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Be Yourself! The Call of a Christian

Evangelization used to be a scary word to me. I thought it meant that I must convince another of what to believe in or, on the other hand, that I, held captive, would be the recipient of a sales pitch about another’s faith. Both situations make me extremely uncomfortable.

I have come to feel differently about this intimidating word, “evangelization”, through the insight of Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSBshared in spiritual direction and guided retreats on the topic.  He captures those thoughts in his newest book, Be Yourself! The Call of a Christian. He writes, “Faith is about what I believe, who I am in my innermost heart…It isn’t good to constantly hold back what is in our hearts. If your heart is full, let it overflow!” What evangelization really means is “to get the word out…to share your joy.” 

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Sharing one’s faith is simply being our truest self. How and why we share our faith makes all the difference. The best place to start in evangelization is exactly right where we are—both emotionally and experientially. It should not be to change another’s opinion, belief, or understanding, but instead, Wilde posits, If we show our faith, we do it only to ease, enable, prompt, and prepare the communication between God and the other person.”

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It’s quite okay to feel that the task of sharing our faith is just “too big”. Wilde writes, “A slight insecurity about what I have to say in “holy” matters is good because it opens me up to the living God who sends us. It saves us from self-serving justice, false self-certainty, arrogance, and a dangerous over-identification with the religious.”

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Indeed, who am I to know what or how another should believe, to know that I am indeed right in my own belief, or that I can even find the appropriate words to express my faith? And, as a life-long questioner, being the recipient of another’s evangelization causes me to become defensive, to take a “devil’s advocate” position, and to engage in the war of words that rarely brings peace and, likely, has never changed a mind or heart. Ultimately, God does the work, we plant the seed.

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What a relief it is to not be responsible for changing another—to understand that it is not even desirable. Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was taught my religion was the “one, true faith” and, later, in a brief experience with fundamentalism, the imminent rapture was the approach used to share the Gospel, to convince others that they should accept Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior” in order not be “left behind.” Neither of these experiences fit the faith I have grown into. Feeling judged, wrong, inadequate or afraid does not bring love into another’s life.

Being open to hearing who God is to another brings an appreciation of diversity.  Just when we think we know for certain who God is, we presume to know God’s desires for others or that God is for us and not for others, or that I am better than another who seems less religious or spiritual.  Wilde shares that even monks can offer diverse viewpoints, “The different voices reflect different perspectives on faith, they give listeners the freedom to choose, and they show something of God’s variety and richness, which can be expressed in so many ways.”

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What a comfort (and not in a lazy, everything-goes kind of way) to hear that God is open to diverse ways of seeing and expressing our faith. It is important to try to see another viewpoint and to challenge our own beliefs. We do not betray our religious, political, and cultural beliefs or opinions by challenging our own assumptions. Quite the opposite, being absolutely certain about something is probably the biggest sign of ignorance and self-righteousness.

“So how can we find the right, fitting, respectful language with which to express something of our faith?”  Wilde continues, If we open up and show ourselves to others in faith, we should do it only in such a way that they later feel themselves more loved and accepted, more regarded and respected, a little more whole, joyful and satisfied.”

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It is not our job to convince someone of believing just this or that—our faith is shared only to bring peace and perspective. Love is meant to be shared. “Love wants to express itself…God doesn’t want to keep his divinity to himself. He wants to share it. He is ultimately inclusive, one might say that he wants all to have life, divine life, in abundance,” Wilde writes.  If sharing one’s faith is not done in love, it is not from God. Perhaps this could be said for anything we share.

I am forever grateful for the years of insight shared by Fr. Mauritius–through a variety of retreats, podcasts on the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, spiritual direction, and most recently his first book in English, Be Yourself! The Call of A Christian, which I highly recommend.

Join Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB for a book sharing at St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska, Sunday, June 9, 2019.  For more info, see website.

Additional resources:
In place of self-righteousness…seeking God” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB
“The Monk, the Missionary Spirit and Evangelization” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB
Wilde Monk, Cherishing Christ Above All, a blog by Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB

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Trust: Justice Breaks Forth Like the Light

Deep prayer, or contemplation, requires a commitment. Prayer can happen anytime, anywhere, in an instant, but deep prayer requires attention and intention to create pockets of silence in our day to listen to what the Divine is revealing. God speaks always and in diverse ways, but it is our own awareness that must be cultivated.

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The practice of Lectio and Visio Divina, sacred reading and seeing, is a prayer practice that helps me slow down, to be quiet, to become aware and to listen. The value of Lectio Divina is that our understanding of Scripture or other spiritual writing is influenced by what is happening in our life. The richness of what we read can breathe new life into us and bring new thoughts for us to consider again and again.

