To be of One Heart and One Mind: an encounter with the Fifth Gospel of Jesus Christ….continued yet again…

 This reflection is a continuation of the last post (click here to read it!)

An Invitation to Encounter Christ in the Lives of our Brothers

Imagine how those earliest Christians would have told their story of their encounter with Christ? In the Gospel of John, Andrew and his companion set out to follow Jesus after John the Baptist said of the Christ, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Philip was probably personally summoned by Christ. Nathaniel was invited by Philip, but was a scholar and a skeptic. How would these earliest disciples retell their relationship with Jesus Christ? How differently would they have recounted their first experiences of the same man? The disciples did not know they were to enter into the lived reality of the paschal mystery. I, for one, certainly did not know what that meant when I entered religious life and I assume that could be said for most of my confrères (again, another topic for future reflection).

What if the rich young man in Luke were to sorrowfully return to Christ after selling all that he had and giving to the poor realizing that the affirmation he desired from Christ was not the challenge he received and needed? What if he never returned and continued to walk away? The Gospels do not tell us. How would he tell his experience of Christ in his life compared to that of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who literally jumped at the chance to part with his worldly possessions and to host the Messiah in his home? Many of us came to community willingly and full of zeal at a young age. Others arrived after the twists and turns of life. I think most of us find ourselves confront by the call to Jesus and wish to respond as Zacchaeus did but feel more inclined to walk away in sorrow as the rich young man. Like the earliest ones to follow Jesus, we too are conflicted, broken and skeptical. Like the first to answer the call of Christ to “come and see,” none of us could have known what a life in Christ lived in common would hold in store. We do come to Christ because “he himself understood [human nature] well” (John 2:24) and the members of our communities, as fellow humans, do too.

All we can do is to daily call upon each other to “come and see” what Christ has done in me and then to mission one another, as John the Baptist had done, by saying “go and follow Him.” We grow in unity not only through fraternal correction but through fraternal invitation. It is not just the correction and inviting that must take place, but it is through our acceptance and critical reflection upon the corrections given to us by others and through our humble acceptance of the invitations of our brothers that we grow to love God and our neighbor.

I can stand in one place all my life wondering why the world is not conforming to me. Why is it that no one else is experience Christ and his Church the way I am? Why is it that his or her image of Jesus is so different than mine? Or I could set out to discover and encounter the Christ who has beckoned to each of my brothers. I can look at their lives, hear it in their voices, and experience it in their joys and sorrows. I can see how Christ has touched them, healed them, challenged them. I myself can challenge them too through my own encounter with God as long as I am willing to accept their challenge in return. It is in this way that I can come to know and encounter Christ in a new and deeper ways each day. I can respond to that invitation to “come and see” and witness that sliver of Christ that has managed to speak to and through my brothers. From there I can say “Behold, the lamb of God” in my own life in light of what I have heard and seen while recognizing that what I have heard and seen is but a fragment of of Christ with whom we grow in ever deeper relationship.

This does not just happen in the context of “God talk” but through a shared life. Often it is not I who see the movement in God in my life, but my brother. It is by the constant prodding of “where is God in that?” that we can give to one another. That may not even need to be said, but to live together in community, and to live that well, will bring such thoughts to the surface. We could say we perform a “lectio divina” of our own life as individuals and our life in common.

Does this mean I accept or believe all that I see and hear? Of course not. My own life in Christ is a vision unto itself. Does this mean I am claiming relativism? No. Does it mean I follow paths far beyond the guide posts of the Church? No. I am also, however, not filled with such hubris as to discern the legitimacy of the encounter my brother has had with Christ. I am called to love and respect those with whom I live. A wise Norbertine once recounted to me a famous saying, “be kind to your brothers for we are all facing great battles.”  It does mean I continue to be open and listen to the grace of Christ Jesus present in those around me as it manifests in their lives. 

Continued in the next post (click here to read it!)

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

To be of One Heart and One Mind: an Encounter with the Fifth Gospel of Jesus Christ (continued again….)

  This post is a continuation of the previous posting (click here to view the last blog post!)

Who is on this journey to God?

