Monday, July 11, 2016

Pacifist Scripture: Convicting and Compelling on the Feast of St. Benedict

Summer Newsletter 2016,  Lamb Catholic Worker 
                                                     By Monica,  The Lamb Catholic Worker, Columbus, Ohio

     In the Divine Office Liturgy of the Hours for today, on the feast of St. Benedict (Dorothy Day was a Benedictine Oblate) is the following prophecy from Isaiah - the build-up lends to its power and truth:

"In the days to come,
the mountain of the Lord's house
shall be the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.

All the nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
'Come, let us climb the Lord's mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.'

For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against 
nor shall they train for war again.

O house of Jacob come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord!"
                                  - Isaiah 2:2-5

 The link below is partly an interview with Tom Siemer (Monica's Father) promoting beating our drone "swords" into plowshares:

       On this feast of my beloved St. Benedict, the "Father of Western Monasticism," there is so much to be appreciated in his message and way of life.  A key snippet on the walls of most Catholic Worker Houses is his concept of "Ora et Labora," the balance between work and prayer.

       In preaching at Christ the King this morning, Fr. Sylvester spoke of how St. Benedict wanted all to not only live this balanced life but to remove distractions of all kinds in order to do so.  We have to nurture our inward life, nurture the love we have for Jesus and our devotion to Him. In the Benedictine Oblate booklet mailed to me during Lent (in preparation for my oblation) entitled, "Clothed, in the New Self, Christ is All in All," Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB, also adds to be true to your true self in part, by stripping off the old self with its practices (becoming dead to sin), being "renewed in knowledge according to the image of the Creator," and putting on Christ, or as he quotes Thomas Merton: putting on our "true self in Christ."

       Some of the subtitles speak of Benedictine spirituality in this powerful booklet, "Benedictine Life is Life in Christ" are the following:" "Prayer in Solitude," "Praise and Thanksgiving," "Detach, Detach, Detach!" "Humility -- Our Truth," "Benedictine Self-realization," "The Pattern of Our Life," "Retreat to Prayer," "Return to Service," "Blessed are the Peacemakers," "Pax," "and "If You Would be my Disciple."  Also, our "motto" for Benedictine Oblates is: "Seeking God in Everyday Life," and I would add, all day long. During a recent confession with an older wise priest, Fr. Emmanuel Bertrand, I was told to try to: "Cultivate serenity and staying always in the presence of God, every minute of every day, in everything."  These traits and virtues are more than evident in Dorothy Day, a Benedictine Oblate.  I have a lonnnng way to go!

      Here is a gem under "Pax": "Devout Christians don't go out to make peace, ... Rather, we go inward to receive it, to find it, and then having found it, to share it outwardly with the world by radiating that peace ..." (p. 15). Our dear Fr. Meinrad Brune, Director of Benedictine Oblates out of the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, described in a lenten letter a beautiful tradition that he shared with neighbors while growing up that seems to me analagous to the spiritual (and material!) clearing out necessary.

     "When my two older brothers and I were boys, there were three families on our block who would help each other to do 'spring cleaning.'  We would spend a day at each of the three houses.  Mothers and children would all have to help.  The fathers (before they left for work) would move out all the mattresses, carpets, and rugs to be aired out in the fresh air.  Once those things were removed, we began a thorough cleaning of the entire house....  cleansing and simplifying [and I would add organizing and freeing ones life!]." 

        I cannot imagine that openness to allow others to experience the inner clutter, grime, and science specimens in the deepest recesses of each others' homes, amazing!  How accepting and freeing this whole experience must have been! How HOLY!  It would be a great annual tradition.

             In the spirit of Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, St. Francis of Assissi, and Pope Francis, my teensy attempt at becoming more poor is to try, to TRY, to go a year without a car.  I have already gone about two months, borrowing cars to drive at times.  I am stopping this as well.  If I cannot get a ride somewhere, I simply will not go.  I look forward to the day of embracing "Lady Poverty," as Peter Maurin called it, or "voluntary poverty" as it is sometimes called.  Dorothy always said, "If you can get used to bedbugs and lice, you can do the Catholic Worker!"  I don't want to go that far yet!

"We would have no poverty in the world,
if everyone tried to become the poorest."
                            -- Peter Maurin
       The frustration level has been high and this in my summer off as a teacher! It will be much more of a challenge in the school year but I work probably less than 2 miles from home, and most of my world is this far away as well. There are bus lines though, and a spectacular sturdy bike my sister Lisa gave me last year.   Already I feel so much more healthy, more alive and one with nature all around me, and more spiritually hungry.  We'll see if it lasts!

