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talking to myself

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Thankfulness is mindfulness

Thankfulness is mindfulness

There are days when I am not mindful and lose my way.

I forget the giftedness of all that I am, and what I have,
that I can love, laugh and play, and at times even weep,
enjoy the sun, but mostly I love rainy days with dark clouds,
plants in water with roots, long and flowing,
 like a work of art, a living sculpture,
people and their smiles and tears and  gentleness,
their generosity and freely given love.

Quiet mornings when I go outside and there is no sound,
or if there is, it is a choir of insects and frogs calling out,
over and over again, yet in unison in some strange way,
strong black coffee, bitter to the taste, and the delight
of a full moon making the darkness a beautiful glow.

Even in my advancing age, though  I am no longer young and supple,
or even thin the way I was in my younger days,
nor as strong or healthy as in the past, often taken for granted
when a callow youth, now I appreciated my journey.
For I am truly thankful to the Lord for old age,
as hard as it may be, for as my years shorten
my love of life deepens and the precious moment,
whatever it is, can be embraced for it will pass.

Yes when I forget what I have to be thankful for
I become blind and dumb and see nothing.

So, Lord, I pray give me the wisdom to see,
a heart to love all with your very affection,
allow me to embrace you in total trust,
to die one day of longing for you,
for are we not made for union with infinite love,
your love Lord, as hard as that can be to believe?



Fr. Jerome RIP

Fr. Jerome RIP

He was a man of deep emotions,
shy, introverted and fearful of many things,
covered over by a blanket of anger,
with a glowering stare,
yet underneath was a man of tenderness
and open to friendship and true. 

His silence was deep and he could sit for hours,
Yet when he laughed, such a sound,
after being with him when he exploded in a roar of mirth,
you think he would die from it,
he would become purple from gasping,
you understood what a belly laugh truly was.

If a friend suffered he would weep,
sometimes for days, yet he struggled with many,
over the years he softened and his last
mile was a peaceful one.

We prayed for him with him as he was dying,
he slipped out in such a peaceful manner,
like a gentle breeze and then gone.


Confronting our gifts

Confronting our gifts
Last talk for the Confrontation retreat
(thankful acceptance/humility)

God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving.
If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have
 the ability to understand and receive it---Pope Francis

When thinking about ‘confronting oneself’ it is usually thought of being only with aspects of ourselves that keep us in cycles of pain and frustration.  However many have trouble openly expressing the fact that they have gifts that can be used to help others.  Gifts are given, they are not worked for.  Though gifts do have to be developed. 

Fear can be an obstacle to developing gifts that have not yet been used.  Like speaking before a group, or some form of leadership, or gifts that are supportive of others.  St. Paul mentioned that being a good administer is a gift of the Spirit.  Our gifts are for others, it is a way of washing one another’s feet, as Jesus did during the last supper.  We all have gifts, some may garner more attention, but the so-called ‘humbler’ gifts are also just as important, all are needed for the upbuilding of the society, church, and yes, family and the workplace.

Once it is understood that our gifts are freely given, it can lead to a deep humility and a desire to use them for the good of others. 


To react or respond to life

To react or respond to life
(Self-Confrontation retreat 2017)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Cor 9:24


When thinking about sports of any kind, we tend to think of competition, besting a worthy opponent and thereby winning the crown.  When seeking to lead a life that is rooted in following our spiritual path, it can take on a different meaning.  Yet the truth of the matter is that we have to give our ‘all’ to something.  This can be done on a conscious level, or we can simply drift, but the heart will go towards what it loves, but if without direction, it will drift towards what promises to lessen pain.  So self-knowledge and the ability to ‘confront-ourselves’ can be placed low on the list of priorities.  We become self-centered, defensive and hard to get along with if our seeking escape from the grind of life becomes too central.  We let go of paradox and seek simple answers that are short sided.  One simple answer is to blame everyone else.  Our families, our upbringing or the fact that no one understands us.  It is a dead end.  Even if there is truth to our assertions, it is still a waste of time and energy.

So we get onto a not so merry, merry-go-round and can’t seem to find a way out.  The central problem is that we are in-flight from ourselves. Fearful of looking within and taking responsibility for ourselves, without blaming others, and having the strength and humility to stop and let go.  How is that done?  Well by asking the questions:

What am I doing to cause this chaos and havoc in my life?  What role do I play?  How can I stop?  Also, do I need to remove myself from this situation?

There is no easy solution to many of life’s problems, no magic bullet that will clear up everything.  There are times, when we have to live in situations that are truly awful and destructive, with no way out.  Yet, how we react can be changed. 

How, (?) is the question often asked.

What is simply before us…our everyday life with its problems as well as joys can take all of our attention.  We simple deal with events as they come along, or if we are in a life situation that is extreme, we can hunker down, take cover, or fall into cycles of lashing out that leads nowhere.  It simply feeds the situation, making it worse.


Instinctive reactions work for our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom because they help them to survive.  There is flight or fight and then an outcome.  Either the animal escapes, or captures its prey, or is able to mate.  Humans are dissimilar, we are a different kind of animal altogether.  While self-awareness is most likely common in all species, it is in human beings that it has such a depth that it can lead to a form of suffering that is unknown to other animals.  We often live outside the moment, we worry about the future or we can obsess about our past.  We are somewhere else.  So our relationships are often dictated by other factors than what we think is the central issue. 

People of faith can use their belief as a vain attempt to escape life’s conundrums when what we need do is find a way to deal with them that are in accordance with what we believe is the right thing to do.  Prayer is not a luxury, nor is our relationship with God something that is done for a few minutes in the morning or in the evening, or once a week when going to church, synagogue or temple.  It is, in fact, the most important aspect of our lives, this our relationship with the Infinite. Yet is often placed as a low priority in our lives.  We have an essential unity with divinity, yet it is often forgotten or denied.  We are relational creatures and this is true also with our relationship with God.  In the Christian faith, God the Father is revealed as a form of love not found in humans, it is called “Agape”.  As is shown in the Gospels, one of the most powerful sections is the story of the “Prodigal Son”. 

There are situations in our lives that can resemble the ‘Gordian’ knot.  When looking at the knot it seems to be constantly turned in on itself with no way out.  It is in those times that we need to deepen our connection with the essential reality of the presence of the Infinite in the depths of our souls.  As well as in the heart and soul of those we are forced to deal with, be it in the family, at work, or in situations that will throw themselves upon us. 

In our deepening relationship with God, we find that something is going on, we find that there is more than one way to deal with any given situation and we have the freedom (often hard earned) to deal with them.  The ‘Grace’ of God is not some abstract reality but something very real and is experienced by billions of human being from all religious traditions if they are opened to the power of the Spirit that dwells within them. 

There is a season for all things in our lives.  A time to stand our ground, or to step back, and even to flee.  In our relationship with God, we are led slowly to make the right choices and in the process to do so without rancor or hatred.  Grace is like that, it works deep within the soul, and all we need do is to be open to the “Divine Will. How is that done, well, by simply desiring it and living it the best way one can.  It can be difficult embracing the reality of the truth of “God with us”, but an open heart, that first small step, is the gateway for grace to flood in.  We are never forced, we have to make conscious choices, if not, then the choices will be made for us by our reacting to life instead of responding according to what our heart and conscience tell us. 

As simple as it sounds, the only way to break a “Gordian Knot” is not with a sword as Alexander the Great did, but by love.  Which is a true death to self, a process that can be slow or fast depending on our ability to trust in God and open up our hearts.  Like I said, it is not a magic bullet, but allow the small seed of choice to take root, watered by grace. 







Just getting through the day

Aging, youth, love and just getting through the day

I don’t mind aging for myself, nor do I find the growing physical changes all that worrisome.  Though, I am amazed how when younger I took the lightness that my body had for granted.  I could do handstands and other exercises that would take a great deal of balance as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do.   I could do a handstand for a few minutes without breaking a sweat, or a headstand etc.  Pushups, no problem.    Well, things are not what they used to be.  Reminds me of the old song “The old grey mare, ain’t what she used to be”.   Well, that goes for me, at least on a physical level.  I guess if I tried some of the exercises I did as a much younger man, I would have to go to the ER.  I laugh when I think about it.  Yet inside, I am still young or feel young, in fact, I think in some ways I feel younger now than ever…..no matter what I see in the mirror looking back.  A bald man, with a long beard, more white than any other color…..yeah I am fine with that. 

It is a different matter when it comes to people I love.  I don’t want them to age, or get sick or die.  It is somewhat self-centered I know, for it is impossible to stop the progression of our lives.  I have lost many people in my life.  The usual of course that is common to all of us.  Letting go seems to be one of the biggest and perhaps hardest lessons to learn…..that I am not permanent, or all that important and when I die, the world will continue as before. 

I am learning how important it is to be simply in one place at a time.  So I try not to worry about my ever diminishing future, or to become obsessive over the past.  Then there are the ‘drunken monkey thoughts’ that seem to always want to make an entrance.  When I can focus and be present to whatever is before me, no matter what, I appreciated whatever it is.  The saying “all things pass” is a consolation to me.  The chaotic moments and the sad ones and the tragic situations all pass as do the good times.  It is good, for the journey continues and one day, yes it will stop.

There is a lot of color in my life, and I would imagine in the lives of all of us.  The journey can seem long, until I think about the past and then it all seems dream like (though real of course).  It is just that I can’t hold onto anything.  It is madness I believe to try to hold on, but I believe we are all a little bit ‘insane’, or perhaps I am a little more so than others. 

