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Posts Tagged ‘Federal Association of the Order of Malta’

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Called to be Artists

Why in the world would Jesus propose an unreliable and dishonest servant as the hero of one of his parables?  Who really knows, but it’s exactly what Jesus did, according to the gospel of Luke, chapter 16.

According to the story a steward had “dissipated” the assets of his master, though it’s not explicit as to how.  Still, the suggestion is that he squandered rather than stole the funds, and it was enough to get him dismissed.  But in one last act of outrage he added insult to injury by doctoring the books.  He reduced the accounts of all those who were indebted to his master, hoping they might remember him when he landed on the streets.  Clearly this was not an act of affection, but rather a calculation that something good might come his way.

DD086A05-C9FB-4385-B3DF-25F99F84F05DWhat he did was blatantly dishonest.  But it was daring, and for that Jesus gave him credit.  But to add to the confusion, Jesus passed on the soft-ball opportunity to condemn stealing and instead praised the steward’s ingenuity in using ill-gotten gain.  Would that his own disciples might be equally resourceful in the service of God!

That’s the obvious moral to the story, but there’s something else that Jesus leaves to us to discover all by ourselves.  What does it take to wake up to what we’re doing with our lives?  Does it take a major illness?  Does it take a personal catastrophe or the loss of someone dear to us?  Does it take the wisdom that comes with age?  Or does it take a notice of termination, as was the case with the steward?

No matter when or if we each go through the shock of a personal Great Awakening, we all tend to waltz through long stretches of life on the assumption that there will be endless tomorrows.  It provides the excuse that the servant used to justify a wasted life, only to discover he didn’t have a lot of time to redirect it onto some thoughtful course.  As for us, we have the same opportunity, even if God doesn’t always send us ample notice on the termination of our pilgrimage.

5D44A3A1-DF0B-4A1B-BB18-98741A218320Recently a friend of mine sent a cartoon that showed a bewildered man standing at the gates of heaven.  Saint Peter reads from the ledger and then looks squarely at the recently-deceased.  “It seems you had a reasonably good life.  Unfortunately you missed most of it because you were staring into your cell phone.

That cell phone may be real or metaphorical, but the point is obvious.  To borrow from another medium, a painter has to work within the limits of a canvas, and so our lives too have limits marked by a beginning and an end.  They define our opportunity to do something singular with our lives, and they are part of the fine print in the contract God made with us at birth.  God then stands back to let us be the artist, and it’s the greatest commission we’ll ever have.  If we are imaginative and resourceful, and if we don’t put the work off until the last minute, our painting could very well become a work of art!

D7F86EA0-EB7C-4385-9E27-CD2B6FF73B8ENOTES

+On September 16th a van filled with 3,000 organ pipes arrived at Saint John’s after a ride from organ-builder Martin Pasi’s studio in Tacoma, WA.  They were promptly unloaded and currently occupy one section of pews in the abbey church.  The church is a mess right now, but in a few months it will result in an organ that is twice the size of the current organ.

+On September 20-22 I gave a retreat to members of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta, at a retreat center in Mundelein, IL, located just outside of Chicago.

+This past week Abbot Jeremias Schroder from Germany visited us for several days.  He heads the Benedictine congregation of Saint Ottilian, which is a congregation of missionary Benedictine monasteries around the world.  Several of our Benedictine Volunteers currently work in some of those monasteries, and we’ve been fortunate to host monks from various of these abbeys studying at Saint John’s over the years.

+On September 22nd I attended a dinner and ceremony at which the president of Saint John’s Univeristy, Dr. Gene McAllister, conferred the Fr. Colman J. Barry Award on alumnus Ambassador Robert Shafer.  The award salutes unique contributions to religion and society, and Bob has certainly done that.  In addition to a long career at Pfizer Corporation, he has been a long-time member of the Order of Malta, and for many years served as the Order’s permanent observer at the United Nations.  He’s also served on the boards of Saint John’s University and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.

+I neglected in the previous post to note that we have welcomed two brothers into our community.  Brother Felix was clothed as a novice on September 11th, and Brother David  was welcomed for a probationary year.  He had already completed his novitiate and years in formation before taking a leave of absence to consider his vocation.  We are delighted to have him back with us, along with Brother Felix.

+The first photo in today’s post shows some of the 3,000 new pipes for the organ.  They will be fitted into the two spaces that flank the big red screen in the abbey church.  To get there they must go through one of two openings into the organ loft, shown in the third photo.  The event at which we honored Ambassador Shafer (below) began with a musical performance by students from Saint John’s University.

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IMG_9353Holy Leisure — A Waste of Time?

Like so many people, I grew up nourished by the maxim that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  My parents and teachers reinforced this whenever they could, and perhaps that’s why I internalized it so well.  Anyway, by age thirty I had already compiled an impressive list of tasks accomplished.  But I also knew that this sort of attitude about life brings its special problems.  Specifically, for people like me and others I know, we can never really do enough.  It was nice that we had managed to use most of our time wisely, but ultimately what we’d done in the past mattered little compared to the challenges yet to come.  Before us stretched the years, and the potential to waste any or all of that time was something to fear at all costs.

