God’s grace: always before us and after us
Posted by svobadm8230a on 01/20/17

The collect (opening prayer) for Mass for the 28th Week of Ordinary Time reads, “May Your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works.” (The words at all times and always are especially important!) It is easy to ignore such prayers at Mass; they pass by quickly and are not always pronounced distinctly by the celebrant. Furthermore, we ourselves are often not focused enough for the prayers to penetrate our minds. These prayers, however, have profound lessons for us; in fact, they are meant to teach us to live as we pray. In any case, of course, God’s grace is always before us and after us, but we are not always aware of it; so the prayer can help us to welcome the grace and respond to it. What a blessing it is to know that God’s grace, His very life, surrounds us always and beckons us to draw near to Him! What a blessing it is that God ever seeks to awaken us to that grace, drowsy though we often may be! Psalm 139 beautifully expounds on this pervasive presence: “O where can I go from Your spirit, or where can I flee from Your face? If I climb the heavens, You are there, If I lie in the grave, you are there” (Ps 139: 7-8). It seems almost too good to be true that God’s tenderly caring presence surrounds us and that, along with His presence, He offers us a multitude of benefits. If only we would be ready for them!

God’s presence sometimes manifest

Sometimes it is relatively easy to recognize God’s presence and activity, at least in retrospect. Certain events would never go so well if it were not for His guidance. In September I underwent eye surgery in Mercy Hospital, about an hour away from home. I had to be at the hospital by 5:30 A.M.; so my driver and I decided to set out at 4:00 A.M. It was a true grace that I awoke particularly early that morning (I do not use an alarm) and was able to pray Vigils and Lauds before we embarked on the trip. It was a grace, too, that we found the right hospital, especially since the doctor’s office had mailed me directions to a different hospital! Other genuine graces were evident in my being called in on time (7:30 A.M.) from the waiting room, in my being given warm blankets (the room for the surgery was cold!), in my receiving thoughtful explanations from the staff, in my feeling no pain, and in the surgery’s being successful. On top of it all, Br. Hugh and I arrived back at the Archabbey in time for Midday Prayer at 11:30. The summation of the details of the whole process could hardly leave any doubt that the Holy Spirit was guiding us and that God was present to help us to respond with praise and thanksgiving.

God’s presence in darker times

However, there are times when God seems distant or perhaps His presence is perceived as oppressive. When I return to my office after a few hours’ absence and find ten messages on my phone and see the huge pile of unopened mail on my desk, I am tempted to wonder why God does not give me some relief (or a few more hours) or heal my tendency to become anxious. When my goals for the day are shredded to pieces by unexpected interruptions, I am tempted to ask God why He leaves me in such disarray. When we have chronic health problems that show no signs of improvement, we may be tempted to worry about God’s apparent indifference. When we cannot resolve financial difficulties, we may tend to doubt God’s generous love. When our prayer feels dry and unfruitful for days or even for years, then we may feel, as Psalm 88 indicates, that “my one companion is darkness” (Ps 88:19). In reality, Psalm 88 provides a beautiful meditation for people who are not experiencing God’s presence but who wish to hang on to Him and not let go. By the very fact that the psalmist is praying to God throughout the psalm, it is clear that he never gives up hope. He begins, “Lord my God, I call for help by day; I cry at night before You” (verse 2); he prays all day and all night despite the darkness. He continues by questioning God and reminding Him that he would like to proclaim His wonders but is hampered by the forces of death: “Will You work Your wonders for the dead? Will the shades stand and praise You? Will Your love be told in the grave or Your faithfulness among the dead?” (verses 11-12). He is frustrated that God seems to reject him and hide His face (verse 15) and that He seems even to “sweep down upon me” like an enemy (verse 17). In all this there is the hidden grace that keeps the psalmist communicating His misery to God and apparently hoping that God will ultimately intervene, rescue him, and embrace him anew in His way and His time.
Insights from the Holy Rule

