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.
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.