        The spiritual clearing is even more critical for an Oblate or for anyone. A very Benedictine thing to do is to draw oneself inward, where God truly is, to attempt to catch that wisp of smoke, deliberate attuneness to that still small voice of God as described in the Old Testament. Eucharistic Adoration before our actual Savior Himself is one of the greatest quiet, holy places for this, going into the desert with only God, as Christ did. 

        I am not talking about reading or praying set prayers during this time.  Challenge yourself to have nothing to read (bring pen and paper to write!) and of pouring one's heart out, one's deepest longings, fears, praises, desires, inspirations, ...  If you have never stayed for two or three or more hours (my favorite), it is sooo worth it!  This is not wasted time!  Also, it is much more of a "Desert Father" experience when so much can truly, truly come from the deep recesses within, bubbling up to the surface perhaps for the first time.  "Be still ..."

      In the Divine Office book of "Christian Prayers," pp. 2028-2029, St. Augustine writes the following: 

      "To pray for a longer time is not the same as to pray by multiplying words, as some people suppose.  Lengthy talk is one thing, a prayerful disposition which lasts a long time is another.  For it is even written in reference to the Lord himself that he spent the night in prayer and that he prayed at great length [off before dawn, going alone by the wayside]. Was he not giving us an example by this?"  and "To spend much time in prayer is to knock with a persistent and holy fervor at the door of the one whom we beseech.  This task is generally accomplished more through sighs than words, more through weeping than speech.  He places our tears in his sight, and our sighs are not hidden from him ..."

       I admit that I have been perplexed at exactly how the Holy Spirit wants me to pray for exceedingly important things, when surrender, receptiveness and submission to the Will of the Father feels the opposite of pressing or begging God for this or that.  These yearnings, pleading, and crying out seem indeed, acceptable, though when we always end the sentence, as Jesus modeled, with  "not my will but Thy Will be done." 

      St. Padre Pio put it this way:  When we die, we will be presented, in a gold chalice, all of our tears."  He also said that when he dies, his real mission will begin!  So I ask about 30 people from heaven to pray with me and for me every  time I sit down to pray at length in any way (even mass).  He's working for my prayers, calling down the Holy Spirit upon me, to pray in the manner that God wants, and not through my feeble attempts. 

     A final note on passionate prayer is from St. Claude de la Colombiere in the book, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence (p. 117-118)

       "If after a year we find  that our prayer is as fervent as it was at the beginning, then we need not doubt about the success of our efforts, and instead of losing courage after so long a delay, we should rejoice because we can be certain that our desires will be all the more fully satisfied for the length of time we have prayed."

      And " took St. Monica (;) sixteen years to obtain the conversion of Augustine, but the conversion was entire and far beyond what she had prayed for. ...Think what would have happened had she given up hope after a couple of years, after ten or twelve years, when ... her son grew worse instead of better (118) ... " Your every word is numbered and what you receive will be in the measure of the time you have spent asking.  Your treasure is piling up and suddenly one day it will overflow to an extent beyond your dreams (119).."  She had prayed for Augustine to stop being promiscuous and he embraced chastity.  She begged that he come back into the Catholic Church and witnessed him  becoming a bishop!  She was desperate that he turn from his heretical ways and he became a pillar of the Church, defending it in numerous ways. 

     It continues: "Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it) but wants rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us.  His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it.  That is why we are told: Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke of unbelievers.  The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed. ... We pray always with unwearied desire. ... The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruit.  ... The Apostles tell us 'pray without ceasing'."
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Teresa de Lisieux
(far right) cultivated deep prayer lives in their many daughters
 - five became religious sisters- getting up at 5:00 for daily mass 
         One risks, like Christ, in quiet time of solitude with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration, the stark aloneness, nothingness but our thoughts, our being, with our Maker.  One also experiences the appreciated immense filling up of the soul, as a driving thunderstorm in an arid desert. The contrast lends to the experience, the seeking God's face, God's voice, the voice of the Beloved. 

        Dorothy Day seems to paint eloquently what happens when one emerges:
    "...the seeds in the desert, the seed scattered by the solitary, Charles de Foucauld, those who go out into all the poverty-stricken places in the world and work for their daily bread and live the life of a contemplative in the world....and the greatness means the overcoming of temptation and laying down one's life for one's fellows ... the victory of love over hatred and mistrust." (from a column of Dorothy's reprinted in "The Catholic Radical," Worchester).

       One cannot speak of poverty without the life witness of the saint of whom our beloved Pope Francis is named after:  St. Francis of Assissi.  His life legacy of living in poverty is well-described in his article on the Catholic Encyclopedia website.  From a former seminarian who nearly became a Franciscan Brother Minor, he said that Francis, like Dorothy Day, was torn between the contemplative life with his intense communion with God (ecstaties that would render him like a corpse, the stigmata, or actual physical wounds of Christ in the hands, feet, and side, etc) and with the active life, going out to preach, take care of the sick, etc. 

