June 3rd, 1981, Serial No. 00696

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Monastic Spirituality Set 4 of 12

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If we take the point of view just of freedom, and if we only look at that, if we only look at things from our own point of view or from the point of view of spontaneity or subjectivity or whatever, we may never arrive at that point. Somehow we have to start somewhere else. And it's comparable to the need to step outside of ourselves to make an act of faith actually, that is to accept the Gospel, to believe in God. In other words, we have to find another pivot, another anchor, before we can really understand this thing of commitment, because actually commitment deals with anchoring ourselves in something outside ourselves, so we have to be able to justify that there is something outside ourselves which we can really surrender our autonomy to in a permanent fashion. And then that itself is a very tricky expression, because do we really surrender our autonomy in a permanent fashion? I don't think we do. The idea is that we surrender a certain type of autonomy and we experience a kind of temporary subjection in order that ultimately we may regain our autonomy, but somehow integrate


it into truth, so that no longer is our autonomy just an isolated will or an isolated freedom, but somehow it resonates with the whole of being, in other words it harmonizes with reality, it moves with reality instead of independently. So it's as if our whole monastic journey is a kind of initiation into reality in the great sense, initiation into the whole, into the total mystery of being, in which we give up our fragmentation, we give up our atomic character, our isolation, in order to learn how to move with this whole. And for us as Christians, as Catholics, this means learning how to move with the Spirit of God, learning how to live in communion, and communion is God, communion is the Spirit. But why does that require, actually, a permanent commitment, why do people do this? Now another thing about this, we tend to ask why, and we tend to ask sort of from a critical


point of view, from a rational point of view, we need to be convinced, but this wasn't always so. You have to realize that the Christian fact is something that comes into the world like a tidal wave, it comes into the world with power, and for a long while people didn't need really to explain these things to themselves, in other words, they didn't reason them out, they followed the Spirit, and the Spirit drove them to this kind of commitment without even asking many questions about it. I don't think that the princes and monks who went into the desert in the fourth century and the fifth century really asked themselves those questions very much, they didn't reflect on it very much. There was a way of doing this thing which rapidly became a custom, and which rapidly set into a tradition, and which wasn't questioned all that much. It was taken for granted, it was kind of an instinct, this is the way that you did it, and you did it with an absoluteness. You went out and you subjected yourself to a spiritual father and so on. You committed yourself to the monastic life for life, there was no going back. This was in some way your life, it was self-evident in some way that this was a total commitment,


and in that once again it's related to Martin. I think those tapes of Gabriel Winkler are useful in this connection. I didn't listen to all of them myself, we'll get back to that a little later. Let's go on with Father Hoy a bit longer, because as far as I've seen he gives the deepest discussion of this whole business. Let me remind you, review a bit what we were talking about last time. Remember that his criterion for the value and the permanence of a commitment is going to be first, indwelling. What does he mean by indwelling? It's not just dwelling in something, but it's actually the experience of being in love, that is the experience of a spirit, we're going to say theologically eventually. But it's the experience of a heightened existence, of an existence which has been liberated, which has been broadened by being brought into love. And then the criterion is communion in a broader sense, which is this indwelling in a context of relationships with people. Now he was talking about, remember in the second part of his book he's talking about


examples of commitment, and he goes right back to the foundations and talks about commitment within the Trinity, commitment of the Father to Jesus and then the commitment of Jesus to the Father, and then he takes other examples from the New Testament, examples of non-commitment like the rich young man, and examples of commitment, Mary and Paul. So we're talking about St. Paul, which I thought is a good archetype for us in a way. He is where we are, in a sense, with respect to Jesus. And Boyd describes his relationship with Jesus being a symbiosis, that is a sharing of life. Now at this point we go back and we hook this into the commitment of Jesus to the Father, and we realize that Paul's commitment is also within the Trinity. This whole business of commitment is a matter of being within the Trinity, it's a matter


of the Father, the Word and the Spirit somehow. And I think that our understanding of commitment depends upon whether or not we can understand it rightly in terms of the Trinity, in terms of the relationship between Word and Spirit, like commitment and freedom, or permanence and experience, and in terms of the epiphatic, that is in terms of the Father, in terms of God's work, in terms of what God has done actually. Because we realize at a certain point that this whole business is not something that we do, it's something that God does, and that we respond to. And so God has acted strongly in our lives, otherwise we wouldn't be here. And our problem is to know how to make the right response to that work of God. So we ask ourselves, what is the work of God? How does it manifest itself? He talks about the commitment of Paul as being a liberating one, which is very evident in St. Paul, who was a member of persecutor and a Pharisee of Pharisees before then, and a person


whose whole personality seems to be formed on a kind of rigidity, a kind of persecutory thing, of enforced conformity, the man of the law. Then afterwards he turns inside out and he is the apostle of freedom, or somebody called him the heart set free, the apostle of the heart set free. Somebody wrote a book, a commentary on St. Paul entitled to that, which is true, I think. From preaching conformity, from preaching constriction and rigidity and obedience to the letter of the law, he turns into the apostle of freedom. So this is a kind of witness or example to what commitment is supposed to do. It doesn't very often do, as a matter of fact. And then he talks about how that's related to the commitment of Jesus himself. And then this business of it's not being initiated by him.


