The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Looking back and glancing ahead

Once again, it's time for a little vacation.

The past year has been a busy but (hopefully) fruitful one. At Abbey Press, there was the publication of The Way to Eternal Life and the new Pathways book series, as well as several other projects (including more titles in the Catholic Perspectives CareNotes series, which have experienced a substantial increase in sales over the last year).

I am currently working on a book tentatively titled Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God's Sustaining Word along Life's Journey. This will be a compilation of scriptural reflections I have written, most of them adapted from blog posts over the last five years. This project will be my primary focus for much of the summer. The book is due for release by Abbey Press' Path of Life Publications in the fall.

In addition, I have completed the first course (Biblical Foundations of Spirituality) in the three-year spiritual direction graduate certificate program I am enrolled in here at the School of Theology. The second course, History of Christian Spirituality, begins June 23. A handful of spiritual directees I meet and correspond with regularly are also teaching me a great deal along the way!

Of course, I also continue to work with the Benedictine oblate program, and have traveled quite a bit the last year throughout Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio to present conferences at various chapter meetings.

Also, I was blessed to have an article titled "Stillness in Prayer: The Desert Fathers and Thomas Merton" published in the Fall 2012 issue of the journal Spiritual Life.

Incidentally, I am also celebrating 10 years of sobriety, a grace which I continue to marvel at and treasure.

First and foremost among my work, obviously, is the daily ora et labora of community life as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, a gift from God without which none of the above would be possible. Ten years ago, I never would have imagined being a Benedictine monk. My vocation as a monk (going on seven years now) is perhaps the greatest gift for which I must not only give thanks, but be responsible for nurturing day in and day out. Admittedly, some days I do that better than others, but each day--as St. Antony of the Desert said--I begin again.

With all that in mind, I am taking a two-week break in a couple days. I will be on vacation June 1-16, so during that time I will not be posting anything new here (of course, you are always free to browse the "re-runs."). The first week, I will be honoring my "inner hermit," staying in a hermitage for some prayerful reading, reflection, and writing (sorry, the location is confidential). The second week will be spent with family and friends in Ohio and West Virginia. One highlight, I'm sure, will be the first birthday party of my nephew Evan (he is growing so fast).

Upon my return, the book project previously mentioned, a talk I'm adapting for a Catholic Perspectives CareNote on the topic of addiction, along with my next class in the spiritual direction program, will keep me busy for much of the summer and beyond. And, of course, I hope to post occasionally here. Until then, a few words from St. Paul which are always worthwhile for meditation:
Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. … As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:1-3; 12-17

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mystery of faith

"The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity
is the central mystery of Christian faith and life."
Cathechism of the Catholic Church No. 234


Christians are baptized in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit;
not in their names,
for there is only one God,
the almighty Father,
his only Son,
and the Holy Spirit:
the Most Holy Trinity.

Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 233

"Strive to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called
to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all
and through all
and in all."

Ephesians 4:3-6

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ordinary prayer and faith

"Christina's World," Andrew Wyeth, 1948

“Ask and you will receive,” Jesus tells his disciples (John 16:24). But he also says that we are to ask in accordance with his will: “If you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”

This week has marked the resumption of Ordinary Time in the liturgical year of the Church. After 40 days of Lent and 50 days of Easter, we are now in the seventh week of ordinary time, picking up where we left off a few months ago. The anticipation of Advent, the festivity of Christmas, the intensity of Lent, and the jubilation of Easter are all behind us for another year. Now we are embarking on a long stretch (six months) during which we are called (for the most part) to find Christ in the day-to-day, unremarkable, ordinariness of human living.

It seems altogether appropriate, then, that the week began with Monday’s Gospel reading (Mark 9:14-29) pointing us toward the importance of prayer and faith in our daily lives. Although it may be argued, on one level, that what Jesus does in this particular passage—healing a boy by expelling the demon tormenting him—is anything but ordinary, the overall message is one of entrusting everything to God through prayer and faith. After all, such demons as doubt, despair, spiritual idleness, and so many others are daily companions, tempting us to lose all hope in a God who seems absent or oblivious, as we aimlessly flail away, seemingly at the mercy of life’s frustrations and disappointments.

Such is the scene at the outset of this Gospel passage. Things are out of control. A man has brought his possessed son to Jesus’ disciples to be healed. However, whatever they try, nothing works. A fierce argument breaks out. This is the setting into which Jesus appears. After finding out what all the commotion is about, Jesus expresses exasperation with all of them. “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?”

But Jesus does not throw up his hands and simply walk away. “Bring [the boy] to me,” he says. When this is done, the spirit possessing him flings the boy into convulsions. His father says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Once again, Jesus is taken aback. “If you can!” he retorts. “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” This is the key moment upon which the whole event turns. The father acknowledges his lack of faith while at the same time expressing an earnest desire for more faith. In other words, he prays.

“I do believe, help my unbelief!” he says.

Jesus then expels the unclean spirit. Order is restored from chaos. 

Later, when Jesus is alone with his disciples, they ask him why they were not able to do what he did. “This kind can only come out through prayer,” he responds. 

Prayer expresses our faith. Other things do, too (such as works of mercy), but prayer is foremost because it acknowledges our need to be in right relationship with God. It is our relationship with God. Prayer is God’s invitation to dedicate our time and being to a fuller appreciation of the divine so that our vision broadens and our hearts expand with Love. It is a lifelong rhythm of listening and responding to God’s call for conversion of heart—personally and communally.

Prayer is not a means by which we attempt to persuade God to give us this or that, or to do this or that. It is open, honest, full-hearted conversation with a God who loves us beyond measure, so that we may become our true selves in the divine image. We pray to be changed into who God wishes us to be—not orphans, but children. 

