The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving thanks...

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am in New York, preparing for a Day of Recollection I'm giving Sunday for Saint Meinrad Archabbey's oblate chapter here. In the meantime, my confrere Fr. Meinrad (the oblate director) and I are enjoying some sight-seeing and the generous hospitality of two oblates in Farmingdale on Long Island--Paul and Irene Muhs.

This is my first-ever visit to the New York City area. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Fr. Meinrad and I took the train into Manhattan to see all the requisite sights (downtown and midtown), and today we are enjoying a day of rest and gratitude with the Muhs (perhaps more restful for Fr. Meinrad and I than the Muhs, God bless them). I may post more about all of this here at a later date. In the meantime, above is a piece that I found particularly striking yesterday during our visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a Dutch carving out of oak from the early 15th century called "Apostles in Prayer." Of course, the Met has much grander pieces -- "Washington Crossing the Delaware," the Temple of Dendur, the Frank Lloyd Wright collection (including an entire room from a house he built in Minnesota), and several vibrant  Tiffany glass windows were among my favorites -- but this relatively small, intimate, and prayerful sculpture seems most fitting for the posture of reverence and gratitude we do well to recall on this Thanksgiving Day (and every day, for that matter).

Tomorrow, we go into the city again for the highlight of the sight-seeing (for me, anyway), a visit to the Cloisters Museum on the Hudson -- think medieval and monastic!

Until then, a Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may all give God thanks and praise.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Plan

The mysteries of Jesus are not yet completely perfected and fulfilled. They are complete, indeed, in the person of Jesus, but not in us, who are his members, nor in the Church, which is his mystical body. The Son of God wills to give us a share in his mysteries and somehow to extend them to us. He wills to continue them in us and in his universal Church. This is brought about first through the graces he has resolved to impart to us and then through the works he wishes to accomplish in us through these mysteries. This is his plan for fulfilling his mysteries in us.

For this reason Saint Paul says that Christ is being brought to fulfillment in his Church and that all of us contribute to this fulfillment, and thus he achieves the fullness of life, that is, the mystical stature that he has in his mystical body, which will reach completion only on judgment day. In another place Paul says: I complete in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.

This is the plan by which the Son of God completes and fulfills in us all the various stages and mysteries. He desires us to perfect the mystery of his incarnation and birth by forming himself in us and being reborn in our souls through the blessed sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. He fulfills his hidden life in us, hidden with him in God.

He intends to perfect the mysteries of his passion, death and resurrection, by having us participate in his suffering, death, and resurrection, with him and in him. Finally, he wishes to fulfill in us the state of his glorious and immortal life, when he will cause us to live a glorious, eternal life, with him and in him, in heaven.
--St. John Eudes

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

O God, hear our voice

To the Creator of nature and man,
of truth and beauty, I pray:

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of the victims
of all wars and violence
among individuals and nations.

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of all children
who suffer and will suffer
when people put their faith
in weapons and war.

Hear my voice
when I beg you to instill
into the hearts of all human beings
the wisdom of peace,
the strength of justice,
and the joy of fellowship.

Hear my voice,
for I speak for the multitudes
in every country
and in every period of history
who do not want war
and are ready to walk the road of peace.

Hear my voice
and grant insight and strength
so that we may always respond to hatred with love,
to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need with the sharing of self,
to war with peace.

O God, hear my voice
and grant unto the world
your everlasting peace.

Saint John Paul II

Sunday, November 1, 2015

De Profundis

"Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them."

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleading.

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you.

My soul is waiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchmen for daybreak.

Let the watchmen count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.

Because with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity.

Psalm 130

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