Messages from Father Benedict, O.S.B.
In his book called “Sign of Contradiction” Pope John Paul II wrote, “Love goes hand - in – hand with poverty, its power non other than the utter weakness of the incarnate Word [Christ] in the stable in Bethlehem and on the cross. He sought nothing except the good of those who were his own. An Anglican theologian, John Robinson, has called Him “the man for others.” …. Love is a force, the driving force of salvation. Man – even the man who is far distant from the Gospel – is capable of recognizing the close tie between love and salvation…” p. 51.
Love is a painful but profound force that dwells within the human heart to enlarge one’s capacity to make Christian community a realm of the Holy Spirit. Love is a resting place for those who were beaten up by the troubles of their lives, a consolation for those are moaning, and yearning for peace, a redeeming place for those who were tortured by the stings of sin.
As a Christian community, the challenge for us in this Lenten season is to check the way we live our love. There are penance activities that parishes design to help us out. Penance services, for example. Through the penance services that provides, we are asked by the Church to reconcile with ourselves, and with God. This happens by allowing the healing grace of God’s love to open our minds and hearts to the wounds that had deteriorated our relationships both with God and those whom we live and have other contact. Then we have to forgive ourselves and then ask for the forgiveness of God through the sacrament of penance. By doing this as Christians, we are practicing living life with the poverty of heart. In other words, we are experiencing the very life of Christ as he struggled with the pains of the sinfulness of humanity; both within his own humanity and the corrupted human beings surrounding him in his life time.
Despite the challenges of life Jesus Christ endured his mission because he loved his fellow human beings. This lent we are asked to be Jesus to others. We are asked to imitate Jesus in our daily lives, to be compassionate, be helpful, to give alms to the poor, to share our wealth with others, to deepen our prayer life, in other words live our lives for others, especially those who need us the most.
The Lenten season is not for Catholics or Christians only. The virtues that are emphasized by the Church during Lent were not invented by the Church. They are universal virtues: Prayer, Alms giving, and Fasting. We will find an atheist who does not believe in praying, yet shares his/her time, or wealth with his/her family or others out of love, even if he/she would deny that love is involved. Love is in the make up of every human being. Everybody has experienced some kind of love in his/her life. Ignatian’s spirituality declares that works of charity is a form of prayer. Benedictine spirituality declares that works of charity flows from prayers. Therefore the spirit of any kind of charitable work such as almsgiving and fasting is found in the interior experience of the giver during or after the giving takes place. That experience is a relationship with the divine takes place within the very being of the giver and that is a form of prayer. Prayer is a conscious or unconscious relationship that a person has with God in the midst of a charitable work and work of mercy.
It is the nature of human beings to give and share with others what they have, even if it is only a very small portion of their possessions or time. On February 24th 2010 we sent a container full of used sewing machines, cooking tools and equipment, books, bolts of cloth … and more to Tonga. We plan to start a vocational school there to help the youths in their twenties who dropped out of high school due to poverty. Joanne Moses and Linda Fountain offered to start this school. We will leave after Easter. I appreciate all the donations of time, materials, and finances for this project. This is a form of fasting. People give what they can afford and sometimes share from what they live on for the betterment of their unfortunate brothers and sisters. And this is not an unusual activity in the United States. It is also a virtue that the Church teaches us to practice.
“ Love is a force, a driving force of salvation” ( A Line from Pope John Paul II in the first paragraph of this piece). It is the labor of charity and mercy that keeps, Christ’s ministry of salvation on the path between the stable in Bethlehem and the cross on Calvary. Charity and work of mercy had opened the minds and hearts of His followers to the beauty and wisdom of the precious pains of true love. During this Lent we are being challenged to walk with Christ on His path to our salvation. Hope that we will experience the goodness of his self giving love on the cross as we endure our Lenten practice.