That's obvious enough in St. Paul, because he was going in exactly the opposite direction, and Christ had to absolutely knock him down in order to win him over, in order to change his course. I mean, it's really transparent there. It's not maybe so evident always in our own case. Paul could never get over the fact that he was seized, grasped, chosen, elected through no merit of his own. An interesting passivity begins to develop in his life. Not that he is not exhausted by his labors of proclaiming Christ crucified, but these labors do not have their impetus in his need to be religious, or win righteousness, or achieve perfection. These labors are his response to his having been chosen. Paul is quite conscious of the mystery of it all. Why me? Why not him or her? He knew it was not he who had made the commitment. It was made by God, and it is for each individual to ratify or reject it. What Paul saw instantaneously usually takes the rest of us a lifetime to perceive.


Namely, that God has chosen us to become one with him and his son. That is the commitment he is making to us. The initiative is his. It is always and only as a response to God's commitment of himself in Christ that a Christian's commitment derives meaning. Again, on a certain level that may be obvious enough. But then we have the question of, well, if God makes the commitment, does he also make the specific form in which we make our commitments? In other words, does God call me to a specific form of life? And to what degree does he call me to a specific form of life? Does he call me to the monastic life? Does he call me to a given monastic order? Does he call me to this community? We have to ask ourselves that. And that's not such an easy one to answer. I think that some people answer it too hastily, and they say that a call is always uniquely to one community, and so on. In fact, I think it's a kind of working together of God's will, God's vocation and plan and working and spirit with our own cooperation, so that it sort of works out by mutual agreement to a certain extent.


There's not an absolute dictum about God. If you go to a certain place and you'll be given a certain paper with instructions on it, then you join that community and you do it. I don't think it's quite as pre-fabricated as that. But that's open to discussion. But I don't claim to understand it very well. It's been said by Father Hausherr, for instance, you know, they didn't have much of an idea of vocation in the early days of the Church the way we have an idea of vocation. That's an astonishing thing to read, because we hear vocation used as a noun so much, you know, have you got this vocation, have you got that vocation, and so on. As if people had labels on them, you know, when they come out of the womb saying you're going to be Franciscan, or you're going to be Carmelite, or whatever. But in the early days of the Church, people didn't think of vocation in those times. For instance, Hausherr says that the idea was that if you wanted to be a monk, anybody who wanted to be a monk could be one. If you wanted that enough, that's your vocation. How does that seem to you? I don't know. I never saw that in writing.


If you're actually praying to God to make you a monk, it's a good sign that you're going to be a monk. Yeah. Then how do we go and say then that God calls us and say to a particular order, or to a particular community, you know? That's the other side of the thing. That is, if we say this vocation is God's work, then how can we say that at the same time? Those are sort of the two poles of it, and I think they're both true in a way, you know? I think they're both true. I think that he calls us, and calls us very strongly, and he calls us through our own will. He calls us through our own desire, our own attraction, okay? And then he lets us work it out, and he goes along with us and guides us as we work it out, so that we, you know, like in the name of the lighting, where you get warmer, you get cooler, and so on, you're closer to the central area, you get further from it. And the strength of your spiritual life will vary as you get closer to, I don't know,


sort of the center of God's gift, where you get further from it. But I think he leaves you a little flexibility in how you work it out. I don't think that people come with these prefabricated categories, you know, of this or that particular vocation. But then there is, afterwards, this matter of commitment, which is the other term, which is the fact that ultimately you've got to commit yourself concretely, concretely. And once that concrete commitment has been made, then somehow the story changes in a way. It's something else then. It's something that's gradually led up to and prepared, just like a marriage. And once that's made, then there's another reality there in some way, you see? You see how complex it is? And you have to keep in touch with the living reality in some way, in order to be able to understand it. Because the formulas for it don't really fill a bill. Vocations are mysterious. And it's a dynamic thing, you know?


It's never quite a category, never quite a label for it, a noun. Okay. We talked about that other aspect of Paul's commitment, which is a sense of self-worth that it carried with it. That would be worthwhile talking about in another context, but we're not talking about humility or self-realization. We're talking about commitments. I'll pass it by this time. Yes? I was wondering if any of the biblical vocations were kind of established as kind of the usual working out. It seems to be, in the Bible, you do this... That's right, it does. ...and enjoy what you've done. That's right. Let me see. I can't think of any right now. What about something like David? I mean, he wasn't good all the way through. He had a vocation, and he did what he could,


and then he sort of fell aside, and then he came back. It seemed like there was some kind of working out. Okay. In and out, moved in and out with God. Okay, but that's moving sort of into fidelity, and then back out into sinfulness, right? That is the way that you mentioned it was. So that's not so much a question of there being a space in his vocation, but a question of him being more or less faithful to it, okay? Either he's following it or he's not. But with David and Solomon, the kind of thing that's there with David and Solomon, David wants to build a house for the Lord and Solomon wants to build it, and there's this kind of element of creativity and freedom that enters in there at a certain point. The prophets, you don't find that, because the prophets are there to announce the word of the Lord, and God calls them, and he sends them on a mission, and that's what we hear about, okay? Now, the rest of their life is probably led in freedom, okay? A lot of them. In other words, in the rest of their life, they probably governed it largely themselves, not absolutely and at every moment according to a word of the Lord. But what we hear about very ordinarily is the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, you know, in a certain form, something like that,


