January 30, 2014

Just Slow Down

I have read the bible cover-to-cover four times. Meeting Jesus in the pages of Scripture on a daily basis is one of the joys of my life.

Most of the frustration people experience when setting out to read the Bible cover-to-cover is that they read it too fast. The Holy Bible was not meant to be read like a novel. Just slow down.

People ask about "Read the Bible in a Year" reading plans but you can't force the Holy Spirit into a Schedule. If something is difficult to understand then pray about it and move on. Don't try to force it. If something is interesting or beautiful and you want to linger or re-read it then do so.

We meet Jesus - our Beloved - in the pages of Scripture. We have to meet Jesus on his terms, not ours. Forget about your own reading plan. Just slow down, and make Scripture a part of your daily life one small portion at a time. Little by little it will become part of who we are, part of our very being.


January 15, 2014

A Perfect, Literal, Word-for-Word Translation of the Bible

There is no literal word-for-word translation. It is nearly impossible to read.

I am the bread the living the out of-the heaven down-stepping if-ever any may-be-eating out of-this the bread he shall-be-living into the eon and the bread yet which I shall-be-giving the flesh of-me is which I shall-be-giving over the of-the system (or world) life. (John 6:51)

This is a literal word-for-word translation of part of the Bread of Life discourse (John 6) produced from one of the manuscripts upon which the KJV Bible was based. Reference http://www.scripture4all.org. A literal word-for-word translation of any other manuscript upon which any other Bible is based reads just as poorly.

People want a word-for-word translation and think that the Douay-Rhiems or the King James Bible or some other Bible is it, but they are not. Every translation is a product of its time and place and required some interpretation of the Hebrew and Greek words to produce. The manuscripts were translated into the language of the day using expressions and phrases common at the time. Every Bible therefor has issues. No translation is perfect and a literal word-for-word translation would be nearly useless for daily use.

The important thing is to get a reasonable translation which can be lived with and then make scripture a part of our daily lives.

The truth is that anyone who is serious about scripture (and can afford it) will have multiple versions. The RSV-CE is solid and reliable, reads well and is approved by the Church. I think the Psalms read a little better in some parts of the NAB but that's my personal opinion. I just bought a Douay-Rheims-Challoner for a different perspective and have not regretted it so far.

Perfection is difficult to achieve. Any expectation of perfection can only lead to disappointment and frustration. If we look for a reasonable translation we can live with and make it a part of our daily life then we will have a pleasurable experience. God can teach us through His holy word but only if we approach the Scriptures with an attitude of quiet humility.


January 13, 2014

Modern Desert Abba

A very experienced and wise man recently said;

"Silence is a virtue and at times it is a moral obligation if one has nothing uplifting to say about one's brothers and sisters."


January 09, 2014

The Baptism of Jesus

Baptism was familiar to the Jews at the time of Jesus.

Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:4-6)

Modern Mikveh Pool
This passage describes the Jewish practice of ritual immersion in the mikveh. The mikveh was used in ancient Judiasm for purification and for conversion. Many modern Jewish communities maintain a mikveh bath for purification to this day. Those who convert to Judaism must be immersed in the mikveh three times.

Remember that the Gospels were written in Greek. The word baptism comes from the Greek word baptisma which was a term for the ritual washing of the Hellenistic Jews. It refers directly to the mikveh purification/conversion bath.  The mikveh described in the Gospels was the baptisma for repentance.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)

Essene Jews underwent this ritual purification bath every morning indicating daily repentance - what we would call ongoing conversion.

Jesus' ritual baptisma in the Jordan was at the very beginning of his ministry where he raises immersion in the mikveh to the level of a sacrament. Jesus added the Trinitarian form the the end of his ministry, after the ressurection, right before his Ascension and that is what we know today as baptism.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19)

First Century Mikveh Immersion Bath


January 05, 2014

Zippered Thin-Line RSV-CE Bible from Oxford University Press

RSV Catholic Edition from Oxford University Press
Shown is the zippered, thin-line RSV Catholic Edition Bible in imitation leather from Oxford University Press. It is listed on Oxford Press website in black at $32.99 but can be found on the internet in both black and burgundy for a little over $20.