Fr. Benedict Lemeki OSB
In her book “The Cloister Walk” Kathleen Norris, a Protestant married woman describes her experiences living within a Benedictine monastery. She admitted that what had attracted her to the cloister is the vastness of the spirit of hospitality in this archaic community living. The Benedictine spirit of hospitality opens her to a God who takes her in totally without any prejudices. Through the serenity and the spiritual comfort she experienced in the cloister her desire to learn about the word of God grew more deeply. Norris wrote:
“For a long time I had no idea why I was so attracted to the Benedictines, why I keep returning to their choirs. Now I believe it's because of the hospitality so vast that it invites all present into communal lectio, a hospitality so vast that it invites all present into communion with the text being read. I encounter there not a God who rejects me because I can't pass some dogmatic litmus test but one who invites me to become part of a process, the continuing revelation of holy word.” (p. 217)
The hallmark of the Benedictine hospitality is its genuine openness to serve those who knock at the door of the cloister seeking assistance. Saint Benedict taught his communities that the seekers have to be treated as Christ from the moment of their arrival. It is Christ who visits our individual cloister through the new challenges life brings. In order to be able to deal with those challenges properly one has to give enough time and space to pray and explore the nature of such challenges. They might be sent for the individual spiritual growth and ultimately the growth of the community. Living hospitality authentically opens a door for personal and communal growth.
The rhythm of the life in the monastery provides time and space for personal and spiritual growth. Giving the time and space for others to pray and for growth is the best offer that the monastic community gives to those who seek refuge in it. In your own life probably you have come across someone who needs your attention, your time, or maybe an affirmation from you. As a Benedictine Oblate and a Christian you are asked to offer that refugee a space in your life and a part of your time to minister to that need. That person is Christ at that moment for you. As Christ taught us: “What so ever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”
Benedictine hospitality is a way of life that immerged from authentically practicing charity within the monastic community. The special bond between the community members and their superior is expected - because this bond is the loving relationship which shaped the custom of the community. With all the idiosyncrasies of each individual in the community one thing that will give them hope and help them to endure is knowing that they are being loved for whom they are. When you know that the love you experience comes from the superior and members of the community and not a mere exercise of another monastic custom, it makes all the difference in the world. Imagine how a guest who comes to your hometown, home or maybe your own parish seeking help may be elated when he/she sees the world differently just because you give him/her a chance.
Benedictine hospitality is an openness to accept the other “without counting the costs.” The secular connotation of “individual right” “Equality” and “Fairness” sometimes jeopardized the authenticity of the Benedictine hospitality. Living hospitability in the monastery is decided by the needs of others. For example, monks have to sacrifice if one of their brothers need the funds for a medical procedure that is very expensive – Those who have more needs would have more attention and care. When the basis of justice in the Benedictine communities became being misunderstood, the cheap notion of “ Individual right” “Equality” and “Fairness” crept in and watered down the true meaning of hospitality..
As Benedictine we are being called to be hospitable with our time, gifts,
talents, opinions, etc. St. Benedict called us to serve each other and
those who come to us for our support. Kathleen Norris is one of many
persons who find God and the gifts that were given to her, simply because she
was given the time and space and all the support she needs by the sons and
daughters of Saint Benedict.
Silence has been practiced in every monastic tradition for centuries. Silence is the moment when man and the reality of God merges in prayer. Benedictine monastic silence is not a vow but an important elements of the custom of the monastery.
Monastic silence forms an attitude of mindfulness of God’s presence and fraternal communion. Sometimes we rush through life trying to accomplish many goals without recognizing how many feet we step on, and the needs of those whom we called our loved ones. Having a moment with God alone once a day or once a week can be a time of self evaluation, a time of appreciation of having God and others in our lives.
Some monastic candidates find silence at the beginning of their monastic training to be difficult but practicing it genuinely drawn them deeper into the peace within the heart of silence. Silence is a state of being. To enter into this state of silence one has to make a deliberate choice in order to come totally into this transformation. Silence does not refers to the lack of physical noise but the interior transformation into a more peaceful state of mind and soul. In the midst of the state of silence one can listen and see people, situations, circumstances and things as they really are, and also identify and accept our own strength and weaknesses.