I do believe that my heart and the hearts of all men, women, and children are actual tabernacles where the Lord dwells.  We are all Eucharist for one another if we seek to grow in self-love, and in the love of others, and especially most important and foremost the love of God.   People are beautiful if I can see them in the naked moment, just experience them and try not to change or to label.  It can be hard for our raw humanity is a mixed bag, but deep down underneath, hidden from view, grace is at work and I believe that how we treat one another or ignore one another has a profound effect on our growing into loving compassionate beings.

So I will soon be a year older, though it seems like a week older, time moves so fast.  So in the end what do I take with me when I die, cease to exist as far as this world goes.  I believe that we take with us our love of God and others, everything is burned away by God’s infinite love and grace.  When we stand before infinite love I believe all of our defenses will melt and our inner hearts will break open and then all the sorrow and pain, all of our sins will pour out in tears of regret and contrition.  For I believe that beneath my anger and fear and anxiety is simply a deep ocean of sorrow, that all of humanity has. 

Our life is a mixed bag, though beautiful.  Some suffer much more than others, though we all suffer, perhaps more than we know.  Repression can be a good thing, for then we can push our pain down and live one day at a time.  Those who can’t, which is many of us, seek to self-medicate, which from my perspective, always fails. 

Food is my way of self-medicating and I am still working on that.  I do better at certain times, but then I forget my dependence on God and seek to fill my inner hunger with french-fries, or pastries and coffee, and it always disappoints.  For that I am thankful.  For as I age, I am finding that God is winning the wrestling match with me…..a pure grace of God.  I believe it is the same for all of us.  When I read the New Testament, I am overwhelmed by the love that Jesus shows the weak and despised, the downtrodden and forgotten.  I believe that most of us fall into that group to some degree, even if it can be hidden from others. 

It is easy to understand Justice from the human standpoint, or revenge, or torture, and easy to put that on God.  Justice and mercy are separate for the most part in human thinking, but with God, they are one.  I am learning that I can’t judge myself, so how can I judge another at the soul level.  It is none of my business, but loving others, as the Lord commands, is my business.  I fail, but I live in hope, my body is getting older and weaker, my pains are growing, yet I am joyful in my knowledge of Jesus Christ.  I am also at peace that Jesus is God, the Infinite, so he is at work in all souls, I have no right to limit that by pulling certain quotes from the bible so I can judge others.  I am not a loving complete being unto myself. I am inner conflict and chaos without God’s saving grace.  So I pray to love others, all others, and most importantly, I seek to love myself as Jesus commands.  At our death, when our hearts break open we will be overwhelmed with the reality that the love we experience has always been there.  Yes, it sounds too good to be true and many doubt or reject such a reality, which I understand.  For I hope against hope, and trust in spite of everything else.  Why should I allow bitterness and cynicism to win, it is the easy way out, to simply sink and drown.  No, my faith says, keep on hoping, loving and being open to the reality that God uses all of us to reach others and heal them.  To love oneself is the seed that allows grace to do its full work in us and in others. 


A sea of raw and beautiful humanity

A sea of raw and beautiful humanity
(A day at the Veterans Hospital with my brother)

My brother David is back for some more visits to the VA.  He lives in Costa Rica, but there are times when he has to come back to the United States for a checkup.  Since I knew he was going to be a walk in we got there around 10 AM ready for a long day.  We were not disappointed.

The VA in Atlanta is a very colorful place.  It has veterans from all of our wars going there.  So there are men and women who are in their late teens, all the way up to veterans from the Korean War, who are in the mid to late 80’s.  When I first started going there (2004) were still men from the 2nd world war scattered among all the other men.  Yesterday I did not see any, but a few from the Korean War.  Soon, I would think, those of us from the Viet Nam War area will start to thin out, but at this time I believe we are the majority that are going there at this time.   I feel a deep connection with all of them.

David belongs to the purple team, so we went up to the third floor and checked in.  I guess we were there from 10 AM until around 5 PM, so it was a long day, but not too long.  I always bring my reading material and find it easy to pray in that ocean of beautiful yet suffering humanity.  Men and women of all shapes and sizes who have been formed by war.  There is no way to romanticizes this.  Yet those who have seen combat ( I am not one of them ) have a special way about them.  Their humanity, their inner suffering is often there for all to see.  When young, these beautiful souls saw many evils, bloodshed, and suffering that is hard for those who have not experienced it to understand.  There is a rawness about many of them, and if you talk to them and listen, it is a very humbling experience.   Many have life-threatening diseases or chronic health problems that come from the chemicals that they were exposed to when in a war zone.  Some have mental problems ({PTSD) to varying degrees which can make their lives a living hell.  Yet there is also a richness to them, a maturity that many will never achieve because of what they went through.

David needed to make an appointment to deal with his main reason for being here.  So as we were going down to the office to arrange for it I spotted a man in a wheelchair coming from the pharmacy.  He was my age, in a wheelchair and going very slow.  So I asked if he needed a push.  He accepted and off we went.  He was a very friendly guy and we talked and joked a bit as we went along.  The hallway was full so it took a little while.  Yes, there is rush hour traffic in the hallways of the VA building in Atlanta.  So we got to the front desk and he said this was good enough, his son will see him when he comes in.  Before I left I noticed that his foot was bandaged and said how his wound was coming along.  He looked up at me and showed some distress.  He told me that he had diabetes and that they told him that day that there is a very good chance that they will have to amputate his foot.  He was going to seek a second opinion which I encouraged him to do.  I could tell he was a gentle, kind man and was afraid of what would happen if he lost his foot.  I told him how sorry I was and that I would pray for him.  He teared up a bit.  He did tell me that he was lucky in many ways, for he has a family who takes care of him now that his health is so bad.  His diabetes came from the chemical Agent Orange that he was exposed to while in Viet Nam and that he gets enough to live on from disability.  He knows many vets who are on the street because of the acuteness of their PTSD, they simply can’t be with others.   I wanted to embrace him, but I know that there was little I could do to console him.  I will never forget him.

The people who work in the VA have a very stressful job.  When my brother and I got to the clinic we needed to be in in order to make an appointment; there was an elderly couple in front of us, probably just a few years older than my brother and I.  So in the mid 70’s.  They were there for 3 hours waiting to see the doctor and were fed up and were leaving.  The man was in a wheelchair.  So they left, and as soon as they left a nurse rushed out asking if they were still there.  When she was told they were gone I could see that she was distressed.  She told the other woman that his condition was serious and the doctor really wanted to see them.  So I asked if they wanted me to go after them.  They said yes and I went and found them, just before they were going to cross the street to the parking lot.  I reached them and told them that the needed to come back.  At first, the woman did not want to, but I told her that they were concerned about her husband’s condition.  So thankfully they went back.  There are so many veterans who are my age that the system is top heavy with us, and since each needs individual attention there can be a long wait.  Which is stressful for all involved.  The workers often get the brunt of the frustration, but they have told me that they are trained not to react, that it is not personal at all.  All in all the people who work there are a compassionate and even loving group of people.

So we made the second to last bus to our parking place off Briarcliff.   The parking lots are so full that I always go there, that way I don’t have to look for a parking space for 30 or more minutes.  On the way home David and I stopped off for dinner, we had some burgers at the Burger Barn on the way home.  I don’t eat many burgers anymore, but it was a nice way to end a long day.  It was actually quite a pleasant day.  For some reason, when I have to wait somewhere for a long time, the hours seem like minutes.  So even though we were there for eight hours, it seemed more like one hour.  Don’t know why that is, but I am glad it is that way more often than not for me.  Perhaps it is because I am surrounded by people who are beautiful to me in all of their raw humanity. 

I do believe deeply in the love that God has for all people.  I also feel when I am centered and not so self-absorbed that I can’t see beyond my own nose, which happens more often than I would care to admit, that those who can’t hide their wounded humanity, in some way show Christ Jesus to us, who loves each human being intensely, infinitely.  This is a truth often forgotten by Christians, because of our need to judge, separate and label others.  Judging is an awful pastime that humanity is subject too.  It is a sin that I often repent of and will have to do so in the future.  When by God’s grace that judgment is held back, I see only beauty in people, in spite of their flaws and sins.  I think these moments come to me when by God’s grace he allows me in some small way to put on the ‘Mind of Christ’.   To understand that in order to find Christ Jesus, our hearts have to break open and freed from the fear of the suffering others we in some small way learn to see how Christ Jesus loves all of us.  His love caused him, well causes him to take on all of our pain and suffering and in that, we have a brother who travels with us all the days of our lives.  I leave judgment to him, for he sees without labels, without fear, without anger, he sees the truth about each of us and still loves us.  So we are called to love all, our families, our friends as well as our enemies and all those in-between. 


A monastic presence here in Georgia

Fr. John O’Brien has been a monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit since 1973.  He was ordained a priest in 1983.    He entered the Monastery at the age of 38.  He is a quiet man, very thoughtful and compassionate.  He is one of our Confessor’s here at our Retreat House.  He is deeply in touch with the human condition and when he gives his homilies it comes through in a gentle, loving manner.  

The piece below is a talked he gave about a year ago.   


A monastic presence here in Georgia  
(Its importance) 


Fr. Francis Michael thought it might be helpful to our discussion if one of his monks said a few words about why we think it is important to keep a monastic presence here in Georgia when there are some voices out there that might say monasteries are just relics of the early middle ages, and they should just be allowed to wither away, since they don’t seem to be serving any useful function in today’s modern, technological society. 


They are important today, not because of the monks who live in them, but for the many visitors who come to our guest house in ever-increasing numbers. Down through the centuries monasteries have always been a destination for pilgrims looking to find an oasis of peace and solitude away from the noisy, distracted world with its many stresses on the human psyche. A place where they can reflect on things which they wouldn’t have time for in their busy work-a-day world: things that the poet Wordsworth would call “deep down things.” 


