A young man recently said to me “I just like being in charge.” Recognizing something of myself in that statement, I laughed and responded, “Then it will be very hard for you to be a Christian.”
Obedience lies at the center of the Christian life, and it leads, ultimately to the Cross. Many of us squirm at the word “obedience,” because we hear in that word the curbing of our individuality and freedom of expression. But real obedience leads us to our truest selves as they live in Christ’s heart. Obedience brings us to the freedom of the children of God, a freedom that comes through seeking and following Christ before the dictates of our own, limited, wills. As our Founder writes in his rule “There is always an element of dying to self in true obedience. [… Because] real peace will be ours only when our superficial or false self has been transformed into Christ and we can say with St. Paul: ‘I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.'”
Eventually in every faithful life, we will reach a point–most likely many points–when we realize that we are desperately in need of salvation and, at the same time, totally unable to save ourselves. When this knowledge travels from the head down to the heart, it breaks that heart open. Such experiences are painful. But as we allow the weight of our poverty and need to break open our hearts, there is more room for those same hearts to be filled with Christ’s transforming light and life. As Father Matthew Wright said in his Holy Cross Day sermon, “the wound is where the light gets in.”
I had such an experience during my recent retreat. The offices at Regina Laudis are entirely in Latin, which allowed me to let the sounds of the psalms wash over me. I had been in the habit, though, of praying the Our Father silently to myself in English while one of the sisters chanted it in Latin. One evening at Vespers a small voice inside me told me to stop. I did so and as the haunting sound of the sister’s chant hit me, it broke my heart. I knew in that moment as surely as I have known anything that God was chanting the words of Jesus’ prayer in my heart, interceding, as Paul says, with sighs too deep for words. In some sense I became the prayer, and in that moment, through God’s grace, my own heart was joined with Christ’s.
As we learn to surrender this kind of dying and rising action, we allow God to turn our lives into an oblation for the healing of the world. We cannot accomplish this pouring out of our lives. We can only accede to it. In the moments when we do, we find that the crucified life that we seek draws us ever deeper in to the heart of God.
It is for this reason that Father Whittemore, the great mystic in our Order’s history, calls the religious life a love affair.
Earlier in this chapter I gave several reasons for becoming a monk or nun. Did you notice that I omitted that which many folk outside the religious life imagine to be the true one? I have the feeling that most people think that monks or nuns were “disappointed in love.”
Perhaps some of them were. God has many means of drawing souls to Himself. All I can say is that, though I have known a great number of monks and nuns very intimately, I never have happened to strike one who came to the cloister because he or she had been disappointed in love.
On the other hand, I have known very many—please God, it is true of all of them—who were successful in love beyond all dreams or imagining. For they have heard in their hearts the whispering of the perfect lover. And it has been their deepest passion and their joy to surrender themselves to Him unto death, even the death of the Cross.
May we all allow our hearts to be broken open, given to the world in a great Eucharistic feast. And may Christ gather up the fragments of our broken hearts and join them to his own.
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