Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I read Dom Mark at "Vultus Christi"

And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mark 4:37-40)

It's not that storms happen; it's how we respond to them!

Storms are a part of life.  In the Old Testament, we see examples of God's people weathering storms with faith -- from Moses who weathered the storm of angry Egyptians on chariots by parting the Red Sea before faithless refugees (Exodus 14) to the innocent Job who passed through the storm of boils covering his body, and the greater storm of friends who insisted it was because Job offended God.  What separates the faithful from the faithless, is that grace of spirit engendered so well in the simple prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

A response to any storm in a way that is filled with anxiety, fear and disquiet, is a response that is lacking faith.  This doesn't mean we should try to be superhuman and are wrong for feeling anxious or fearful.  What matters is whether or not we dwell in that anxiety or fear in a way that is harmful to the spiritual life.  Faith is a grace, but it is a grace on which we must act with our free will.  Just as idleness can lead to evil (Sirach 33:27) and we are warned to avoid idleness in the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 3:6,11), dwelling in what what is wrong -- real or perceived -- is just as damaging.

Storms in the Church

My motto for most anything that I find unsettling, is: What God doesn't will, He permits.  Nothing happens without His willing it to happen, or His permitting it to happen for reasons known only to Him.

If you follow current events in the Church, undoubtedly you will have noticed that there are many storms around the cyber-diocese, with some voicing their concerns with due respect for the Church leaders they speak of; and, others who put their disdain and contempt on display without reserve. It might be wise to study what Thomas Aquinas says about fraternal correction - not just the part that says the faithful may correct a prelate in certain circumstances, but the whole thing… several times and meditatively (here is a "how to" guide on reading the Summa with the way it is structured).

A recent storm

Early this week, when a particular news story caused yet another storm online amongst Catholics,  I decided to turn to a voice that has always been steady in any storm. I turned to that source the way a child runs to the security of a loving parent when alarmed by all the noise. I was not disappointed. There, at the blog of Dom Mark, at Vultus Christi, was precisely what my soul searched for, and found. It begins:

Some are called not to much speaking, 
nor to conversations about the Church, 
but, rather, to a deep silence
and to a life hidden in the heart of the Church, 
far from wrangling tongues, from speculations, and discord. 

These souls Our Lord calls to be silent 
so as to be like Him in the Sacrament of His Love. 
These He calls to hide themselves 
even as He is hidden in His tabernacles.

As you read the rest of the post, you see that Dom Mark is talking about all of this in the context of monastic life.  As I read it, I considered how much correspondence he may have received that day, given the intensity of angst amongst faithful Catholics.  Maybe he received no correspondence and saw no reactions online, but I just sensed that he knew, and was fully aware, of the confusion and turmoil experienced by many.  But, in his spiritual maturity, he remained calm in the storm, resting comfortably in Our Eucharistic Lord. Amidst the waves of wrangling tongues, speculations and discord about the Church, he rose above the controversy, becoming humble and lowly before God.

I pondered whether this was simply the response required of monastics.  Yet, I knew from my experience with Fr. Perrone and with the fathers of the Holy Cross who assist us at Assumption Grotto, that they often counsel us likewise during such times.  I have found them also steady in such storms, letting nothing disturb them.

What Dom Mark says in that post is not just for monastics; there should be a little "monastic" in all of us at times.

A closer look at storms and the Vultus Christi blog

Storms can cause us to do one of two things: Panic or remain steady and focused.  Only one of those responses is rooted in faith.   God didn't give us holy priests, monks, friars, and consecrated, just so they could be the fuel that runs the engine of grace in the Church; they were given to us to look up to during the storms we encounter.  They, like Christ in the boat being tossed in the waves, show us how to respond.  Perhaps they cannot quell a raging storm, but they can teach us how survive with our faith intact.

I have found Dom Mark's blog, Vultus Christi, to be one of the more spiritually mature blogs out there. For those caving to that part of their lower nature that gravitates to controversy and commiseration over the faults and imperfections of others, or what some member of the hierarchy is doing, you'll have to look elsewhere.  If you are looking to build your spiritual life, and your relationship with Jesus Christ, you will have to spend less time on Church affairs and controversies, and instead dig deeper into learning about the faith.

The spiritual life, like faith itself, is not built on academic study. For some it is helpful, but it's only one possible means of many. Striving for holiness every minute of every day does not depend on our dwelling on all that is going on; it's actually detrimental and corrosive to the spiritual life.  By putting that time into more wholesome spiritual reading and prayer, you may not be able to talk about the controversy of the day with anyone; but you will build the tools necessary for serious evangelization.  That is the food your friends and loved ones need and when you spend your time filling your spiritual tool box, your guardian angel will let you know when to pull out a given tool.  You can't win someone for Christ by merely talking about the controversy of the day. That's spiritual junk food.  Start with foundations and build from there.

If said this before, that if you find yourself persistently disquieted by something you are reading or seeing online, on TV, or in reading material, then set it aside for a while for higher things.  Find sources that do not cause this anxiety and disquiet.  I think Vultus Christi should be bookmarked and read by any serious Catholic looking to grow in holiness.

But doesn't someone need to talk about all these problems?

Lest anyone think I am suggesting there is no need for discussion about matters controversial, especially current events, that is not the case.  Those best suited for talking about these things are souls who are not in a state of disquiet or with visible anxiety over the matter.  Read those people if you are trying to understand something and avoid the panicky-polemicals.  It may also be necessary to set aside the controversy for a while and see where the dust settles. With time, God may help us to see more clearly.   The worst person to be at the helm of any ship is a panic-stricken sailor.  He has the potential to needlessly instill panic in everyone else around him.  His thinking gets clouded by the anxiety permeating his soul and his ability to reason and rationalize is muted. And, some simply aren't interested in winning others with reason; they just want a good fight.

St. Jerome
If St. Jerome wanted us to imitate anything about his life, it would not be his irascible side; rather, he would want us to devote more time to reading and studying Sacred Scripture. St. Nicholas would want to be remembered more for the way he wore Christ on his sleeve on a daily basis, at a time of deadly persecution, than for clocking the heretic, Arius. Sadly, with all the blogposts I saw on the feast day of St. Nicholas, "the punch" is what dominated, the discussion, almost exclusively.  Did we take time to learn anything else about the life of St. Nicholas? He is the patron saint of sailors.  They had an affection for him and I don't think it was because he punched Arius.

Concupiscence, along with the Angel of Darkness, will always make us gravitate to controversy and complaint.  Yet, venting and commiseration about what is going wrong are not virtues; they are imperfections.  More can be accomplished with a Holy Hour for those who are the target of our concern and it is a great act of love -- to beg mercy and conversion - which also tempers anger over what they do.  I myself need to take this advice, often given by our priests at Assumption Grotto, especially when there is something unsettling happening.  We don't use the Holy Hour to tell God what to do; we simply lay the concern before Him and let go of it.  He could send a legion of angels in the blink of an eye to change it, but only He knows how something fits in to a much larger plan (Romans 5:20).  God is aware of the problems that trouble us and those problems will be here tomorrow even if we die today. So, look for ways to build the Body of Christ rather than take jabs at Her members.

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Dom Mark is a Benedictine Monk of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, at the Silverstream Priory in Meath, Ireland.  Did I mention there is a donate button at his blog?  If you like what you find there, after clicking around, considering sending the monks a Christmas donation for their needs. They live on Divine Providence.  You'll find a donate button at the Vultus Christi blog, as well.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
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