January 29, 2010

Not sure if it is … but def taking a break.

Too much work and I want to concentrate on the journey.

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Living as best we can

January 24, 2010

The new Equality Bill continues to raise concerns for so-called ‘faith schools’ (if only they were accused of being ‘faith and reason schools’).

Taken from Caritas in Veritate: Bishop Malcolm McMahon, the Chairman of the Catholic Education Service,”has promised that the Church will not investigate the private lives of applicants for the headships of Catholic schools.” The promise has been made in the light of the increasing difficulty encountered in the recruitment of candidates for headships whose lives fully correspond to the Church’s teaching, particularly as regards marriage.

But Bishop Malcolm McMahon told The Tablet that the backgrounds of potential school leaders were not the concern of the Church and it should be up to applicants themselves to decide whether they were able to live according to church teaching. “Their family life isn’t scrutinised,” said the bishop. “I’d be rather ashamed if the Church was doing that to people. But we do expect people in leadership in the Church to live out their Christian commitment as best they can.”

The backgrounds of potential school leaders, indeed of every living soul, is of immense concern to the Church since She is concerned about the salvation, not only of those who lead our schools, but of those whom they are charged to lead and teach. There needs to be some way of ensuring that our teachers are exemplary in their lives. Only in that way can they give example to the pupils and teach coherently what the Church teaches.’

Mea culpa

January 23, 2010

Where I work is going to be inspected next week. No blogging, mea culpa!

  1. In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength.
  2. Then, one’s neighbor as oneself.
  3. Then not to murder.
  4. Not to commit adultery.
  5. Not to steal.
  6. Not to covet.
  7. Not to bear false witness.
  8. To honor all (1 Peter 2:17).
  9. And not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
  10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.
  11. To chastise the body.
  12. Not to become attached to pleasures.
  13. To love fasting.
  14. To relieve the poor.
  15. To clothe the naked.
  16. To visit the sick.
  17. To bury the dead.
  18. To help in trouble.
  19. To console the sorrowing.
  20. To become a stranger to the world’s ways.
  21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

The tools for good works are short statements of how we are to live our lives as Christians, and therefore as monks. There is nothing in these first 45 verses that the normal Christian should not strive to live–and if the normal Christian strives to live this way, then we monks must also strive. Verses 1 through 9 are simply the Ten Commandments seen in the eyes of the Gospel. Verse 10 begins to speak of renouncing our selves in order to follow Christ and this is the heart of the good works.

We come to the Monastery to follow Christ in the monastic way and we must renounce all other ways and all other gods. Verse 11 speaks of bodily discipline. This is not popular today because it brings to mind all kinds of physical penance of the past. Discipline your body, do not pamper yourself, but love fasting–all of this goes together in our tradition. Our tradition says that to be a Christian or a monk is very difficult and hard work and basically has nothing to do with how we feel about ourselves, but has to do with how we live. To attain the inner freedom that is necessary to love everyone else and to accomplish the will of God in all circumstances, bodily discipline is necessary. While most of us would not aspire to be weight-lifters, we can recognize easily that a weight-lifter cannot just start off pressing 500 pounds. Rather, the weight-lifter must train in order to be able to lift such a weight without bodily injury. The same is true of monastic life and of the spiritual life. We must do the small tasks first so that we can be able to live more deeply.

In some Zen centers, it is said that the novice Zen monk or Zen practitioner must first learn to close doors and to cook before there can be any thought of a deep spiritual life. The tools for good works are like that also: simple advice that is difficult to follow in our lives because we want to get on to that which feels good and makes us feel good about ourselves. Our approach must be simply to do the small and apparently easy things until we do them truly well.

Verses 14 through 19 are the corporal works of mercy. Verses 20 and 21 remind us that the wisdom of the Gospel is not in accord with the wisdom of the world. This is a necessary reminder today when there is such an impulse to try to make everyone happy by changing the teachings of the Church. We need to be aware in this context of the difference between the teachings of the Church as objective realities, and the pastoral approach that is so often necessary to help persons understand the teachings. The love of Christ that comes before all else keeps us from judging others and helps us find ways to speak of the Gospel that do not dilute its strength yet at the same time show forth its wisdom for our human lives. 

Verses 23 through 41 are again practical advice for a strong spiritual life that is lived in our actions. In verse 25 we have the admonition never to give a hollow greeting of peace. We must be cautious with this advice because in the present time we judge the hollowness of a thing by how we feel about it. This is certainly not the intention of the Rule. Rather, the Rule is asking us to choose the good of the other, even when I feel total animosity toward the other. As Christians we are not to follow our feelings–and yet we must acknowledge them. Thus, a person must be able to acknowledge the dislike of another person, even anger towards another person, and yet still choose in Christ to act in a manner that is truly a reflection of Christ’s love for us.

