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A blessed Russian Christmas to all! JL
January 7, May 8, September 7
And so we are going to establish
a school for the service of the Lord.
In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.
But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity
for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity,
do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation,
whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14).
For as we advance in the religious life and in faith,
our hearts expand
and we run the way of God's commandments
with unspeakable sweetness of love (Ps. 118:32).
Thus, never departing from His school,
but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching
we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13)
and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.
Sadly, a certain cynicism has been woven into my life like a
repeating plaid. Happily, it has not grown worse with age, but has
been moderated (how Benedictine!) into a faintly acceptable level of
occasional curmudgeonhood. If my cynicism is now a rather muted
tartan background, it was not always so. I can clearly recall reading
the line about expanding hearts and running with unspeakable
sweetness of love twenty some years ago and thinking: "Yeah, right!
Now that passage is my all-time favorite in the Holy Rule. I thought
twice before saying that, because there are so many things in the
Rule that I deeply love, but yeah, this one is the best loved for me.
Why? Because it is linked to love and, secondarily, because it alerts
us to the necessary hope that the monastic struggle DOES get easier
in time, in certain ways, even though it is never over until death.
"Our hearts expand..." they truly do. Mine has already been
wonderfully stretched and pulled and enlarged beyond my wildest
dreams, often with me kicking and screaming every inch of the way. I
have no doubt that it will grow bigger still, capable of holding
more, but I know I could not stand that now, it would be too much.
God works slowly, according to our individual needs. Better than
anyone, He knows that doing it all at once would reduce us to
The biggest factor that I can see in God's work of heart renovation
for me has been intercessory prayer. When you renovate a building,
you have to tear down some walls, a dusty, ugly, painful mess. Ah,
but the light and air and space that one finds in those new areas
where walls had stood! In praying for God's people, I learned to love
them, more prayer equaled more love and so it spiraled upward and
Gerard Manley Hopkins complained of his celibacy toward the end of
his life, of being "time's eunuch,": "Mine, O Thou Lord of life,
send my roots rain." I can certainly relate! Though I tried three
times earlier, I did not become a monk till I was 43. Many of the
years in between attempts were spent looking for love in all the
wrong places, often with plenty of fleeting success. You may be sure
that the "gift" of celibacy left me vastly less thrilled than a child
with a pony..."Wow! New leg irons and manacles for my birthday! You
shouldn't have!" Left to my own devices, I would quit tomorrow, or
maybe this afternoon at the very latest. Single is most definitely
NOT what I spent my life pining to become one day.
The rain for my roots was that work in progress, the expansion of my
heart. It's not the same as other loves I have known and in no way as
graphic or immediate or intimate, but oh, it is deep. I am sure it is
not incompatible with married love, but God seemed to want it so for
me. True to form, I argued with Him for years about that and still do
Like many people, I do not have a spousal love for God, more power to
those who do, but it has not been possible for me. I am often
embarrassed to find that the only Christ I can really swell to
rapture about is the One I encounter in praying for His members, for
His Mystical Body. I have, however, attained a relative serenity
about this: it is, after all, a very powerful reminder that Christ IS
His members, that we are all cells in His awesome Body.
When a novice in my twenties, I used to look at two real saints of
St. Leo Abbey, Brothers David Gormican and Raphael Daly, both now
gone to God. I am not even sure I thought it had become easier for
them at the end of their lives, I thought, with the mindlessness so
easy for me then, that they were just so old they didn't care
My dear friend Ann Chatlos was a FABULOUS cook and she had been at it
for years. One day I went to see her and we sat talking in her
kitchen, she was fiddling around, nothing special. Frankly, I didn't
even notice any activity that would have produced a meal. She finally
turned around and said to me: "Stay for dinner." I asked when it
would be ready and she said, "Now." I was floored. While we spoke, a
pie, chicken and roast potatoes and something else I forget had been
going on. A full meal with nothing out of cans and a homemade
dessert, yet it appeared that she had just been chatting.
That's the nonchalance of Brother David and Brother Raphael. It
wasn't that they didn't care, it was that things of sanctity had
become so much second nature to them that many of those around them
never noticed that dinner was ready. May that nonchalance of sanctity
come to us all, and may Brothers David and Raphael and Ann, now also
with God, pray us there.
Love and prayers,