I suspect that not too long ago most people thought that monks in monasteries were hermetically sealed away from the world, and had no real interest in what was going on in it; and to a certain extent there was some truth in that; but for the past 35 years that I have been here it has been completely different; the doors have been thrown wide open, and when the people come into the church to join us in our liturgical services they come right into the choir stalls and sit down right beside us to chant the prayers with us. 


The visitors who come to our guest house are not just Catholics, but people of all faiths, and people of no faith. Over the years I have met any number of people who profess to be atheists or agnostics; so why do they come here? Some will say that they see the monastery as set apart from the institutional church, which they may have some unresolved issues with; but mainly they are responding to a vague, nebulous rumbling in their psyche, which is whispering to them that there just might be something more to this world than just atoms in the void. 


Many of the visitors who come here come with a heavy burden on their shoulders, a pain in their heart, a wound in their soul. If you pass through our church any time during the day you will see some of them sitting in the back pews, and not a few of them will be in tears. Those of us monks who minister to these pilgrims try our best to lighten their burden, soften their pain, and heal their wound; and we do it not by proselytizing, but by listening, and that is right out of St. Benedict’s rule. If you look at the south wall of our building over there, you will see sculptured right into the stone these words, “Ausculta et Inclina”, “Listen and incline the ear of your heart.”  


Benedict doesn’t say the ear of your body, but the ear of your heart. Mystics down through the ages are forever talking about the thinking heart as opposed to the rational mind. One of the great works of mystical literature is a book written in the 14th. century called The Cloud of Unknowing ; the author tells you right there in the first page what the search for God is all about, “ by love He may be gotten and holden, but by reason, never.” This goes right back to St. Augustine who said, “our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.” 


For centuries religious philosophers have continually pictured man in an attitude of attentive listening; if we mean to find the God we are seeking we must listen with every fiber of our being, for He who actually dwells within us is often hidden from us. Seeking God, St. Benedict says, is seeking Him amid the trials of life, amid the doubts and misgivings about His existence. All of us find ourselves from time to time with our own share of atheism, which we carry painfully in the depths of our being. But we also know by experience the crucible of faith, and how the hand of God works in it to strip us of all our false idols, and it is only on coming out of this crucible does a glimmer of light begin to show itself. “I do not honor Christ as a child,” wrote the great Russian novelist, Dostoyevsky, “my hosannas have passed through the crucible of doubt.”  


And all of this is contained in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. It is clear from St. Matthew’s gospel (Mt.8:17) that Christ does not bring us help through his power, but through His weakness and His suffering, which passes into our weakness and suffering, and then the healing begins, not as modern medicine heals, but in other ways. 


This was clearly understood by one of the great spiritual masters of the last century, a Sufi mystic who said: 


“One who searches for God does not find God, 
but one who leans on God for support will  
not be unaware of His


What he is saying is that before I lean I don’t know if there is anything to lean on, 


but when I lean I feel the support, and the more weight I put on it the more powerfully it supports me. He is saying that leaning is believing;  an experience of God comes from the leaning, and you feel the presence. 


And that is what we try to convey to the wounded pilgrims who come here; but that doesn’t mean that their pain, suffering and wounds are going to disappear overnight just by staying a few days in the monastery, because its not, and they know that. But what we hope for, and what we pray for is that they will see their wounds with new eyes, and that will give them the faith, and the courage, and the strength to face them, and to know that they are not alone in their trials, that Christ the ultimate wounded one will be there with them on their journey.


And that is why we are here, and that is why all of you are here, to help us, and to participate with us in this mission to try to add a small measure of grace to a world that is sorely in need of it. 





The bottom of the matter

The bottom of the matter

There is nothing so easy as to judge,
one moment all is known and understood,
so that some sort of designation can be stamped,
or engraved, or tattooed, on another’s forehead,
stripping away their humanity and becoming
a simple ‘thing’ to be set aside. 

Contempt is the first step towards violence,
physical and verbal abuse
 both deeply emotional and destructive,
a poisoned drink for both body and soul
that can destroy the ability to love and care.

We scream into a mirror hating ourselves
punishing others for our unconscious reflection,
or tendencies or hidden desires, hidden often
from ourselves. 

Human judgment, like justice, is an illusion
when it comes to the inner man, the soul,
for we often see that is within ourselves
and crucify those who carry our darkness.

So Lord, when you told us not to judge
there is more in the matter that is often

I still judge, and in the process, wound myself
worse than the one I look down upon,
Lord give me eyes to see and a heart to understand. 



This is a beautiful essay by my good friend Fr. James, who has been a monk here since 1994. 
His insights and poetic prose make him a popular writer.  He is the author of a number of books.
Not only is Fr. James a gifted writer but he is also
a very good photographer.  Below is his book on Amazon.



“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in
speech.” Matthew 22:15

I can still hear President Ronald Reagan as he stood at the Berlin Wall,
calling out to Mikhail Gorbachev.  “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
  Perhaps the reason I remember it so vividly is because it came at a
time when in fact that wall and other long standing walls in what was
then known as the Soviet Bloc would soon be in the process of being

Humanity has a long history of building walls.  Some such structures
serve the common good.  We need walls to keep us out of areas that are
dangerous to enter.  Walls surrounding radioactive areas or active
volcanoes or tiger cages are always welcome barriers that keep us alive.
But there are other walls humanity has raised that have been the cause
of suffering, death and estrangement.  The most obvious examples in
recent memory might be the Berlin Wall, or the walls surrounding the
Warsaw Ghetto, or the walls built of either concrete and masonry or
paperwork that effectively bar the hungry and the poor from entering a
land that for them holds hope and promise.

Recently we have listened to a good number of Gospel readings about the
struggles Jesus had with the Pharisees.  He indicted them for building a
wall around themselves as the privileged purveyors of God’s love and
mercy.  In doing so, they walled out those they deemed unworthy of God’s
love and mercy.

As recently as last week, Pope Francis commented on the Pharisees.  He
spoke in terms of their type as being still active in the world today,
in the attitudes of priests who hold the law higher than the well being
of people.  The Pope mentioned one example as to how a priest chose to
side with canon law, turning a deaf ear and a hardened heart to the
hopes of a person who needed compassion more than an exacting and
hurtful interpretation of law.  Such a priest walls out both God and the
ones who need him.   “When one loses this close relationship with the
Lord,” the Pope said, “one falls into this obtuse mentality that
believes in the self-sufficiency of salvation with the fulfillment of
the law.”

A Pharisaical attitude is not the dangerous privy of priests alone.  It
can entrap any one of us.  As Christians, we are obligated to look into
ourselves and examine the purpose of the walls we will surely find
there.  The sign that a Christian has accepted God's grace is that he or
she demonstrates love through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
These “are the touchstones of the fulfillment of the law,” Pope Francis
said.  They are as well the ways through which we can better know the
voice of God in our midst, dismantle the walls of our prejudices and
welcome him into our lives.  God lives beyond whatever walls we build.
He lives in people of many languages, colors, needs, hopes and gifts.
The Gospels tell us that in welcoming them, we welcome God as well.  And
in denying them, we deny and lose both ourselves and God.

James Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O.





Dialogue between heart and gut

Dialogue between heart and gut

I met a man once, not so long ago,
who asked for help in a convincing manner,
so I did, and he came back a few times after,
yet a part of me did not trust him,
however,  I wanted to, so we would talk
about nothing really, until money came up.

Heart and gut can work together,
yet when in a pinch, the gut is usually right.

My heart said, well you may be wrong about him,
do not be unjust.

My gut said, he is draining you, you can feel it,
even before he arrives you feel depleted,
you need to listen to my counsel.

My gut won out and I let him know not to contact me again,
I could not help him anymore.
Though even if it was the right move, my heart still was unsure,


I knew it was the right thing to do.

I got a letter from him about a month later,
he was in jail on drug charges, driving without a licensee,
and a parole violation.

He wrote asking for forgiveness,
saying that he was turning his life around,
and wanted to come and see me when he got out.

Again, heart and gut conferred, both adamant what to do,
however both agreed that when he got out,
he needs to stay away for a full year,
get sober, go to 12 step meetings
and build a circle of friends who will help him
and not enable.

Many who con, are just surviving,
not evil, or even cruel,
just in a cycle going ever downward,
I don’t want to be part of that whirlpool.

You know Lord it is not always easy to discern
just give me the desire to seek counsel,
to listen to both heart and gut,
and to seek always to do the most loving thing.

The most loving thing is often the hardest.


All day I think about it.

A humorous yet serious essay on aging,  his canes, and humor in dealing with it all by Br. Elias, our novice master here:


ALL THE DAY I THINK ABOUT IT                 

I use a walker.

 But first came the cane…..

Months ago, when my neurologist said that my body was tilting to the left, had bad balance and risked a fall, she told me that I had no choice. I had to use a cane.

But I waited three days before I decided to use it. Why?

It certainly was not an expression of some juvenile inner rebellion.

Or the sad condition of someone who insists that nobody can tell him what to do, even when what is asked for is for his benefit.

Did I wait three days because I sensed that the monks would begin to see me as an old man?  Well, I am  old. So it is not that.


I am eighty-two.  I am feeling my age, which I welcome as much as I did my youth. At times I relate well to the experience depicted in a Wiesel novel: “Young Hananel suddenly feels old, as if he were weighted down by all the years lived by others … He finds it difficult to stand. Leaning on the beadle’s arm, he manages to get to his feet, then sits back down immediately…”



The ancient poet Kabir would say that this aging body is a clay jug.


But what a jug it is!


In it, he says, are canyons and pine mountains, and the maker of canyons and pine mountains.


All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars….!


Kabir speaks from  inside the clay jug:


If you want the truth ….

Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.




Another monk, 89, uses a cane. He and I connect far more than when I walk on my own. In part thanks to the cane, we have bonded.


