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

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

Now back to the task at hand: living in unity as one heart and one mind on the way into God so that we may fully love God and our neighbor.

This is no small feat. It is a challenge indeed to grow in holiness and love of God and neighbor through our love of and unity with one another. Does that mean good Norbertines following this path come to think and feel alike? Is that our unity of heart and mind? I wish it were that easy. Just because it is a challenge that surpases simply holding the same opinions or preferences does not mean it is not very effective. In fact the steep climb to the realization of such a longing may speak to the importance and vitality of such a practice once one embarks on this journey. It is the desire to fulfill the greatest commandment that has brought us to this challenge of unity. For as St. John the Evangelist tell us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (I John 4:20). We come together to strive toward unity because we all desire to hold Christ as the apex of our lives and recognize we cannot do so alone.

Are we there yet?”

Again our call to unity comes from the statement by St. Augustine that, “The first purpose for which we have come together is to live in unity and to be of one mind and one heart on the way into God.” What I have come to believe is the center of this desire for unity, the key as it were, is the last part of the phrase, In Deum or into God/toward God (depending on the translation). This phrase both provides a great challenge and offers some comfort and perspective. We are not yet in God (or at least full conscious of it), we have not yet arrived at God. We are on the journey of faith and ever deepening discovery. Given that we have not yet arrived at our salvation, we have not yet come to love God as profoundly as we can, we are challenged day by day, moment by moment to continue on that journey through all its highs and lows, joys and sorrows. Given that we are not yet there we can take comfort in realizing that we, and our brothers, do and will have faults and failings, do and will have struggles and can still grow toward perfection in God. A stumbling now only means there is the possibility of hope tomorrow.

Still I often asked, “where is the unity in all the mess of the human journey of faith?” The unity, as I currently understand it, is in that same phrase. It is in the destination. Even if the car filled with children on the family vacation has yet to come to Disney Land, surely the minds and hearts of the children are already set upon it. It doesn’t mean they still wont bicker and fight in the back seat, but they hold a hope in their future destination. This metaphor breaks down when we recognize that our journey of faith requires much effort and work on our part unlike the children going to Disneyland who can passively sit in the car. It does provide a good foundation to remember the active work of grace and the bountiful goodness of God present in our lives even as we do what we can through our will to strive toward that destination. As St. Augustine said, “pray as though everything depended on God, work as though everything depended on you.”

Our unity is derived from the fact that all of us who come together to live this life of community, contemplation and compassionate service in the nearly 900 year long tradition of the Order of Premontre recognize that we are journeying together with the hopes of the same destination.   We may perceive our paths differently, we may understand our emphasis in the manifestation of our charism differently, but with our hearts and minds jointly set on God and on the mysteries of Christ desiring to love and serve God through our neighbor we grow in unity of mind and heart. We must never loose track of the fact that our first neighbors are those with whom we live in community, and our first teachers are often our neighbors.

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

The first liturgical adventure…

This past Sunday, as most Sundays, we went on what I have come to lovingly call our weekly “liturgical adventure.” As part of our formation program we try to gain the greatest exposure possible to the richness that the Catholic population in Chicago has to offer. We go to various Roman Catholic Churches, some very traditional, some very ethnically tied (Polish, Latino, African American) parishes, those that champion the Tridentine rite liturgy, others that see themselves as competing with the evangelical mega-church movement. We also attend a variety of eastern rite liturgies, be it Byzantine, Ukranian, or this past Sunday, Syro-Malabar rite liturgies.

This was my second visit the Syro-Malabar cathedral outside of Chicago. Fr. John gave us a presentation on the Syro-Malabar traditions prior to our liturgical adventure. It is the cathedral for all of North America. Though in communion with the Roman Church, like many eastern church the Syro-Malabar Church has its own hierarchical and governing structure. This is a rite with particular importance to our community because our own Fr. John is a priest from this rich tradition. As are Fr. Bijoy, Binu and George who live and work in my community in Albuquerque.

This particular rite draws its history all the way to the Apostle Thomas. For this reason those Christians who participate in the Syro-Malabar expression of Christianity are sometimes called “Thomas Christians.” This is a Church that has experienced a fair bit of persecution even at the hands of other Catholics. However, despite centuries of marginalization in the Christian world they remain strong in faith and in many of their ancient traditions from the coastal state of Kerala in south western India.

Today the population of Syro-Malabar Christians is great enough in North America for the Church to have recognized the need for a Cathedral. That is where we attended a beautiful liturgical celebration. We went to the liturgy said in Malayalam so of course we did not understand a single word. However, the general flow and ordering of the celebration is much like that of the Roman Mass. Their liturgy is known as the Holy Qurbana. It is taken from the anaphora of Mari and Adai, two figures understood to be disciples of St. Thomas.

The music was akin to that of a Bollyood movie. The sanctuary space is hidden for the beginning part of the liturgy by a large red curtain or “vail.” as the liturgy progresses the curtain is pulled open revealing the high altar and central tabernacle. It is a beautiful dramatic and spiritual moving event as the heavy vail opens to heightened musical excitement and the most sacred space of this ancient liturgical tradition becomes visible for all to see. The liturgical drama then progresses up several steps to enter the large raised sanctuary space.

All in all it was a lovely liturgy and inspiring to see a way in which one of the fastest growing and most vibrant norbertine communities in the world manifests our sacramental life (that is the community of Mananthavady from where all our Indian confrères mentioned in this entry come).

Entering the urban cloister…

I arrived in Chicago and was greeted, as usual, by Fr. David Komatz, my formation director. Matt, a fellow novice, drove the car, a Toyota Prius, to the Midway Airport with David to pick me up. When we arrived home I moved back into my room in which I had lived the previous spring semester while attending Catholic Theological Union. The beautiful deep green walls, stately fine woodwork, bay window, antique furniture and fireplace greeted me and I felt immediately at home. Though, I must say I was already begin to miss my beloved New Mexico and my family and friends.

As I always travel with too much stuff, I had more than enough unpacking to keep me occupied. In addition to all my clothes, I managed to cram in a small library of books on theology, music, linguistics, art and art history and spirituality into my bags. Not to mention a small collection of artwork, CDs, musical instruments I came upon while in Bolivia this summer, my clarinet, a small library of sheet music and my habit. In fact, I was five pounds over my suitcase limit at the airport in Albuquerque. I was almost inspired to put on my habit to save the weight, but couldn’t bring myself to draw so much attention in a public space—maybe never, but certainly not just yet! Instead I just crammed several shirts into my carry ons.

That evening at dinner, as we sat around eating a pleasant meal prepared by Br. Terry, it really hit me. For the next year of my life, almost every dinner I eat will be at this very table with these seven men. I must, for better or for worse, learn to understand and respect who they are, love them and appreciate them. Otherwise, I will never survive this “experiment” into religious life. It was at this moment the intensity of what was to be undertaken and the truest nature of Norbertine Communio came into sight. Such an experiment of religious life was really an experiment for Christian living on the whole, a full expression, with all its bumps and bruises,of the human condition and human experience that to thrive would need to be nurtured by an intentional and mutual love. The theory then being that from this experience, the experience in a long-term community, I can then go out into the world taking our new-found capacity to be heralds of the peace and reconciliation that St. Norbert himself had so valiantly carried across Europe.

That is no small task, however, and it is one that should I not choose to enter into fully I could easily fail at. I pray that through my own efforts and a a grace greater than myself I can come to fully embody that which we all seek through mutual fraternal companionship on our journey towards God. May I survive this period of “hermitage” cloistered away with my brothers!

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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