Living with the Saints–A Reflection in Handing on the Tradition

c. 1437-1446

c. 1437-1446 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his book, Spirituality and Mysticism[1], James Wiseman gives a great overview of the various Christian spiritualities that have influenced the life of the community. So in this year of faith I continue to reflect on the influences of my faith and how I pass them on to my children.  My last post was a quick reflection on the Feast of All  Saints and All Souls, this reflection continues that same theme with some particularity on those Saints and traditions that continue influence my spiritual journey.

While there are a variety of spiritualities that influence Christianity the common dynamic through them is their reliance on Sacred Scripture.  Wiseman states “Whatever else might characterize Christian spirituality at its best, it will always have to be a scriptural spirituality if it is to be judged authentic.”[2] When I think about the role of various spiritualities and their influence on my spirituality, the three that have a strong influence would that of the monastic movement, in particular the Benedictine tradition, also identifying with the life of Augustine during the patristic period followed by the active contemplative of the Dominicans. All three of these expressions of Christian spirituality, found in the schools of St. Benedict, St. Augustine and St. Dominic, have a common element for me, a life of contemplation, personal and communal, that leads to some external expression that gives rise to the way my spirituality is expressed.

Through the monastic way of life I gravitate to a stability of the heart that calls one to be centered in the life of Christ and in particular through a way of life that orders the day.  The role of ritual and ritual prayer orders my daily life. Rising in the early morning hours, before the house is a bustling with sound, to pray the liturgy of the hours.  Since I pray the liturgy of the hours alone most times, I find it to be a time for a contemplative reading of the psalter, the readings and a time to put a perspective on my day.  I find that I return to a phrase or thought from my Morning Prayer and reading as part of my attempt to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  While I miss the opportunity to experience the liturgy of the hours in their truest form, a communal prayer, I find my connection to the universal prayer of the Church to draw me in from my isolated experience.  At the core of a Benedictine way of life is the way the community is an organizing principle and that hospitality is more than just being welcoming, but that in our welcoming we are being open to the work of God in the other in this encounter.  Even though I see my monastic way of life as one in which I am physically alone, but very present to others.  The role of the Liturgy of the Hours frames out my day. It’s roots can be found in the Acts of the Apostles and the early Temple liturgy. The role of Liturgy speaks to a significant part of my experience as a lived reality, but also as part of my conversion experience to Catholicism.  It was the richness of the liturgy; the sight, sound, silence and the engagement of my senses and the extraordinary found in the ordinary that speaks to my underlying spirituality.  The monastic tradition of embracing a way of life and that through that embrace in a particular way of life, the ordinariness of this day, I shall see God face-to-face.  While the monastic way of life, contemplation and action is encountered through prayer and work in a monastery, there are correlations to this way of life for the married person.  In order to be open to the life of prayer and work, there must be an openness or hospitality to God being present in the prayer, work and our daily encounters with family, friends and co-workers.

Because of my affinity for a monastic way of life, I find myself to be sometimes in a similar struggle like St. Augustine, who found the demands of public service and the quiet to be in tension in his life.  I am reminded of one of my early formation director’s descriptor of me being the “uncomplaining Martha.”  The story of Martha and Mary is a story that I resonate with in my struggle for contemplation and action and see it in the story of St. Augustine as well. For Augustine, the demands of his service and the desires for the quiet were always in tension.  However, it was through his service that he found the way he expressed his own spirituality and love. The “demands of that audience chamber and of the church at large teaches more powerfully than words alone his recognition that the heart of Christian spirituality is to be found in love—a love of God that in large measure becomes manifest in the love and service that one offers to one’s fellow human beings.”[3] Augustine’s own conversion story speaks to my journey. While I did not have a concubine, I did come to my conversion through non-Christian events and stories.  Early in my childhood, even though I am from a Protestant preacher’s family, it was my encounter with the spirituality of first nation people (Native Americans) that made me much more aware of a divine reality and an experience of that divine reality being found in everything. Again for me, it was that through the ordinariness of the life there were extraordinary encounters with the Divine.  This new reality was contemplative experiences that lead to an outward expression through the connectedness of every living creature and thing.