One might say that it is a specialty of Benedictines to seek God’s presence always and everywhere. Other spiritualities may emphasize certain ministries or devotions, but the way of St. Benedict is based on being attentive to Christ in every situation and responding to His presence ever more faithfully. The whole Rule challenges us to “believe that the divine presence is everywhere” (19:1), but we are to be especially attentive to His presence “when we celebrate the divine office” (19:5). Remembering that we are being watched - lovingly - by God, we must “consider … how we ought to behave in the presence of God and His angels” (19:6). The living, active presence of God is to affect our thoughts, our words, and our behavior. The whole monastery is established as “a school for the Lord’s service” (Prol: 45). The abbot, in particular, is to be mindful of God’s presence and of His call to serve in the name of Christ; he “must always remember what he is and remember what he is called [“abba,” father, representative of Christ], aware that more will be expected of a man to whom more has been entrusted” (RB 2:30; cf. Lk 12:48). The cellarer and the monks whom he serves are to remember that the monastery is “the house of God,” in which no one should be deliberately “disquieted on distressed” (31:19). Nurturing a peaceful atmosphere in the community contributes to each individual’s peace of mind and heart and thus also to his capacity to be aware of God’s presence. Chapter 22, on the “the sleeping arrangements of the monks,” also has some provisions regarding awareness of God’s presence. St. Benedict prescribes that “a lamp must be kept burning in the room [where the monks slept] until morning” (22:4). Although the lamp may very well have had a practical purpose, it may also symbolize the challenge to live in the light of Christ even during the night, even when we are asleep. This notion is reinforced by the provision that the monks “always be ready to arise without delay when the signal is given” (22:6) and then “hasten to arrive at the Work of God” (22:6). Since Christ is most especially present at the Divine Office (Work of God), we might see rising in the morning as a wonderful opportunity to encounter Christ anew. We, the Church, His bride, hasten to meet Christ the Bridegroom where He is most likely to be present. Surely, then, whatever our physical and emotional disposition might be, we ought to get up with much joy and good zeal. A wedding feast awaits us!

God’s presence calling us to obedience

Furthermore, living in God’s presence cannot be separated from the call to obedience. God is present to us not so that we might merely admire Him from afar in a static way, but so that He might transform us in His love and draw us into communion with Himself. Encountering God requires of us that we respond in faith and that we eagerly return His love. We are called each day to enter into “the battle of holy obedience” (Prol: 40) and to “run and do now what will profit us forever” (Prol: 44). The strictness of Christian life and of life according to the Rule is meant to help us “progress in this way of life and in faith” (Prol: 49). Since the abbot is to represent Christ in the monastery, he has an obligation to teach and command only in harmony with the Lord’s instructions, and the monks are obligated to receive his commands “like the leaven of divine justice” (RB 2:5) which permeates their minds. Encountering Christ always and everywhere requires that the disciple always be ready to obey and, if necessary, to change his course of action. Even when our bodies are tired and our minds feel burned-out, we must, with the help of God’s grace and of our fellow Christians, rise to the occasion of welcoming Our Lord’s loving command. Just as the monks “quietly encourage each other” (22:8) to arrive at the Work of God on time (especially because some tend to be sleepy), so we must strive as family and community to assist one another to be where we are called to be, to be fully present to what we are doing, and to abide intentionally in the presence of God.

Peace as the disposition for living in God’s presence

The communal dimension of living in God’s presence can be summarized by the word “peace.” When we have a peaceful atmosphere in the house, the members of the household will have more time and energy to be aware of God’s graces. St. Benedict urges his monks, “’Let peace be your quest and aim’” (Ps 34:15; RB Prol: 17). Disputes are to be settled quickly; “if you have a dispute with someone,” St. Benedict says, “make peace with him before the sun goes down” (RB 4:73). Part of this work of establishing peace is to make sure that goods are distributed according to need. When goods are thus given out and the monks strive to avoid a sense of self-importance (because they receive more) and a sense of distress (because they need less and receive less), then it is likely that “all the members will be at peace” (RB 34:6). Having an atmosphere of peace does not, of course, mean that things never go wrong. However, if we learn to bear our crosses cheerfully, if we avoid taking out our miseries on others, and if we refrain from murmuring, then we are doing our part to establish the peace that will help others to recognize God’s presence; and we ourselves will have greater peace in our own hearts.

Practical Responses for Oblates

What are some practical measures that may help to establish the individual and communal peace that contributes to living constantly in God’s presence? For one thing, we must begin where we are; most of us, I am guessing, probably can admit that we do a rather poor job of living intentionally in God’s presence for more than a few fleeting moments each day. If we are honest, poor, and humble about the matter, God will provide us with many graces to do better. We might begin with the Divine Office (and, of course, if we are Catholic, with the Mass, especially if we attend daily Mass). In reflecting on RB 19, we might ask ourselves such questions as: “How can we be more attentive at public worship?” and “How ‘ought [we] to behave in the presence of God and His angels’” (RB 19:2)? Whatever weariness or distractions may beset us, we can strive to be as attentive as possible. We can open ourselves to God’s presence with our voices by the care and good zeal with which we recite or sing. (We should be especially conscious of others in communal worship and strive relentlessly to be with the others who are worshiping. Let us not be individualists who stick out!) We might need to keep pulling our minds away from distractions so that they might be “in harmony with our voices” (19:7). Praying the Mass and the Divine Office well is a healthy practice for living in the divine presence always and everywhere. It is a goal to be achieved not without much struggle!