It is imitation leather but it feels like lambskin and is beautifully stitched. The binding is sewn and it has a zippered closure with miraculous medal zipper pull. I've added two ribbons to save my place - one red for the Old Testament and one white for the New Testament. The ribbons had to be cut short so as not to get caught in the zipper. There are very few notes, no maps, no essays and no pretty pictures - very few frills, just the text. It is not a study Bible but designed to be carried with you and read.

This is an amazingly rugged yet beautiful Bible. I tend to be rough on things and the zippered closure is a blessing for travel or just throwing it in the back seat of the car. This one has been used every day for years, has been dragged up and down the east-coast in backpack, on airplanes, in hotel rooms, and it still looks brand new. I have read this Bible cover to cover three times and am half way through my fourth.

This is quite simply one of the best values in Catholic Bibles available today. 

RSV Catholic Edition from Oxford University Press
RSV Catholic Edition from Oxford University Press

RSV Catholic Edition from Oxford University Press

RSV Catholic Edition from Oxford University Press


Douay-Rheims Bible by St. Bendict Press

Douay-Rheims Bible by St. Benedict Press
Shown is the Douay-Rheims Bible (Challoner New Testament) published by St. Benedict Press. It lists at the publisher's website for $54.99 but is available on the internet for around $35 + shipping. This paricular copy was purchased from Adoremus Books through the Barnes & Noble marketplace.

It is genuine leather and appears to have a glued binding. Modern glued bindings are much better then they used to be but putting prayer cards and other papers inside of any fine book is never recommended. It has a single ribbon in gold/tan and gilded edges.

Subjectively, it just doesn't feel as much like a fine Bible as I had hoped it would and am left wondering if the premium ultra-soft version for ten dollars less would not have been a better value. I'm hoping the cover will soften a little with use. Time will tell.

I can already tell that my zippered leather thin-line RSV-CE from Oxford University Press will remain as my daily reader. Still, I'm really really looking forward to reading this. I've already peeked at the first lines of 1 John. John's first letter always moves my heart and my fear was that it would read archaic and dry. That is definitely not the case.

And I've never had a red-letter Bible. Maybe now my Evangelical and Baptist friends will give my Bible some respect. :)

Douay-Rheims Bible by St. Benedict Press

Douay-Rheims Bible by St. Benedict Press

Douay-Rheims Bible by St. Benedict Press


A Smaller and Purer Church

Acts of the Apostles gives us the first glimpse of the early Church.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

Thinking with the Heart and Mind of the Church: The early Church was concerned with the teaching of the Apostles. God fully revealed himself to man through his chosen Apostles and the early Church listed to what the Apostles had to say, conformed their minds to what the Apostles taught and then carried out that teaching in life. The successors to the Apostles are today's bishops. A purer Church today will act like the early Church described in Acts of the Apostles. A purer Church will "Think with the heart and mind of the Church" and that means thinking with the heart and mind of the Bishop. Individuals in a purer Church will believe what the Bishop believes and will act on the concerns of the Bishop.

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  (Philimon 1:27)

Becoming a True Parish Family: The early Church was a Church of fellowship. They didn't just shake hands once each week at Mass. They gathered outsise of Mass, made an effort to get to know each other, assisted each other in their needs, supported each other and shared each other's joys and sorrows. A purer church is a Church where people in the parish invite each other to dinner, dedicate a Saturday to helping a parishoner move, pull over to help a parishoner change a flat tire and try to do business with each other whenever possible. A pure Church is a Church of true fellowship, not just saying hello on Sunday.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.  (Romans 12:16)

Jesus and the Eucharist: The early Church broke bread. This means the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith because the Eucharist is Jesus and Jesus is the source and summit of our faith. A Church which does not center its life around Jesus and the Eucharist is not a pure Church. A pure Church centers itself around the Jesus and the Eucharist. A Church which makes the Eucharist the most important part of it's life can accomplish anything.

yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)

Prayer: The world "pray" (prayer, prayed, praying) appears 32 times in Acts of the Apostles. All through the narrative, whenever something happens - good or bad - the reaction of the Church was to gather together for prayer. A pure Church is a church of prayer.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; (Colossians 4:2)

This is the image of a pure Church - thinking and acting with the heart and mind of the bishop, becoming a true family where we know each other intimately and are part of each others lives, focusing on Jesus and the Eucharist as the most important thing in our lives and gathering to pray.

Traditionalists often speak of a smaller and purer Church. The model has been laid out for us by St. Luke in Acts of the Apostles. It starts in your own heart and in your own little parish, and starts with you.


December 27, 2013

A Very Cistercian Christmas

I had a very Cistercian Christmas at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. I hope everyone who reads this had the Christmas of their dreams.

The monks chanted a Christmas Vigil at 10:50 and the Abbot celebrated Mass at midnight. The Abbot is the Ordinary - the authority in the monastery. He is like a Bishop in authority and obeyed as if he were Christ. It was wonderful to him process in with his miter and crosier. His homily was about how Jesus wants to be born within you and I and how the more we are attached to created things, the less room we have in our hearts for Jesus and the less room we have in our hearts for love. There was a reception after and we got to meet the Abbot and spent some time speaking with Brother Phillip, 40 years old, a novice 2 years at the monastery and in simple vows. It was great to see Brother Michael and Brother Hugh.

The mass was Ordinary Form in English with lots of incense. The brothers chanted the offeratory hymn.


December 24, 2013

Why the Nativity?

Moses longed to see God's glory but was only allowed to see God's back.

Moses said, "I pray thee, show me thy glory." And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name `The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live." And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen." (Exodus 33:18-33)

Elijah knew God was in the gentle wind and he hid himself, knowing that he would die if he looked at God.

And when Eli'jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:13)

Moses and Elijah were granted their wish, were allowed to see God in the person of Jesus, were allowed to see God's face when they stood with him on the mountain of transfiguration.

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli'jah, talking with him. (Matthew 17:2-3)

All of Israel had longed to see their salvation, longed to behold God's glory, longed to see God's face. Until Jesus was born, they had only seen manifestations of God - the burning bush, the cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night... Man was finally able to behold God's glory in the person of Jesus, was finally able to see God's face at the nativity.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14)

God had finally revealed himself fully. Man was finally able to see God's glory, to touch God, and converse with God and to eat with God. John speaks so eloquently about the great gift of seeing God with his own eyes, about Israel's longing and its fulfillment in Jesus.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us -- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

It was the eternal longing of Israel, to look upon the face of God. Israel was finally able to do that at the nativity. We get to do that at every Mass at the elevation when the priest says...

Behold the Lamb of God...

We get to see God's glory at every Mass. It is something Israel longed for. It is what we celebrate tonight, that man was finally able to behold God and live. We celebrate that God became visible tonight.

Merry Christmas to all. 


December 22, 2013

Book Review: In the School of the Holy Spirit

In the School of the Holy Spirit by Fr. Jacques Philippe is only 90 pages, small pages at that, but don't let its size fool you. This is a powerful work on a subject that (for me at least) is easily overlooked.

The author asserts that holiness in our lives is the work of the Holy Spirit and "The task is boyond our power". This might seem obvious to any Christian, but Jacques Philippe goes further, asking two questions of vital importance; how can we foster inspirations of the Holy Spirit and how we can know for sure that the inspiration comes from God (and not from our own mind or from the devil)?

Several broad precepts are given for fostering divine inspirations, including obedience to small movements of the Spirit as a means to greater and more numerous inspirations.

"'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy." (Mt 21:25 NAB)

Knowing that an inspiration comes from God is something that I struggle with and the author's wisdom in this regard makes the book well worth the $9.95 cover price.