or to Hosea or whoever it was, and that's what we hear about, not the rest of their life. And as for the vocation, the vocation to be a prophet, that's there at a particular moment, and then they're a spokesman for the Lord, but not all the time, you know? The word of the Lord seems to come to them, and then it's definitive. But even there, you know, there's a lot of controversy among biblical scholars now as to how much of the freedom and creativity and inspiration, or what would you call it, literary freedom, for instance, of the individual is concerned in the actual putting down of the word of God after it's been received by the prophet, that kind of thing, in between the inspiration and the written word or the spoken word. I can see the unfolding of vocation, like David mentioned, when he really wants to build a temple. Yes. Something within his call. Yeah. Certainly the outline of the vocation in some way comes from God, but as to how much diversity, how much elbow room there is within that for variation,


that's another question. And then something new comes in in the New Testament, after all. I think it's a different situation in the New Testament, both because of this element of freedom which definitely comes in when St. Paul is preaching as a newness, right? The element of freedom in the Spirit, which, of course, St. Paul is new. It's the gift. It's the thing in Christ which has liberated you from many things of the Old Testament. So I think we're looking at a different picture in the New Testament, and that somehow that liberty of the Spirit is expressed in a kind of eminent way in a monastic vocation, where people go out and they want to live maximally this gift of the Spirit. But I think that God may leave them rather free as to the particular way in which they're going to live that. But I leave it open for discussion, because I don't claim to have any answer to that. It seems like things do get more particularized in the New Testament. I've always said that some teachers and the other ones do have all different gifts. That's right. Those charisms are specific.


And yet, probably within the charism, there's a certain freedom, too. But the charism there is a specific thing. That's a specific vocation. I'm glad that you brought that up, because the charism and vocation are very much... He says he's called them in the Church, too, doesn't he? So it's not as if that's up to you. If you try to do the thing that you don't have the charism for, you'll fail. It'll just be humanity. You can see any more guidelines for that in the Scripture. But they're not. You draw some consequences from that business of the vocation coming from God, that is, it's being God's work. Because, after all, God's work very often is a strong gift of the Spirit. The Spirit is a gift of freedom and a gift of creativity. So the strong impulse to serve God can come from him directly, okay? And then he leads you to fill in the spaces, the thing.


The impulse and the gift and the ability and the attraction come from him. And then a certain outline, too. It's going to be in this area. Then it's up to you to figure that out. And the question is, how far that extends, you know? How far that choice of vocation extends. But, of course, you've got to realize that there's something else, that your vocation is going to be determined quite precisely by that interior gift. You're going to have a strong grace which will enable you to live in one way, but if you get a little distance away from that, you find that your ability to live according to God decreases, that your charism is sort of tapering off as you get further from that. And so, in trying to find it yourself, in trying to find the center of your interior attraction, you're trying to identify the outline, the shape of your charism at the same time. Some further things could be derived from this position.


Now, this is the position that it's got to work. One, the purer the commitment, the less is it something one makes, and the more is it something one yields to. Now, this is his thesis, which is way over on one side, which is another one of those mysteries. And it's the mystery, of course, it's one manifestation of that mystery of grace and free will that's been such a problem in church. This is just one area where it emerges. Second, the purer the self-donation, the less one is focused on making a commitment or having made a commitment, or even on the commitment itself. One's eye is on the one to whom one gives oneself. Thirdly, commitments that arise from mutual presence are more likely to be persevered in than those whose roots are voluntaristic. A commitment that arises from an interior experience, and here what's in question most for us is the presence of God, that experience of the love of God, or simply the presence of God, rather than where we sort of gear up our courage and our will


to do something hard or to do something special. If we think of it as people being called to do something special, then probably most people make mistakes, because probably most people are in the wrong one. If we think of it with a certain latitude, that is, God calls you to serve him, and he calls you to serve him in a determined form of life, some form of life, and then leaves you with a certain choice, or a certain area within which it's going to work. I think that's closer to the truth.


But then once you make a choice, it's something else. Once you commit yourself to a choice freely, not out of obligation, but you commit yourself freely to a concrete community and so on, then it's another thing, it's another situation. And then his grace is going to in some way be related to that commitment that you've made. It's almost like a dialogue between God and us, it seems to me, in which what we do then determines a little bit what he's going to do next. He sort of plays with us that way, instead of just laying down these railroad tracks that we have to go down. Okay, I would be inclined to say I agree with you that that's the primary thing, okay, but I'd be inclined to say that there's more to it than that, okay? That, for instance, what Gregory said before about charisms in the church, he gives one a charism of a teacher,


he gives another a charism of a prophet, another a charism of an administrator, and so on, okay? So if he gives a charism, then he's saying that, also I want you to do a special work form or something like that. Your life is going to have this particular form, this particular characteristic. So there seems to be more to it than that. But that's the most important thing. If you read St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, he says everything else is garbage compared to this, right? He says nothing else makes any difference except faith, hope, and love. And that's the quality of the relationship with him, right? Which also is going to be the quality of our communion with others. So that's what counts. Nevertheless, he wants us to do the other work because those other things are necessary. But notice that those charisms are for other people, right? That's your mode of service to other people. It's not concerning your own interior relationship with him. So you've got those two levels, okay? It's not love at all that he wants to give you. It's love that gives you the desire to serve in a particular way. That's right. And then he'll be more or less specific on how he wants you to do that.


