remind them of the fruit of salvation and to point them to the mercy of God.

Yet having been there, many times, during the sad losses that people suffer–this is seldom the case. Instead, what usually occurs is the arrival of many well meaning people who announce loudly that it was God’s will that the child or adult die.

It is never God’s will that anyone die! Death entered the world because of sin-separation from God. God desires the salvation of all people. The angel of death that passes over the Egyptians is not a “good” angel but one who reaps the evil crop that had been sown by the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus.

Francis MacNutt and his wife Judith once presented a more accurate picture of God’s place in someone’s death. Speaking of how to console a sorrowful mother who has lost her child, they counseled the consoler speaking the following truth, “Death has taken your child, but God will take your child from death!”

To console, we need faith. Faith that in Christ, death is not the end.

Old churches still show forth the truth of the communion of saints, those who have died but are still very much alive and present. Most people intuitively grasp that their loved one is still alive, though not physically present. To console is to bring God’s truth to the situation, God’s message of salvation to the horror of a world steeped in sin.

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