"We should not... take it as a systematic rule for discerning God's will the principal that in any given situation, what he asks of us will always be what is most difficult."

The author addresses these questions while recognizing our own individuality and hence, God's way of working with us on a very personal level. The book does not present a formula, but rather a set of guidelines we can use in our daily lives to help us help the Holy Spirit affect our call to holiness.

Summary: The Holy Spirit is our means to holiness. Fostering the Holy Spirit's work in our lives and the ability to discern God's call is the subject of In the School of the Holy Spirit by Jacques Philippe. Short, to the point and well worth reading. This is one of my top ten favorite spiritual books of all time.


December 19, 2013

Bible Translations...

People get all freaked out over Bible translations and versions, and want to throw the baby out with the bath water. The RSV has issues. The NAB has issues. Even the Douay-Rheims has issues.

There are circumstances where literal translations, though technically accurate, do not reflect the actual meaning of the passage. The author's meaning often lies hidden in the modes of speech, idioms and common phrases of the day. Take, for example, Leviticus 18:6.

None of you shall approach any one near of kin to him to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD. (RSV)

No man shall approach to her that is near of kin to him, to uncover her nakedness. I am the Lord. (D-R)

None of you shall approach a close relative to have sexual intercourse. I am the LORD. (NAB)

Hardly anyone knows that uncovering nakedness means having sexual relations. "Uncovering nakedness" was an idiom, a polite way of indicating incest. The NAB here is less accurate in terms of translating individual words but conveys the actual meaning better.

It says later that your mother's nakedness is your father's nakedness. Noah's son uncovered his father's nakedness - that means that he had sex with his father's wife! But we would not know that from the RSV or the Douay-Rheims. I'm not defending the NAB, but I am refuting the claim that it is subtly undermining the faith of millions of Christians. It can be a good Bible without being perfect.

All Bibles have issues. Human language is imperfect - the people who built the Tower of Babel saw to that. A true student of Scripture therefor, will have several translations and version, and will not be afraid to cross-reference them. Scripture should always be supplemented with lots of prayer and read in the context of authentic Church teaching.


December 18, 2013

One Mediator

A mediator is one who goes back and forth between two parties getting them to agree. In Jewish culture and in the Hebrew Scriptures, mediation has to do with covenants.

Moses was a mediator for the covenant God made with the Hebrews.

Now when all the people perceived the thunderings and the lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die." (Exodus 20:18-19)

Moses mediated the covenant, going up and down the mountain at least five times, bringing Gods proposal to the people and the people's response to God. If you look in your Bible, it might even have the heading "Moses Accepted as Mediator" before this section of Scripture. Jesus is the new Moses. Jesus mediates a new covenant. 

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, (Hebrews 9:15)

and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, (Hebrews 12:24)

The old covenant was imperfect, and the man Moses was an imperfect mediator. Jesus is the perfect mediator between God and man because he alone is both God and man. 

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 2:5)

Jesus is God. Jesus is man. Jesus is therefor the perfect mediator of the new perfect covenant between God and mankind. His mediation is perfect because he is both God and man.


June 10, 2012

Exodus and Transfiguration

St. Luke's account of the Transfiguration is unique in one detail.

While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:29-31)

Many miss it when they read this scripture; Jesus was to accomplish an exodus in Jerusalem. That is what Jesus, Elijah and Moses were conversing about - a second exodus. The exodus Jesus was to accomplish was in many ways similar to, and a fulfillment of the exodus which Moses led, but never completed. 

Moses himself never crossed into the promised land, but Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

Moses led the people out of slavery and bondage, but they kept slipping into sin and acting like their captors back in Egypt. Jesus however, completes the exodus and gives us a very real way to rid ourselves of sin  - baptism, confession and himself in the Eucharist.


January 01, 2011

Spirit and the Real Presence

In the story of his conversion, former Presbyterian theological virtuoso Dr. Scott Hahn recounts the first time he attended Mass and saw the Eucharist held aloft by a priest.

My God, it's you! It's really you!!!