For years I thought I had been pretty industrious in the use of my time, but then smart phones came along.  Those little machines made me painfully aware of just how many minutes and seconds I had frittered away through the years.  With a smart phone I could put my life on track, and I could wring every opportunity from every minute.  With even modest diligence I could reduce wastage to mere seconds a day.

IMG_9264In a recent essay in The Week, managing editor Carolyn O’Hara describes her own discovery of how much time she had wasted before the advent of the smart phone.  Like me she had learned early on about the inherent sinfulness of boredom and idleness, and she too discovered the exhilaration of filling every waking moment with work.  For a while, then, the smart phone transformed her life.  But then it happened.  Eventually it dawned on her that non-stop business was not the virtue she had once assumed.  In banishing quiet and empty time from her life, she had lost something very important: her creativity.

“Truly empty time is vitally important” she writes.  “When not distracted, our brains are free to wander off on creative tangents, as feelings and thoughts bubble up in the silence; there’s a reason bright ideas and breakthroughs tend to come in the shower or on long walks.”  (16 October, 2015, p. 3.)

IMG_9285It’s amazing how easy it has been for the smart phone to upend our lives.  In fact, most of us have surrendered without much of a fight, on the assumption that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  You see examples of this surrender in restaurants and on the streets, where people prefer to talk with a disembodied voice rather than with the flesh and blood human being in front of them.  And I’ve seen a variant of this in many first-time visitors to the abbey.  On arrival they are struck by the silence, both in the guesthouse and also in the abbey church.  Many of them find the silence intimidating, because they’ve never really experienced silence in their lives.  For them the big test comes especially during the recitation of the psalms at morning and evening prayer.  We monks are accustomed to one full minute of silence between each psalm, but visitors find that one minute to be a novel experience.  For a few it’s almost too much to bear.  Those interludes seem to give new appreciation for the line from the psalm that reads “one day within your courts is like a thousand elsewhere.”  In our choir many discover how infinitely long one minute of silence can seem, and for a few it is just too much.  But if they keep it up, in time they discover how exhilarating it is when time seems to stand still.

IMG_9316Long ago we monks got used to these meditative pauses, and now I assume all of us savor the chance to sit, to be silent, and to indulge in what the world considers to be an idle waste of time.  But idleness it is not.  Nor is it a waste.  With smart phones silenced and the absence of chatter, and with nothing else to do but sit there waiting for the next psalm, we experience the chance to listen to what God has to say.  That’s when we experience the Spirit stirring within us.

When the movie Into the Great Silence made its debut, its portrait of life in a Carthusian monastery drew mixed responses.  I fondly recall one reviewer from The Minneapolis StarTribune, who took umbrage at the absence of a sound track that could have carried the film through the slow parts.  He didn’t go so far as to recommend an orchestral overture to introduce the movie, but he was moving in that direction.  Obviously, however, he missed the point of the movie entirely.  Granted, there was no musical background; and there was indeed a scarcity of words,  But there was more than enough to listen to, because in their silence the monks heard things that most of us miss completely in our day-to-day craziness.  .

IMG_9367The silence and holy leisure that allow us to listen is the point of monastic life, and of Christian life as well.  Jesus often commented on how people had ears to hear but never seemed to hear anything.  Echoing this, Saint Benedict urged his monks to listen, and in fact those are the first words in his Rule.  Clearly he did not intend to banish sound from the monastery; rather, he preferred quality over the the quantity of sound.

Sadly, what makes listening so difficult these days is not the quality of the sound, but the quantity.  Our world is inundated with noise, and smart phones compete furiously for whatever attention they can get.  Not surprisingly, then, despite having ears to hear and more stuff to hear than ever before in human history, we generally miss out on what is truly important.  We fail to pay attention to what really matters.

It’s never too late to make space in our day to be silent and to listen.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it may even be good to silence our smart phones once in a while, just to better hear the ordinary stuff that’s been going on around us.  Who knows what great things we’ve been missing?  And if we run the risk of not hearing as much stuff as before, we might very well have those creative insights that will make for us all he difference in the world.

IMG_9303Notes

+On October 14 I presided at the Abbey Mass at Saint John’s.  You can access my sermon, Did Jesus Have Bad Days? through this link.

+On October 15 I attended a reception for alumni of Saint John’s University, held in Dallas, TX

+On October 16-18 I gave a retreat to the Dallas/Houston area members of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta.  We held the retreat at Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House, in Lake Dallas, TX.  The members made for a wonderful time, and I look forward to meeting with them again someday.  In my conferences I spoke on the spirituality of the Order of Malta.

+I took the photos in today’s post last week.  At the end of the summer the prognosticators had promised an autumn filled with glorious color.  We’ve had some, but not quite as much as what we had expected.

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