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The Rule of St. Benedict

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.” 

faith

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.”

show faith

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.

child wonder

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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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

being benedictine in 21st century

 

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.

 

 

 

In Praise of Words and Less Words

Sometimes I just don’t know when to shut up. Words, words, and more words.

I love words—to write them and to read them. I have been considering how I use words after reading The Power of Words by Joe Kay at Living Gracefully. It ­shined a light on the word wars often waged in my head, in conversation, in writing—either on social media or my personal journaling.

In some ways, I give words too much power. I think if I keep talking I might find just the right words to communicate my point better. Maybe my words weren’t effective, or they weren’t heard the way I intended, or my words were rejected—so I try again with more words, thinking “this time” I will be understood or be able to help another understand. Maybe “this time” we will come to an agreement or reach a hoped-for reconciliation.

But words do have power, Kay writes “Martin Luther King, Jr., understood the power of words. He spoke so beautifully and prophetically about his dream of a world in which everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God.

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Words have the power to inspire us, touch us, and transform us for better or worse, depending upon which words we choose to allow inside of us. They can bring us more peace, love and justice, or they can increase our levels of division, fear and hatred. In the last few months, we’ve been reminded how easy it is to get sucked into the pool of hateful words. Continue reading “In Praise of Words and Less Words”

Flood the World with Love

Weekend mornings are made for slowing down—for sipping coffee crowned in frothy milk, catching up on reading, and listening to some of my favorite music. This morning my meditation consisted of listening countless times to “I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer and spiritual teacher, and accidentally reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

Both song and scripture are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must flood the world with love. Continue reading “Flood the World with Love”

The Future Is The Spirit’s Work

Benedictine Oblates have a commitment to a specific monastery to live out their spirituality in the world according to the Rule of St. Benedict. But what is the future of Benedictine monasticism?  As monastic vocations decrease, monasteries have been forced to consider their future, either merging with other monasteries or closing altogether. How might Oblates respond to this uncertain future?

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Sister Joan Chittister addressed this theme at the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome in November 2017. She asks, “The question of the day is a simple one but potentially life-changing one: the question is why would anyone even bother to get attached to a Benedictine monastery?”

Fr. Joel Macul, Prior of Christ the King Priory, also addressed the future of Benedictine Oblates at the Benedictine Oblates Regional Conference at St. Benedict Center held in September 2018.

He begins: “We can ask ourselves why we are raising this question or topic in the first place. What prompts us to raise it? It is certainly not because the Oblate community is diminishing! Is it because the some of the communities to which Oblates belong are diminishing and Oblates might be left high and dry? Or perhaps it is a concern about Oblate communities in lands where Benedictine life is new, communities are young and the Oblate experience has no precedence? Or is there something about our culture, our American culture that makes the question of the future so important?

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While I do not consider myself a prophet in the sense of predicting a future for Benedictine life let alone Oblate life, I can fall back on the Prophet Joel.  The best future I can invite you to consider is to listen to the word of God through the prophet Joel who simply says: “It shall come to pass (code words for the future) I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…” It is clear enough. The future lies with the Spirit and our willingness and readiness to recognize its presence. According to the prophet, old and young, sons and daughters, male and female, servants and slaves will receive this gift of the spirit. The Spirit is God’s future or plan. When we can trust that Spirit, we are standing in God. And being in God is the future for ourselves, as well as humanity and our created world. If we co-opt God’s Spirit or start writing God’s plan, then theologically, we have no future. Any threads of the future will have to have the deep and inexhaustible richness of color of the Spirit. The future of anything Christian, including the Benedictine monastic way, lies with the Spirit. It is assumed that the Benedictine way is itself a gift of the Spirit and so holds within it the Spirit’s creative power. Continue reading “The Future Is The Spirit’s Work”

Community: To Be Fashioned and Tried

June 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Community

We continued our discussion on Community from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72 using 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30 for Lectio Divina.

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Words and phrases that resonated with oblates became the springboard for our discussion—

  • seem to be weaker are all the more necessary
  • God placed the parts…as he intended
  • if one part suffers, all parts suffer with it
  • baptized in one body
  • there may be no division in the body
  • all given to drink of one spirit
  • now you are Christ’s body and individually parts of it
  • many are one body
  • our less presentable parts are treated w/ greater propriety
  • eye to hand—I do not need you
  • if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy

From the very first book of the Bible, we hear it is not good for us to live alone. One of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill” could be understood metaphorically—that when we cut someone out of our community, we are killing that person’s role. There is a loss when we don’t honor each person in the community—we need all the parts.

When we judge that someone (a part) is unimportant and exclude them, we miss part of our body. Consider the marginalized in our society—the elderly, the poor, and the immigrant, among others—who are seen as less honorable or less presentable to the group. With our own perception and judgment, we kill off segments of the population that are the body of Christ.

Each of us has a special place in the body for our own community. But, still, we ask ourselves, in frustration—do I really need others? Do they really need me? But, yes, we are made to live together; no man is an island. We need others to realize our own weaknesses and strengths. For example, each of us in our oblate group has a role. We complement each other with our individual talents—we cannot all be the arm; we need the whole body to work together. Our group grows in relationship when we honor the talents of others and work together. Continue reading “Community: To Be Fashioned and Tried”

Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow

May 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Community

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“Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10) supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.” (RB:72)

Learning to live well in community is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality and the topic of Chapter 72 in the Rule of St. Benedict.  “A person living in solitary retirement will not readily discern his own defects, since he has no one to admonish and correct him with mildness and compassion.” (Beil, Study Guide) Continue reading “Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow”

Suicide: That Voice In Your Head is a Liar

I don’t know Kate Spade. I don’t own any of her purses or other products. I’m not fashion-conscious by any stretch of the imagination—my daughter/personal shopper will vouch for that. But the news that Kate Spade—a beautiful, wealthy, creative woman—has ended her life has me in tears.

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There are many unanswered questions for those left behind when someone takes their own life. I wonder about this woman I do not know. Were there demons in her head that told her she wasn’t enough, that there was no hope for healing her pain, that she was a burden to those who love her? I wonder about her husband, her child and her close friends. I wonder if she reached out for help. I wonder why her love for her daughter seems not to have been enough to override her feelings of despair. So many questions…

I immediately reached out to my own daughter—“If you ever ever ever feel that kind of depression or desperation, please please please reach out…It is never true—that evil voice in our head that says life isn’t worth it or that pain cannot be overcome. If there is a devil, that is it, that voice. It is a liar.” I thought of a former student who loved Kate Spade and her products—I sent her a message too. “This is shocking news but a testament that no one is immune.”

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So often we think that the rich and famous, or educated, funny, spiritual (or any of the qualities we covet), do not struggle with depression and despair. But they are human, too. Even Kate Spade, who chose to end her life, must have felt she had no choice. There is a mystery to suicide. There is much we do not know or understand, but we should not blame those involved and/or think that it happens only to others. Continue reading “Suicide: That Voice In Your Head is a Liar”

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