Recently Fr. Mauritius Wilde wrote about how God broke into daily reading with words that he has likely repeated thousands of time through the years. But one day, these words “I put my trust in you” (Psalm 55:24) resonated with him differently. He shares in a blog post titled, I Put My Trust in You, “In God we trust, I trust in God… how quickly are we ready to say that? Do we really mean it? To be honest, sometimes trust comes naturally to me, but other times, however, I have difficulty trusting. There are often good reasons not to trust–bad experiences, hurts of the past, knowledge of things and people, realism.”

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Psalm 55 settled upon Fr. Mauritius, inspiring more reflection. This is the way that God works. “We can sit with a sacred text in the dark fields of the mind, and suddenly by grace, we have a moment of illumination.” (Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art, Christine Valters Painter, Ph.D.) The beauty of reading sacred texts, either anew or upon reexamination, and following a Lectio Divina practice, create the space to savor words that begin to settle in, taking form and shape in our heart.

Wilde shares, “Sometimes I find myself weak in trusting God. It is not because of God, it is because I trust rather myself, even more–my own intelligence, my experience, the things that give me security. Only when those things are taken away from me, do I realize what trusting God really means.”  

This idea of trusting God rested “in the dark fields” of my mind for several days. I wondered about how much I trust God. I have my ideas and my opinions about how situations should play out and how people should behave or believe. When I feel that I am not in control, my go-to emotion is anger. But it wasn’t until praying the Divine Office that I read Psalm 37, and the words “Calm your anger and forget your rage” led to “a moment of illumination.” To go deeper with this relationship between anger and trust, I began to practice creative Lectio Divina—reading the text while also drawing, writing, and coloring—letting the words sink in deeper.

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I recognized what NOT trusting God actually looks and feels like—full of fret, anger, rage which according to this Psalm, leads to evil. And I wondered, why do I not trust? I read slowly, feeling the shimmer of these words—Surrender to God. Do not fret because of the wicked. Commit your life to the Lord. Trust in him and he will act so that your justice breaks forth like the Light. Be Still. Calm your anger and forget your rage. The patient, the humble, shall inherit the land and enjoy the fullness of peace.

It becomes clear to me, that this listening with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict instructs, leads one to see in a new light. What may feel like justified anger, an emotional response to not being in control, is actually not trusting God. Trusting God means that our personal agenda­ must be set aside for the promise that God is working in and around all that works for (or against) light, love, patience, humility, and peace.

Justice will indeed “break forth like the light.” God will make all things fair and right. My job is to surrender, to let go of anger, to be patient, humble, and loving— to trust. Anger and peace cannot coexist; trust alone leads to peace. 

Read Fr. Mauritius’ blog post in its entirety HERE.

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Seeking God Together: Kathleen Norris to speak at St. Benedict Center

On June 28 – 29, 2019, award-winning poet, writer, and best-selling author Kathleen Norris will come to St. Benedict Center, four miles north of Schuyler, Nebraska, and speak on the topic of Seeking God Together. On Friday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m. she will give an evening presentation, followed by discussion and sharing.  On Saturday, June 29, she will present from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Genuine spirituality is not an individual pursuit but must be anchored in one’s local community. This means a constant struggle between freedom and obedience, listening and asserting oneself, possessing and letting go, clinging to stability and embracing change. Spiritual formation is part of life, not only for monastics but for married couples, parents, children, and members of faith communities. But formation is difficult, and demands that we be accountable to others.

Kathleen Norris believes that one reason many people resist joining groups is that they fear losing their individual freedom. Such freedom is illusory, however, and leaves us susceptible to narcissism and materialism. Norris will be bringing stories of her own formation, as well as those of monastic people, and invite participants to bring their own stories to share. Her presentations will be at once intimate and historical, rich in poetry and meditations, brimming with exasperation and reverence, deeply grounded in both nature and spirit, sometimes funny, often provocative and always important. Continue reading “Seeking God Together: Kathleen Norris to speak at St. Benedict Center”

The Desert Experience

April 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Topic: The Desert, Life In Solitude
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert and was tempted.

To be led by the Spirit requires listening and obedience to God, one of the three promises of a Benedictine monk, sister or oblate.  Jesus was a listener. After his baptism in the Jordan, which prepared him for his journey ahead, Jesus was called into desert time.