One can summarize the ultimate aim of Christian life as “[praying] always without growing weary” (Lk 18:10). Of course, we cannot say prayers always lest we never get anything else done! Still, we can aim to “pray always” by living in a Christ-centered way based on gratitude for what He has done for us in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Almost every preface of the Mass includes the phrase, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give You thanks, Father most holy.” This exhortation, occurring shortly before the consecration of bread and wine to become Our Lord’s Body and Blood, implies that we should relentlessly seek to live in thanks and praise and in accord with God’s plan for us and not by self-centered impulses. When we are working, we can focus wholeheartedly on what we are doing and do it for God’s glory. (cf. RB 57:9.) When we are speaking with others, we can be especially attentive to what they say; we encounter Christ when we listen well and seek not to dominate conversations. When we awaken in the morning, we can hasten to pray as soon as possible and resolve to keep with us throughout the day a word or phrase that will help to unite us with God. When we go to bed, we can bring with us a brief phrase from Scripture or a short prayer or the name of Jesus as we sink into our pillow; thus we can strive to live in God’s presence even during our sleep. Little by little, we should and can learn to keep ourselves alert to God’s presence and available to receive His wonderful surprises, whether pleasant or unpleasant. God very much desires our response of love to His loving initiatives so that He may more easily draw us closer to Himself.

Conclusion: life in God’s presence as the way to heaven

The responsory for the First Vespers of All Saints Day includes the phrase, “The just shall rejoice in the presence of the Lord.” It is indeed our true joy to live in God’s presence, for that is what we shall be doing in eternity. Perhaps the word “presence” is not dynamic enough to express the wonderful and exciting nature of living in communion with God for eternity. It is the same when we pray that the souls of our departed ones “rest in peace.” The word “rest” may not seem very enticing. As I grow older, however, and feel more than ever the burdens of not being able to cope with my work and other expectations, I more and more long for “rest” from all the turmoil of this world - and of my own mind. Just as being securely and eternally in God’s presence will be far more delightful and appealing (with our purified senses) than anything we can imagine on this earth, so will the eternal “rest” involve not only freedom from earthly turmoil but also the fullness of joy that is implied by Sabbath rest. It will be our joy to worship God eternally with all the angels and saints. It will be our joy to gaze at the throne of the Lamb with shouts of thanks and praise. It will be our joy endlessly to abide in Christ’s peace and to remain ever assured of His victory as we proclaim Him worthy “’to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing’” (Rev 5:12). Amazingly, in His love for us He welcomes us to share in these infinite riches. Let us, then, practice now for this eternal “rest” by striving with all our might to acknowledge His grace-filled presence, going before us and following after us even amid our very ordinary - and sometimes traumatic - lives on earth.

In the peace of Christ and St. Benedict,


Fr. Donald S. Raila, O.S.B.,
Director of Oblates


Humor in life and in Scripture
Posted by svobadm8230a on 02/25/16

Life is full of humor, though we may not always perceive it. I was especially aware of the mysterious and gifted nature of daily life on the day when I began this essay. In the morning while I was searching for a lost page from a reprint desired by an Oblate, I came upon a folder with information about our Oblate-novice survey from the fall of 2014. That folder had been “lost” (really just misplaced by me in a location where I would be unlikely to look for it) for about a year, and upon finding it I felt like telling the whole world, “I have found my lost folder!” (cf. Luke 15:6, 9, 24). I laughed inwardly over the unexpected nature of the discovery. I had not found what I wanted to find, but I found something significant for which I had not even been looking. I still have not found the page for which I was searching. Is not life strange? Surely, as the prophet Isaiah tells us and as Our Lord often proclaims, God’s plans for us are certainly not our plans! Of course, His are far, far better. Is not this truth a cause for rejoicing and laughter (whether outward or just inward)?