Some time back I shared a dream with him.

It is deep into the night. I am floating on the surface of an ocean. I keenly feel that I was going to drop into the depths of the immense waters. It feels so real….

So then I sink. A powerful feeling overwhelms me. I am going to die. But then suddenly it is as though a strong arm had reached into the water and brought me up to the surface.

I wake up. I am t peace.

The next day I tell my elder friend about the dream.

He smiles into my eyes and says: “Thank you. I appreciate hearing that you have had a strong , almost overwhelming sense of what it is like to die. So now when the angel of death comes to you in the heart of the night, you will be at ease. Miguel Angel will be calm, silent, still. Waiting to see what happens next.

At that point, my imagination takes over.

I welcome the angel and ask him if he would you like talk for a while, before we go. He nods.

l ask: Would you like some tea? No? Then how about some fruitcake? I make it, you know. I do the weighing. So you don’t care for fruitcake either? Alright, then please answer a question. It has caused me anguish all my life. At times I have said that when I die I will put God on trial, for allowing so much madness and suffering to strangle the earth, century after century – while not a trace of suffering exists in the world I am about to enter.

Then angel says that it is time to go.

He assures me that once we arrive in the world which knows no time, the answer will flow towards me as a friend, quietly and gently. And I will understand, and know, and be at peace.



 MY elder friend and I share the same challenges --- one of them being that time and again we forget where we left the cane.

The abbot stopped us the other day to ask if we were getting enough exercise.

Enough exercise? Look, we walk to the north corner of the monastery, or south, or east or west  ---- any number of times a day looking for the cane….


We go up four stories up to the tailor shop. But that makes no sense. We don’t have a tailor. He went back to China….


We go up and down the stairs of our 4- story building, up and down, up and down …Ah! the refectory ----  surely the cane  must be there, leaning against a wall …. But all we find is a balding monk, running away from unfinished business, wandering around looking for something to do --- or, more accurately, something to eat. (Sorry, everything is locked up.)


Well then how about the reading room, the scriptorium, the chapter room, the music room on the third floor, the church ….. ANYWHERE, FOR GOODNESS SAKE….


OK, then, where ARE you???? 

When no answer comes forth, we shrug and walk  --- where else?  --- up and down the stairs, up and down, up and down, up and down.…..




We are intrigued by some lines from the ancient poet Rumi:


All the day I think about it, and at night I say it.

What am I supposed to be doing?


I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary. The day is coming when I fly off, but who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?.....


My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,

And I intend to end up there.


I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.


Let whoever brought me here take me back.



The poem has eyes. It is gazing at us, or staring, or barely watching us, its eyes half closed. It is trying to transmit a message ---- can you tell us what it is?

   My cane has become more than a cane.  It is my companion as I walk slowly toward the Light which awaits me on the other side of this world. I call the cane ---- no – not it, but him ---Miguel Angel – Spanish for Michael the Archangel. We converse: “Miguel Angel, why are you gazing so steadily at the poinsettia meadows? Or, later: What do you make of Juan Ramon Jimenez’ words about the rain being like weeping eyes, as if the eternal moment were going blind?

and had an invisible friend. Did you have one? little, All this reminds me of when I was





















The woman in a wheelchair

The woman in a wheelchair

            We live in a world that is filled with need.  Needs of many kinds.  People have emotional needs, or financial needs.  Some need to be listened to and simply loved and accepted.  Some may need to be talked to in a manner that could seem harsh, but is in reality simply stating the facts.  Perhaps we all fit into one of the above categories at different times of our lives.  Being retreat master has its challenges.  People do come here for help.  Not many, but they come.  So I do what I can, which is not much and I tell them that.  I also ask them not to tell others about what I did for them, for if too many come, I won’t be able to help anyone.  Also there are con-artist, which I am sure I have fallen prey to.  Yet as time goes on I am learning.  I also believe that all of us have people come into our lives that we ‘know’ on some level that we are to help, perhaps a little more than we normally do.  If I think about all the need just here in Conyers, I believe that it would paralyze me if I obsessed over it.  Yet I can do one person at a time, a person who is struggling and often alone.  People in need can be painted by some as just being lazy, or have an attitude of entitlement.  There is some truth to that of course.  However, there are those who really need help and can be overlooked if cynicism is allowed to take over.  I can’t save, or change anyone, but from time to time I can give some help.  It could be with money, or just to listen etc. 

I am writing this to encourage others to be aware of those who come into their lives who they are supposed to help.  I find that if I do this, I am not overwhelmed, but they come spaced in such a way that I can do it in the name of the community.


             It was a Saturday afternoon, around 2PM when Roseanne notified me that she received a phone call from a woman in distress.  My first reaction was not to respond to the call, for it is a ploy from those who scam for money to call on a weekend because there is no one else to help them, so pressure can be applied.  However, Rosanne told me that the woman is wheelchair bound and in a motel with no way to get what she needs. 

I have learned over the years, to listen to my ‘gut’ reaction when it comes to people.  I don’t know why but it seems to be true 99% of the time.  My ‘gut’ told me to call her.  She was staying at one of those long stay motels that many people are forced to live in for a while until things look up for them.  This call seemed to be from a person who was stuck and possibly very scared because of her ‘hopeless’ situation.  In a wheelchair, with no transportation, and later I found out no family members to help her. 

I called her, her name was Debra.  She was thankful that I called her back.  She called many places but either she had to go there for help, or they did not respond at all.  As we spoke, I communicated that the places/organizations that help others in need, are often overloaded and stretched to their limit.  Also, the people are frequently near burnout, so there are times when they can seem unfeeling, or that they don’t care, but that is not true.

She was staying in a large room, with two beds, a large fridge and a complete kitchen.  It was perfect for someone in a wheelchair.  As we spoke she told me that she has a spinal infection and she came to Conyers about 8 weeks ago to see a doctor here who has had some success in treating her problem.  If this doctor can’t help her, she will be wheelchair bound for the rest of her life.  Soon, she was going to get some procedure done from the doctor that will perhaps cure her.  In the meantime they were worried that her spinal infection would go to her brain.  At the very least, even if she won’t be able to walk, he can stop the problem from getting worse.

So I got her some food.  The kind that she did not have to cook, but could put in the microwave.  She could not work the stove because of her inability to use her legs.  I got her canned beans, canned chicken and fish, some bread and milk, some fruit and coke-cola.  Enough to last her for the week she had remaining. 

I really liked her, she was a fighter and did not feel sorry for herself.  She was also a woman of deep faith, which at times amazes me.  Armchair philosophers often talk about the problem of suffering, but this woman was ‘living it’, and her faith was intact and even deeper than it was before her illness.  She also had a son who was in prison.  He goes in and out.  She was heartbroken over that as well, and was saddened that she could not help him in anyway, but only pray.

So after I loaded up everything for her in the fridge and on a table low enough for her to reach with the non-perishables, I left.  Before I went she asked me to pray over her and I did.  So I left with some sorrow in my heart over her situation, but glad that in some small way I could help. 

About a week later she called and said that her doctor did not want her to go back to Chattanooga.  She wanted to go back in order to finish up some business before she went into the hospital.  They wanted to do some more test before they could do any kind of procedure.  I could tell she was embarrassed to call, but she was out of money for rent.  I usually set a limit on how much I can help people, but again, my ‘gut’ told me that she is really doing her best.  So I was able to do that, and also I received from a friend some Walmart gift cards, worth 15 dollars.  I gave her three of them.  She told me that she had a friend that could drive her to Wal-Mart if she gave her some warning.  She lived a ways off and had her own set of problems that she was dealing with.  She did however, try to help her when she could, which was not often.

She called me the next day to thank me.  I told her that I could not do much more for her and that hopefully she is open with her doctor about her situation.  This doctor seems to really care for his patients, for he is only getting Medicare/Medicaid from this woman, yet is giving her top-notch treatment.  She will she told me, she has to see him the next day.

She did speak to the head nurse about her situation, and now they have an assisted living place for her after her operation.  She is now on an antibiotic that she has to take for 45 days to clear up the infection so that they can go in and do what needs to be done.  She went back to her home in Chattanooga, yesterday.   A man who lives there in the same motel, who pays by the day and is struggling himself, offered to drive her.  So they came by and I gave him enough for gas money and a little extra, and gave her a little extra as well.

The man was a gentle soul.  Big, a construction worker who was going back to work in a few day.  He told me that when he worked it is good, when work is down, things get really tight.  I thanked him for doing this for Debra and they left.

Not being an agency, the Monastery can only do so much for people and I have to put a limit.  I also asked those I help not to spread it around, for if too many come, I will have to stop helping anyone, we don’t have the funds for that.  Yet, with this woman, like with a few others, I felt I was supposed to help her.  I don’t get that reaction from everyone, in some cases, the opposite.  I still get sad, but I know that is not helpful to me or to the person I am helping.  I am learning to let go in trust.

She may have to be in assisted living for the rest of her life if the operation can’t restore her ability to walk.  She is a small woman and frail, but with a strong spirit.  If she stays in the area, I will try to get some people I know to become in some small way a part of her life.  She is a good soul, dear to the Lord, and her faith being tried is most likely deeper than mine and I could learn a lot from her.  I already have.  One thing, just deal with today, not tomorrow. 




All Souls day 2017

All Souls day 2017

Today, Catholics remember not only their dead but all those who have passed on through that door we call death.  In the Catholics faith, those who pass or not considered ‘dead’, but if a soul loves God, then they are our companions on the way.  So this morning after our Community Mass we processed out to the cemetery to bless the graves.   Since I have been here, there have been 55 deaths and I took care of many of them in their last days here on earth.  So as the Abbot went from grave to grave to bless each while stating their name, I always find my heart affected.  Some names of monks I miss more than others, but they are all my brothers and so I pray for them.

