73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God – 50

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God. The previous posts are in the archives to the right. This is step 50:

(50) To dash at once against Christ the evil thoughts which rise in one’s heart.

St. Benedict’s counsel is wise. Our Lord gave his disciples “power” and that same “power” is available to us, we should avail ourselves tof this powert when we most need it. We need it most when evil thoughts are at their very infancy within our emotions, when they “rise in one’s heart.” At that moment we should run like a little toddler to Our Lord.

Being a disciple of Our Lord requires this child like faith. In fact the greatest evil thought that can arise in our hearts is to start thinking that we are finally “mature” enough in the spiritual life and don’t need to do this. As Our Lord said when his disciples returned from a very successful missionary journey, “I saw Satan fall like lightning!” Pride over the gifts that we have been given can quickly cut us off from the source of our salvation.

So with child like faith we move through life ever vigilant over our thoughts, scrupulously turning to Our Lord at every moment where evil seems to lurk.

Benedict’s image of ‘dashing against” calls to mind a clutching disciple, grabbing hold of Our Lord’s garment lest we fall. It is a good image because the desparation that it suggests is what we are faced with in our daily lives. As St. Paul said, “Examine yourselves, lest you fall.”

73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God 49

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God. The previous posts are in the archives to the right. This is step 49:

(49) To hold as certain that God sees us everywhere.

Almost all of us were raised with this notion, which was a useful tool that parents could use to insure that when they weren’t around there was another, bigger and far meaner parent in the sky. The last part is the most unfortunate part of this. God is not meaner but far more loving than any human could ever be toward us.

Again because most of us were taught this as children it tends to immediately make us think of whether we are good or bad. But really another way to think of it is God is always there looking out for us. Always ready for us to call upon His name. That he watches over us and protects us.

Reflecting on this counsel, I think you can see is colored by your image of God. Does that image reflect what Jesus Christ showed God to be like or does it reflect what your parents, or some other religious figure revealed to you that God was like. More importantly, does whatever I was taught match to what the Gospels reveal about Jesus?

This is the “type” of God who sees us no matter where we are, a loving God. One who is not up there waiting to strike us dead and send us to Hell, but one who is willing to come down and become a man and walk in our midst and to suffer and die when we reject Him–and then to come back again to offer us forgiveness. “His mercy endures forever.”

Today, and everyday be mindful of the presence of God, always with you no matter if you believe or not. In the words of an old Latin saying, Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit, “Bidden or not bidden God is present.”

73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God – 48

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God. The previous posts are in the archives to the right. This is step 48:

(48) To keep a constant watch over the actions of our life.

We read in the Book of Wisdom “To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and he who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care”, (Wisdom 6:15). Vigilance is a hallmark of monastic life, it is why silence has always been valued in that setting.

Vigilance requires attentiveness. Everyone has had the experience where they arrive home after driving the daily route only to discover that they remember nothing about the trip they have just made presumably awake. Much of life can become so routine that we are oblivious to those around us.

Monks have a practice of keeping “vigil.” I once tried something similar when I attended school at a monastery. I decided that I would simply spend the night with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I took along a Bible, a rosary and sat in a small oratory. Just the Lord and me. The time passed rather quickly. There were no great revelations during that period of prayer, but what I did notice was that during the next few days everything seemed more intense. It was almost as though the world was suddenly in “high definition” vs. the black and white that it usually seems to be.

Unfortunately, for me it was a one time event. But I have noticed that the more I pray, the more vigilant I become. The more I notice others that cross my path. The less I travel through my day on automatic pilot.

Most of us might raise the excuse of there being too many distractions in life for us to be truly vigilant. But therein lies the distinction–distractions demand our attention. What we call distractions are things that we are ignoring that are clamoring for our attention. The vigilant persons pays attention to everything they are doing and thinking.

The image of a psychic who seems to see and hear voices that no one else hears seems an apt representation of the vigilant person. All of us carry with us intense memories of past experiences, these play a heavy role in the way we act toward others. The vigilant person will discern the “other” people in the room so to speak when they encounter their daily contacts.

Prayer and discernment are both necessary to be truly vigilant in our actions. We need to truly see what creates our reactions to people and events and bring them to God. To free ourselves from inordinate attachments. As the Book of Wisdom says to be vigilant will “free us from all care.” No regrets, only gratitude.

73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God – 47

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God. The previous posts are in the archives to the right. This is step 47:

(47) To keep death before one’s eyes daily.

Momento Mori, “remember death” is an ancient spiritual maxim presented to us here by St. Benedict. Keeping one’s end in mind helps us to focus on what really matters. Many self-motivators have picked up on this and while avoiding “death” have sought to get people to meditate on what is really important in life.

Of course what happens after death matters a great deal if we are to focus on death. If one believes that nothing happens after death that focusing on it could be a morose practice that would only depress the person. If on the other hand one believes in the after life and a judgment then every decision I make in the present is moving me along a road in one of two directions–either toward heaven or hell.

Many people believe in a after life for absolutely no good reason. Many of them do not believe in God, but reaping the harvest of Christendom continue to carry around with them a vague sense that death is not the end. But this belief does not come from science.

Others, nihilists, belief in nothing but the present but in a rather dark manner, since death is the end that the whole of life is rather meaningless and existence is a bore.

Then there are the Epicureans who “eat, drink and are merry” for tomorrow we die. Their focus is on death, but it is one where death is looked at as the great enemy that must be avoided at all costs by throwing as much pleasure as possible at the body while it is still alive. These are the saddest of people. Often their bodies are racked with pain from the abuse that they have subjected it to in pursuit of pleasure.