But for many people, he's not all that specific. You know, they have a lot of concrete on what he wants you to do. But you can see why Hausser would say that if you want it, anybody can be a monk if he wants to, because the monk thing is more concerning to that interior life of faith, hope, and love than it is with the exterior charisms of teaching or preaching or prophecy or all those things, you see. For the monk also, those are secondary things for the monk. What he's interested in is the central thing. For sometimes other forms of religious life, you see, basically they're supposed to be interested in the faith, hope, and love too because their end is always perfect love. That's the... Officially and theologically, that's the goal of any form of religious life. But the charisms, the secondary charisms there can play a rather large role in their life so that they can sort of get identified with the teaching or the preaching or whatever it may be, you know, the works of charity instead of the charity itself, the interior thing. Whereas the monastic life is oriented towards that. And so you can say, well, if you want that, go ahead, you know. And then it's another question of what form you should convince yourself to.


If the attraction is strong enough, if your desire is strong enough, and if it's authentic, then that would be the sign that you have the vocation. Somehow it has to be checked out with other criteria. It's the authenticity and the strength of the attraction, largely, which is the sign of the vocation. Authenticity, though, because it really has to be checked out as not being from some other motive. That's the other side of the thing, you know. I believe that that's true, but it's almost... It's hard for me to get those two things together unless I think of it like this, that God will lead you to a specific place and, say, to a specific person also. That is, He's right in the history of your life. It's not that He sort of gives you a general grace and then goes away, you know. But He guides you in every moment of your life.


He guides you along the road. He brings you through into a particular situation. Now, if you're in a particular situation, if you miss that opportunity, however, okay, and you don't enter into that particular situation, you don't commit yourself there and you go somewhere else, He's still with you, okay. So, that way, He leaves you that liberty even to make mistakes, I think, you see. I think that's true, but I don't think it has to go all the way down. In other words, I don't think if you miss one opportunity that that means that you've taken a negative turn for the rest of your life, because you can go away a little bit, and then you can have a recovery which will bring you closer than you were in the beginning, okay. I think that's true. No, He's right about that, I think, yeah.


Just by statistics and experience. But He's talking about people that have professed themselves, that is, people that are really committed. I thought we were talking about the first encounter. Yeah, that's something else. If the first one was sound, if the first one was really valid, then the successive ones are actually less miscommunicative. Okay, then He gets into what He calls the mystery of fidelity. And first of all, He distinguishes commitment from fidelity. This is a matter of terminology. We've been talking about commitment. And commitment is the doorway or the gate, and then fidelity is the long-term thing. I mean, you make a commitment and then it's not a question. We talk about commitment in a general sense, but what we're really talking about, I suppose, is fidelity. We talk about a person's degree of commitment,


but He's talking about commitment as an act that you make once, okay? And then afterwards, it's a question of fidelity and not of commitment. For those who have already made their commitments, commitments might no longer be a significant category, but in the language of today, it's useful. Commitment is like a door to be gone through, but once through it, fidelity or infidelity is the moral shape of the place where you are, the land that you're on. Okay, then He talks about human fidelity. Fidelity and presence. The ultimate criterion for fidelity cannot be continuity with one's past or with the decisions one has made in the past. To continue to maintain earlier choices is good only if past decisions now produce or give promise of producing self-donation, indwelling, and communion. Those are His criteria. You've got to remember that this is all relative to the size of the commitments that you've made.


It's one thing if you've committed yourself to a retreat, it's another thing if you've made a solemn or religious profession. So somehow the momentousness, the significance, the solemnity, the depth of the commitment you've made has to be taken into consideration. They have different weights. Fidelity has more to do with the present than with the past. One of the consequences of commitment should be to free one from a superficiality of presence to another or to others. Being faithful means, to begin with, being fully present in the relational situation in which one finds oneself. The faithful person lives facing into a we are horizon, not just an I am horizon. What one is faithful to is the communion one is in or is coming into or is hoping to come into. And at the center of that communion is the indwelling one enjoys or hopes to enjoy. Presence is indefinable, but it is unmistakable nonetheless. It creates indwelling and in turn communion and strengthens them once they are there.


Its opposite might involve physical presence, but it stops there. When nothing comes out from the person's heart and nothing gets into it either, when the situation is affectively inert and barren due to an intentional neglect of presence, this is infidelity. There are instances in which the continuance of a seeming communion, that is staying in a commitment, will be more destructive of the party's concern than its discontinuance would be. In these cases, the conscience of the individual must be the ultimate court of appeal. For Christians, love of one another is the single commandment they are under. There are times when love will call for removing oneself from a commitment to another or others. One cannot be accused of unfaithfulness if one withdraws from the shell of a dead relationship. A non-existent bond cannot be broken. Why it is non-existent, of course, is another matter. So, that's the criterion for discontinuing a commitment or a relationship. And yet he goes on. See, he talks about one side of this and it sounds fairly open,


and then he'll go on and say, yeah, but most of the time the commitment is valid and most of the time when people discontinue a commitment they're making a mistake. So, he balances it out by treating one after the other. It's not that you can say it all at once. Fidelity involves being willing to generate the ingenuity needed to nurture the communion that is already present or hoped for. In other words, if there isn't any experience of communion, one has to dig and scratch and try to find it. It's a question of whether the gift of communion is there. Is God doing it? Does God want to do it? Did God do it in the first place? And does he promise to bring it into being in the future if I stick with it? Somehow the whole question is there, of course, if we could only answer it in those terms. Looking once again at those different ways of looking at a commitment. One way is to say, okay, I gave my word to God and I stand by it. I'm absolutizing the commitment. The other way is to absolutize the experience, to say, well, nothing is happening in this relationship.