I also perceived humor in the Gospel passage for that morning, which concerned the healing of a paralytic and the forgiveness of his sins (Mark 2: 1-12). The four friends of the paralyzed man certainly did something clever and amazing by poking a hole in the roof to bring him to Jesus amid a large, smothering crowd. Perhaps some people were upset at the damage to the roof, but it seems likely that others in the crowd laughed when they saw the man being lowered on his mat in front of Our Lord. The man, too, must have been surprised that Jesus insisted first on forgiving his sins—and then healing him. This whole incident surely involves much healthy humor and grace-filled joy. Perhaps the paralytic himself was not expecting anything good to happen, but his creative friends saw the potential in him and in the circumstances, and they had an admirable faith in Christ’s ability to help him. God gave the sick man far more than he could have expected. Should not we, like the crowd, be “awestruck” and “give praise to God” (Mark 2:12)—and be filled with joy over God’s superabundant goodness? Furthermore, it seems that such joy can open us to recognize and receive even more gracious gifts.

Reasons not to laugh

On the other hand, in our very troubled world, there are many reasons not to laugh. The news is replete with disasters. Cruel acts of terrorism abound; there are actual wars; Christians are being persecuted and killed in Iraq, Syria, and parts of Africa. Countries in Europe are being flooded with refugees, who in many cases are not receiving hospitable treatment. In our own country we have seen in recent years ruthless shootings, acts of suicide by young people, violence in cities by police and against police, and government leaders and political candidates who have little or no regard for God’s moral law. Despite hearty Christian opposition, the evils of legalized abortion, legalized euthanasia, and the redefinition of marriage (as if man could redefine what God has so beautifully established!) seem to be entrenched, and there has been no clear victory over the government’s actions to restrict religious freedom and force institutions to pay exorbitant fines for upholding God’s law. (May we keep struggling!) Furthermore, we all know people (and perhaps we ourselves are among them) who suffer from severe financial woes, diagnoses with terminal illnesses, the loss of loved ones, or the abandonment of Christian faith by family members. How could we ever laugh or find joy amid such a litany of miseries? Furthermore, in St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Our Lord warns us, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep” (Lk 6:26). (Christ is undoubtedly referring to an attitude of self-satisfied contentment that is insensitive to the sufferings of others and to the tragedies of life.)

St. Benedict and his apparent opposition to laughter

At first glance, St. Benedict also seemed to believe that there was not much reason for laughter in monastic life. In Chapter 4 he admonishes his monks, “Prefer moderation in speech and speak no foolish chatter, nothing to provoke laughter; do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter” (4: 52-54). In treating the practice of silence in Chapter 6, he closes with the firm statement, “We absolutely condemn in all places any vulgarity and gossip and talk leading to laughter, and we do not permit a disciple to engage in words of that kind” (6:8). The tenth and eleventh steps of humility in Chapter 7 also reflect a negative view of laughter. The tenth step prescribes that a monk “not [be] given to ready laughter, for it is written: ‘Only a fool raises his voice in laughter’ (Sir 21:23)” (RB 7:59). The eleventh step requires that a monk speak “gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably” (7:60). Finally, in his chapter on Lent, St. Benedict recommends that each monk “deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (49:7).

Why is St. Benedict so opposed to laughter, at least from a first glance at these texts? In his time laughter was often associated with “vulgarity and gossip” (6:8). (That connection sometimes applies today as well.) Also, people of all times have used laughter to exalt themselves and put down other people and opposing opinions. Such derision and scorn go against Christian charity. When people talk in such a way as to cause others to laugh, it is often from self-centered motives; the speaker may wish to display his cleverness, perhaps with indecent language, and to receive unhealthy affirmation for behavior that is essentially evil. “Immoderate or boisterous laughter” can disturb the peace of a gathering and interrupt a good conversation; it can also serve to draw attention to the one who is laughing recklessly. To laugh too readily and frequently may be a sign that a person is not taking life (or God) seriously or that he may be emotionally unstable. Readiness to laugh can interfere with efforts to be recollected, to be mindful of God, and to be intentionally conscious of one’s sinfulness and of the redeeming love of Christ. In his Commentary, Dom Paul Delatte asserts, regarding RB 7:59, “ … the Holy Rule will not tolerate a habit of treating nothing seriously, of turning everything to jest. This infirmity of the mind is one of the most unpleasant traces of the spirit of the world. Even in the world it is irritating and in bad taste; it is considered the mark of an empty soul …. But for a monk it is incompatible with recollection and the sense of the presence of God” (p. 126). Regarding St. Benedict’s restriction on words that lead to laughter, Delatte comments that our holy founder is not forbidding all light-hearted conversation; rather he is aiming to restrain “buffoonery, idle words, worldly talk that has for its sole end the causing of laughter” (p. 97). Delatte adds that “it remains true that there are certain subjects, a certain coarseness, a certain worldly tone, which should never enter our conversation. These things are not such as to stir wholesome laughter (underlining mine); there are matters which we should not touch, which it is wholesome to avoid” (p. 97). In his book Monastic Practices (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1986), Fr. Charles Cummings, O.C.S.O., reminds us that the virtue of silence involves the right use of speech. He asserts, “I need to silence the word that wounds and cuts down another in his or her presence and the word that judges or ridicules another in his or her absence” (p. 100).