Jesus instructs us to pray always (Luke 18:1) so as not to lose heart. Many times throughout the gospels, after expelling a demon or healing someone, his parting words are: “Your faith has saved you.” Wealth, honor, health, success, and so many other things may all be well and good. As dutiful Christians, we may strive for perfection to the point of exhaustion. But in the end, it is our faith that saves us—faith in the unfathomable and ineffable mystery of God’s indisputable and merciful presence in our lives despite what the world’s values and circumstances seem to suggest. After all, as the Letter to the Hebrews famously states: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).

So, we must pray as did the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith!”, or as did the possessed boy’s father: “I do believe; help my unbelief!” These are honest expressions of acknowledged incompleteness. In them, we state our desire to be freed from whatever holds us back from God. Even when we are in the grips of the deepest doubt, we can confidently pray for more faith.

“Ask and you will receive,” Jesus says. True faith is a gift that cannot be refused to the one who prays for it. In this way, we find Christ in the day-to-day, unremarkable, ordinariness of human living. “Remember,” Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

So, let us pray--this day and every day, all day and for all days. Everything is possible to one who has faith--even grasping what seems just beyond our reach.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


"I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!"

Luke 12:49

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful,
and enkindle in them
the fire of your love.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brought to new mysteries

Hear in your compassion,
our prayers, O Lord,
that, as we have been brought
from things of the past
to new mysteries,
so, with former ways
left behind,
we may be made new
in holiness of mind.
Through Christ our Lord.

Closing prayer for today's Mass
Roman Missal, 3rd Ed.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Building blocks

"You are fellow citizens
of the saints and members
of the household of God.
You form a building
which rises on the
foundation of the
apostles and prophets,
with Chris Jesus himself
as the capstone.
Through him,
the whole structure
is fitted together
and takes shape
as a holy temple
in the Lord.
In him you are
being built
into this temple,
to become a
dwelling place
for God
in the Spirit."

Ephesians 2:19-20

Friday, May 10, 2013

Requiescat in pace

Br. Terence

Fr. Scott
Saint Meinrad Archabbey gave up two gentle souls to their eternal rewards this week. Late Sunday evening, the monastery’s Br. Terence Griffin, passed away at age 84. Early this morning, seminarian Scott Carroll passed away at age 46 after struggling with cancer. Both will be missed by monks, seminarians, co-workers, family members, and friends. All of us long—at the proper time—to be brought together by Christ to everlasting life.

If I had to choose one word to describe both of these persons, it would be gentle. And if I could choose two more applicable to each, those would be generous and gracious.

Br. Terence, whose funeral Mass was held Wednesday, served in many capacities during his monastic life. More recent guests and employees of the Hill likely encountered him as assistant guest master in the Archabbey Church and as custodian of the Monte Cassino Shrine’s rosary pilgrimages. He was also quite a singer (a tenor to the max). Although quite astute, Br. Terence approached life simply, and with a healthy sense of humor. Like anyone, he had his faults, but to me, he personified the word “monk.” In my own way, I hope to follow his good example.

Scott was a seminarian, not a monk. Still, we were nearly the same age (I’ll be 48 in September), were from the same diocese (Toledo), and both lived in the city of Maumee, Ohio, before coming to Saint Meinrad—Scott to the seminary, and myself to the monastery. He had been in formation here since I was a novice, and we were in several classes together. A genuinely good person, he told me a month or so ago that whatever the future held, he only hoped to be ordained and to receive his first pastoral assignment. Those hopes were realized on Wednesday, when he was ordained by Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair at his parents’ home, and was officially named associate pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Maumee (originally, he was to be ordained along with his classmates on June 22 after graduating from Saint Meinrad). Fr. Scott is now a priest forever.

May Br. Terence and Fr. Scott, along with all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace—and may God comfort and strengthen those who mourn their passing.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spring on the Hill

New life in Christ

My little nephew Evan was baptized this past weekend in West Virginia. I was privileged (and very happy) to be present for his initiation into the Catholic faith. Chattering away loudly during the homily, Evan seemed pretty pleased with himself, too--until it came time for his head to get a little wet! Then again, he cried the first time he was born, too! Afterward, he celebrated with a five-hour nap.

Pictured above bringing Evan to new life in Christ is Msgr. Joseph Peterson, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Parkersburg, my brother-in-law Ty and my sister Shannon. The photograph, as well as the one directly below, was taken by Shannon and Ty's friend and neighbor, Don Miller. (The other two--taken at the party afterward--were shot by yours truly).

A side note: While visiting the parish, I was struck by how many connections there are with Saint Meinrad. A handful of parishioners introduced themselves to me as Benedictine oblates of Saint Meinrad. Another is a deacon candidate in Saint Meinrad's formation program, and yet another is the brother of the benefactor responsible for Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology's Mader Learning Center.

There are other connections, of course. Many of the monks here--and a couple in particular--prayed for and with Ty and Shannon to be blessed with a child, especially on the occasion of my solemn profession in January 2011 (when the two had been married for four months). Evan was born in June 2012. His name, a variation of John, means "The Lord is gracious." His middle name, Richard, is in tribute to Shannon's (and my) father, Richard, who died 10 years ago this coming May 18 (Evan and I share the same middle name!). Those events 10 years ago started the dominoes falling in terms of my own spiritual awakening and eventual religious vocation.

While I continue with my own journey as a Benedictine monk, it has been wonderful to participate in the mystery of God's salvation at work in Evan and his parents Ty and Shannon, as well as in Evan's half-brother Ian. May God guide all his faithful as we strive to persevere in our commitment to journey with and toward Christ in faith, hope, and love.

God, indeed, is good and gracious!