I'm going to go somewhere else. Nothing is happening in this community, in this commitment or whatever, and so therefore I should break it and go someplace else. That's the option for experience, the existential criteria, of fruitfulness as we experience it. And those two are the sort of contrarians. The real question behind it all is the question of discernment actually of the spirit, of discernment of what is God's work? What is God doing here? Is this thing God's work? In other words, is my life in this community God's work? Do the signs of my life up to now bear the signs of God's work? Or is it just something of my own? If it's something of my own, then I can change it if it's not working. If it's really His work, I'd better really think four times before I change it. And if it's His work that promises to continue, to grow, if I stay with it, even though I'm going through a dark time. But that's a hard question to answer, but in a sense it can be a very simple question to answer if God gives the answer to it.


But the answer can only come from Him. The answer can only come from the voice of the Spirit in our hearts, the answer to that one. After all, the reasoning and balancing has been done. Some commitments are mistakes, of course. Since people make mistakes, they should not be treated like lepers the rest of their lives for their errors of judgment. But there are not as many mistaken commitments as there are claims that the commitment was a mistake. In fact, withdrawal from a commitment is seldom called for. It is an extreme reaction and rarely a solution to interpersonal distress or communion gone stale. You see, there's the other side of the thing. It sounded for a moment as if he was all on the side of moving out of commitment, and now he hammers it firmly back into the ground. The fact that it has to be used increasingly only proves that it is rarely a solution, this withdrawal from commitment. What is much more often called for is conversion in its literal sense, which means a simple turning of one's heart back towards the other or others


with whom one has been in communion in whatever degree. Breaking one's commitment is usually a way of avoiding the more likely root of the problem, which is aversion from communion of the hearts of one or more of the parties involved. This calls for a deep examination of conscience. And this is a reason why we have to be sensitive to the quality of our communion with our brothers as we go on. And of course, it's the quality of our relationship with God. But if we don't have that interior sensitivity, our whole vocation can gradually die, you know. And we'll ask ourselves at a particular moment, is this, do I have a vocation here? Is this just, you know, what am I doing here? If we don't have that sensitivity to the warmness or coldness of communion, to the quality of communion, to whether it's healthy or whether it's sick, and if we don't have that eagerness or that anxiety to re-establish communion with our brothers, because if you don't have communion with your brothers, then your commitment to a community becomes a very relative thing. It's easy to pull out and to go elsewhere, and not to realize that something should have been there that wasn't.


Are there instances in which the commitment itself is the source of the problem rather than the hearts of those involved? There are such instances. And there are community situations where there's no hope for community, you know, where there's no hope really for growth or the experience of God, and where there's no hope for communion with 12th-rank Moses Chesterfield. Okay, then he talks about God's fidelity in the Old Testament, and it's hard to present this in a lively way, you know, and I don't want to give you a whole heavy treatment of Old Testament theology, but the fidelity of God in the Old Testament has expressed, first of all, into creation, and secondly, in the history of Israel and in the covenant of Israel is an outstanding thing in the Old Testament. It's sort of the basis of the whole thing. Give thanks to the Lord for his good, you know, for his mercy endures forever. There's permanence of God's mercy. Just think the whole thing about the creation, you know, creation.


We're sitting in a room which is God's creation. Our body is God's creation. We are God's creation, which is with us at every moment, and which never fails us. You've got to realize that. The beating of your heart is the operation of God's fidelity, right? In the creation. The solid things around us, this table, matter, is the very witness to God's fidelity, and to the firmness of what he does, the firmness of his work, but we forget that, you know. And in some way, we've got an urge and a call in our hearts to make something in ourselves just as firm as that matter, just as firm as rock, this image of rock that you used for God in the Old Testament. The creation itself, just the fact that our life sticks with us, that you wake up in the morning, your body is still there, how you look, you're still there. How is it that before you had the idea of waking up, God had the idea of having your body waiting for you, you know, when you got out of bed, or whatever? No, it happens every day. But that whole thing, you know,


the thing that you can't quite think of, but that's always there, the thing that's there before you think of it is God's fidelity. Because after all, he didn't just make the creation and throw it out there somewhere, you know, so it ticks by itself like a clock. That's his fidelity at every moment. It's his will, is that creation. His will is your being. And the whole of that being is a question. The question is waiting for an answer, and the answer somehow is supposed to respond to that same fidelity of God, which is in the question of your being itself, your being. We have to think about our being in terms of our body, because that's more solid. And even our body is kind of perishable. So we have to go to something more solid, like wood or stone, like a rock, like the earth. But that's God's fidelity, okay? And somehow we have in us the call and the attraction to make a commitment, a response to that fidelity, which is of the same quality, which is of the same quality, of the same prominence. So that's first of all. And we just have to look at our hand to be reminded of that, or to remember that our heart is still beating, and so we have the next breath to breathe, you know?


That God is in all of that. That's the Jewish thing, once again. I mean, it's a personal presence of God in all of that. And it's always leading to something else. It's always asking us a question. It's always inviting us to do something, to respond to it in kind in a way, you know? Okay, and the other... Go ahead. Okay, that's part of it. That's part of it. In some way, we've got a desire to, how shall I say, pull our life together into something that has that same commitment to it. How shall I put it? Into a form, okay? That's in us too. It's not only the continual response that is at every moment, but the permanence of this thing, okay? The permanence, the enduringness of...