Openings for laughter in the Rule

If we look more closely at the Rule, we can see that St. Benedict does not ban all laughter. When he forbids loving “immoderate or boisterous laughter” (4:54), we can assume that there must be some laughter that is moderate and non-boisterous; apparently, St. Benedict does not forbid that. When he prescribes that a monk should not be “given to ready laughter” (7:59), he opens the way for the possibility of laughing at appropriate times without the tendency to burst out frequently. Similarly, in his legislation for Lent, when St. Benedict recommends denying oneself some “needless talking and idle jesting” (49:7), he certainly does not forbid all talking, and he implies that not all jesting is out of place. If some humor and jesting are appropriate even during Lent, then we can conclude that there was room for healthy jesting in St. Benedict’s monasteries all year long - within proper bounds.

Also, as modern commentators assert, St. Benedict lived in an era when laughter was frowned upon in monastic (and Christian) circles because it symbolized a failure to take monastic and Christian values seriously. In his commentary on RB 4:54, Fr. Terrence Kardong, O.S.B. (in Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996]), translates the verse as “Don’t indulge in prolonged or explosive laughter.” He comments that “in ancient times comedy usually meant ribaldry. Nevertheless, Benedict follows the Master [author of the Rule of the Master] in avoiding any total prohibition of laughter. … [T]he general prohibition of laughter is often a sign of an unhappy authority that wishes to make others unhappy as well” (pp. 90-91). In reflecting on RB 6:8, Fr. Terrence states that “laughter … may also have a flavor of ribaldry, given the fact that much ancient comedy was obscene. This may be part of the reason why Benedict is so opposed to laughter, a thing we take for granted as a sign of a balanced and healthy personality” (p. 123). Even so, as Fr. Terrence mentions regarding RB 49:7, St. Benedict does not “demand that all chatter and joking be put aside. … For his part, Benedict may be chary of imposing a grim atmosphere on the community, a thing that the Church at large has not always avoided during Lent” (p. 406). Furthermore, Fr. Terrence proposes that “the most remarkable element in this verse [49:6] is its call for joy during the Lenten season” (p. 409).

Our need to set limits on laughter

Obviously, laughter is not completely under our control. It is a normal spontaneous response to something that appears humorous or paradoxical. Furthermore, some people have a temperament that tends to frequent laughter, whereas other people’s temperaments cause them to laugh very little if at all. (I am among the latter.) However, we must be especially vigilant of bad humor in this age of disregard for holy things and sinful derision of other people, especially in the political realm. In situations of temptations to unhealthy laughter, we need to beseech God for the grace to restrain ourselves from laughter and for the conversion of all who seek to promote sick humor. As part of our commitment to conversatio morum, we need to seek the purity of heart that will react quickly against occasions of perverted humor. If we nurture a consistent reverence for God and for holy things (including all people, for we were all created in God’s image), then we shall learn to counteract any mocking or derision. If we strive daily to nurture a wholehearted love of others, even our enemies, we shall have a strong barrier against the tendency to ridicule anyone, even from a distance.

People who tend to be very ready to laugh might examine the attitude that underlies this tendency. We might ask ourselves: “Do I take serious things too lightly? Am I trying to escape the reality of the Cross? Am I forgetful of the truth that God will judge us for every thought, word, and action? Am I failing to nurture a deep mindfulness of God in daily life? Am I respecting others’ need for silence and recollection?”

