73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 54

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 54.

(54) Not to speak useless words and such as provoke laughter.

Benedict has a great concern for the choice of our speech, reflecting Our Lord’s injunction in the Gospel to “let you no mean no and your yes mean yes.” Most of us suffer from an endless chatter that means little and lessens the effectiveness of our speech in general. There is a further clarification here and we are warned not to “provoke laughter.”

Is Benedict condemning humor or is this a warning not to appear silly to others? I think it is the latter.

Someone who talks endlessly might make others laugh at him or her but they probably will not be taken seriously. The danger here is that speech exists to communicate the truth and when it is not used specifically for that we misuse this great gift.

Benedict warns us not to use “useless words.” Words are powerful weapons and gentle comforters if they are used correctly. But when speech is misused it lessens its effective use at anytime.

Another way of stating this maxim might be, “choose your words carefully and sparingly.”

The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the “Word made Flesh.” There is a connection here with all the words that come from our mouth too. We should ever be mindful of The Word when a word comes to our lips.

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73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 53

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 53.

(53) Not to love much speaking.

Recently while a guest at the monastic table of a monastery I was privileged to be there on a night when talking was allowed in celebration of the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Normally meals are taken in silence at this monastery, while a monk reads from the Rule of St. Benedict, the martyrology and usually a book that would be of interest to the monks (this final selection could be a current bestseller).

So on this night, after the blessing was said and we were seated there was a few minutes of silence while the lector read from the Rule and the martyrology before the abbot rang a bell signaling that we could speak. The one line that was read from the Rule was “not to love much speaking.”

I was seated with a monk who I had meant several times before, Father Louis, in his late 70’s he still leads a very busy life wearing a number of “hats” at the monastery not the least of which is to entertain guests. He told me that two of his heroes were fallen and that made him sad.

“Who were they?” I asked.

“President Clinton and Archbishop Weakland.” He responded.

He went on to say that Clinton had been for the poor and for the life of me I can’t remember what Weakland had done that enamored him to Father Louis, although Weakland was also a Benedictine monk so that probably had something to do with it.

We carried on a conversation about current projects that I was working on and Father Louis weekend parish work. It was an ironic visit, because we were both doing the very thing that Benedict counsels the monk not to do “to love much speaking.”

Why? Too often when we speak much we say things that might better be left unsaid. If Benedict were writing today, he might also add not “to love too much blogging” which could easily be a modern equivalent to “too much speaking.” Bloggers know that writing what you are thinking can come back to bite you sometimes.

God first, everything else second. We are to pray always, even before we speak. “God is this going to build the person up?” “Lord is this your will?” All should proceed what might flow too quickly from our lips and not be according to God’s will for us.

The flip side of course is that someone who loves to talk will hardly make a good monk. Since monks thrive on silence (and we should nurture ourselves with this too), someone who loves to talk obviously would be miserable in such a setting.

But the counsel is beneficial to all of us. “Think before you speak,” becomes “Pray before you speak.”

73 Steps to Spritual Communion with God – 52

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 52:

(52) To guard one’s tongue against bad and wicked speech.

This counsel will be followed by another which was read while I was recently a guest at the monastic table of the monks at Saint Meinrad Archabbey-namely “not to love much speaking,” which solves much of the problems that we might encounter with this counsel. Guarding one’s tongue, catching oneself before one speaks, is a valuable maxim especially if you are an extrovert who speaks whatever crosses your mind. The same might be said for introverts who are apt to do the same in writing (and in the days of blogs, instant messaging and email–the dangers are plenty!).

What is “bad” and “wicked” speech?

If we look to the Gospels for an answer we might be surprised at what Jesus identifies as such–vows:

“Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 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: 33-37).

It seems like this says pretty well what we are to avoid. Yet isn’t it strange how this basic teaching of Jesus is ignored? How we still speak vows before God and man?

The teaching of Jesus is pretty clear that we are not God and we do not know what the future holds–God alone knows this. So any attempt on our part to declare that we will do something forever is actually rather unchristian–I know that this will be misunderstood so let me clarify. God is the source of our existence and our life. Every act that we do throughout the day should be dependent upon His Will for us. Anytime that our attitude is that we can do anything without his help we are as Jesus says doing something that “comes from evil.”

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 51

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 51:

(51) And to disclose them to our spiritual father.

Having a trusted person to share our spiritual journey with is a fundamental aspect of the spiritual life. Catholics do this when they celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance to a degree, but it is done more completely when one chooses a spiritual director to guide them along their path to Christ.

This is no easy task for either the one giving direction or the one receiving it. It requires trust and openness. Above all it requires being open to the action of the Holy Spirit. There is always the danger in this process for abuse and one should never allow their “director” to lead them away from Christ.

But what if we are scrupulous and not trusting in the mercy of Christ? Then we should allow our spiritual mentor to direct us to the Gospels to encounter the Christ who forgives seventy times seven.

But what if our problem is a sin that we commit over and over again?

Then we should allow our spiritual father to point out to us that our trust is to be placed in God’s power and not in our own ability to reform.

A trusting relationship with a spiritual father can greatly aid our spiritual growth, but we should never allow this “advice” to become anything more than that. Too often people have fallen greatly because they made their spiritual father into their “god” rather than as a means to grow closer to God.

Sinful thoughts can grow in the dark. By bringing them to the light to someone who is wise in the spiritual life we shed light on our darkness. This has the effect of causing the cockroaches to scurry back into their hiding places. Naming our demons makes exorcising them a possibility.

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.

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