Some evenings, I will go out ‘back’ as we call the cemetery area and walk from one cross to another remembering the monks whose bodies sleep below their crosses.   It is very strange for me at times, because some of the monks I was close too have been gone for decades, yet it seems like yesterday that I talked with them, prayed with them, argued with some of them, but loved each of them in different ways.  Not all were friends, but all were my brothers.  I am glad that we care for our elders here and when each one dies, they are never forgotten.  

Today as we were in the cemetery, I kind of spotted my ‘place’ when it is my turn to join my brothers.  How wrong could I be, I am near the top as a senior…..slap me somebody.  Now if I am wrong and live to be to 120, God might laugh at me, but I won’t be.  I love this life, but I would be happy to go in my mid 80’s, which is only 16 years away, but who knows?

Many Christian take offense at the Catholic practice of praying for the dead.  I don’t understand why even when they explain their reasons it still does not register.  Just like it does not register with many non-Catholics who don’t get Catholic customs when I explain why.  In the end, I have given up explaining.

There is a lot of nonsense about purgatory.  I do believe St. Catherine of Genoa is a good person to read on the subject.  Below is an explanation of her teaching on this sensitive subject. 

St. Catherine of Genoa's vision of Purgatory
By Joe Tremblay *
(Permission received to post this)

After having received a vision of purgatory, St. Catherine of Genoa could not say enough about the happiness which is to be found there. Of course, the Saint did not mince words about the pain souls experience as well. In her treatise on purgatory, she wrote, “I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin's rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing.”

St. Catherine depicts purgatory not so much as a place but rather as a process through which the effects of sin – referred to as the “rust of sin” – are purged away. Although the idea of divine punishment is not to be disregarded in her account, what comes to the fore, nevertheless, is the application of God’s burning love for the soul. This is to be the context in which purgatory is considered. The idea of a torture chamber, portrayed in so many books, is not the main theme in her writings.

It is the infusion of this fiery love of God into the soul – so attractive, yet, at the same time, so painfully felt – which burns away the real substantive effects selfishness and other vices leave upon the soul. Scripture refers to these effects as blemishes, spots, and defilements. As we garnered from the New Testament already, we are called to be found without these effects when the Lord calls us to heaven. This implies one important truth: it is possible that we, as Christians, can be found with imperfections.

Even more importantly, by being baptized into Christ we can purify these imperfections through faith, love and sacrifice. “By kindness and piety guilt is expiated, and by fear of the Lord man avoids evil.” (Proverbs 16:6) “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sin.” (I Peter 4:8) And to add yet one more passage from the same epistle: “… whoever suffers in flesh has broken from sin.” (4:1) This is why St. Therese the Little Flower could say that when she dies there would be nothing left for her to burn. Her life of love and sacrifice for the Lord would be the holocaust that would make purgatory unnecessary.

But for those souls for which purgatory is a necessity upon death, it is curiously not something that is resisted in a way a child resists punishment from his parents; but it is rather something that is desired. As St. Catherine says, “The souls who are in Purgatory cannot, as I understand, choose but be there, and this is by God's ordinance who therein has done justly.” In fact, the soul sees this purification as an act of God’s burning charity and would rather suffer this a thousand times rather than go straight to heaven. Again, she says, “Never can the souls say these pains are pains, so contented are they with God's ordaining with which, in pure charity, their will is united.”

Upon death, the soul sees itself as it really is and it sees it in contrast to what it was created to be. And it is the latter, that is, what the soul was created to be, which St. Catherine of Genoa refers to this as the “beatific instinct.” This beatific instinct is the capacity or desire each person was created with to love God; and with each person this beatific instinct varies. For instance, even if I were to be perfect in what God created me to be, my beatific instinct or capacity to love God would never equal that of the Blessed Virgin’s. As stars in the night sky have a different capacity to shine, souls are created with a different capacity to love God in heaven. In any case, the soul in purgatory sees – as if in an instant – his sins and how far away he had fallen from what he was created to be.

It needs to be said, however, that purgatory is not a state of lamenting sins. According to St. Catherine, focusing on past sins would be a form of imperfection. As such, “They cannot turn their thoughts back to themselves, nor can they say, ‘Such sins I have committed for which I deserve to be here,’ nor, ‘I would that I had not committed them for then I would go now to Paradise’, nor, ‘That one will leave sooner than I,’ nor, ‘I will leave sooner than he.’” Therefore, after having seen its sins and imperfections upon death, the soul no more considers them. From here on out, the object of the soul’s vision and orientation is the beauty and glory of God.

Similar to the first instant of its creation, the soul’s contact with God in purgatory is profound and an occasion of supreme happiness. But because it cannot possess what it tastes or what it partially beholds, it suffers exceedingly. As St. Catherine reminds us, “Again the soul perceives the grievousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul's instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered.” Yet, these two realities – supreme happiness and intense suffering – exists side by side with each other. “So that the souls in Purgatory enjoy the greatest happiness and endure the greatest pain; the one does not hinder the other.”

As the soul travels to heaven – as if by the speed of light – God’s consuming fire of love is infused into it. As the shades of sin recede, the soul begins to shine brighter, resembling – little by little – the splendor of God. The book of Wisdom provides the following illustration of these justified souls: “As gold in a furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings, he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation, they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble.” (3:6-7) St. Catherine continues this thought by saying that day by day happiness increases in the soul as God flows into them. More and more, the rust of sin- the very thing which hinders them from fully possessing God – is burned away by divine love.
Indeed, after the soul is purged by God’s divine mercy and justice, he or she shall shine with a supreme happiness that lacks nothing.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.





Calm in the storm
(the gift of self-awareness)

I have two fish, ‘albino-catfish’ in a small aquarium.  They take little care, just change the water, about a third of a tank once a month and add when needed in between.  I guess these fish are from a long line of ancestors born in captivity and they seem content, but really, how would I know.  I do know that they are beautiful to watch and they seem ‘happy’ enough in their tank.  Perhaps in captivity, they live longer than in the larger ‘freer’ world.   I am not going to eat them, or hurt them and try to feed them ‘not too much’.  They make me smile when I feed them.  Sometimes they know when I am going to drop in the food for them and they start swimming up and down, and round and round, and in my mind, I believe they are saying “bacon, bacon, bacon”.

They were the same size at one time, but one is about a third larger than the smaller, I have been told that is the female.  Though I still feel a twinge of conscience about them being in such a small space.  Though if I were a fish, I doubt that ‘smallness’ is something I would worry about. 

My friend Marco and some of his friends are great lovers of animals and I guess that would include fish as well.  He is helping me understand at perhaps a faster rate than I would if I did not know him, that there is always ‘more’, always more ‘depth’ to discover about the world around us.  Even plants, from the articles/essays he has sent me, seem to be ‘more’ than we would think possible.  I do love plants, and always have a few in my room, in water.  I love watching the roots grow.  They are like a work of art, with their going here and there seeking more depth, perhaps like humans in a metaphorical sort of way. 

Roseanne, last Christmas, gave me a ‘money tree’ as a gift.  I have it in one of the windows in the retreat house, it is doing quite well.  About six months ago I cut off some high growth.  The plant was starting to look top- heavy.  So I decided to put the cutting in water, wondering how it would do.  To my surprise, it did well, and a month later it was still healthy in its little bottle of water.  Then during the second month, small roots came out, and about a two months later, suddenly, the roots starting to grow larger and now are quite long.  A beautiful addition to my collection of plants that I can enjoy looking at the roots.

I had a snail for a short time, but it did not make it, I think that there was not enough algae for it to feed on.  As I get older, I hate to see anything die…..silly I know, for if nothing died, this world would soon turn into a living hell.  I often wonder what is the awareness of creatures, (beautiful creatures indeed) like snails and others what we call lower life forms.  That is a human designation of course and probably valid up to a point, yet the mystery remains.  There must be a broad spectrum of awareness in the life forms around us and a snail probably does not care what we think about its inner life.  Overall, I bet his life was much happier than mine is, I tend to worry about the future from time to time; I would think the snail lived in the moment.

I do believe that humans pay a high price for being so self-aware.  Worrying about the future and perhaps at times obsessing over the past can cause a great deal of suffering.  It can get so bad that we develop techniques to simply keep the mind focused on the present, the now.  From what I see from other creatures, they life blissfully in the present, though they suffer as well of course.   Pets, for instance, can develop severe emotional problems if the owners are cruel or indifferent to their needs and survival.  I do believe that when people begin to understand that there is probably much more to all of the life around us, it is then that awareness and the morality of how we treat them arises.

One awareness, that is growing in me, is that I am thankful for is the limited time we have in our lives….we are here for such a short time.  The more I think about that, the more I can live in the actual present, even in the painful times.  Each moment is like a fine piece of gold, priceless, but it soon turns to mist and becomes the past.  If I am not truly present, it is an experience that can’t be relived.   It is true that the past does influence us and perhaps more than we would like to admit and controls us as well.  Like roots that show in a plant grown in water is our past.  In fact, we are rooted in our far past, the time before we were born. Our DNA makes sure of that I believe.  Family traits are passed on, the good, the bad and yes the ugly.

When we become aware of the moment, it is then that we discover that we can choose how to live it, how to respond, how to love others and not react, how not to take for granted each moment that will never return.  I sometimes think that our lives, while real, are in actuality a form of dreaming, that is until we wake up.  Hopefully, we can wake up before we die, or if not, I believe that when we pass on, it is a form of waking up. 

