[Post-writing] I really did not know what to title this blog post at the outset or really what was going to come out as I typed. It turned out, I think, to be a summary of my life and faith so far in my 27 years and also my experiences of being a novice monk here at Saint Meinrad Archabbey half-way through our 12-month and a day novitiate.The more I grow in my faith, the more I think, "Why didn't I do this sooner, or read that sooner, or pray for this sooner, or talk about that sooner?" Much of what I've heard and learned growing up about faith is starting to make sense and "click". The light bulb is growing brighter day after day. The more I get out of the way the more God gets in the way.
In high school, I remember my baseball coach being adamant about us taking baseball in high school seriously because for some of us those would be the last 1, 2, 3 or 4 years we would play baseball. Soon, we would be on the sidelines watching our kids or nieces and nephews play wishing we would have taken it more seriously in high school. I wish I would have taken baseball more seriously in high school.
My spiritual director says basically the same thing in the sense that I have a lot of "worries" about monastic life and what it holds, but looking from his hindsight perspective he encourages me to pay attention to the present moment and revel in what God is putting in front of me now. I want to heed his advice and try not to worry about what's to happen. I still wish that some of what I'm learning now I would have been more serious about several years ago.
For instance, after a conversation with a friend on the following topic, I decided to borrow Theology of the Body Explained by Christopher West from our library. I always thought Theology of the Body was about the Catholic's teaching about sex. In some part it is, but it is so much more than that, and it is so much more for so many people, not just Catholics. Theology of the Body is the concept St. John Paul II (formerly Karol Wojtyla of Poland) formulated in 129 general audience addresses from 1979 to 1984 while he was Pope.
George Weigel is a well-known author of a biography about St. John Paul II: Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. He wrote the foreword to West's book, and there he wrote:
I described Theology of the Body as a bit of a theological time bomb, something that would explode within the Church at some indeterminate point in the future with tremendous effect, reshaping the way Catholics think about our embodiedness as male and female, our sexuality, our relationships with each other, our relationship with God -- even God himself.West breaks down Theology of the Body in 494 pages. I'm on page 24 after a couple days. I'm slowly and intentionally chewing and gnawing and reflecting through this book. I'm embracing the fact that there are many people who are much smarter than I, and I am glad they are. They put into words often times what I can't adequately describe, or their research and writing answer one of many facets of this world that I ponder. Here's such a paragraph I read today that brightened my bulb on a timely topic on which I've been dwelling:
The attack on God's Fatherhood -- on the truth that "God is love" -- was only the first lap on a "very long process that winds it devious way throughout history." The deceiver has worked in stages, patiently awaiting the opportune time to induce man toward the ultimate denial of God's very existence. In "the first stage of human history this temptation was not only not accepted but had not been fully formulated. But the time has now come," Wojtyla tells us; "this aspect of the devil's temptation has found the historical context that suits it." Man is now prepared to deny the very existence of God. This is not the atheism of the skeptics or the despairing that has dotted history. This is a planned, systematic attempt at "liberation from the very idea of God in order to bolster man." This is the idea that to believe in God -- especially the Christian God -- is inherently dehumanizing. The French Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac described this as "atheistic humanism" (see Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2124). In Karol Wojtyla he would find a voice of agreement that this radical denial of God is at the heart of all the man-made hells of the twentieth century.
CCC 2124: The name "atheism" covers many very different phenomena. One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time. Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be "an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history." Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. "It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man's hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth."I can't adequately describe my faith or how God is moving in my life. God is beyond explanation. I am sure God is moving in my life and in those around me, but I can't have any expectations of God. Expecting God to move in a particular way is trying to control God. We can't control God. God moves as he wills. The more I get out of the way the more God gets in the way.
I often wonder, "What the heck am I doing here in the monastery?" "Why did I choose to explore this as a way of life with God in community?" People ask me what my favorite part is of the monastery. My answer, as complex, profound and loaded as I want to make it, dissolves down to "peace". It's the peace in knowing that it is OK to have questions about my faith because monks come here to seek God. That idea of seeking is active. It's not a said and done activity. It's ongoing, and I'm growing more and more fond of that. We seek God in a particular and unique way, and I realize that diocesan priests, religious sisters, married and single people, Carthusian monks, and Christian communities around the world seek God in their own unique and particular ways.
Right now, this peace is strong, but the more I pray, read, reflect and digest, God might put on my heart that I am called elsewhere, or he may put himself more in the way reassuring me that this peace here in the monastery is lasting.
What I am left with after this blog reflection is recognizing there are times when I boil and stew about what I am doing here, God's existence, following my own will, giving in to temptations societally and spiritually, leaving the monastery to seek worldly pleasure, slacking in prayer, acedia, pride, gluttony, lust, slacking in charitable works, and giving up on family and friendships and other life-giving connections.
This boiling and stewing is my man-made hell.
When the non-believer dances around and touches upon "God is love" they glimpse the light of God-made eternity.
It's really not about you or me in the end. It's about all of us (past, present and future) in eternal communion with God. The more we get out of the way the more God gets in the way.
I still have a lot of questions, and the more I read what I wrote above the more questions I could anticipate believing and non-believing readers to have. I hope to hear about, read about, pray about and reflect on those questions and answers the rest of my life.
I desire everlasting life and the God-made eternity. I hope I can get out of the way enough to follow that path.
In closing, here's a bit of St. Benedict from his Rule which we follow:
That desire [of attaining life everlasting] is [the monks'] motive for choosing the narrow way, of which the Lord says, "Narrow is the way that leads to life" (Matt. 7:14), so that, not living according to their own choice nor obeying their own desires and pleasures but walking by another's judgment and command, they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them. Assuredly, such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord in which He says, "I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38). (From the Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 5)