The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Saints

“Since we are surrounded
by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves
of every burden and sin
that clings to us and persevere
in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


"May the Lord direct your hearts
into the love of God and into the patience of Christ."
2 Thessalonians 3:5

"Christian's Workshop," Giandomenico Jardella 

Lately, my diet of spiritual reading has included some monastic literature on the virtue of patience, a fruit of the Holy Spirit most of us would do well to cultivate more diligently. Scripture, of course, also has plenty to offer on the topic, and I’ve noticed that recent weekday Mass readings have occasionally contained allusions to patience and its close relative, the theological virtue of hope. In today’s readings, for example, St. Paul speaks of hoping for what we do not see, of waiting with endurance amid present sufferings (Romans 8:18-25), while Jesus assures us that the Kingdom of God grows among us slowly and silently—yet steadily and successfully (Luke 13:18-21).

In a monastic context, patience is honed primarily though the experience of living in community. As St. Benedict says in his Rule, monks should support “with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior” (72:5). This is a challenge for each one of us, no matter one’s station in life. Interaction within and among families, workplaces, various assemblies, societies, and nations is the hammer that drives the chisel of patience in (hopefully) smoothing out our rough edges. Of course, one has to be open to such shaping and sculpting, and not resist or—God forbid—retaliate. And so, patience is something we must actively pray for, and nourish regularly with Scripture and the Sacraments.

Patience is a product of the cardinal virtue of fortitude, which assists us with “firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1808). The three grades of patience, according to John A. Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary, are: “to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and even to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy.”

Many things, of course, can try our patience, while simultaneously providing the opportunity to fortify or display it. Some can be quite severe, while others are more bothersome than anything else: the vicissitudes of the natural world; illness, physical pain or distress, sorrow and grief; pinpricks of annoyance or irritation that inevitably develop in human relationships (one might also insert here the frustrations that arise from traffic delays, computer failures, and the like); emotional and mental anxiety prompted by insults, scorn, disagreements, misunderstandings, and falsehoods; and the spiritual afflictions associated with genuinely seeking God—temptations, distractions, aridity, etc.

On this last score, it seems to me that those who are serious about the spiritual life can be mercilessly impatient with themselves. My own personal experiences, as well as those related to me by spiritual directees, reinforce the notion that we expect near-immediate proficiency, perception, and perfection—like a toddler attempting to run before first learning to crawl. And while the toddler will eventually gain his feet (one would hope), the fact is that we will never be completely proficient, perceptive, and perfect in the spiritual sense—not in this world, anyway. By extension, if we cannot patiently accept imperfection in ourselves, we will never be able to tolerate it in others or in the world around us.

In this regard, a few words from my patron saint are in order—excerpted from a wonderful letter written to a discouraged young woman more than 400 years ago (but just as relevant today):
These interior troubles you have suffered have been caused by a great multitude of considerations and desires produced by an intense eagerness to attain some imaginary perfection. I mean that your imagination had formed for you an ideal of absolute perfection. 
So now, take a little breath and rest a little. … Know that the virtue of patience is the one that most assures us of perfection; and if we must have patience with others, so we must with ourselves. Those who aspire to the pure love of God have not so much need of patience with others as with themselves. We must suffer our imperfection in order to have perfection. I say suffer, not love or pet; humility feeds on this suffering. 
I do not mean to say that we are not to put ourselves in that direction [of perfection]; but that we are not to desire to get there in one day. … Sometimes we occupy ourselves so much with being good angels that we neglect being good men and women. Our imperfections must accompany us to our coffin; we cannot walk without touching the earth.
If we keep these words of St. Francis de Sales in our minds and hearts, we will be eminently more capable of practicing patience with one another and within the circumstances in which we find ourselves each day. All, of course, after the pattern of Christ. May he bring us all together to everlasting life (Rule 72:11).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Seasonal "sacraments"

In the Rule of Saint Benedict we read, “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” This single verse offers spiritual wisdom about bodily death. Yet, when you read through the Rule, you will also have a sense of what can be called “death to self,” as part of St. Benedict’s spiri­tual doctrine for imitating and following Jesus Christ. Daily dying to one’s desires, wishes or self-will can be a measuring rod for asses­sing how seriously we keep death daily before our eyes, while seeking the things that are above.