God in each moment, dwelling in our hearts, loving us even at our worst, seeking to enliven our hearts and minds, to become the heart and mind of Christ Jesus.  To become present is to see the ‘flow’, the constant changing of our thoughts, emotions, fears and anxieties, as well as joy, peace, and wellbeing.  It is a constant stream, one that our self-awareness allows us to watch, contemplate and choose how we are to take root.  If we don’t wake up, we will simply be washed in the flood of emotions, fears and our desire to escape the ever-changing present.   We seek peace in forms of recreation that only leave us hollow if we are not rooted in the depths of reality……..we are rooted in the Infinite, made for the love that our hearts long for.  It sounds all sentimental and pious, but in reality, it is not.  To be rooted in the present, yet to see perhaps from a deeper perspective, that is a truly conscious choice and discipline that is based on freedom and not simply reacting or making choices that lead to fear, bitterness, and cynicism. 




Our images of God

Our images of God
(The fear of the Lord is awe, not flinching)

“Here is the great novelty of Christianity: A God that, although disappointed by our mistakes and our sins, does not fail in His word; He doesn’t stop and, above all, He doesn’t retaliate! Brothers and sisters, God doesn’t retaliate! God loves, He doesn’t retaliate, He waits to forgive us, to embrace us. Through the …— through situations of weakness and sin –, God continues to put in circulation the “new wine” of his vineyard, namely MERCY; this is the new wine of the Lord’s vineyard: MERCY.” ---Pope Francis (10/08/17)


I was asked to give a talk last night to a group that is here for their own retreat.  The leader of the group told me to pick whatever topic that I would like to share.  Last week I spent my Lectio Divina time on the “Sermon on the Plain”.  As usual, when doing Lectio, a passage that I have perhaps read but did not stop to consider in the past, jumped out at me.  So I spoke on this passage last night.

I have been spending time thinking about what the term, or theologically reality of the ‘Mind of Christ’ means.  As I was doing my slow reading this verse made me understand on a deep level that the “Sermon on the Plain” as well as the “Sermon on the Mount”, was a revelation showing the ‘Mind of Christ’.  This is the passage that spoke deeply to me and over the last few day could not shake it.

Luke 6:32-36

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked”.  I simply stopped when I saw that.  This is an idol smasher, a sledgehammer blow to the idols that I can manufacture when it comes to God.  There is a kind of comfort, or familiarity when we have a God-sized down to something that we can understand.  God is like us, just bigger, much bigger, loving true, but like us not stable and can get really mad and strike out in rage.  This sounds absurd to many, but our images of God more often than not flow from a place that is not conscious but works on our emotions and deepest fears.  In other words, we make God into our image and likeness.  Perhaps Zeus is what is worshipped, a strong idol, yet one day it has to be shattered.  Many believe that God is not good to all, especially to the ungrateful and wicked, those other people.  Yet the revelation of Jesus Christ, who shows us the Father, says otherwise. 

God loves, simply that.  The Mind of Christ is love, not anger, or the desire to pour out vengeance on others.  That comes from us.  Of course, there is the Old Testament which can be unpleasant reading.  This is what Pope Benedict said on the subject:


“The “dark” passages of the Bible: In discussing the Old Testament… due to the violence and immorality, they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history…God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times…such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things…Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective…”
Pope Benedict explains in Verbum Domini,

It is the action of making an act of trust in God’s love, which allows us to slowly be healed of our many fears of a projection of our own human tendency to judge and hurt in the name of justice.   Yet judging others is so very easy.  As long as we spend time judging others, we do not have to face our own fears of God, as many of us were taught to believe in as children.  Our business is to ‘love God with our whole mind, heart, and soul”.   The rest will follow by the action of God’s freely given grace.  We also to learn to love ourselves and to not fear whatever we see float up from the deep reservoir called the ‘unconscious’.  

I am at war with myself and if I am not aware of that fact, I will project that inner turmoil and it will be placed on others and I will react.  If I fear to see myself and to allow the loving gaze of Christ Jesus to see me fully (He already does) my relationship with God will stay at a childish level.  Love and fear cannot coexist.  Either one or the others will win out in the end.  We deny ourselves much joy when we do not confront our fears, our terrors, or deepest and darkest secrets and offer them up in faith, love, and joy to the Lord.  It is all we have to give, all else is a pure gift from God.  We did not create ourselves, nor chose our DNA, yet we each have many gifts that we are asked to develop in the service of others.


Hebrews 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.




Conversion is not about superficial change



Conversion is not about superficial change

"Ask ourselves every day: how have I gone from worldliness, from sin to grace?"  "Have I made room for the Holy Spirit so that he could act?" Conversion isn't about superficial change, like applying makeup, the pope said; it requires a change within that has been brought about by the Holy Spirit. ---Pope Francis

The Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire.  To think of the Holy Spirit is to contemplate the love between the Father, and the Son.  The Holy Trinity shows that the inner life of God is a community, a giving, and taking of endless love, communion, and union.  Mankind is invited into that life, one with the Trinity, experiencing what our souls are made for, union with Infinite Love. 

We give ourselves to what we love.  We are all called to give ourselves to something.  People often sacrifice all that they have for what gives them passion.  Or they will allow something to take them over and they lose everything.  The Holy Spirit wants us to make room in our hearts so that His influence can grow and we can be healed and freed from the power of sin, compulsion, and obsession. 

In the Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross shows how the Spirit works in the depths of our souls, slowly bringing us to union with God.  It is difficult because every step of the way we have to give our ‘Yes’ and each time we give our assent the Holy Spirits influence can go deeper into our souls.  It is a difficult journey, but in this world, all journeys are challenging.  All are laden with difficulty and sacrifice.

The Holy Spirit brings to light when we are ready, what needs to be faced and let go of.  This can be very difficult and painful.  In the midst of that, we are called to grow in trust and self-love.  We can no longer be victims but look at ourselves with honesty and humility.

We will be called to use our gifts to help others, and God will reach us, minister to us in our weaknesses.  When we start our journey to be open to the Holy Spirit, we begin to love God with our full capacity.  That capacity grows as we learn not to fear pain, but to trust God in all things.  

The Holy Spirit truly groans within in praying on our behalf.  We learn to pray for others as well, slowly growing in our ability to feel and to show compassion for others.  We begin to understand that we wound ourselves over and over again when we do not allow the Spirit to lead us.  It is true, the Holy Spirit wounds and heals and in that healing, we are wounded deeper, yet it leads to union with Infinite Love.  When we simply wound ourselves through self-hatred (sin) it leads to despair and death.   The death to self is, in reality, the doorway to fuller life. –Br.MD



Led by the Spirit of Wisdom


Led by the Spirit of Wisdom

I am calling you to be prayer in this time of grace. You all have problems, afflictions, sufferings, and lack of peace. May saints be models to you and an encouragement for holiness; God will be near you and you will be renewed in seeking through your personal conversion. Faith will be hope to you and joy will begin to reign in your hearts. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

 Monthly Medjugorje 25 OCT 2017


We all know all kinds of people.  Some seem more centered, gentle and non-judgmental than others.  These are often the people we like to be around.  We sense that they are genuine, not just a man or women who say pious things but acts otherwise.  But people who don’t always speak of their faith, but the fruit of their love and trust in God shines forth.  These people are often unaware of it, of their effect on others.  They have learned over the course of their lives to trust in God even when in deep pain, confusion and loss.  When they look back they see that God was always with them.  They pray, have a relationship with God.  Each person is unique and how they relate to God is also one of a kind. Yet ‘trust’ is something we are all called upon to develop, a choice, we do not fall into trust but grow in trust by making acts of abandonment to God.  The deeper the trust in God the deeper our conversion becomes and the freer we find ourselves…..led by the Spirit of wisdom.


Spiritual Practice

Spiritual Practice

I was talking to Br. Elias this AM after community Mass.  We both do breakfast dishes together most mornings.  It is a nice time to spend with him.  We have a good system and it only takes about 20 or 30 minutes.  I have known him from the early 70’s and he is a very gentle kind man.  I enjoy doing dishes by myself or with one other.  It is quiet and afterward, I felt like I did something to make a chaotic world a little less disordered.   You could call it a ‘practice’since it needs to be done every day and because of that, I can get the energy to do it even when I don’t especially feel like it.  As we were doing dishes Elias told me that when talking to others, when they are struggling, he will ask them to listen to him about ‘practice’.   He then gives them some common sense ways of dealing with their inner struggles.  Very simple ‘practices’ that can have powerful long-term effects on one’s life. 

When he said the word ‘Practice’ it got my attention.  I then realized that I ‘practice’ every day.  I have ways of dealing with my inner life that keep me grounded and when things get rough, or my inner ocean is having high waves, doing ‘practice’ keeps my head afloat and gets me through.  It is a disciplined way to direct one’s thoughts or to open one’s heart and to embrace what is simply ‘now’ and to allow the experience to pass without the need for repression or to flee the inner discomfort towards something that will only, in the long run, make things worse. 

Lectio Divina (spiritual reading), prayer, and quiet, silent, mediation are part of my practice.  As well as trying to be in God’s presence, or, in the moment, which for me is the same thing.  Our brain (well mine does) loves to create thoughts that are too put it mildly ‘crazy’.  Of course, I am sharing something about my own inner life.  Crazy thoughts produce emotions, yet when one prays or meditates, the lesson is learned that ‘who’ is praying, ‘who’ is meditating’, or ‘who’ is watching is not under the control of fleeting inner situations.  Stepping back and observing is one of the fruits of spiritual practice.  It gives a place for grace to act upon the soul.  It allows the soul to breathe.