Christ tells us point blank that the Eucharist is a mystery of faith; that the Eucharist is something our human senses can never perceive and which our human intellect can never fully comprehend. Some non-Catholic Churches seem to ignore Christ's teaching about the supernatural nature of the Eucharist as they go about their regular practice of symbolic communion while members of other non-Catholic Churches misunderstand Jesus' teaching about the mystery of the Eucharist at it's most fundamental (a-hem) level.

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

See, Jesus was speaking spiritually. Jesus was only speaking symbolically. It's a memorial.... mere bread. "the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit" Its the classic denial of the Eucharist. And it is not only dead wrong but is exactly the opposite of what Christ actually said.
Jesus very clearly states that his words (about the Eucharist) are "Spirit and life." The English word spirit comes from the Latin word spiritus which literally means breath.

The word "Spirit" appears in 58 books, 288 chapters, 509 verses and a total of 556 times in the New American Bible. I've read every one of them. You can read them here if you want, or if you prefer, you can use the Revised Standard Version here. Nowhere in scripture is the word "Spirit" used as a synonym for the word "Symbolic."

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2, NAB)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2, RSV)

The New American Bible renders the passage "Mighty Wind" while the Revised Standard Version renders the passage "Spirit of God." Two different translations are given to illustrate the synonymous nature moving air (mighty wind) and the Spirit of God.

...the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

In the second creation account, God breathes "The breath of life" into man who becomes "A living being." There is an undeniable causational relationship between the "breath" of the divine being and life in man; God's breath - the blowing of air into man's nostrils - is that which causes man to live. In the very first book of the Bible we see the movement of air, God's breath, his Spirit, the "Might wind" hovering over the waters, not only giving man his very life as it is breathed into his nostrils but being the catalyst for the creation of the entire universe in which man lives.

Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)

Jesus compares the nature of wind with the action of the Holy Spirit in man as he converses with Nicodemus the Pharisee. The context of the conversation is the strict requirement that one be "Born of water and spirit" in order to enter heaven. Catholics know this passage as a reference to the beginning of a Christians spiritual life through baptism. Through baptism we are adopted into new life as members of the Body of Christ. If you have the chance to witness a baptism any time soon, please do so, and watch for the part where the priest of deacon breathes on the candidate three times in the shape of a cross.

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (Acts 2:1-4)

Yet more wind, this time breathing life into and giving birth to the Church, filling the Church with the Holy Spirit. Need we go on? Oh, just one more...

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit." Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:19-23)

The Word of God which became flesh literally breathes the Holy Spirit into the Apostles. Note that the gift of the Holy Spirit which is given to the Apostles at this particular time allows them to forgive sins and thereby bring others back to spiritual life (to a state of sanctifying grace).

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

Throughout the Bible, the word "Spirit" is used to signify the very breath of God, the Holy Spirit, and spiritual life. And Jesus' words at the end of the Bread of Life discourse are no different. Jesus is not speaking of symbolism and spirituality; he is speaking of new life, a participation in the Body of Christ!

The argument that John 6:63 renders communion as symbolic collapses under the weight of scriptural evidence - exactly the opposite is in fact the case. Jesus says:
  • I am the bread of life (twice)
  • I am the living bread that came down from heaven
  • The bread that I will give is my flesh
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life
  • My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me
  • The one who feeds on me will have life
And then Jesus tells us not that his words are symbolic or spiritual, but that his words are "Spirit and life"; that which breathes a new spiritual life - the very life of God - into his followers!

In spite of Christs warning, some of his disciples chose to walk away. Christ's warning is no less clear today. Your flesh is of no avail! Your eyes will see bread. Your tongue will taste wine. Your nose will smell the alcohol.  Your intellect cannot grasp what I am about to fully reveal on the night before I am to die for your sins, when I take bread in my sacred hands and break it so that you may always have me present. Your faculties of reason cannot understand the miracle - the turning of bread and wine into my flesh and blood - that will be performed in every nation, from the rising of the sun to its setting, at the hands of my priests until I come again in glory.