      The story goes that he was so torn that he asked God for two different people from different places to give him an answer to this question for his life, because he was far more drawn to the contemplative life than to the active one.  Sure enough, God sent two separate people to say the same thing to him clearly - that he is to have the active life among people, among the wider Church, so in dire need of his way of holiness in that era. St. Francis' way of life so surpassed what was known that even members in his own order tried to have him kicked out of it! He was pressed and pressed to have a rule, and he finally came up with this: "Yes, here is my rule - the folly of the Cross."   

    One reason why the picture above is one of my favorites is because, like Christ, his life was not easy at all as shown!  It was far far more stressful and challenging than we can imagine.  It even looks as though he has an eye infection, his clothes are very tattered, there is a certain sadness in his eyes.  Yet, like Christ, his radical love and humility was and were so far beyond those around him, that he was misunderstood, rejected, and sometimes even hated.  This, we would say, is what we are seeking most at The Lamb Catholic Worker:  contemplatives reverently loyal to their Catholic Church (Bride of Christ) and to the Chair of St. Peter, Pope Francis, willing to embrace voluntary poverty in the deep inner city (and/or on a Catholic Worker sister farm).  Like Dorothy Day, we are hoping for those willing to look beyond the judgment and flaws of others to see only Christ, to have eyes and ears for His voice alone in the poor. 

    Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once put it this way:

"We have done
so much with so little,
for so long,
we now deserve
to do everything
with nothing."

 Happenings of the Lamb     

    Well, nothing to tell in terms of taking in the homeless yet.  There are very interested people though, more so than in a while!  Come Lord Jesus.  St. Francis of Assissi once said, "Sanctify yourself and you sanctify society."  That's what I am sticking to right now as I go back to D.C. for another few weeks to take care of my Dad.

      On a very positive note, more and more people are beginning to take on as part of their way of life, besides daily mass and rosary, the Divine Office of the priests.  Eleven people were praying it together in the Guadalupe Chapel at Christ the King after the 7:00 mass a week and a half ago.  Fr. Coleman encourages every single person to do so in many many homilies, that we are a priestly people needing this to keep us following Christ faithfully.  It also has a beautiful prayer for every single morning, the Gospel Canticle of Zechariah (St. John the Baptist's father) which ends: ".. and guide our feet into the way of peace."  It's right there!  Some who pray this still guide our feet into the way of war, but perhaps if many more people do so, we will indeed create more "John the Baptists" (the Canticle of Zecharia is one addressed to the infant John the Baptist), heralding Christ and guiding "our feet into the way of peace."

      I will also say that any parts of the Old Testament within the Divine Office that seem to contradict Christ's message and way (as he contrasted many ways of old with His new way - "...before it was an eye for an eye,.. but now I say love your enemies..."), I substitute in my heart what Christ would say consistent with His words and actions.  For example instead of praying, "... in the Lord's name I crushed them," I pray "in the Lord's name I pray for them" as Jesus commanded and modeled to do with our enemies.

       Keep the prayers coming strong for The Lamb Catholic Worker!  I feel we are on the brink.  Pray for Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin's canonization too!  Also pray, on this feast of St. Benedict, for more Third Order Benedictines, or Benedictine Oblates, like Dorothy Day.  Amazingly, you can be as young as fifteen and it is inter-denominational (it's true!).  St. Benedict, pray for us!

       When I get to whining about all the walking and trips by bike I have to make, I think of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which entailed well over a year of walking almost everywhere for people who had to perform hard labor each day too.  This was bravely undertaken in order to end the discrimination laws on buses.  Women older than myself would sometimes walk for almost two hours to work, clean all day, and walk home again!  The task was daunting amidst deaths and many many threats.  They pushed onward though, healthier, stronger, and more determined with each passing day partly because they walked so much!

          I also think of Harriet Tubman, the Moses of the people, who went back into the deep south 17 times - mostly by foot - to bring people to freedom, to "set the captives free." This was with a $50,000 bounty on her head, a serious ankle issue from youth and black outs from a heavy weight that had been thrown at her head while defending a young  man about to be whipped. She said, "I freed a thousand slaves and I would have freed a thousand more if they knew they were slaves."  Pray for us Harriet!  We, like you, want to "set the captives free," especially those who only know captivity (who do not realize they are enslaved).

      By the way, my ESL student Michael and I wrote a compelling letter, dated Dec. 18, 2014, to President Barack Obama to have Andrew Jackson removed immediately from the twenty dollar bill.  Three months later a new organization sprung up called Women on the Twenty.  I believe it was Michael's letter and push that someone saw and ran with, personally, and we are excited, even if he never gets the credit!