The final group is made up of believers. Our focus on death is to be hopeful. It is to help us to get through the present moment when it is difficult. It is to inspire us in the present moment when it seems meaningless. It is to keep our eyes on the gift that sin promises-death and the redemption that God through Jesus promises-life.

This focus is one of reality. We are all going to die. By facing it daily it will not catch us unprepared nor unready for God’s judgment.

73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God – 46

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God. The previous posts are in the archives to the right. This is step 46:

(46) To desire eternal life with all spiritual longing.

I think that this is one of those maxims that would have been a given in previous ages. But now it seems that no one is brought up with a great “desire” for eternal life with all spiritual longing.

I remember as a child listening to a visiting priest preach about the importance of eternity in light of the present moment. It left a deep impression on my young mind and from that day forward every action that I undertook was charged with “eternal” implications.

The type of “longing” that St. Benedict counsels us to have is “spiritual” longing. This is a little more complicated that the normal type of longing but it is an important distinction. Too often people in the past approached their desire for eternal life with an earthly register–keeping track of their good acts, performing prayers with certain types of indulgences–all with a keen eye on where they were on the spiritual maturity meter. This is all the stuff of this life and a pretty sad indication that one really doesn’t trust in God at all.

A spiritual longing is much more focused on God and less on self. St. Paul desired eternal life with this type of longing when he wished if for his fellow men to the point that he himself would forgo it, if it would save them. Spiritual longing is always sacrificial and somewhat paradoxical.

Our Lord said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.” There is great wisdom in meditating on these words in light of St. Benedict’s maxim to “desire eternity with a spiritual longing.” We long to cleave to Christ, to imitate Him and to be united with Him, so to live with Him for all eternity.

73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God – 45

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God. The previous posts are in the archives to the right. This is step 45:

(45) To be in dread of hell.

I think it is helpful to personally design our own notion of Hell. Jesus used Gehenna to describe it to the people of His day. “Gehenna” was the local dump (landfills were a long way into the future) for the city of Jerusalem. So when Jesus described Hell to the people they would have thought of Gehenna where a smoldering fire burned incessantly consuming the refuse of the people of Jerusalem.

Designing your own notion of Hell merely insists of imagining what the would be the worst possible experience that could happen to you and magnifying that by eternity. For most of this would involve pain and suffering that would never cease, but for some it might be an embarrassing situation. Sadly for many it might be an actual moment in their life that they play over and over again in their minds.

The point is that once you have some understanding of how horrible Hell would be for you that you should foster a “dread” of it. The only way we can end up in this eternal place of damnation is by rejecting the gift of salvation that comes to us from Jesus Christ. Accepting or rejecting that gift is a moment by moment yes or no, manifest by our actions.

Dread is a fairly good motivator. Most of us seldom do anything we dread. We keep putting it off. That is why so many people still mail in their tax statements on April 15th close to the stroke of midnight. To dread what is “really” evil is healthy. And what is really evil is “separation from God” which is the best definition of what Hell is.

It is true that if you take your own notion of what Hell is like and then place God in the picture that it become Heaven. I can imagine being quite happy in Gehenna if I was there with Jesus watching people dump their garbage. In fact I can imagine enduring the worst that life can give and being okay with it if I had a strong sense that God wanted me there.

We should dread anything that will separate us from God’s love and Hell is the final separation. Fostering this dread will increase our appreciation for the availability of God’s love in the present moment. The final judgment has not happened for us yet, there is still time. Time to confess and let go of past sins. Time to reform our lives and live in the grace of God in the future. Time to dread the fires of Hell and to live for the glories of Heaven.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 44

This is a continuation of the the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God, the previous posts are available in the archives to the right. This is step 44.

(44) To fear the day of judgment.

A recent visit to a large Midwestern city was filled with moments where I paused to think about the tragedies of September 11, 2001 and what could happen again or as the United States government often relates-something worst. One of the buildings in this city, that towers over all the rest is especially impressive and the thought of it tumbling like the World Trade Centers was almost incomprehensible. Milling around the streets with thousands of others it was hard to envision some nuclear attack suddenly wiping out a million people in an instance.

Although the sun shone and it was a beautiful day there was a hint of an impending storm that post-9/11 seemed to hang heavy in the air. It made me think of the words of Our Lord when his disciples marveled at the size of the Temple in Jerusalem and its beauty (it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” (Luke 21:7).

Driving home past abandoned motels and gas stations, I thought of the transitory nature of life. People that I once admired now lie cold in tombs, amusement parks that delighted me as a child now lie dormant, everything has a judgment day, everything!

St. Benedict says we should “fear” the day of judgment. It should be something ever on our minds. To keep “our” final end in sight has always been an important practice because it helps us to “order” our lives to that end. Most of us can point to our greatest lapses or sins as times when we had lost sight of our purpose in life.

Fear can be a horrible motivator or it can be a great one. When I was in basic training in the Army some years ago, I remember an incident where one of my fellow trainees was having difficulty producing urine for some medical procedure. He came out to the drill sergeant holding the empty container. The drill sergeant in response yelled in his face, “Go!” And he did, as the front of his fatigues darkened. I saw him a few minutes later squeezing what he could out of his pants into the container.

But Jesus also said, “Fear is useless, what is need is trust,” and while fearing judgment day can help us to refocus on what truly matters and what the right thing to do is in any situation, ultimately it should always lead us back to placing our trust in God. Fearing judgment should always drop us to our knees and reconnect with God. Every moment is an invitation to prayer and every second has its own needs that require that special help from God.

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