October 21, 2010

A Weekend of Peace...

I had to pull over on the way home.

The engine was off before the car even came to a stop. The relative quiet as I swung the car into a parking spot behind a Walgreen drug store was the first moment of peace I had since leaving.

And then I cried.

The area around the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyer's Georgia, home to 32 Monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance,   is mostly rural and quite bucolic. After twenty minutes of driving toward Atlanta however, the cacophony of the strip malls and billboards of suburbia got to me.

First a guy on a sport bike whizzed past me at about twice my speed. Then the rumble of some way too big pickup truck drew my attention. I had tried to change lanes to make a turn but the driver behind me sped up to block me, only to wind up next to me at the red light a hundred yards down the road. The sheer number of signs which vied for my attention was amazing; McDonald's, QT, Autozone, buy one get one free, sale, sale, SALE! The noise from car radios, from traffic, and even from my own car just wouldn't stop. It all seemed to be attacking me, and all without purpose,  and it made me feel dirty.

Everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things. Even with the best of intentions a spiritual man finds himself exhausted and deadened and debased by the constant noise of machines and loudspeakers, the dead air and the glaring lights of offices and shops, the everlasting suggestions of advertising and propaganda. The whole mechanism of modern life is geared for a flight from God and from the spirit into the wilderness of neurosis. Even our monasteries are not free from the smell and clatter of our world.
(No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton)

I simply hadn't realized how peaceful it was at the monastery - especially in the church - and was deeply saddened at having to leave, so much so that I had to pull over. In the relative silence of my car, the contrast between the beauty and silence of the monastery and the the grotesqueness of the world brought me to tears. I desperately wanted to turn around a go back.

The Abby Church is one of the largest poured concrete buildings in the south. Every bit of that concrete was hauled up scaffolding my monks, mixed by monks, and dumped wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, one at a time, by monks. As one would expect in church maintained by a strict monastic community, the only visible signage in the church is the Crucifix hanging over the altar, a few simple wooden crosses on the walls and a hand written sign reading "Alms for the food bank" which stood next to a clay pot near the pews.

The monks observe "Grand silence" from the the end of compline (evening prayer) at about 7:30 PM until after Mass on the following morning. Meals are eaten in silence as well. Brother Michael told us that half of a monk's day was spent in silence and I commented that that half of a monks life is spent in silence.

I said, "I will watch my ways,
lest I sin with my tongue;
I will put a curb on my mouth."
(Psalm 39)

The retreat house is decorated almost exclusively with reproductions of some of the greatest pieces of Christian art as well as some original works. There are few signs directing anyone as to what behavior is expected and those that are necessary - such as the ones pointing the way toward the Church - all end with the words, "God bless you." One piece of artwork called to me more than all of the others; eleven apostles stood by Jesus while the twelfth apostle knelt in front of our Lord. Jesus' mouth and eyes were closed in silent prayer while his hands rested on the apostles head. It was clearly the sacrament of holy orders. Paintings of Mary, of Jesus, of children running toward the Lord to sit in his lap told us everything we needed to know.

Brother Michael met with us on Friday night and explained some of the basics of how the monastery operated and what we should expect over the next two days. Lunch is the big meal of the day for the monks and to my surprise, we were to be granted access to a portion of the cloistered area and would be joining the monks for lunch in the refectory (dining room) on both Saturday and Sunday. We toured the library, some common rooms and the refectory itself where Br. Michael pointed out where each of us were to sit. Like the rest of the monastery, the rules were simple... pray first, line up in order of seniority (we were last), sit where we were told and eat as much as you want.

Oh yea... and don't talk.

I can honestly say that the food was excellent! With considerable nervousness (on my part at least), we lined up behind the monks immediately after the Saturday mid-day prayer and walked from the Church, through the silent garden and into the refectory. Only those who are on an "Infirm" diet get to eat meat and since Br. Michael had heart surgery the year before, he enjoyed sausages. The rest of the monks and the those of us on the retreat enjoyed scrambled eggs, several vegetable dishes including grilled fresh asparagus, fruits, juices, coffee, tea and all the bread one could eat. Someone read the last chapter of a book about Flannery O'Connor out loud during the meal.