Freedom to laugh appropriately

Despite the need to restrain unhealthy laughter, a world without healthy laughter would be missing something that God wishes. To laugh is something uniquely human that animals lack. Christian life is to be joyful, even during Lent, and to have joy means that we should accept laughter (if only interiorly) as a gift when we experience the overwhelming graciousness of God and His marvelous interventions in our lives. Pope Francis has often warned priests and religious against becoming “sourpusses.” This warning might apply to all of us who tend spontaneously to have a gloomy, critical attitude toward life and the world. Yes, there is much evil, but the Gospel, which is good news, assures us that just as Christ’s Resurrection followed His gruesome death, so also the victory of the Resurrection is a guarantee today that God’s power of love will ultimately overcome the forces of sin and death in our world. Therefore, although Christians may indeed weep and lament over the evils of the world and their own sins, they must also “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) since following Christ leads us to a final victory over all the powers of wickedness. That joy, at times, may overflow into laughter that reminds us and others of the heavenly inheritance in store for us and of the “first installment” of that inheritance that we already have in the Holy Spirit.

Summary: weeping and laughing: both essential

Life on this earth offers opportunities both to weep and to laugh. Wonderful events like Israel’s return from exile can cause people to laugh. Psalm 126 expresses both the sorrow of exile and the joy of the return to Jerusalem. “They go out, they go out, full of tears. … they come back, they come back, full of song” (verse 6). The psalmist also describes the response to the Lord’s deliverance from bondage in terms of laughter: “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, on our lips there were songs” (verse 2). In the New Testament the phenomena of laughing and weeping take on a new dimension because of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Because of His ultimate victory over sin and death, St. Paul can command us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) and to “rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5: 16-17). At the same time, humility demands that we weep over our sins, and charity demands that we “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:16). St. Benedict tells us that true disciples when asked to obey “under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions” (RB 7:35) “continue joyfully … because of Him who so greatly loved us” (7:39). To live in Christ and to proclaim Christ must be out deepest motive, whether we weep of laugh!

No one can command us to laugh. However, the Scriptures do command us to rejoice and to rejoice always, even under the most miserable circumstances. We can and must rejoice because of the love shown to us by Christ in His Passion and Death. This joy may or may not overflow into laughter, but we need to strive to make this joy ever present in our hearts even when we are sorrowing or weeping. As we enter into the season of Lent, let us realize that it should be an opportunity for a deepened commitment to ongoing conversion and, therefore, for joy in the saving work that Christ wants to perform in us. At the birth of her son Isaac, Sarah exclaimed that God had given her cause to laugh and that all who would hear of this marvelous event would laugh with her (Gn 21:6). May we be prepared for the amazing things that God may wish to do for us and for the possible laughter that can come with grace-filled amazement at His wonders. During this Lent let us strive to “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (RB 49:7).

In the peace of Christ and Saint Benedict,

 

Fr. Donald S. Raila, O.S.B.,
Director of Oblates


Lenten Season
Posted by svobadm8230a on 03/19/15

Dear Oblates and Friends of Saint Vincent,

Pope Francis calls upon all of us to remember that "by nature of [our] baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples" (Joy of the Gospel, n. 120).

The Lenten season provides us with a much-needed time for self-examination regarding our baptismal call to be missionary disciples. Do we give witness to the Resurrected Lord by our outreach to those who live on the periphery of society—the poor, the lonely, the elderly, the outcasts, the marginalized? The world is beset by ethnic and religious conflict. Our nation is struggling with racial prejudices and stereotypes. Are we actively involved in promoting the entire pro-life teachings of Christ and the Church?

Pope Francis notes that "at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. Proclaiming the kingdom of God has made an immediate moral implication centered on charity" (n. 177).

Pope Francis has inspired many to re-engage in the faith by "embodying the loving mercy of God." Let us pray for the grace to proclaim the Resurrected Lord by embodying the loving mercy of God at every moment and with every person. Be the "missionary disciple" you were called by baptism to be.

Sincerely in Christ,

Archabbot Douglas


A Message from Archabbot Douglas
Posted by svobadm8230a on 09/18/14

Dear Oblates and Friends of Saint Vincent,

The recent passing of our confrere Brother
Nathan Cochran was sudden and unexpected. At age 57, he
appeared to be in good health and enjoying life here in our community. In the Bible, our Lord reminds us that we know neither the day nor the hour when we will be called by our heavenly Father. Death, of course, is one of the big mysteries that we confront in this life. However, we have the consolation of our Lord, who tells us that He is with us at every moment: “Behold, I am with you always.”

As we encounter the challenges of daily life, it is God’s ever-abiding presence that gives us the strength to move forward. St. Paul reminds us that we walk by faith and not by sight. It is our faith that sustains us. Our hope is renewed because we believe that Christ is present with us always.

