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Living in the Truth (Sunday Chapter 2/13/22)



Living in the Truth
(Sunday Chapter 2/13/22)
14 The Prophet indicates this to us when he shows that our thoughts are always present to God, saying: God searches hearts and minds (Ps 7:10); 15 again he says:
The Lord knows the thoughts of men (Ps 93[94]:11); 16 likewise, From afar you know my thoughts (Ps 138[139]:3); 17 and,
The thought of man shall give you praise (Ps 75[76]:11). 18 That he may take care to avoid sinful thoughts, the virtuous
brother must always say to himself: I shall be blameless in his sight if I guard myself from my own wickedness (Ps 17[18]:24). (Rule of St Benedict Chapter 7:14)
And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)
There is nothing, as we all know, in common with being childlike, and childish. One is based on a trusting openness to life, the other a refusal to embrace life and all that entails. Or you could say, to embrace all of life. This growth in becoming more childlike does in fact take a deep death to self, it is an exercise that becomes more challenging as we go deeper into our life’s calling.
Jesus had to command us to “Love Ourselves”, because of its great difficulty. This is often an aspect of our inner lives that can be overlooked because of its implications. I would say, that the less that I “Love Myself”, the more difficulty I will have in embracing others at the level that we are called to do.
Love of God, love of self, love of others, are they the same movement in our souls? I would say yes, they are. Though it may take years for the three to come together. The self-knowledge that leads to deeper empathy and compassion, is I believe, hard to achieve because of fear. There is a reason that Jesus told me in the scriptures to take care of the log in my own eye before I deal with the splinter in the eye of another. Until I do that, I am merely fighting my shadow, which keeps me from truly seeing others in love. I merely see in others what I fear to embrace in prayer. Being soul-naked before God when I am at my worst can be harrowing from my end, but it is necessary for me to do so. It is all seen, to believe we can hide from God’s loving, compassionate gaze is a fool’s errand.
Many of my problems with prayer and contemplation are the fact that it always brings me back to my own inner blockades that I set up against intimacy with God. Many of these walls are not willed by me but are acquired unconsciously through life. They have to be demolished from within, by grace, yet I have to allow it to happen. Prayer leads me to understand what I am choosing. Mostly it is the choice to trust.
Once this is understood, the real journey begins. The journey can be arduous, demanding much patience with myself, and a deep abiding trust in the process that monastic life allows me to partake in. The bottom line, is the simple attention to the love of God in all circumstances of my life, and I do mean all.
The first line of defense is our thought life. Much of our inner world is based on watching inner dialogues that we may not have a whole lot of control over. Or even be aware that we are being carried along by ingrained habits on how we interpret reality around us. Many of my own problems, and yes sufferings, spring from this source. It can be very difficult to let go of what causes me pain, and yes harm on many levels because there can be pleasure, or some form of satisfaction in my self-pity, anger, or perhaps self-righteousness. This merry-go-round of inner turmoil will kill any desire to be transparent, or trusting, towards others, and even God, if allowed to grow unchecked. For even though I can be in the grip of compulsion, on some level I have to acquiesce to its domination over my thought life. It is easy, does not take any discipline. All I need do is sink and allow the toxic pool of inner ‘whatever’ to do its work. It is when I actually choose this, that I can begin the process of allowing grace to do its work. I let go of victimhood, blame, and move forward. Even if I limp along, and fail many times. In trust, I begin again.
Thoughts are powerful, the ripple effect of our thought life can be felt by those around us. The tree that it creates, can bear bitter fruit, which poisons the souls of others if we give vent to them.
The word ‘Vile’ is defined in the dictionary as something “morally despicable or abhorrent”. There are some actions or sins, that everyone is comfortable using that adjective in describing an action that causes harm, or death, to others. Sexual trafficking comes to mind.
Yet there are common actions, everyday offenses that happen so much that their ‘Vileness’ is not adverted to unless one is a victim. In community life, if I do not discipline my thoughts can easily lead to this ‘vile’ act. That is easy to fall into, and the animosity of such an action can be suppressed because as the saying goes: “We have good reasons for everything”.
I am of course talking about the bane of community, culture, and in families. It is gossip, detraction, and slander.
To give into a thought, to enjoy it, or to revel in it, is in reality committing what one is desiring to do. So what I think, and how I seek to deal with it or not, can make a big difference in my relationship with others, and most importantly with God. I am not sure they can be separated. This ‘vile’ act is not something that only happens in monasteries, but is everywhere doing it harm.
It can be painful, and an inwardly bloody process when I discover as I grow in my relationship with Christ, how easy it is to fail in true charity towards others, and how easy to react with deep animosity towards those I do not like, or fear. It is humbling to see this, and also healing because it teaches me the need for healing grace, as well as letting go of fear when self-knowledge becomes deep and personal.
I learn, that what I find in prayer, has always been there, and now that I see it, its control over me lessens. The chains that have bound me in actions that are self-destructive fall away and I slowly grow in compassion, and empathy for others. When the struggle becomes intense, this is a good sign that I am getting closer to the center, and I no longer fear, because my trust in God’s mercy increases. For fear and trust cannot co-exists. As one grows, the other diminishes.
So my unconscious reactions in the community, can either lead me deeper into a trusting relationship with Christ, or it can make me bitter, angry, and over time my issues with others deepen, and perhaps my sense of self-righteousness can become stronger taking away what little inner freedom I possessed.
The struggle is real, as monks, I believe that we know this. I have fallen into this sin many times over the years. The more I am out of touch with my vocation, who I am, and who you my brothers are before God, the angrier I become. So prayer, and discipline, or not a luxury, but something that is needed.
One needs to start worrying when there is no inner struggle. Even after years of prayer and discipline, it can go on. It all depends on how deep our wounds are and how far back they go in our lives.
The child-like approach is to embrace our struggles and to look to the Lord like Peter did when he got out of the boat and walked on the water. He only had troubles when he looked at his feet and began to sink. Yet even then the Lord reached out and pulled him up.
I do believe that the Lord’s work will be completed in all of us. I have seen it done many times in the lives of the monks I took care of while they were in the Infirmary, walking their last mile. When the time is right, for those deep wounds to be healed by pure grace, it is then that peace comes, and the monks who I have been with died in peace. So be of good cheer, just begin each day seeking to become more loving and compassionate. If there is failure, well, begin again, and again, and again, if need be. Stay on the rough inner seas, don't hide in the boat look to Jesus, and trust. You will not be disappointed.-BrMD


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