‘Practice’ is not about being successful, but about simply doing, or being, without regard to keeping some kind of score.  This is more difficult than it sounds for many.  To simply ‘show up’ is a big step forward even if it is felt that it is a waste of time.  To be silent, or to do Lectio, or to spend time in prayer is about letting go of self-concern and understanding that there is much more going on in our lives that we can see or comprehend.  All religious traditions have ‘practices’ that can bring their followers to a deep place of peace and a love of God and others, that is enduring no matter the trails of life, or of one’s own inner mental, and emotional state.  It is about simply breathing calmly, being rooted in the moment, just dealing with what is front of us, one step at a time. 

Mental health is something that is not a given.  There are types of mental dysfunction that are so common that they are considered normal.  When faithful to ones ‘practice’, clarity slowly develops and life can run at a different speed and end up in a different place.   Many people (not all by any means) who are on medication, would not have to be if they would take the time to not fear their inner selves, to understand that the inner chaos can be looked at without being sucked in. I need to reiterate, for some medication is what allows them to learn 'practices' that will help them grow.   We are not our thoughts, our emotions or our fears, we are what is aware of all of the above.  Our painful emotions cause us to ‘restrict’ and it brings out our worse selves.  Love, hope, and openness, to what life brings us, is not always easy to acquire, but the process of seeking allows those on that path to take deeper root into reality. 

It is what Jesus said about having a sure foundation.  When the storms come, it holds true, we stand securely.  Even with failure, there is still something to get back into, like the old saying goes:  “Get back on the horse when you are thrown”. 


Light is deeper buoying us up

Hell on earth can be experienced,
sometimes all one can do is breathe,
be in the moment and face the demon,
in faith, knowing that  in the darkness,
light is deeper still buoying us up,
stand on the rock, the sure foundation,
all things pass, yet love is eternal,
giving hope in times of deep pain and insecurity. 



When in heaven I will dance
(Lord give me the eyes to see beauty)

This morning the Abbot gave a talk on beauty.  His talks are good and there usually one point that will jump out at me and won’t let go.  He talked about seeing others, having the eyes to see what is perhaps hidden behind our walls of protection. 

I do believe that what Jesus said about becoming a child is true, yet perhaps another way to look at this is to understand that he understood us and knew that in reality we are still children before God and we get in trouble when we lose sight of that in ourselves and others.

I wonder what I look like (partly) inside.  I came upon this YouTube video that may give a small look.  The reason I am saying this is because when young I loved to dance.  I believe that dancing is one of the most common artistic gifts given to mankind.  A powerful gift for sure.

From time to time I will look at some dance clips and I will often find myself deeply touched by simply watching the beauty of people just dancing, flying, filled with the joy of life.  I came upon this video about a man dancing, well everywhere.  I feel that inside this video shows a very real part of me, and I believe this is true for many people. 

I stopped thinking when I danced.  In High School in
Panama we had teen clubs.  Some of my best memories or of the feeling of complete freedom when dancing, the fire in my blood and the ecstasy that would often follow.  Nothing else could touch that, it was my way of entering into a wider reality.    I did not have to work at it, I just let go….and…..flew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Do you see yourself in the video?:






Prayer/Mediation/ and the Mind-of-Christ


Prayer/Mediation/ and the Mind-of-Christ

The distinction is a false one I believe, that prayer and meditation are different or that one is better than the other. Prayer and meditation for a Christian is to be more open to the love of the Father as revealed through Jesus Christ. There is a saying, "Pray the way you can and not how you can’t". People try to force themselves to do something that is not helpful. We are each unique in how we pray. I love the Rosary, pray it slowly and just be present to God when saying it if calm, or the mysteries will be part of that, but all in all it is to be united to God as well as all men and women. The Our Father and the Hail Mary are prayers for 'all', no one is excluded.......well unless we do.  It is the ‘Mind-of-Christ’ we are called to seek, for it is only then when we allow grace to draw us deeper into the Mind-of-Christ that we can understand the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain.  Our minds are filled with doubt, fear, anger, and lust, the desire for love and longing for union.  It is our Union with God that fills our hearts and minds with true wisdom and knowledge.  For God is love.  Often Christians just come across as angry, fearful and condemning. 


The hidden drama within each of us


The hidden drama within each of us

Our abbot, Dom Augustine, gave a very good homily this Sunday during Mass.  There was a phrase that jumped out at me as he was speaking, and it still keeps bouncing around in mind.  He talked about the hidden drama that goes on in each life.  Dramas that are deep and often hidden even from those who struggle with them.  They often show themselves in our daily lives and in the crazy self-destructive actions/choices that we make.  I would perhaps be more honest by saying that I make. 

Sin, is not a popular concept today, because for many people, perhaps most, even Christians (even if unconscious), sin, represents a type of guilt that goes against the whole concept of what sin is.   I do believe there are two levels that our dramas bring upon us.  One level, is being chained to ways of being that are compulsive and obsessive, and because they are so common, the seriousness of it all is often overlooked. 

It is played out in my own inner struggles to live out my commitment as a Christian, as well as a monk.  The deeper I go, the more I experience this inner struggle, this seeking for deeper faith and trust.  Yet it comes, by making a choice, no matter what I am feeling, or my present mental state.  Faith goes beyond that, it is our ‘Hoping against hope’ as Saint Paul said, when talking about the faith of Abraham, in Romans 4:18.

I can remember when I was in the first grade, that Sister was talking about heaven, and how in heaven we will be eternally happy without any suffering.  As I was listening, I experienced a very strong rejection of what she said.  For I could not imagine how that was possible, and to this day I still struggle with that.  How?
Yet I believe, ‘hoping against hope’.  I put my trust in God, in Christ, even if there are days when my inner ocean is flat, dead, and I feel like I am dying of thirst being slowly burned to death by the Sun. 

I have always had a deep insight (though the insight is skewed), of the absurdity of our lives.  As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:1-11:

All Is Vanity

1 The words of the Preacher,[a] the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity[b]The sun rises, and the sun goes
    but the earth remains forever.
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    at which he toils under the sun?
What does man gain by all the toil
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
of vanities, says the Preacher,
    and hastens[c]    and on its
around and around goes the wind,
    and goes around to the north;
The wind blows to the south
to the place where it rises.
circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
    but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
    there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
    a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been
what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has been already
    in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,[
    nor will there be any remembrance
of later things[
e] yet to be
    among those who come after.

Or perhaps, like the play “Waiting for Godot”.  The play is powerful for me for it brings out the ennui that can come into our lives, the hopelessness of the sameness that seems to be our lot.  Is it any wonder that there is a mad dash to escape this inner emptiness or apparent nothingness? 

Yet I have hope, and I strive, and I seek to love, even when I do not feel it.  I seek to be patient when I am far from it.  I still struggle with inner-conflicts of all sorts, yet I have learned to use that energy to seek God and to not try to escape…..well sometimes.  Yet there are days when I see myself running from my inner (apparent nothingness), by grace I can stop, breathe, trust, abandon myself into the arms of a faithful creator.  For me, that is a proof of God’s grace. 

When I was seven and found myself rejecting the concept of a final consummation of my deepest desires, I was at the beginning of rejecting everything.  For atheism is not something fearful for me.  The thought of eternal non-being is not something horrible to be, but the ultimate escape.  Yet it is the grace that I received when young, of the ‘absurdity’ of life as it is/or seems, that propelled me to seek beyond what is obvious…..in that, I found the font of living water, Jesus Christ. Who is faithful when I am not, who embraces me when I run from him, who seeks, seeks, seeks, me over and over again.  Until one day, it has not happened yet, my heart will finally break open and I will experience what has always been there…..love beyond telling.  I have had sips and I could barely bear it.  So the Lord (as he does with all I believe), gives us what we can bear and at the same time, stays with us as we live out our inner dramas, often hidden from all, but not from his loving gaze. 

That is why we should not judge because only God sees into the depths of each heart.  In the meantime, those who believe, no matter their religion, or lack of it. Should seek to understand that when they pray or are simply silent before the infinite mystery, they are one with all, and they are not wasting their time.  We all bring many with us……so lets us hope against hope in the grace and love of God.










We just have to have FUN!!!!!!!

We just have to have FUN!!!!!!!

Gail, came for a visit yesterday.  She brings Banana Cake, and we have strong coffee with it.  It is a very nice ritual that we have and we sit and talk.  She is like a large minority of the population that is thoughtful and in this thoughtfulness, being aware can cause some concerns for her.  This important group of people are often overlooked because their perspective is a call to introspection, and if I may use the word, conversion.

She lives in the town of Decatur, close to downtown Atlanta.  It is a beautiful township and over the years I have always enjoyed driving through there.  In the past, way back in the 80’s I used to drive once a week for the Monastery to do shopping and a couple times a month I would have to go to one business or another.  Back then it was much smaller, but the town today has not ‘yet’ lost its charm.

Gail has a very deep affinity with nature.  She loves being out in the woods, or in the spaces around Decatur that allow some place to be quiet and breathe.  Her concern is that these places in her town are becoming less.  She has a favorite place near the railroad in Decatur that she loves to go to when she is out walking (she really, really, loves walking), and is saddened that it may soon be changed into something else.  A change that will take away something important from her home turf.

Her concern was that all of these little green places are being turned into ‘fun places’.  They are going to paint the sidewalks with patches of different colors and have games there, so people can have “FUN”.  “We are losing our places where one can go and just be silent and alone for a while in order to get refreshed.  Now we have to have fun and games, with no silence to simply be in”.   She said this with a great deal of intensity….it is prophetic I believe.


I do think gathering places are needed and I do believe we have plenty of those.  I also believe that places where people can go and simply rest and be silent and pray if they want to, or just think, or read, or lie in the Sun, may becoming rarer.  She speaks for many people I believe.  I often wonder if some of the outbreaks of violence are brought about by people who are stretched to the limit and have no place to rest.  I do believe that our so-called extroverted culture has a large contingent of people who are compensating Introverts.  People learn to fit in, but for an introvert, the constant fitting in, doing, is very draining and can lead to frustration, anger and eventually rage. 

