73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. 20

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel. 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.

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73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 19 by Michael Dubruiel

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel. 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.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God by Michael Dubruiel – 18

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

(18) To help in trouble.

St. Benedict counsels us to be “helpers” something that no doubt was implanted in most of us from our youth. How can we best help others and what might keep us from reaching out to others?

When Our Lord was thirsty he asked the woman at the well for a drink. Jesus needed help. The woman rather than just giving him a drink gave him a lot of excuses. First it was racial—“You’re a Jew.”

Funny how little our reasons for not helping others changes. Our excuse might be, “You’re not family” or “You’re not Catholic” or “You’re not American” or “You’re not the same race as I.”

If God is “Our Father” who is not our brother and sister?

Saint Benedict’s counsel is simple and indeed it is the Gospel message that we are to help those in trouble. If we use excuses as a buffer to exonerate us from our duty then we risk missing out with an encounter with Our Lord who comes to us often in the guise of the poor.

The Samaritan woman’s excuse, might have kept her from meeting Jesus, had Our Lord not persisted in his desire. If our desire is to help those in need, we will not miss meeting Our Lord throughout the day.

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 17

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

(17) To bury the dead.

The most vivid memories I have of monastic life are actually those dealing with how the dead our buried. I have witnessed these events at several types of monasteries and while the particulars differ, they all share the common denominator of being terribly comfortable with a dead body.

I remember visiting a Trappist Monastery with a friend once who had never witnessed a dead body before. Somehow she had spent over 40 years on this earth without ever having been to a funeral or grave site. Protected from death by her parents, she had not bothered to confront it as an adult either. Until the fateful day when she stumbled upon it, on a visit for Evening Prayer at the monastery. Talk about shock therapy!

We were sitting toward the back of the Abbey Church with the rest of the non-monks. The monks themselves were gathered at the door awaiting the arrival of the body of their brother monk. Upon its arrival it was placed on a flat surface (no coffin) and brought forward a few feet, with the help of several feeble monks to stop a few inches from where my friend and I stood.

The pallor of the dead body, its lifeless shell spoke of the finality of the event. I’m sure my friend still wakes up in the middle of the night with the vision of that moment.

I had seen death many times before. I had even been blessed to be with several people at the moment of death, hearing their last breath escape, watching their eyes go up and out their head, giving me an understanding of why the ancients believed that the soul came in from the top of the head and when it left a body escaped from the same portal.

In some ways the moment of death can be likened to something of a whimper. It seldom is the drawn out affair of the actor who tries by their exaggerations to communicate the tragedy of what is unfolding. While birth may take hours, death often needs only the hundredth of a second.

The Trappist bury their dead by dumping the body into a grave and throwing some lime over the corpse to aid in the decaying process. The Benedictines that I have known, use a simple pine box. Both end their funeral rites by individually throwing dirt either onto the corpse or coffin—thereby fulfilling this counsel of St. Benedict to bury the dead.

Two images come to mind. The first of my friend who for over forty years had never witnessed a dead body. The second of the monks throwing dirt on the remains of their dead brother. I wonder what is the effect on both.

My friend is symbolic of those who in our present culture seek to keep death at a distance. Someone dies, we cremate the body and someone scatters ashes in the same way that a past generation might have emptied an ashtray.

This same culture visualizes death constantly in its movies and music. It seems that if we do not bury the dead that the effect on us is that we will endlessly be haunted by them.

The monks are not haunted by the dead but they are not abandoned by them either. They see in the brother who has passed from this life leaving behind the shell of their body and example. It reminds them of their purpose and the shortness of the opportunity to fulfill this purpose. They are reminded by death that ultimately all that matters is God!

Burying the dead may be as simple as attending the funerals of our friends and families. Praying for them and asking their prayers. The uneasiness that we feel is due to the inner knowledge that this to will be our end but like every unpleasant truth in life we can either face it or try to ignore it.

If we face it, we will prepare for it. If we ignore it we will be haunted by it. Burying the dead will help to put the ghosts to rest, while at the same time allowing the saints to intercede for us

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God – 16 by Michael Dubruiel

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

(16) To visit the sick (cf Mt 25:36).

The difficulty in visiting the sick is usually not their illness but rather something within ourselves that likes to hide from our own mortality. The sick too often remind us of the shortness of our own life and the transitory nature of our pilgrimage on this earth.

I remember as a young man that I would visit a young woman in a nursing home and bring her communion once a week. She was a few years older than I was at the time but was dying of terminal cancer. All of her hair had been shaved and she often wore a wig to hide the fact.

At first the smells of the nursing home and the lingering feeling of death, made the short trip to the nursing home a very difficult one for me to make. I would often speak to the young woman, whose name was Pearl, about the possibility of healing etc.—I realized all of which made me feel better—she just brushed off these comments.

Our conversations were often one sided even though we spoke to each other. She confessed that until she had been ill that she had not thought much about God, and claimed to have been a magnificent sinner. Once she even pulled out a photo of her before the cancer, only a few years before, that showed a vivacious beautiful woman laughing with her friends. Now clutching a crucifix, her constant companion in her bed of pain she smiled and said that she had accepted death.

I will never be able to measure the effect that my weekly visits with Pearl have had on my life or for that matter what continued influence she has on my life even now. Only in Heaven can I hope for a true accounting of this. But I do know that the image of her in her bed of pain clutching that crucifix remains with me even now. Like a mirror held up to the moments of my life—each event is measured by how well I use my time here.

