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.

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