73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 29

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 29th step:

(29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).

St. Benedict references two Scripture passages with this counsel. The first is from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all,” (1 Thess. 5:15). The next is from the First Letter of Peter, “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing,” (1 Pet. 3:9).

The motivation for this is clearly stated in Peter’s letter when he says that the Lord is against those who do evil. Get it?

If we return evil for evil, then we are evildoers.

If we are in God, then we will only have love and peace to give. Like Christ we will forgive our enemies, we will return their hatred with God’s love.

Doesn’t it sound humanly impossible to do this? It is, but for God all things are possible.

These steps continually make us aware, like a mega examination of conscience that we need to pray continuously. Prayer is essential because in order to live out the Gospel message, God must be in our every breath.

Our prayer should always be for the other’s good.

Is there anyone that could make heaven hell for you? Then you’d better pray for that person. Pray that good will happen to them, that their heart will be touched, and that in the process your heart may also be changed to accept them.

Often love and hate are flip sides of the same coin.

Our Lord’s cross is for a sign of victory, for the world it is a sign of defeat. Jesus told his disciples that he has overcome the world, how we respond to evil in our lives shows who we belong to—Jesus or the world.

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73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 28

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 28th step:

(28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue.

St. Benedict’s counsel here is geared toward a conversion of feelings, so that the truth I speak with my mouth, I also feel in my heart. Of course, such truth will be spoken with conviction.

Many of us know instinctively what is true, we just don’t feel like paying any attention to it. Conversion of “feelings” is an important part of opening oneself to God.

If you don’t feel like converting to the truth, it is because some untruth has grabbed your heart. Opening your heat to God’s love will have a surprising result–you will literally feel the truth.

Too often we look toward those who should model religious faith but instead wear their faith for all to see. Jesus condemns the Pharisees and hypocrites of his day because they keep the tax collectors and prostitutes from coming to the Kingdom of God by their example. In other words they make religious belief in God seem unattractive.

Our eyes should always be focused on Christ. We shouldn’t look to anyone else.

The people who encountered Him were drawn to Him. So will we be.

Then speaking the truth will be a matter of allowing the tongue to proclaim what the heart feels.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 27

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 27th step:

(27) Not to swear, lest perchance one swear falsely.

To “swear” in this case means to take a vow. St. Benedict warns in this counsel that we should not take oaths out of fear that we might do so falsely. Why would this be the case?

Jesus commanded his disciples not to swear. In the Gospel of Matthew, he says, ” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil,” (Matthew 5:34-37).

Our Lord knows well that we do not know ourselves very well. When He told his disciples that one of them would betray him, they all denied it. Peter spoke the loudest and Our Lord warned him that he would betray him before the cock crowed twice. Notice what Peter does at the crucial moment:

“Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the cock crowed,” (Matthew 26: 74). He swears falsely.

Unfortunately people continue to swear oaths that they may humanly incapable of fulfilling. It is interesting that within Christianity this command of Jesus has slowly been abrogated. But the truth of what Jesus said and here St. Benedict counsels remains.

None of us knows what the future holds. None of us knows if we will be able to fulfill any vow five or ten years from now. We can promise, ask God’s blessing upon our promise and go where God leads us. But as Jesus says anything else is from the evil one.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 26

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 26th step:

(26) Not to forsake charity.

There are times when our hearts can grow cold and we can close ourselves off from either accepting love or giving it. Often this is because of some evil that we have either had done to us or have experienced in some way.

No matter how bad it gets, St. Benedict here wisely counsels us to never forsake charity–love.

When our hearts grow cold, we need to open the door to the Lord’s love and ask him to burn away anything that keeps us from being vessels of his charity both to ourselves and to others. It is His Love that conquers all and it ultimately is His Love that heals all wounds.

If we feel at anytime that we really do not feel like being loved or loving–we need to examine ourselves and to see what has crept into our lives and is taking the place of God. A coldness of heart is always an indication that we have put something else in God’s place in our lives.

“Not to forsake charity” applies in all circumstances in life. Charity as a translation for caritas, which can also be translated “love”, is a good way to remind us that love is always requires “giving.” When we do not wish to give, it is often because we feel we have nothing to give. But if we allow ourselves to be filled with God’s love, we will always have more than enough.

One need only think of a Mother Teresa, frail and old, walking and greeting all that cross her path. Or a Pope John Paul II bent over with age, ignoring no one. It is not physical strength that allows a person to act in this manner but Divine Love.

It is available to you, in the same way as it is available to them.

Do not forsake this great gift that God wishes to give you, nor to share it with all who cross your path this day.

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.

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