That calls us too, and asks something of us too. It seems like they're just... Oh yeah, it is. It is. Somehow, for instance, the monks are trying to enter into the consciousness of that. This whole thing of gnosis, or sophia, or wisdom, or whatever, is trying to enter into a consciousness of that. And the more you become conscious of it, the more somehow you try to enter into the same dimension. And so the more your life takes on a kind of solidity, I think, which becomes more or less independent of surface variations, you know? And this has to do with permanent commitment, although not in an obvious way. I don't claim that you can draw a logical conclusion that therefore a person should make solemn commitment or permanent commitment. This is a kind of analogy. But for me it's a persuasive analogy. One wants to give one's life that same kind of solidity, somehow,


that God has given to one's life, and which is there, sort of waiting for a response. There's one way to commit oneself to a solidity which isn't there yet, and which one feels sure enough one has been invited to, or whatever. It's a question of accepting, taking up an invitation, and taking a risk, rather than just ratifying something which is already fully in existence. Okay. Now, the other dimension of this whole thing, which comes closer to the idea of religious commitment, of vows, is God's covenant with his people in the Old Testament.


And it's his fidelity to the covenant, the analogy of the covenant to a marriage bond, which you find in the Prophets, but especially in Hosea. And Father Hoy goes into Hosea, the infidelity of Israel, and then also the connection with the desert there, because in Hosea 2, God says to the Prophet, I'm going to lead her into the wilderness and speak to her heart, and I'm going to betroth her to me in fidelity, and so on. Now, somehow, remember how Knight relates this desert experience to commitment, to permanent commitment, therefore to the Judeo-Christian thing, and to permanent commitment, which involves committing oneself to the negative way, that is, to the absence of any positive experience, that is, to a kind of death, okay, a kind of death of one's own experience. And the only thing that'll take you through that is some kind of a pre-made commitment, which will allow all of the motivation in you to drain out at a certain point. As only this bond of trust and of commitment carries you through.


So the desert there, which has a connection with the monastic life, and that's what the monastic life is about, is that disappearance and reappearance, or the dark night, or the... whatever you want to call it, that's a monk's way of entering into the paschal mystery. The monastic life zeroes in on that thing, and that's why permanent commitment is related to a monk's way. And the other thing, too, is the prophet's commitment to the people who come, regardless of what happens to these people who come, despite everything. The prophet's commitment. Are you talking about from God's side, sort of? No, from the prophet's side. His own vocation. Yeah. Yeah, that's right. And in that, he simply echoes and expresses God's fidelity, right? He makes himself the instrument of God's fidelity. And Hosea, Hosea is the symbol, he's the living symbol of that, because God tells him to take a harlot as his wife. And so his patient endurance of her misbehavior, and his readiness to take her back in spite of her infidelities,


is the symbolic portrayal, the dramatizing of God's own fidelity, okay, to unfaithful Israel. So Hosea is the invisible instrument of that. The prophets do stay with the people, right? Jeremiah, who did everything to increase his faith. His faith with God and faith with the people, and that is his vocation, being that bridge, that mouthpiece between them. Moses also, even when God says, well, why don't you, I'll make you a big wheel, why don't you just let go of that people? Moses says, no, I won't. He says, wipe me out, doesn't he? St. Paul says the same thing. Okay, so he talks about God's fidelity in those terms, and the end of the fidelity of God converges with the only absolute example of the fidelity of man, actually, setting aside merit, which is that of Jesus, all right? Now, somewhere, I think it's in 1 Corinthians, St. Paul says that Jesus is the great yes to all of God's promises.


He's the yes to all of God's promises. In other words, he's the he's the confirmation of God's fidelity, and at the same time, he's the one man who is perfectly faithful. And this is, you see this dramatically portrayed in the gospel, and all the disciples run away, everybody scatters, and Jesus is left on the cross. I guess John is there, Mary is there. So he's the yes of man. Mary was, too. That's another tour to go. The yes of man, the absolute fidelity, the only one, the servant, you know, the faithful servant. And he's the yes of God at the same time. And that the gift of God somehow is irrevocably made through him, through his death, in which he gives himself irrevocably, he hands himself on, and then through his resurrection, in which the thing is once and for all affirmed, in which human nature and God's promise to man and the gift of the Spirit is irrevocably sealed. Remember, the Spirit is called the seal.


And there's the Eucharist, the sacramental thing, which is the permanent, the visible sign of that. And he ends up with a sort of Trinitarian closure there, in that what really makes possible this fidelity, this commitment, is the gift of God's Spirit. The only thing that makes it possible for you to commit yourself to God faithfully is the gift of his own life within you. So, the gift which makes you faithful is also the gift which consummates that fidelity and which makes you one with him. It's the gift of communion which is already inside of you. It may be inside of you as a seed, it may be inside of you as a root, as a sprout, but eventually it's to be a flower, a whole tree. The gift of the Spirit. So it's a Trinitarian thing, ultimately. Okay, I want to just try to pull all this together,


which is kind of a hopeless effort. I don't suppose that it's all that complicated, but it's difficult to grasp. It's a matter of partly of, I suppose, forming a conviction, something like that. And yet a conviction which is not just one-sided. You can have the attitude of a sort of total submission to something that's external to yourself. Of just putting your head down and committing yourself and then never straightening up your head again, never looking around again, never questioning that commitment. Is that right? Not really. It's not that you put your head down and you butt your way through with willpower. You make one commitment and then you never have to think again, or you never have to reconsider that commitment, or you never have to deepen it, or you never have to question it. And that you can trust absolutely an external concrete authority or institution that you commit yourself to, like a community or like a superior or whatever.