Verse 41 reminds us of the importance of placing our trust in God alone. Once again we encounter advice that is very simple and very difficult. We want to place all our hope in God, but often we do so only when there is no other possibility! We are invited to learn how to place this hope in God before we get to a situation when we have no other choice. 

We end this half of the Chapter on the Tools for Good Works with a recognition that all good comes from God and that all we have that is good comes from God. We are capable of doing evil and that comes from us, not from God. This should remind us of the tradition that we must always offer our sins to God, since that really is all we have to offer that is singularly our own. We offer our sins to God with the hope that God will transform our evil into good and transform us also into beings who do His will.

To live in fear of judgment day is only to be aware of the need for conversion in our lives. The reality of our lives–at least for most of us–is that we want to serve God, but have not yet begun to do so in a complete manner. We are still in the “active life” of purgation from our sinfulness, rather than in the “contemplative life” where our whole focus is simply on loving more.

We must strive to develop in ourselves a deep horror of offending God, a deep repulsion towards sinfulness, a sensitivity towards the awfulness and ugliness of sin in our lives. We do this not to denigrate ourselves, but to see reality as it truly is and to help us desire to change our ways and to love God more and more deeply.

May God help us all grow in the awareness of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. May we come to live more and more fully in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may give glory to God our Father.

Stefan Conrady writes: ‘I found this excerpt from a letter by the Neoplatonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino in the booklet accompanying the complete recordings of works for lute by John Dowland. Ficino speaks of the role of virtuosity in Renaissance music-making:

“The soul receives the sweetest harmonies and numbers through the ears, and by these echoes is reminded and aroused to the divine music which may be heard by the more subtle and penetrating sense of mind. According to the followers of Plato, divine music is twofold. One kind, they say, exists entirely in the eternal mind of God. The second is in the motions and order of the heavens, by which the heavenly spheres and their orbits make a marvelous harmony. In both of these our soul took part before it was imprisoned in our bodies. But it uses the ears as messengers, as though they were chinks in this darkness. By the ears, as I have already said, the soul receives the echoes of that incomparable music, by which it is led back to the deep and silent memory of the harmony which it previously enjoyed. The whole soul then kindles with desire to fly back to its rightful home, so that it may enjoy that true music again”.

Somehow this struck a chord with me and I felt it was worth sharing this 500-year-old thought on the meaning of music.’

St Antony of the Desert

January 17, 2010

One of the Saints who made a big impression on me when I was a teenager was St Anthony. It was a real joy for me as a monk to study his life. I remember the class so clearly, we worked through his life line by line and then reading several commentaries. It was deeply fulfilling. The study of the Holy Rule of St Benedict and the Life of St Anthony are things I remember with great happiness and gratitude. Today we celebrate the feast of St Anthony, it seems appropriate to remember him here.

From the New Liturgical Movement: ‘today marks the feast of St. Antony of the Desert (A.D. 251 and 356), who has often been called the Father of Monasticism — though he was not necessarily the first Christian monk. He was one of the famed Egyptian Desert Fathers. (Those interested in the Desert Fathers may like to acquire a copy of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers published as part of the excellentCistercian Studies series.)

One of the most famous early lives of St. Antony, written around A.D. 360, was that attributed to another great saint, St. Athanasius; the Vita Antoni.

About St. Antony, Catholic Culture notes: “At age 18, the gospel text ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and then follow me’ so moved him that he left everything behind and retired to an inaccessible place in the wilderness where he dedicated his life to God in manual work and continual prayer. In his old age, he imparted wisdom to his disciples and encouraged them to lead a monastic life.”

Some of this wisdom, short sayings attributed to Abba Antony, have come to us today. Here are just a few examples:

Abbe Pambo asked Abba Antony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Antony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (Jn 4:18)

Abba Antony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or else we labor in vain.”

Liturgically, the Feast of St. Antony of the Desert is celebrated in the Roman calendar on this day in both forms, as well as in the Byzantine liturgical calendar.’

The wise shape their minds

January 17, 2010

‘As irrigators lead water where they want, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their minds.’

The Buddha

From Zenit:

During his visit to the Jewish community of Rome this Sunday, Benedict XVI will honor the more than 1,000 victims of the Nazi deportation of 1943. The program of the Pope’s trip was reported today by Vatican Radio.