God’s blessings!

Faithfully in Christ,
+Douglas R. Nowicki, Archabbot

 


Evangelii Gaudium
Posted by svobadm8230a on 08/07/14

Evangelii Gaudium

We, too, must do what we can to live our faith boldly and to proclaim
our faith openly, even if that means suffering. We must seek to draw others to Christ,
especially by showing them Christ centered kindness.

How, Practically, are we to do this? Again in Evangelii Gaudium, #128,
Pope Francis gives an example of a possible encounter with another person who
“speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes, and concerns for
loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.” The Christian
listener must be “respectful and gentle” and then, if appropriate,
“bring up God’s word” or relate a story dealing with the personal love of God.

“The message has to be shared humbly,” and the witness must be
“always willing to learn more.” One must be guided by the Holy Spirit.

“At times the message can be presented directly, at times by way of a
personal witness or gesture.” “If the circumstances are right,”
the encounter “could end with a brief prayer related to the
concerns which the person may have expressed.”

It is important that the persons being evangelized
“have an experience of being listened to and understood,”

with assurance “that their particular situation has been placed
before God, and that God’s word really speaks to their lives.”

In his exhortation the Holy Father goes on to speak about the
gifts of the Holy Spirit that tend to build up the Church, the
need for reconciliation of diversity with the help of the Holy
Spirit, and the need to proclaim the Gospel to professional,
scientific, and academic circles. Theologians and Catholic
scholars have a special role in evangelizing a whole culture.

Then Pope Francis writes many word urging priests to
evangelize effectively through better homilies. In reference to
theologians, he asserts, “They must always remember that the
Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not to be content
with a desk-bound theology” (# 134).

Fr. Donald S. Raila, O.S.B.,
Director of Oblates

 


Becoming Evangelizers
Posted by svobadm8230a on 07/16/14

How, then, can we in a Benedictine way, for us who are
Oblates or monks become better evangelizers?
Many of us
probably never considered ourselves to have a call to
evangelize. Growing up as Roman Catholic in the 1950’s and
1960’s, I don’t think I even heard the word “evangelization”
until I went to college (in 1967) or perhaps even much later.

Up to the fifth or sixth grade, we even began each day with a prayer,
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg
Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers, our school,
and our country. Amen.”

These days are very different. The “culture of death” is
prevalent. Large numbers of people, perhaps a majority, are
practical atheists or agnostics. We Christians might be tempted
to throw up our hands in frustration over the growing trend
of unbelief and the official approval of acts of immorality by
legislation and court decisions. These are sad times for us believers.

However, the Church urges us to look to the early
Christians, who were a leaven to a largely decadent world
and
who, with their radiant and joyful faith, transformed that world
with the values of the Gospel. We, too, must do what we can to
live our faith boldly and to proclaim our faith openly, even if that
means suffering. We must seek to draw others to Christ,
especially by showing them Christ centered kindness.

 

Fr. Donald S. Raila, O.S.B.,
Director of Oblates


Good Witness in the New Testament
Posted by svobadm8230a on 06/09/14

Good Witness in the New Testament

Of course, real evangelization does not take place until after
the coming of Christ, and particularly after His Death and Resurrection,
since the Paschal mystery is the central content
of the “Good News” which is proclaimed
when Christians
evangelize.

The New Testament offers us a host of people,
sometimes unnamed, who cooperate with God’s plan in Christ,
and thus also proclaim Christ in powerful ways, even before
the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

At the beginning of Our Lord’s life, the Magi are moved
to offer their precious gifts (and to offer themselves) to the Messiah
King and then heed God’s message in a dream not to return to King Herod.
The “different route” that they take after leaving Nazareth is
a symbol of the new way that is to be followed by all who have
deeply encountered the humble God made Man
. We also have the
unnamed shepherds, who respond to the angel’s message
and, after visiting the Infant, give an amazing report to the people
of their region.

At the end of Our Lord’s earthly life, we
see Joseph of Arimathea, who is bold enough to approach
Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus and is generous enough to
lay it “in his own new tomb” (Mt 27: 60). It is edifying, too, to
read about the boy who brings to Jesus “five barley loaves and
a couple of dried fish” (Jn 6:9) so that He can multiply them to
feed a crowd of five thousand men. May we with similar
generosity surrender our possessions and our lives to Our Lord
so that He can put them to use for His marvelous divine
purposes !