For some people silence is very irritating and discomforting simply because silence eliminates our response to distractions from outside ourselves and focus on the inner turmoil. A very good friend of the monastery visited us every other week during the late 1990s and early 2000s. He stored some of his stuffs down at the RV park . He told me many times that he wished to do a silent retreat here. And finally he was brave enough to do that silence retreat. He started on a Friday night for two nights. He did not show up for breakfast on Saturday so I went to wake him up. I found out he was not there. I received a call from him later that day. He apologized for leaving without letting us know. He said that he could not stand one night in a house without television, phone ringing, kids running around, and a wife to chat with. Silence can be very scary if we are so used to outside distractions. Outside distraction keep us from facing our deeper interior needs. Facing our interior spiritual and emotional needs, our inside hurts and problems is not a comfortable thing to do. But if we keep visiting and revisiting our interior needs and wounds in our quiet moments alone with God in prayer, we will be gradually healed, and silence become a time of healing and comforting.
It is in the practicing of silence that we come to learn about the power that is hidden in the darkness of nothingness. As we learned from the creation of the world in the book of Genesis, God created all things from nothing. This means that God created everything from himself. In the very depths of nothing there is everything. When we say “things,” this refers to God’s created creatures, and the rests of nature. And “no-things” means they were not created. The only uncreated is God himself. We were created from “no-thing” because God is the only no-thing (uncreated). And within that “no-thing” (God) there is everything. In the depth of nothingness there is everything. In the midst of silence one who practicing it can encounter everything and find great light.
The theology of silence and nothingness, if you may, expresses that the richness we experience in life all emerged from and uncreated God who is mystery not fully comprehensible but encountered, his reality both inside and outside of ourselves in a real way.
Silence can take one into the light within the realization that he/she is nothing and he/she has nothing and only through that realization of our nothingness that are we being filled with everything that we need for our salvation…
One of the Popes declared that the monastery is the heart of the Church, simply because of the emphasis on prayers. I cannot imagine living a good Christian life without prayers. Prayer is the utmost need of Christian community living, because God and his people come together to celebrate life by sharing each other's love.
Abbot Thomas Keating proclaims that prayer is a relationship with God, like dating. Every time one goes into prayer that person opens up her/his mind to explore God and at the same time God explores that person in a very personal way. The more we pray the more we learn about our God and vise versa. When prayers become the most important interior activity of the monk, nun, and oblate, a radical change surfaces in their lives.
The loving relationship between God and his creature forms the heart of the Church who is you and me. Ultimately, the heart of the Church is not the monastery itself but the people who are serious about their prayer lives. They are the ones who keep our journey back to God going. The most important prayer of the church is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The highest and most profound meaning of prayer is the union of God and his creature as we consume the totality of our God in the Eucharist. The eternal impact of that prayer is our becoming more and more like Christ in the way we live our lives.
The Eucharist is also the fulfillment of all the prayers throughout our salvation history, starting from Abel's sacrifice, Noah, prayers of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets of the Old Testament. The Eucharist is the consummation of the prayers of the Old and the New Testament. It is in the humanity of Christ that the word of God becomes human. In other words, the prayers of all humankind and that of God merge and become one in the personhood of Christ. Therefore every time we eat and drink his precious body and blood, we are no more listening only to the prayers of our ancestors in the Faith but we are consuming them all, and those prayers become our flesh and blood, and also spiritual source of our salvation, cleansing our sinfulness and making us fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Our whole Christian life has to be the most beautiful prayer offered to God by the Church. The aroma of a perfect Christian life is the sweetest fragrance of the holy sanctuary of our Heavenly Father. WE ARE THE BEST POSSIBLE PRAYERS OF THE CHURCH.
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