This brings me to life of Sts. Dominic and Thomas Aquinas in the Dominican motto “to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of our contemplation.”  This tradition of the Dominicans looks to integrate the life of contemplation and action in one everyday life. For me, the monastic motto of “prayer and work” correlates to the Dominican motto, both keeping the balance of prayer and giving to others the fruits of our contemplation. This brings with it St. Augustine’s love being manifested in service to God’s people.  St. Thomas Aquinas’ use of Aristotle and the movement toward integration of a way of life speaks to the way in which I attempt to approach my spirituality. The tension between the Dominican itinerantcy and the monastic stability is played out through my way of life as a married male rooted in an understanding of being in search of God in all that I do. However, the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in regards to positive view on the human body and his denial of dualistic thinking, helps frame a positive reflection on the life of a married person and growth in the spiritual life  (Wiseman 2006, 116).

The major scriptural influences that give root to my spirituality are found in the daily psalter and readings, as well in the stories of Mary and Martha and the story of the prodigal Son, with a more appropriate focus on the prodigal nature of the father, who helps us understand when the Psalmist says in Psalm 34 the need to “drink in the richness of God.”  The need to continue integration of the both prayer and work, so that through contemplation I may share with others the fruit of my contemplation is what I bring to the ministry of being a Father/Dad and a minster in Catholic Health Care, Retreat, Teaching and Preaching ministries.  With St. Augustine, I find the ability to use stories not necessarily from the Christian tradition to help in either the conversion of others or in relating to the Christian story. With Benedict, the role of prayer and work and hospitality are part of the tradition that continues to form my view of the world.  All of this moves my life of contemplation into action for the building up of the human family and kingdom of God.

[1] Wiseman, James A. Spirituality and Mysticism (NY: Orbis, 2006).

[2] Ibid., page 19.

[3] Ibid,  page. 105.

Advertisements

All Saints & All Souls–a Reflection

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Mart...

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, a painting by Fra Angelico, 15th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During this year of faith, I have thought about those that influence my faith journey and how I will hand on my faith to my child. So with the upcoming Holy Days of the Feast of All Saints and the All Souls, it caused me to think about the communion of saints as well as those who have influenced my faith journey and in turn that I will pass on.  It began with those who taught me how to pray, in particular, the role of personal and ritual prayer in my life.

“Prayer is the essential feature of discernment because it allows us to get in touch with the deepest level of ourselves, the place where God dwells. The prayer of discernment is not simply reciting formula prayers but, more profoundly, opening ourselves to God’s presence so that we can get a sense of what is going on inside and outside of ourselves.”—Fr. Richard Gula, S.S. (Moral Discernment. 1997, 98-99)

On November 1st and 2nd the Catholic Christian community along with Christians celebrate the Feasts of All Saints (Nov 1) and the Feast of All Souls (Nov. 2nd). In these celebrations we recall those who have gone before us, our family, friends and countless Christian witnesses. The significance of these Holy Days is to call to mind the importance of relationships. All relationships continue to change our lives.

In my personal life, the value I place on the role of prayer in discernment and decision-making must be at forefront of all that I do, because in prayer it gives God the time to change me and my response.  The significance that my family and close friends played on me being open to personal prayer was huge during my teenage years.  I can recall my grandmother and aunt leading us in prayer at all family gatherings and today my mother leading the family in prayer at family celebrations.  It is also through the role of prayer that God has changed the lives of all the saints that came before us. However, for prayer and discernment to happen we must set up environments and create spaces in our calendars where we can get in touch with that place where God dwells. It gives a chance to check “who we are” and “who we are becoming.”

In my experience of ritual prayer, I have the Benedictine community of St. Meinrad Archabbey to thank for this source of inspiration that feeds both my personal and public worship.  The rythmn of life of morning and evening prayer and lectio divina, continues to feed my own personal spiritual life.  I am grateful for the countless monastics who remain faithful to the balance of  Ora et Labora (Prayer and Work).

Prayer and discernment are essential elements in the lives of all the holy ones, so too, if we are members of the Body of Christ, prayer keeps us connected with our source and summit.

–How can we create spaces for prayer and discernment in our lives and our homes?

–How does this prayer help us understand “who we are” and “who we are becoming?” Is this consistent with “who we ought” to be as people/communities?

Starving–try wonder!

English: Icon of Christ Pantocrator, Church of...

English: Icon of Christ Pantocrator, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem עברית: כנסיית הקבר (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The world will never starve for wonders, but only for want of wonder.”-G.K. Chesterton

Wonder is something that is difficult to come by these days; however, God created us to wonder.  In this technological world, we have become task oriented and “practically” minded.  Many of us find the luxury of wondering as pointless and a waste of time, however it is the necessity of wonder that gives rise to newness of life. If you have you ever watch the growth of a child, you will see there is a constant sense of wonder that drives the growth.