When I was very young, I was quiet and withdrawn.  Being part of a large family helped me to learn to be with other people, yet at a cost.  One of the good things about being an extrovert is that being around people energies and give life.  Being alone, while needed from time to time for an extrovert will lead to becoming tired.  The opposite is true for introverts.  Being alone gives us energy and with that, we can go out and be with and share with others, yet too much can lead to exhaustion.  So every day we pass people, many people who can find no place of rest.  Work, chores, the internet and having fun can have over time a detrimental effect on their emotional, mental as well as spiritual lives.  Of course, people are unique, so when speaking about introversion and extroversion I am not really being black and white about it.  What I am saying is that silence, quiet and a place to just be, even for
a longer or shorter periods of time is needed, necessary, and today we may be forgetting that at least on the popular culture level.

Here at our retreat house when some people come, they are surprised that they may simply sleep the whole weekend, or if not that, they have no desire to be with others, but stay in their rooms, read and pray.  Many leave refreshed.  If it is their first time, they are happy with the discovery that being alone and quiet is healing.  I know that many will find that surprising, but just look at what is on TV, or on the radio, or how people relax……they go to places with lots of noise, excitement and yes FUN. 

We each have to find our own balance.  That is also true for those who live in Monasteries.  Being alone is not always easy, but when we are allowing ourselves to go inward, we have to make choices on how we respond to what rises to the surfaces.  We mature, grow and become happier when we actually do that instead of trying to stay one step ahead of what may be perceived as emptiness,  and nothingness, but is in reality ‘Living Water’ that we need to drink in large draughts. 

Religion, or one’s faith path, can give structure on how we face our deep, complex inner world, which is filled with light and darkness.  Learning to listen to ourselves without being pushed around can only happen if we have a solid rock or place to stand from.  As a Christian I have my way of doing that, others who like solitude who are not a theist, Christian, or follow another faith have their own way of going inward and in that finding healing.  It is not easy, but to ignore our inner selves and the call of the transcendent can lead to something much more painful and confusing.  What we run from will catch up to us and demand that we deal with it.  If we ignore the call, one day we will hit bottom and then have to deal with it, for the only way is up, or to stay stuck or even sink.  Our lives are important, our inner lives need attending to, and if any culture tries to keep people away from that so they can be controlled is reaping wind and will harvest the whirlwind. 



On Knowing and Loving Differently

This is an essay written by my good friend and author Fr. James Behrens.  He has been a member of our community
since 1994.  Before that, he was a parish priest.  He has a way of seeing deeply into ordinary life and bringing the reality
of God and grace into it.  I have Fr. James permission to print this. 
On Knowing and Loving Differently

“Variety is the spice of life.”  It is a very well known rule of thumb
we are fond of saying when we ponder the many and astounding differences
in life.  Yet there are dimensions to human living that resist taking
the maxim to heart.  We do not deal very well with human differences
when they fly in the face of what we assume to be the true the good and
the beautiful.  Whenever and wherever people live or work in close
proximity to each other – be it a religious community, a marriage, an
office – sparks can and do fly over our befuddlement as to how to
happily manage human difference without resorting to blowing a fuse.
I was thinking about all this a few days ago.  What started me thinking
about it was John, the guy who maintains our computers here and, on
occasion, my sanity.  I had lost several tons of emails and got in touch
with John, asking him if there was any way he could retrieve them.  I
went to supper and when I came back all the emails were sitting on my
computer screen.  I called John right away and thanked him.
I know nothing about the world of computerese.  John is a whiz.  And, to
boot, he is an exceptionally kind and patient person.  Smarts and
kindness are a nice blend when it comes to dealing with a computer
illiterate like me.

I do not know what led John to dive deep into the world of computers.  I
have met other people over the years who excelled in things that
astounded me: a typewriter repairman who seemed to inhale any and every
aspect of typewriters.  And a cook from my seminary days – her name was
Catherine and she loved making desserts.  And she also loved fabrics.
Her small apartment was filled with bolts of all kinds of fabrics.  She
knew seemingly everything about their texture, their durability, their
suitability for this or that type of garment.  She also made wonderful

I have watched John as he was working on a computer problem, his eyes
focused on the screen, his hands resting – and then moving – on the
keyboard.  He was traveling in another world that was very unlike mine,
a world far from my comfort zone.  And I remember watching Catherine at
her sewing machine on a hot summer’s day, making a hem or buttonhole,
oblivious to the beads of sweat on her brow.  She too was absorbed by
another world, a world of color and designs that she loved.
Maybe it all comes down to trying to understand that each of us is
invited to explore different worlds.  There are worlds of computer
technology, typewriters and their histories, fabrics, and patterns,
desserts and other culinary delicacies.  And there are as well different
ways of being and thinking in this world.  Here at the monastery, we all
live in one place but is in this place co-exist many worlds of meaning.
The monks embody different approaches to God.  Some are captivated by
Latin.  Others take to heart the teachings of saints long gone, while
there are as well monks who scan the horizons of contemporary thought
and culture for signs of hope and the transcendent. There is a kind of
love involved with it all, a love that is expressed in a very varied but
rich search for God.  Most importantly, love moves any one of us to
respect and learn from the differences that exist among us.  It might be
said that we are all looking for God and that God is one and the same
for all of us.  But I have a sense that God not only loves difference –
he is manifested through it.  Learning to live and love with that
awareness is, as Catherine might have said, the “icing on the cake.”

James Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit

This is a piece I wrote for the Christian Review online Magazine:

The Las Vegas Tragedy — Are We In a Free Fall

I often wonder about the future, even though I know it is a fool’s errand to do so. We seem to be in ‘free fall,’ and the bottom is probably some way off, but one day we will come to some form of landing. It could be a crash landing, or perhaps things will crack but heal and maybe, and perhaps we can learn from what we are going through at this time.  I have my doubts, but there is always hope.



A prisoner’s powerful dream

A prisoner’s powerful dream

I have been writing Joseph, for just over a year and it has been a very fruitful exchange between us.  Like many prisoners, he has found the Lord while being incarcerated and takes advantage of all that his faith has to offer.  He also helps the other prisoners there with him.  I am able to send him a package, via his sister, 4 times a year, food items and things like socks, slippers etc..  He tells me how much pleasure it gives him to share what he has with others.  He also helps others to grow in understanding of their faith; for instances, he leads a Confirmation group.  He will most likely never get out of prison, he has been in for over 20 years now and could be there for another 30 or 40 years.  He is I believe 50 years old and in good health. 

He shared a dream with me that was a powerful one for him.  In the dream, he was sitting at a table, in his prison visiting area, and Pope Francis was telling him that he needs to absolve everyone, to forgive everyone.  So Joseph told him that he was not a priest and could not absolve in confession.  Pope Francis just smiled at him and said to absolve everyone and then the dream was over.  He asked me what I thought about it.  Below is my take on the dream, which I thought was pretty straightforward.  However, it is just my own thoughts on it.

(Quote): Thank you for sharing your dream with me.  It seemed to be a powerful one and probably is telling you to understand more deeply what it means to belong to a priestly people, as is stated in 1 Peter 2: 4-5, 9-10.  As Christians, we are called to allow Christ to grow in us so that he can use us.  He does this by allowing our hearts to grow in charity and love for all.  So in prison, you are asked to love and to especially forgive those who hurt or annoy you there and perhaps to teach this to others.   It is part of healing, and the Lord will use you and all those there who will allow Jesus to fill them with his Holy Spirit and the gifts that flow from that.  We each have gifts, all important, and are called to use them to build up others.  I hope you have written the dream down and go back to it from time to time.  Of course, in the end, only you can really say what the dream means, but Pope Francis is big on the priesthood of the faithful.  (Unquote)

I do believe that Joseph is very far along in his life of the Spirit.  He is in a place where he can’t slack off, for he is surrounded on all sides by some pretty hard cases.  Men who have been in and out of jail all of their lives.  Some of them no doubt incapable of feeling sorrow or compassion for others.  So it is there that he is called to be a witness to what the life of the Spirit does for him.  I believe that his service to others is an example that touches some of the other men there with him.  There is a small community of others that he prays with, some Catholics others from different faiths.   So each day he runs the race, for if he stops, he could slip back into a life that leads nowhere but downward.

I have a deep sense that God works on those in prison more directly when they seek Him because of the overall situation than perhaps for most who are not in prison.  I believe that goes for those of other religions as well.  For to seek God is in a way to find him, for those who seek want truth, not something that will make them comfortable, but seeking the grace to become more loving human beings, just as Christ Jesus was. 

Some prisoners feel that they want to live in a Monastery.  However, I told Joseph that I believe he does better there than if he were in the Monastery with me.  Both have similarities, but aspects also exist that are dissimilar.  In prison, he is truly seeking to grow and the environment keeps him on a path towards deep inner healing and protection from ‘impulse control’ that some prisoners tell me about.  He is in for doing something on an impulse, without thinking and in a fog….and someone died.  For which he is deeply sorry. 

I would not wish anyone in prison, however, I also believe as St. Paul said, that for those who love God, all things work out for the good.  Even for those in prison who have done great evil.  As a Christian, I believe we are all priest, and in our prayer, we unite our prayer and sufferings to those of Jesus Christ.

Any of us could end up in prison, all it takes is one misstep, one moment when an impulse takes over and then someone is hurt or killed, or we get in a car and drive when we shouldn’t, and we can end up in the same place with Joseph.  Many in prison are not career criminals, but still in for the long haul for what they have done.  Joseph knows he is getting justice, but he is seeking mercy from God and in that, he is called to show mercy to others………we all are I believe.