+GO SELL EVERYTHING..AND COME FOLLOW ME Chapter Talk 35, Feb. 2018
This morning I thought to continue with some reflections that Ronald Rolheiser shares in his book called Sacred Fire. At one point he gets into those words of Jesus to the rich young man, that were so transformative in the life of St Antony the early monk. Jesus tells the young man that he lacks “one thing. If you would receive eternal life, go sell everything that you have, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me.”
Rolheiser then uses one of the great desert father stories as a means of interpreting these words of Jesus:
“Abbot Lot went to see Abbot Joseph and said: ‘Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of bad thoughts: now what more should I do?’ The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like lamps of fire. He said: ‘Why not become all flame?’’
One of the things I think many of us have learned over the years is how those entering a monastic community like ours, are highly motivated. We have looked at what the world has to offer, perhaps even looked closely at what other religious communities have to offer and felt neither one nor the other were for us. God leads each one of us here for reasons that often we do not fully understand, reasons that our friends or family have also had a hard time trying to grasp.
It is not that we are any better than those who have chosen another way of life either as a married person, the single life or as an active religious, it’s just that the hiddenness of this life is what attracted us. The caption over the gate near the entrance to our retreathouse, “God Alone,” captures some of the meaning though I am one of those who have felt that my life here is anything but about God Alone, given over as I want it to be, a life given to God out of love for all my brothers and sisters. We recently listened in the refectory to Rolheiser expounding on prayer, especially the public prayer of monks and religious as being the prayer of the whole human family and not at all a matter of private devotion. At the center of our life is the Divine Office where we give expression to the longing of all of humanity and not only of all humanity but of all of creation.
“For Creation awaits with eager expectation.” St Paul tells us, “the revelation of the children of God… We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Sometimes in choir we may feel, or the cantors feel, there is too much groaning going on but we can never really escape the labor that goes on there. When feeling the weight of it, we might simply remember what St Paul has reminded us so long ago, that we are a part of something far larger than our own lives, bringing about a transformation through the presence and working of the Holy Spirit, of a whole new creation whose life will never end.
Roldheiser tells the story of a group of priests he came to know, the leader of whom had become fed up with the mediocrity in his life. He had worked hard at fulfilling his priestly duties but then would go looking for compensations in order to deal with tensions this work was causing him. Gathering a group of priests around him, they decided to become totally transparent with one another. They began meeting on a weekly basis and told themselves:
“We want to be priests whose lives are fully transparent, so that when people see us, what they see is truly what they get! We call ourselves a group for ‘radical sobriety,’ though none of us has ever had a problem with alcohol; but none of us has ever had full sobriety either. Full sobriety is full transparency, and full transparency is full honesty.”
Transparency is never easy for any of us but isn’t this what we are seeking through community life? And isn’t this what will help us all in the Order to move toward the “refounding” of our communities as is talked about these days? One of the youngest in the group of priests who gathered for this purpose, admitted of finding what they were doing one of the hardest things he ever did in his life. “Not the confession to others, since I trust them, but being thirty-eight years old and trying to live like Mother Teresa. That’s hard.” And then he added: “But it’s also the best thing I have ever done! I have never been this happy.”
We, as a community, have worked toward this kind of transparency though there is always room to grow. It is this transparency that enables us to recognize who we truly are before God, allows us to lift our hands in prayer in such a way that we too in our own time, “become all flame.”