We hear in particular about the strong witness of St. Peter,
St. Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus
Both in prison and out of prison, both to large crowds and to
individuals, the Apostles have the courage to proclaim Christ
and to defy the young Church’s opponents with charity, with
patience, and with amazing zeal.

In the peace of Christ and Saint Benedict,

Fr. Donald S. Raila, O.S.B.,
Director of Oblates


Evangelizing in a "Benedictine" Way
Posted by svobadm8230a on 05/28/14

Evangelizing in a "Benedictine" Way

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium,
Pope Francis reminds us that we all have a daily
mandate to bring the Gospel to others.

In section 127 of that document, the Holy Father
states, “Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound
missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to
each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing
the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our
neighbours or complete strangers.

This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation,
something along the lines of what a missionary does when
visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready
to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen
unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square,
during work, on a journey."

In the peace of Christ and Saint Benedict,

Fr. Donald S. Raila, O.S.B.,
Director of Oblates

 


A MESSAGE FROM ARCHABBOT DOUGLAS
Posted by svobadm8230a on 05/21/14

Dear Oblates and Friends of Saint Vincent,

The Easter Season is a time for us to reflect upon our connectedness to Christ. We recall the words of Jesus to
his disciples, “I am the vine. You are the branches.” Through our baptism, we are intimately connected to God through our Risen Savior. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, “All of us are limbs of Christ.” We become an extension of his personal presence in the world.

To help us grow in this process of connectedness to Christ,
he has given us the gift of the Eucharist, his own body
and blood, so that we can increasingly become more imbued with the spirit
and attitude of Christan extension of his presence in the world.

May this season of Resurrection grace be a time for
renewed faith and openness to the ongoing action of God in
our lives through the Holy Spirit.

In the Risen Lord,

Archabbot Douglas, O.S.B.

 


Reaching eternal salvation through little things
Posted by svobadm8230a on 04/14/14

Reaching eternal salvation through little things

As I compose this essay, I realize that I am tempted to
lose sight of the significance of little things. Several “big
projects” weigh heavily on my mind. First, there is this
newsletter itself, which I want to be mailed out soon;
then I need to edit the forthcoming book of reflections on
the Rule, which is taking far longer than I had thought;
also, I am still answering Christmas mail (on an
basis, I am only on K at the end of January!). It is
discouraging to think about the vast amount of work that
I may or may not be able to complete.

Part of me would prefer to have everything done without the slow,
plodding process of working on the projects step
step. My faith tells me, however, that God wishes to pull
me out of this discouragement and motivates me
to plunge in to do the little things that I can do at
this moment and not to worry so much about the end result

or my self imposed deadlines. If I cooperate with God’s
grace in taking little steps each day (except, of course,
for Sundays), then the projects will be completed in
God’s time and not my time.

In a world where many people are hastening to
achieve great things in record time with the help of
electronic devices, St. Benedict urges us to hasten to
our heavenly homeland by keeping “this little rule that we
have written for beginners” (73:8)
. Yes, our real goal is
reach our true home with Christ and all the saints. To
hasten toward it, we must take small, humble steps and
proceed at a moderate pace, God’s unique pace for each of us.

This progress in small steps and the constant battle
against temptations (especially to pride)
pertain to all of us, whether lowly or great.
We must savor the graces that come our way, whether through
encounters with other people or through reading the
Bible and books “of the holy Catholic fathers” (73:4).

We must ponder slowly what God is saying to us, especially
in lectio divina, which involves "chewing" over
small phrases.
We must give thanks for these graces and thus
acknowledge that God Himself has given us all these
means to draw us closer to Him. Whenever we do good
deeds in response to His love, we must “judge it is the
Lord’s power, not [our] own, that brings about the good
in [us]” (Prol: 29). Then we must “run” to do further good
(we are never done on this earth!) because this good is
what God has granted us to lead us to “dwell in the tent
of the kingdom” (Prol: 22). Using the little
Rule and practicing the pithy but powerful seventy three
instruments of good works in RB 4, we shall ultimately
arrive in the place “God has prepared for those who love
Him” which is beyond what eye has seen and beyond
what ear has heard (cf. Prol: 77) and beyond what our
feeble human efforts can achieve. Let us rejoice that
God is leading us in such a little but magnificent way, a
way that helps us to “arrive at that perfect love of God
which casts our fear” (7:67).

In the peace of Christ and Saint Benedict,

Fr. Donald S. Raila, O.S.B.,
Director of Oblates


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