No, that's not quite true, is it? On the other hand, there's this thing that I want to keep my liberty, okay, and therefore I'm never really going to commit myself permanently, or I'm never really going to commit myself permanently or for a long term. Now, that's not true, really, because that one frustrates this rooting and this growth that we've been talking about. So somehow the truth is between the two. The questions seem to be these. First of all, are permanent commitments in monastic life or in religious life valid? And what is their basis? And for that we have to end up that God does them, you know, and in some way God wants them, God makes them, God guarantees them, and God consummates them. Otherwise it's not enough. Otherwise we can always say at a certain point, well, I'd be doing better doing something else because this isn't working, you know. We would never really go through the needle's eye, unless it's God's will, unless this is an invitation to some kind of a dialogue with Him, to a relationship with Him.


Secondly, should I make a permanent commitment to a particular community or order, to this community, to any community? What's the basis and the justification and the nature and the criteria for that? Given that God presumably does do permanent commitments, that that is His way of working. The first question is, how does God work? You know, how does He work in the world? How does He relate to people? Is it in this way of permanent commitment? And therefore, one thing, we've got to look to the tradition of the church and see what exists, you know, because what exists is some sign of the way that God works. Just as the word of God in the Old Testament, the word of God in the New Testament, and then the tradition of the church is our evidence of how God has worked. If we don't believe that, then we don't believe anything except our own reason. Not that we have to take everything just as it stands. The evidence of tradition is a weighty evidence. Monastic life is a commitment to tradition. It's a commitment to the tradition of the Fathers, as expressed in a particular way. The second question is on the particular commitment.


And then the third question is, when can one withdraw from a commitment which began by being a permanent commitment? And I mentioned those ways of looking at it. What are we committing ourselves to? Let's go back and look at it for a moment. We're committing ourselves to an ascetical journey or to a process that we're going to increasingly get warm as we go on and starting out with a kind of impersonal. We commit ourselves to some kind of a transformation that has to happen into us, a process that has to happen in us and for which we have to be anchored to something outside of ourselves. The Jungians talk about the vessel, you know, that the alchemists use. And the vessel has to be strong, it has to be closed and all of that. And then it's put under the heat and the pressure and so on. So that the transformation, the reaction can take place. That's the same kind of thing, the heat and pressure thing.


And somehow you've got to stay put under that heat and pressure. And if we don't have something that holds us in a particular place, that keeps us in the process, in the reaction, then we'll jump out of it. Because the heat and the pressure become very unpleasant at some point. Then there's this business of committing ourselves to a given environment, you know, to a given vessel or a given path, a given way, or a given teacher, a given rule, a given context. Brother David likes to talk about that environment as guru, you know, the context as guru. But I think that he's more in favor of kind of mobility. The third thing, do we commit ourselves to a community, to communion with our brothers, that Robert's brought up, and that Boyle stresses so much, this element of communion, which he's thinking of largely in terms of, call it horizontal communion, or communion with other men, communion with our brothers. Do we commit ourselves to our brothers?


We certainly do. It's not the primordial commitment. The primordial commitment is to God, but somehow that's only expressed through commitment to our brothers. And fourthly, of course, we commit ourselves to God. We commit ourselves to his call, to his invitation, to his gift. And we need to, in the end, be able to conclude that we commit ourselves to his act, that what's happening actually is what he's doing, and we're finding our way into it. And then even freely determining, in a way, what he's doing, although within his gift, within his act. And there's that paradox of grace and free will again. But the whole question is right there, I think, is what is God's work? What is his act? How does he engage people's lives in the covenant? How does he make commitment? And we talked about the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the tradition, which is so strong in this case. We really have to ask ourselves, well, not just how ought to God do it? How would God do it if I were God?


How would I do it if I were he? How would I set it up? How is it reasonable that he'd do it? We've got to ask ourselves at a certain point, how has he done it? How has he done it? Because it's not as if I could go out and start something, as I think best, just from scratch, just from zero, and set it up that way, saying, I feel called to serve God in my blood, and devise some kind of setup in which to do it. Normally, the vocation to the monastic life carries with it a desire to attach oneself to a tradition, and to submit oneself to somebody who has been through it before, or somebody who represents in some way God's gift, or God's discipline, or God's tradition. There's a quote from the Baosheng Tao that I want to read to you. Why do we say, our God and the God of our fathers? There are two sorts of persons who believe in God. The one believes because his faith has been handed down to him