In the midst of difficult transitions, either in our professional or personal lives, we can get through those times when we take the time to wonder and see a new way through the transition.  Taking time to wonder gives refreshment to the mind and body and lowers our stress levels and preconceived notions.  We need to wonder, wonder about new, innovative and compassionate ways to care and respond as a disciple of Christ. Wonder about envisioning our life and goals differently.

If our work seems more like drudgery, then it is time for us to wonder what the possibilities of this work might look like anew.  If our home life does not inspire us, then we must engage and wonder about the gift of life that we share in common. We must take the time to dream a new dream and seek a new vision of the work and life that we are called to, we must wonder. If we fail to take time to wonder, then our work and home life withers and dies, we too, wither and die.  If we wonder, then our work, our ministry and our lives are given the time to flourish and revitalize the life and ministry in our communities and our very selves.

The first document of the Second Vatican Council, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, paragraph 10 it states: “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows.”  This profound statement of the work of the Liturgy, in particular, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, calls us to take the time to wonder.  If we understood that for this sacramental principle of the source and font, to be alive and active in our lives as an organizing principle then I cannot help but think that we would make more time for the act of wondering.  The first step toward adoration and action, is the act of wonder.  As a Christian, I cannot help but think that wonder then is essential to what it means to living out the Christian life.

–What part of your life seems like drudgery and could use a boost?
–How can you build a sense of wonder in your daily life?

How are we making a life and not just making a living?

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

 

In this year of faith, we should consider our own life’s vocation and the faith that we hand on to generations that come after us.  Sometimes, the most powerful part of the faith tradition that we pass on is in fact our words and deeds and our service to the community.

 

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” –Albert Schweitzer

 

 

There’s a phrase “that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  For Albert Schwietzer, that life led him to Africa where he served for many years.  As I reflect on the faith that I will be handing on to my child(ren), I have to realize that in many ways, for me, sowing seeds that benefit others probably will not mean traveling to another country to serve the poor—unless that is the purpose I was born to fulfill.  However, like most people, helping and caring for others is something that I do right here at home, whether it’s spending more time with my family, developing relationships to make our work/community better, living out of your joy, sharing your gifts and talents or putting your desires on hold for the sake of your family and/or your team at work. The key is to find your purpose and help others while pursuing it.

 

We are constantly reminded in all the major religious traditions that our life is a journey from something….to something.  In the Catholic Christian tradition, life is always a journey from individuality to community, from isolation to reconciliation, from sickness to healing. This journey from something….to something is a journey that causes us to look deeper at ourselves and at the community we live, work and have our being within. It is good now and then to take the time to look back at how you have contributed  to making a life to those around you.  When I think about the faith that I hand on, it is one of constant love and service to those around me–here it moves me from making a living to a much more profound place of making a life.

 

–We all make our living in one way or another, but do we give back to others while we are doing it?  How does the work that we do move from being a journey from a job to a ministry, in which God is working through you and you move to making a life?

 

–When we see where we are going can we say that we are making a life? Are we  showing more compassion and helping others along the way?  Do we express our faith today as a means of how are we living the self-emptying gift of Jesus with others?

 

 

 

Handing on the Faith in Scriptures?

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the goals of the Year of Faith is a re-reading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in particular the four major documents; The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.  Just the titles of these documents alone should give one pause as to their weight in the Church’s understanding of itself, for the titles name that this understanding is constitutive to what it means to be Catholic.

I remember my amazement and excitement around my first read of these documents years ago in my first years of theological studies.  As I continue to re-read these documents, that same excitement comes back to me.  When I think about the world that I live and move and have my being in these days, I realize the need more and more for people to have an actual encounter with Jesus, in particular an encounter with Him in the Word.  So I began my re-reading with one of the later documents of the Second Vatican Council–Dei verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation).

As I seek a return to the document many years later, I find myself drawn to some of the documents that came as a result of this document, i.e., The Biblical Commission’s Document on “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.”  Both documents call us to understand the Biblical story as not a lesson in history, but an understanding of Salvation history as an experience with God’s Revelation.  As a parent and Christian we must connect our life to the larger Christian story.  It is from the final state of the text that a person approaches the text and makes a connection from the transformations that happened in the community at that time to the transformations in the community at this time.  It is from the narrative level that the common language of the story is acted upon in each given community.  I use the narrative level as a means of making the biblical stories of the past, much more current and relevant to my family and peers.