I have visited the sick many times in my life, usually out of obligation. The reluctance, and hesitation to set out on those journeys remains. It seems that we are reluctant to meet a side of the other that we fear to meet within ourselves. We fear seeing ourselves as we really are.

Visiting the sick is a holy activity. We should bring the healing of Christ to those who are ill, and we should commend them to our prayers, as well as asking their prayers.

When I left to go to school, Pearl often wrote to me in the months before she died. She called me her “angel,” saying that I often appeared to her by her bedside. The fact was that she was my angel, a messenger from God pointing to the truth of the fleeting nature of this life and to the crucifix that she clutched to like a life preserver, to the Savior who has the power to save us

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 15

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

(15) To clothe the naked…

For some reason the first thing that comes to mind when confronted with this counsel of St. Benedict is something that I read some years ago in a work by Peter Brown in a book entitled The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity -a book that among other things, looks at early Christianity’s view of the body. Brown speculates that the Church’s view of modesty in the Roman World is colored by the fact that nudity was the privilege of the wealthy.

Another thought that comes to mind, is the way in which Baptisms were done in the early church. The catechumen would strip naked leaving the clothing they entered the church with behind, as they entered the Baptismal pool and then as they emerged from the waters and had oil poured over their heads, they would be clothed in a new garment.

The young man in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 14:52) who fleas the scene of the arrest of Jesus naked, is another image that comes to mind. Whereas the apostles had left everything to follow Jesus, now at the crucial moment of decision this young man (thought by some to be the writer of the Gospel–Mark) leaves everything behind to get away from Jesus.

But it could be that this young man’s presence in the Gospel is also an indication of the early Church’s Baptismal practice. When you understand how Baptisms were done, and also what entering the waters of Baptism symbolizes (entering into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus) you will see the connection between the young man leaving his clothes behind and then reappearing after the Passion in the Empty Tomb, (in place of the Angels who are there the other Gospels).

I have worked in a clothing closet before. Handing out clothing to the homeless. They would come in on Saturday mornings about 30 minutes before the soup kitchen would start serving food and would tell you what they needed.

“I need a shirt, extra large. Something in dark colors.”

I would go to the rack of men’s clothing and look for something that fit that description. Often the item would be an expensive shirt donated by someone who no longer felt it fashionable enough for their taste. Hardly ever was the clothing in any form of disrepair.

The poor man would usually snatch the piece of clothing from my hand and look at it before grunting and moving onward toward the kitchen. Some would thank me, many would avoid looking at me in the eye—embarrassed, only once did someone ask for the shirt that I was wearing—which I wish I could say that I had given to them.

None of the people I handed clothing to were ever naked.

So who are these “naked” that we are to clothe?

Are they the rich who in their warmth, security and pleasure filled lives, find in their nudity a way to recreate Eden without God?

73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 14

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

(14) To relieve the poor.

I find the wording of this counsel of Saint Benedict rather interesting. In fact I felt that I had better check the translation to see if the one I was using was correct. What I found is that the word Benedict uses, that is translated as “relieve,” is “recreare” which literally means “to create again” or to “revive.”

With that in mind we see that the counsel that Saint Benedict is giving applies to a variety of the poor. The material poor as well as those who are poor in spirit.

While attending school at Saint Meinrad College I worked several work study jobs. One of these jobs was a weekend one where I assisted the Guestmaster at the Guest House. I greeted people who came to the guest house usually to inquire about the Monk’s schedule or the history of the monastery. But another group, that often made their appearance on a regular basis, were those looking for help–the poor.

Some of these were looking for food. The monastery had tickets, that I gave to those who asked for them, and they in turn would go to the monastery kitchen where food would be given to them. No questions were ever asked apart from how many members they had in their family which was a determining factor in how many tickets I would hand them.

A few of these poor souls, I recognized from my visits to the local pub in town. I did not judge them or deny them the tickets even though I knew that they had some money (at least some to buy drinks). One reason for my lack of judgment, was due to the fact that giving the monks food away, did not cost me anything. I wonder though, if the money had been coming out of my pocket, if I would have been as understanding.

Others came to the door looking for food of a different sort.

Thomas Merton in Bread in the Wilderness speaks of the psalms as God’s manna, given to feed the soul in the desert of life. The monk’s prayer, made up almost entirely of praying the psalms, provided that nourishment for many who had suffered loss or hurt from great struggles of faith.

All of us are poor. It is arrogant to think that I am somehow better than anyone else. If there is anything that I have hated throughout my life, it is those who look down on others. Sadly, it is also the part of myself that I hate the most—and the part that I know could ultimately condemn me if I do not let go of it.

Saint Benedict did not leave counsel to “help” the poor, even though we could interpret this counsel as concretely doing this. He told them to breathe life into them.

I could feed the poor with food, but if I made them feel like I was doing them a great service, I could leave them with their bellies full but still feeling very poor. If on the other hand, I fed them in the way I might some friend who I hoped to impress and win favor from, how might that leave them?

The famous, the wealthy and those in power often find that doors are opened for them and everything provided for them, although they usually have done nothing to deserve it. We may not have a “royal” family in this land of ours, but some are treated that way nonetheless. Why should some be treated that way and while others are neglected?

I can not change the way the world around me acts toward the poor, but I can change the way I act. I also cannot tell, from outward appearances, who the poor are by the way they appear. This counsel of Saint Benedict’s does not apply to one or two individuals but rather to everyone that I meet.

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