His first stop will be at the plaque that recalls the Oct. 16, 1943, raid ordered by SS commander Herbert Kappler of occupied Rome, at the request of Berlin. More than 1,000 Roman Jews were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Only 16 people, among them one woman, were able to return. The Holy Father will place flowers before the plaque honoring those victims.

The next stop on the Pontiff’s program is to honor another victim of violence: a child who was killed in the 1982 terrorist attack on the synagogue. Stefano Tache, age 2, lost his life in that attack; 37 others were wounded.

Benedict XVI will be received at the foot of the stairs of the synagogue by Grand Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. As they enter the synagogue, the choir will sing Psalm 126 and the Holy Father will greet civil authorities. After discourses from the presidents of Rome’s and Italy’s Jewish communities and the grand rabbi, the choir will intone Psalm 133. Then the Pope will give his address. Before he returns to the Vatican, the Pontiff will meet privately with the grand rabbi and will also visit the Jewish Museum.

Sts Maurus and Placid

January 14, 2010

From Derkeiler.com: from Various traditions have developed about these two saints, but the only valid historical data available is what we read in the 2nd Dialogues of Pope St.Gregory the Great. In chapter 3 of the Dialogues, two Roman noblemen brought their sons to St. Benedict for schooling in the Lord’s service.

Euthicius brought his son Maurus and Tertullus, his son Placid. Maurus was the older boy and had already begun to develop a sense of virtuous living.
Placid was still a young child. In chapter 4, Benedict asks Maurus if he sees the devil leading a young monk out of the chapel during private prayer time. After praying for two days the young boy does see him. St. Benedict then chastises the monk and he returns to prayer.

In chapter 5, St. Benedict takes the young boy Placid up the mountain with him to a rocky place where they spend a long time praying for some monks who needed a closer source of water. The following day these monks dug at the spot where Benedict and Placid had prayed and a stream began to flow.
In chapter 6 we again meet Maurus who intercedes for another monk whose work tool had broken, the blade falling into the deep part of the lake. Maurus
goes to St. Benedict to intercede for the man and St. Benedict comes down, puts the handle into the lake, and the blade reattaches itself to the
handle.

In chapter 7 of the Dialogues we hear the famous story of Placid’s rescue, in which the boy goes to the lake for water, and filling the jug too
quickly, he looses his balance and falls into the lake. St. Benedict in a vision sees what is happening and sends Maurus to rescue Placid. Maurus runs
across the water and grabs Placid by the hair and runs back to shore. When he reaches the shore he realizes that he had been running across water not
land. This miracle is attributed to St. Benedict.

In chapter 8 we meet the infamous priest Florentius who out of jealousy tries to get rid of Benedict by giving him a “gift” of poisoned bread. When
this fails he tries to entice the monks to sensual sin. St. Benedict leaves to prevent further harassment to the monks. As he is leaving the valley,
Florentius is standing on his balcony jeering at St. Benedict. The balcony collapses and Florentius is crushed to death. Maurus runs to overtake St.
Benedict and tells him that he can return to the monastery because his enemy is dead. Benedict’s response is to severely chastise Maurus for taking
pleasure in this happening.

The Dialogues primarily focus on the life and miracles of St. Benedict, so this is all the factual knowledge we have of Placid and Maurus. Because
there is no further mention of them after Benedict goes to Monte Casino, it is believed that they both remained at Subiaco and subsequently Maurus was
appointed superior of one of the monasteries there.

There has been a tradition which places Maurus at Glanfeuil, France, as its abbot, based on the finding in the 9th century of a parchment describing a
monk and deacon named Maurus who arrived in France at the time of King Theodebert and who died on the 18th of February. There is also a tradition which places Placid in Sicily as abbot of a monastery there. The historic details of both of these traditions is uncertain.

What is more important than biographical details is that both of these young men chose a life in the “School of the Lord’s Service,” which was what Benedict called the monastery. It was a life whose sole focus was to “seek God.” One might ask, “Is this what God is calling me to?”

The Abbess should always remember what she is 
and what she is called, 
and should know that to whom more is committed, 
from her more is required (Luke 12:48).
Let her understand also 
what a difficult and arduous task she has undertaken: 
ruling souls and adapting herself to a variety of characters.
One she must coax, another scold, another persuade, 
according to each one’s character and understanding. 
Thus she must adjust and adapt herself to all 
in such a way that she may not only suffer no loss 
in the flock committed to her care, 
but may even rejoice in the increase of a good flock.