The tension in using this particular method with modern society is the tendency to not appreciate a formal study in scripture.  Many people I have met want to quickly move to the “what’s the point” part of understanding scripture, and therefore missing the part of the transformation as part of understanding.  While the document on interpretation gives a critique of this method as one that might lead someone to stay “at the level of formal student of the context of text,” within our Christian journey and family lives, we must move to draw out the message or we have lost the interest, credibility and relevancy of our children, family and friends.

Joseph Fitsmeyer in his commentary on the “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” refers to the 13th century phrase attributed to Augustine of Dacia, O.P., about the four senses of scripture: “The literal teaches facts; the allegorical, what you are to believe; the moral, what you are to do, the anagogical, what you are to hope for.”  I am appreciative and sensitive to the literal sense of scripture and making sure that this sense is not the “’literalist’ sense to which fundamentalists are attached.” As a parent, it is difficult to help your child understand the difference between literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical in the earlier stages of their life, but as they grow older in their ability to understand the ability to distinguish increases, just like our faith life. It is through these distinctions that they come to know Jesus and the community at a much deeper level.

Dei verbum states: “scriptures belong to the entire Church and are part of ‘the heritage of faith’, which all, pastors and faithful, ‘preserve, profess and put into practice in a communal effort’, it nevertheless remains true that ‘responsibility for authentically interpreting the Word of God, as transmitted by Scripture and Tradition, has been entrusted to the living Magisterium of the Church, which exercises its authority in the name of Jesus Christ” (Dei Verbum, 10).  This leaves many questions in my mind of the role of the local bishop and the tension of the sensus fidelium, especially on those occasions where the local bishop seems distant from the lived reality and the issues of the day. Recognizing that the living Magisterium of the Church is larger than one Bishop, we must find ourselves to have a vision and understanding of the Scriptures that encompasses the whole Church.  However, these issues end up being addressed in a particular ministry, as I think about the Domestic Church, the family, I agree with the document on “Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” that  “biblical exegesis fulfills, in the Church and in the world, an indispensable task.”  As the primary educators of our children in the faith we must dispose ourselves to the constant study of the Scriptures.

For a family in handing on the faith, we must continue to develop our love Scriptures and a deeper understanding of them, both at an exegetical and hermeneutical level.  We must find new ways to use the Scriptures in our homes, either through Ritual celebrations, Liturgy of the Hours, seasonal reflections, prayers and regular family reading.  So when I am handing on the faith to my child, I  have an encounter with not only a unique word of God in my spouse and child, but also a unique encounter with the Word of God and the Word made Flesh.  So the faith tradition I hand on is not a thing, it is a Person–Jesus Christ, and the community that brings to life His message.  

Handing on the Faith?!?

As an expectant father, this phrase has been on my mind for quite sometime.  It has so many facets that are necessary to discover and hand on, yet at some level, it is the simplest thing to do.  In either case, it requires one to be intentional about the faith and tradition that they are handing on.  On one level you are handing down the rituals, beliefs and customs of a people and you are handing down how you and your family has lived out (or not) those same rituals, beliefs and customs.  All of this seems great and many young adults want to be able to hand down their faith to the next generation, but we find the task a little overwhelming.  Especially when there has been a disconnect in catechesis and experience to the essentials of the faith and the cultural peculiarities of the faith.  So with many young adults, the question that remains is “What is the faith that I am handing down?”

The questions of faith that formed and transformed the generation before me are not the same questions that young adults struggle with today. This is not to say that the questions of the previous generation are answered and are no longer a struggle. Nor is it to say that somehow this faith that is handed down is entirely different from that of previous generations. We do say that the society that we as young adults find ourselves in the search for meaning and engaging our faith continues to change drastically from that of our parents and grandparents.  It is not that we do not value equality in women and men, while not perfect and still striving for a better realization of it, however, we assume it. It is not that we do not value the work of our previous generation; we want to contribute to it. It is not that we are looking to go back to “the way it was,” we are looking for way to continue to tap into that mystery of life that is still calling people to experience-God.

There are two books, written by some very thoughtful and well respected thinkers of our time, which have caused me to ponder this question of “What is this faith that I am handing on?”  As a young adult and a professional who is responsible for assisting institutions carrying out the mission and Catholic identity, this question is both personal and professional.  The first book is written by Thomas Groome entitled “What Makes Us Catholic? Eight Gifts for Life.”  I am struck by his contributions to an understanding of the essential nature of what it means to be Catholic.  Groome starts with Catholic anthropology, then moves to our sacramental world view,  the common good, scripture and tradition, Jesus images of the Christian faith, justice, the horizon of catholicity, and finally, Christian spirituality. This book is packed with such rich elements of our faith and tradition and it a great foundational start.