The lunch menu is special on Sundays. Shrimp scampi, pasta, home-made sauce, vegetables, bread, cake and four kinds of ice cream all put me in proximate danger of the sin of gluttony. The brothers listen to music on Sunday in lieu of reading out loud but I really can't say much for the selection - some sort of french monastic chant. I could hear Br. Hugh humming the tune as we stood in line waiting to fill up our plates.

It was Br. Hugh whom I was paired with in the choir. To hear the liturgy sung was something that I had wanted to experience for quite a while and God granted my wish in a big way. Not only was I hearing the liturgy sung for the first time, I was actually sitting with the monks in the choir singing it along with them! Br. Hugh turned the pages and pointed to the antiphons and portions of the psalms to be sung, each in their turn. The monks on the right side of the church sing a line of the psalm and then the monks on the left side of the church reply with the next line. Br. Hugh hummed the tune even while it was not his turn.

It was nerve-racking to be in the choir stalls singing vigils, lauds, mid-day prayers, vespers and compline right next to the monks. The fact that I can't read music made my anxiety even worse. "Just do what the monks do" was Br. Michael's great advice. It wasn't until Sunday that I was able to calm down enough to actually concentrate on the messages in the psalms and canticles - the liturgy itself - rather than worrying about dropping a book or when to stand or sit or if the monks were all looking at me.

What struck me the most about the brothers was their spirituality. Dogma and doctrine, systematic theology and the biblical basis for Catholic beliefs seemed to be obvious truths, no more to be questioned or debated than is the need to breathe air or the efficacy of gravity. Catholic doctrine, the primacy of the Pope, the authority of the church - in short, all the subjects which this blog takes most seriously seem to be taken for granted by the monks. This monastic community is made up of men who are obviously less concerned with the mechanics of devotion than they are about quietly seeking the face of God.

The whole experience had a spiritual quality, almost akin to mysticism, which I was really unprepared for. The turning point was when I asked about asceticism and mortification in the context of penance, mentioning The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis by name. Father Elias snapped, "Oh, I would never read Thomas Kempis!" and continued,

Do you know that they found scratch marks on the inside of his coffin? He tried to claw his way out... He was buried alive. You can fast if you want to but the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ is a process of subtraction. Subtraction of greed, of selfishness, self hatred, and gossip. All these cover the divine image.

I usually carry a leather-bound and zippered copy of Thomas Kempis' work with me and this day was no exception. I started to reach for this very book, stacked neatly between my journal and a large type edition of Christian Prayer in the seat next to me, but stopped just short. I didn't have the guts to bring it out.     

It's no secret that I'm interested in apologetics. The study of God's word and the teachings of the Church which God created for our salvation thrills me. Finding a forsadowing of the Eucharist in the Old Testament excites me. Observing how the Holy Mother of our Lord in the New Testament was prefigured by the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament gives me great joy. That God himself put that love into me cannot be denied. But I think that God led me to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit to see a side of our faith that I'm not too sure I'm ready to acknowledge, let alone understand. It is a side of our faith which simply contemplates the Truth  himself.

And that is what I really took away from the weekend; the need to find a quiet place and to stop trying to figure it all out, the need to slow down, the need to learn how to meditate, and how we all need to try to get as close as we can to the beatific vision - union with the trinity - as is possible on this side of the grave.

And Father Elias' words still ring in my ear... It is a process of subtraction.

I hope that God continue to bless all the brothers at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, all the monks and nuns in cloistered monasteries and convents throughout the world, and all the active religious, who offer prayers to God on our behalf, knowing that sometimes we are too busy, sometimes too careless, and sometimes too distracted by the "Mechanisms of modern life" to do so for ourselves.

And I hope that God blesses the men who were on the retreat with me. I pray that they are at peace.