Desert time is often associated with time for solitude.  “Seeking solitude means searching for a time to be alone.” (Beil) Time alone can be renewing and recharging, a dedicated opportunity for reflection and prayer, a time for us to see more clearly and to put our struggles into proper perspective. It is important to go to the desert to come closer to God. “The desert journey was a time of learning to know and to trust God, but also an increase in self-knowledge.” (Beil) The desert time gives us a deepening awareness of our thoughts. We can never fully escape our struggles and temptations—time alone reminds us often it is our own thoughts and behaviors that are our biggest obstacles. Continue reading “The Desert Experience”

Being Benedictine in the 21st Century: Spiritual Seekers in Conversation

You are invited to “Being Benedictine in the 21st Century: Spiritual Seekers in Conversation,” planned for June 26-28, 2020 at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS. This opportunity marks the first-ever gathering of professed Benedictines, Oblates, staff, volunteers, friends and benefactors of Benedictine ministries and monasteries, and any seeker who has read The Rule of St. Benedict and experienced a conversion of heart.

The Rule of St. Benedict, a text written in the sixth century for monks living in community, contains wisdom that can be applied to the questions and pressing needs of the 21st century for those seeking purpose, inclusivity and connection—Catholic and Protestant, professed monks, religious leaders, Benedictine Oblates and spiritual seekers, young and old, married and single. Many have found the Rule, relevant 1500 years later, to be a guidebook for growing a deeper relationship to God and others. Benedictine values, including listening, community and consensus building, hospitality, humility, prayer and good work, provide an antidote for troubled times.

We will hear from speakers including Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, one of our visionary spiritual voices, and Oblate authors Kathleen Norris and Judith Valente and engage in facilitated conversation and idea generation. We will put special emphasis on inviting the participation of Millennials, people in their twenties and thirties who often eschew formal religion but still seek an authentic experience of faith in action.

This conference will not dwell so much on exploring what is but rather it will focus on, “What are the important questions we haven’t yet asked?” Through listening and dialogue informed by Benedictine values, the teachings of Vatican II and inclusive theologies—inclusive of women, the environment, the oppressed, the refugee—our goal is to come away from this conference with a new roadmap for spreading the light of Benedictine spirituality well into the 21st century.

Being Benedictine is the foundation of my life. Being Benedictine is a commitment to lifelong learning and prayer. Being Benedictine is experienced by following the promises of obedience, stability, and conversion of life.

All are welcome to Being Benedictine. I look forward to meeting other spiritual seekers in Atchison, Kansas in June 2020! 

Learn more about “Being Benedictine in the 21st Century: Spiritual Seekers in Conversation” Conference or contact conference co-chairs:

Linda Romey, OSB — linda@monasteriesoftheheart.org
Judith Valente, Oblate — jvalente17@msn.com

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Transitus of St. Benedict: Happy Feast Day!

Happy Feast Day of St. Benedict!

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On March 21, Benedictines around the world celebrate the “transitus of St. Benedict, the day Benedict entered eternity. “Transitus” in Latin means passing from one state to the next—death is not the end of life, but the transition into eternity with God.  It is one of two days that St. Benedict is recognized on the Benedictine calendar.

Since this feast day is always during Lent, another commemoration date was set when Pope Paul VI declared St. Benedict the Patron of Europe at the rededication of the Church at Monte Cassino on July 11, 1964. July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict for the Universal Church. Only Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist are remembered with both their birthdays and their day of entry into heaven.

St. Gregory the Great writes about St. Benedict’s last days:

“Six days before he died, he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately, he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally, on the sixth day, he had his disciples carry him into the chapel where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and, as he prayed, breathed his last.” (St. Gregory the Great, Book Two of Dialogues, chapter 37).

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Montecassino Abbey, the statue depicts the passing of St. Benedict

 

Feedback is always welcome if there are topics, resources, inspiration or information you would like to see at BeingBenedictine.  For more information and inspiration on St. Benedict and his Rule, here are a few resources–

Podcasts and blog about the Rule St. Benedict and Benedictine spirituality by Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of St. Anselmo’s in Rome.

St. Benedict Center blog includes newsletters from Fr. Thomas including information about upcoming retreats, building needs, news from the monastery and inspiration for your daily life.

The Benedictine Mission House includes updates about missions around the world and other monastery information from Brother Tobias.

Being Benedictine on Facebook.

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life” Rule of St. Benedict, 72:11.

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I Don’t Know Nothin’

I don’t know nothin’.

Six years ago today, my father-in-law Marv passed away—so today, more than usual, I am thinking of him and missing our kitchen table conversations. We would talk about politics and religion, the economy and education, and the best brands of Cabernet for the cheapest prices. After sharing his wisdom, attempting to solve world problems, and philosophizing over a glass of wine, Marv would throw up his hands in disbelief and exclaim, “What do I know? I don’t know nothin’.”

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Marv and I enjoying some cheap Cabernet in Las Vegas.