The second book is by Peter Steinfels “A People a Drift: The Crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in America.”  While I’m not talking about the whole of this book in regards to the above question and there are many other chapters that will shed light on our questions of handing on the faith, I am referring to what is mentioned in Chapter 6 “Passing on the Faith.”  Here Steinfels pinpoints one of the most pressing issues on the Church, loosing the faith. This is not the same as “losing the faith once implied a crisis of belief or conversion to some other, conflicting outlook.” (p 203)  The losing of faith that is implied here is “not that the faith will be consciously abandoned but that it will simply be lost in the more literal sense.” (p203). He cites surveys of young adults who say they are “Catholic” but do not find themselves connected to a Catholic community or an understanding of Catholic theology. This struggle of religious individualism, that is part of the American culture, and knowledge of the scriptural and theological underpinning of our faith has somehow got lost in translation.  Religious individualism undermines the Catholic identity of community and the loss of scripture and tradition does not give roots to the tree.  This individualism also erodes at the way Catholicism has passed on the faith for centuries, through the institution; our parishes, religious communities, schools, etc. The passing on of our faith is a serious and sometimes overwhelming task, however we must first discover the faith that we intend to pass on.

In recent days, the Pew Forum survey statistics on Religion in America shows an increase of those American’s who do not consider themselves affiliated with any particular religious community. The growth in secularism gives me more pause with regards to the way in which I would also approach how I hand on the faith to future generations.

Over the course of the next few weeks it is my hope that we can engage one another in asking ourselves the question “What is the faith that I am handing down?” And by asking this question we, as a community of faith, can discover the riches of our faith. And then be able to proudly confess together as one voice “this is our faith, this is the faith of the Church, and we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus.”

Happy 50th Anniversary Vatican II and Beginning of the Year of Faith!

So today is the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the beginning of the year of faith proclaimed by Benedict XVI and I thought that as a way of celebrating these two great events in the Church, I would make a commitment to blog over the next year about my faith.  Knowing that it is a little risky to blog about your faith in the public realm, I believe that faith in itself is a risky proposition today anyway, so today I begin in earnest.

The Second Vatican Council was a council that changed the face and direction of the Church in the World, in one sense it was a council of reform, yet in another, it was a council of continuity. When I think about how I came to faith in the Catholic Church, it was both a reformation of my life and still part of the continuity of who I am.  Growing up as Protestant minister’s family, I was constantly aware of the religious convictions of my family and friends.  However, I do not think I was consciously aware of my own religious convictions, in some ways, I was caught up in their own identity that I was not able to create or even know my own.

When I begin to think about my coming to faith in God, in Christ Jesus, in particular, it lead me over time away from my Protestant roots and found myself swimming the Tiber to the Roman Catholic Church.  In many ways, this coming to the Catholic faith was a reform of my older life, but also part of the continuity of my life growing up, because at the heart of my conversion as a teenager was an invitation.  Growing up in a Protestant community, fellowship was part of our regular life. We had morning breakfast fellowships, evening fellowships, home meetings, Sunday lunch-it was a life of constant invitation to fellowship.  Yet, my journey into the Catholic Church began by an invitation by a trusted advisor. This invitation led me to realize that at the heart of the invitation was not necessarily a social event that I went to and listened to someone give a witness, but it was an invitation to fellowship with a person–in particular Jesus, through this community and in the Sacraments.

The fellowship and invitation to welcome the other and in welcoming the other we welcomed Christ.  It spoke to me at such a deep level that at the root of my spirituality is hospitality.  I am not talking of a hospitality in a Southern or hotel sense, but hospitality in the sense that my heart and life is open to you through and encounter of one another and in that encounter we believe that each of us are unique word of God spoken into being in a particular time and in a particular place for a particular calling.  Here at the heart of hospitality in our encounter with one another each word is a reflection of the Divine Word.

So as I continue to consider my faith, now as an expecting father, one of the questions I continue to wrestle with is: “What is the faith that I will be handing on to my child?”  In future posts, I will continue to explore what that faith is that I continue to hand on and how it is reforming or in continuity with my life and my experience of the community.