At the moment we pass from our mother’s womb into the waiting world, our life moves toward death. To some, that thought may sound foreboding or morbid, yet it is a fact of life. This fact of life gives us perspective on how we choose to live (and sometimes how we choose to die), and how basic death is to the process of nature. It surrounds us each day. Light dies and gives way to darkness and sleep. Autumn shows us the process of dying and ushers in the winter when the death or deep slumber of so many things in nature reveals itself in stark landscapes.

However, we cannot forget that the darkness of night then gives way to the glories of a sunrise and fresh morning breezes. Likewise, the bitter cold and shorter days of winter pass to longer, warmer, and brighter days in spring, with signs of new life popping up everywhere. Nature teaches us that death is a passageway directing us to new life.

There is no one who has shown us this better than Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God. His words and deeds were a message of life and hope to those who first heard them and to those who hear them today. He approached his own ignominious death with the truth that sets a person free, and without fear of what lies ahead, trusting in the good­ness of God.

Throughout our lives, every one of us faces the call at numerous times to “let go” of our plans, our hopes, our wishes, and our will. These entail a death to self which enables us to let go of what we had hoped for so that something else (and not always something material!) may take its place.

How often should we bite our tongue rather than show annoy­ance with another over something of little concern? How often does patience invite us to overlook the idiosyncrasies of someone at work to keep peace in the office? How often do I have to jettison my plan for a project in a church group because another’s is better—or, another’s is equally as good?

Willingness to act in these ways is death to self, which then brings life, peace, and well-being—to others, and hopefully to us.

The single goal in life for the Christian is to become like Christ. Our experiences of death to self and of bodily death find special meaning in a passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. There St. Paul writes, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When he writes of “glory,” St. Paul refers to the paschal mystery of Jesus into which we are all incorporated—that is how our own life, suffering, and death are now shar­ing in the resurrection of Jesus. But for St. Paul, our glory includes not only the promise of res­urrection, but all the experiences of our life that are united to Jesus’ own life, suffer­ing, and death.

There is a little “sacrament” in nature that reminds us that our death to self is beautiful in the eyes of God. In the autumn of the year, the leaves that are turning brilliant yellow, bright orange, and deep red are actually in the process of dying. Their colors are deepest, brightest, and most brilliant as they are “in the process” of their death. That is also true for us. Our lives mirror the beauty of God’s plan for us as we die to self, and as we prepare to enter the eternal life for which we were created. This is the paschal mystery—new life through death!

--Rt. Rev. Gregory Polan, O.S.B.
Abbot of Conception Abbey, Missouri
Adapted from Sacred Rhythms
© 2011, Abbey Press

Friday, October 23, 2015

The "Voice of God"

Ever wonder what the bells high up within the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church's towers look like as they're ringing? Catch a glimpse with the above video, courtesy of the Saint Meinrad Vocations Office.

These are the four bells in the south bell tower (nearest to the school's buildings). There are two other, much larger, bells in the north tower. Those two ring only on special occasions--solemnities, professions and ordinations, funerals, etc. Still, the four bells in the video are quite large and heavy, not to mention loud. I've been up in that bell tower a few times, and can attest to that. It's not a place you want to be when the bells are actually ringing. Too loud for that--so a small camera was left on the platform to which the bells are anchored, and retrieved later.

The bells are being rung via ropes pulled by young monks far below at the base of the tower (off the Blessed Sacrament Chapel). This occurs--in varied numbers and patterns--prior to each time the monks gather in church for prayer or Mass (five times per day).

Since the bells serve as signals calling us to prayer--or "the Work of God," as St. Benedict terms it, many refer to their ringing as the "Voice of God."