We are men from a myriad of backgrounds. We come form different ends of the country and the world. We represent a vast array of generations currently spanning from 93 years of age to 24. Some of us are only children, many come from large families. Our theological understandings, political affiliations and world views are quite varied as well. What binds us together is that common call to “love God above all things…then our neighbor.” In response to that common call, despite our differences, or maybe because of them, we strive day in and day out to grow in unity as we journey together to God.

That singular unity which holds us together and which defines our Christian journey into God is our desire to respond to the Love of God and hold Christ as the alpha and omega of our life. Our one life centers around our one God and one Lord.

Our desire is to love God. Christ Jesus, in the Gospel of John, tells us: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 14: 6-7). For this reason, we as Norbertines striving to live a Christian life growing in perfection, we seek after Christ.

As I have come to see and experience it, we come to love God in community in several ways. At least from my life as a Norbertine thus far, there is no particular ordering to what is to follow. I identify seven aspects through which we grow in unity. Three of them in particular are what directly point to our experience of the Risen Lord. They are what I shall attempt to unpack in the following reflections. These categories feed into and grow from one another. The boundaries between them are blurry. At the center of all of these experiences is a life directed toward and growing from the heart of Jesus and the love of and for God. What I will touch on in this reflection are the following:

A.) We encounter Christ in the lives of our brothers through sharing in their own faith journey.
B.) We discover Christ in our brothers themselves in their own weaknesses, struggles and vulnerabilities.
C.) We find the love of God within ourselves as we gaze upon our brothers.

But first….

An Offering of Self

I cannot speak to any great extent about our self donation or vows as I am still a year away from actually taking my first vows. However, I do believe that it is an essential starting point for the rest of our relationships and encounters within community and provide a good foundation for the three points of encountering Christ listed above. I can say what I have learned thus far after one year as a novice. The greatest and only real possession we have is ourself and our life. The greatest gift from God and symbol of his love is our life and our self. It is our Christian call to return that gift to our Creator. That is the greatest act of love toward God, the giving of our life to and for Him. Some have done so with blood dying for their faith others by “giving their life for a friend.” As Norbertines we do so day by day through our vows of poverty, obedience and chastity., Our vow formula beings “ I offer and give myself to the Church”, that is to our local community which then represents a microcosm of that larger Church as the Mystical Body of Christ (an “ecclesiola” in the “ecclesia”). We are called to die to self so that we might live in Christ.

This requires a constant evaluation and critique of our own motives, opinions and drives. It requires that we relinquish our self to the community and hope and pray each day that we are guided by the Holy Spirit that we may, as part of our mission statement says, “witness the power and reality of Christian community.” It is the giving of our own resources, be it our material belongings, our intellects, our talents, our creativity, our time, our energy, our compassion, and even our needs, wants, struggles and challenges to the disposal of the community for the greater good of that community, the wider community we serve and the glory of God. We do this out of love for God and to support our brothers and our neighbors beyond the cloister walls on their path of salvation. It is our daily hope that those who come among us can see how we love Christ by how we love one another.

So to whom do we entrust ourselves? We did not choose our brothers in community. Each of us was chosen by Christ, for he said “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (John 14:16). Our being together may seem coincidental but we have all answered the same call and have all been chosen by Christ to be in the same place so there must be something we have to offer one another. Maybe Christ has chosen us for each other. It is from here that we grow as friends in Christ and friends together. For Chris said, “This is my commandment: love one another as I loved you…I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 14: 12-15). It is through a constant attempt at openness, trust and vulnerability with one another and with God that we grow together in unity. When we feel compelled to judge one another, to respond uncharitably or a confrère is beginning to become unbearable for us to be aorund day in and day out it is a call to ask, “what part of myself have I not yet given to Christ through community?” “What is it in me that finds frustration in him and is this telling me more about what I need to release than what he needs to change?”

Our vowed life in community is akin to the vine and branches of which Jesus spoke. For he says, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15: 4-5). We are called to ask ourselves, “am I a healthy branch? Am I still attached to the vine? What fruit am I bearing? How can I grow to bear more fruit?” It is only fitting that the patron of our community is Santa Maria de la Vid, or Our Lady of the Vine. We come to Christ in community. Without our community we bear no fruit. By giving ourselves to our Norbertine community ultimately we entrust ourselves to Christ.

This reflection continues in the next post (click here to read it!)

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 4:11 am  Comments (2)