He had thoughts, opinions and plenty of experience, but, self-admittedly, he felt he still didn’t know much. Marv said it often enough that it was the opening line in the eulogy my husband gave for his dad’s funeral. This phrase, “I don’t know nothin’” holds so much meaning, far beyond a simple or flippant segue into another subject, rather I believe he was saying “I have ideas, but I will stay open to other possibilities.”

I’m sure there was a time or two when he knew exactly how things should be, but they didn’t turn out the way he expected, as so often happens. Perhaps he meant—I surrender needing to know. Perhaps he meant—I don’t know it all. I don’t know the big picture. I don’t have all the answers. I thought I knew a lot, but now, I wonder if I know much at all. I am humbled by what I do not know.

I’m not sure if Marv meant all those things when he said “I don’t know nothin’,” but it does show that he left room for not knowing, for mystery. He knew he wasn’t in charge of all things true… and he admitted it many, many times. Marvin’s expression of humility is the bedrock of being Benedictine. According to St. Benedict, “Divine Scripture calls to us saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.’” (RB 7:1) Marv was willing to share his wisdom, but he also knew he didn’t know everything. We could stand a little more of Marv’s humility in this country.

My husband, Joe, also shared this about his father:My dad was one of the most caring men I knew… Even with seven kids in a small house…he opened our home up to pregnant teenage girls at a time when it was not socially acceptable to do so. He didn’t care what other people thought.

 He helped Vietnamese refugees acclimate themselves to American culture.  He would take them around and show them how things are done in the United States. He would spend his time volunteering in prison ministries.

 He was always concerned about those less fortunate than him.  I think his main concern is whether people in this world would get enough to eat. There isn’t one kid, grandchild or even a friend or two that he hasn’t helped or offered to help at one time and he never expected anything in return…He truly had a passion for helping others, a giving heart… When we were kids, it didn’t matter what friend we brought home, my dad would say “there is room for one more at the table, come and join us…welcome!”

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Marvin, Mary and their seven little kids. Circa 1967

St. Benedict instructed his monks, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35)” (RB 53:1) Marv, although he didn’t call it that, was being Benedictine. He lived and breathed hospitality.

Marv was almost 80 years old when he died, but age doesn’t really matter when we are on a journey to knowing (and unknowing) ourselves. Marv was a humble man who gave of himself in so many ways. If this is what knowing nothin’ is like, sign me up. We could all stand to be a bit more like Marvin.

Joe closed the eulogy for his dad with this beautiful image—“Now that he is in Heaven with Pappy, Grandma Alice, Grandpa Ambrose, Grandmother Margaret, brothers Gerald and Don, sister Doris and all those who went before him….they are all seated at the Father’s table and they are saying, “Marvin, there is room for one more at the Father’s table, come and join us….welcome home!”

“God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)  Joe’s mother was also a compassionate, cheerful giver. Read more about Mary Gehr here. In honor of their generosity and hospitality, we dedicated a park bench at the front doors of St. Benedict Center, an ecumenical retreat center with a mission of hospitality, to Marvin and Mary Gehr.

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My husband, Joe, pictured with the bench in honor of his parent.

 

 

 

You Are Free

I’ve written before about choosing a “Word of the Year.” This year, I chose a phrase to serve as my spiritual mantra—three life-changing words that came as a gift of grace when I felt torn between two possibilities and needed to make a difficult decision.

For me, the process of discernment, especially when I have strong feelings or attachments, often begins with compulsive mental role-playing. I replay conversations—what was said, what was meant, what could have been said, and now what? Once I am able to slow down my thoughts, create some space, and breathe, I can face a decision more calmly and with a spiritual perspective. I write out my thoughts and feelings, ask questions of myself and God, and listen to what might be beneath the words. I write as prayer, knowing that, so often, an answer is revealed.

The decision I needed to make felt particularly heartbreaking. Feeling desperate, I reached out to a spiritual companion and asked for prayers.

Asking for prayers was admitting I needed help.
Asking for prayers was an act of vulnerability, humility, and surrender for me.
Asking for prayers helped me to be even more prayerful about my situation. I surrendered to God for the answer that my obsessive thinking would not bring.
Asking for prayers opened me for the words that came. Continue reading “You Are Free”

From who we are to who we might become

February 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Conversion

Luke 5:27-32Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Jesus saw something in Levi—that he was both a tax collector and open to an invitation to follow him. Levi worked with the oppressive Roman Empire, likely judged as greedy and affluent at the expense of others, but Jesus saw his potential.

So often we see people or situations as either/or, not both/and. We see the tax collector, or a politician, or social media as either good or bad, quickly making blanket statements or judgments to categorize into one or the other. But Jesus does not see Levi as one or the other, he sees Levi, and us, as both/and—as who we are and who we might become. Continue reading “From who we are to who we might become”

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