by his fathers, and his faith is strong. The other has arrived at faith by dint of searching thought. Okay, we've got these two kinds of people. The one kind of person wants to submit himself to a tradition. He lives from tradition. He lives from what has come from behind him and before him. Okay? The traditionalist person. The other person is a seeker and a searcher, and he wants to find for himself. He mistrusts tradition. And he goes out and he seeks for himself. And the modern man, of course, this is typical of the modern man, who starts from a position of skepticism and of individualism, and wants to confirm everything by his own experience. The seeker versus the acceptor, the receiver, the traditionalist, okay? And this is the difference between the two. The first has the advantage that his faith cannot be shaken, no matter how many objections are raised to it, for his faith is firm because he has taken it over from his fathers. But there is a flaw in it. It is a commandment given by man, and it has been learned without thought or reasoning. And you know how rigid a person can be if he attaches himself simply to tradition,


which he hasn't really assimilated and hasn't really understood. Okay? It can be merely an external thing that he carries along. The advantage of the second man, the seeker, the searcher, is that he has reached the independent one. He has reached faith through his own power, through much searching and thinking. But his faith too has a flaw, is that it is easy to shake it by offering contrary evidence, because he hasn't got anything outside himself to refer to, but only his own judgment. So if you offer him something that's more convincing to him, he has to accept it. Okay? He doesn't have anything stronger than his own judgment there to refer to. But he who combines both kinds of faith is invulnerable. That is why we say our God because of our searching, and the God of our Father because of our tradition. And that's beautiful. You see? Somehow it's a question of synthesizing those two dimensions. Synthesizing what we receive, which after all is the Word, isn't it? What we receive, which is the Word that comes from the Father,


and that the sort of instinct for truth that is inside of us, and our own seeking, and which manifests in some way, expresses the Spirit of the Father. It's a question of bringing the two together, finding the right synthesis between the two. So that we accept in faith, and yet we are trusting on the basis of what we receive, and we trust, then we examine, then we change. Now in terms of religious life or in monastic life, it means that our tradition basically is valid, and that what we commit ourselves to and attach ourselves to is a tradition. But the tradition has to be revitalized. It almost has to be taken apart and put back together again in terms of our own experience, you see? But the commitment basically is to the tradition, and that commitment is valid. There's no question about it. Just like the Jew's commitment is to his God, as sort of handed on to him, that faith handed on to him by his fathers. Yeah? The re-examination. The basis of our ability to re-examine in the light of the Spirit is the solidity of our trust in that which we have received.


We know that it's so durable that it will bear a good deal of re-examination. It will bear a good deal of changing, a good deal of creativity and adaptation, because it's so strong and so real. But a person can go overboard on either end there. And a person identifies himself usually, either with what he's received, identifies himself with authority, or identifies himself with his own freedom, and his own ingenuity, and so on, his own creativity. And to identify yourself with either one of those is not sufficient. You've got to move between the two. You have to integrate the two, just like the Word of the Spirit. Okay, there's kind of a thesis here. I know I should... Which is that we have recognized in the Church


the sacramental means of spousal commitment to God. That is, this kind of commitment of the bride to the right man, or whatever. And in the forms of religious life, one form specifically, we recognize the sacramental concrete form of the spousal commitment to God, and then recognize that I'm invited to enter one of them. You can see this as a betrothal to Christ, to the Word, or you can see it as a betrothal to wisdom, to Hagia Sophia, to Lady Wisdom. Remember Merton's article on the cell there, and that test of stability, that test of commitment that the monk has, that the hermit has in himself. And finally, it's this maiden whom he identifies with Sophia, with wisdom. And it somehow confirms his choice, confirms his commitment to solitude within his heart. You see, it's the interior confirmation of that commitment. Now, the monastic life, the monastic commitment in some way, is an espousal like that.


It's a betrothal like that, in which you engage yourself with trusting in the Father, as it were, in this particular concrete location, whatever. That this bride, this wisdom, is going to be given to you, even though from time to time it disappears. It's analogous to Jacob and his two brides. Remember, Jacob goes and serves his uncle Laban for seven years, and he gets bleary-eyed lay-up for his pains, and then he has to serve another, he gets cheated, because they're both crooks, both Jacob and his uncle. And then he serves another year, and he receives beautiful Rachel, and so on, that whole deal. Saint Peter, Damien, and others use that as a kind of parable of the religious life, you see, and of the fact that we labor for this bride, this wisdom, this contemplative gift, whatever you want to call it, the Holy Spirit, you can call it if you want to, which is promised to us by our obedience to the Father in a kind of sacramental context,


which is a paternal tradition, which is a tradition from the Fathers, and in some way of the Fathers, and you know the importance of the spiritual Father in early monasticism. The whole thing was a kind of sacrament of the Trinity, this obedience to the Father through inserting yourself in the context of his Word, in trust of receiving the Spirit. And somehow the only way to receive this fullness is through a kind of death. Through going through the classical mystery, just like Jesus, you know, who has to go through his death and resurrection in order to receive the glory that he's talking about. The glory, which is the same thing as this Hagia Sophia that I'm talking about, the wisdom and glory and the Holy Spirit are in continuity. You have to let go of it, and it's your life, it identifies with your life. What you do is, this wisdom, this lady wisdom or whatever, is identified with your soul, just like the anima that Jung talks about,


it's identified with your life. And when Jesus says, he who hangs on to his life is going to lose it, he who gives up his life in this world will receive it eternally. That's really what he's talking about, I think. It's as if your heart has to die in order that it may be resurrected in this way. It's like receiving, like seeing yourself mirrored or something like that, your own life, your own soul, your own heart. This feminine wisdom is a very elusive thing, I'm reading to you. She's also the church and tradition. And I think in some way, she's also the experience of communion that Hoya is talking about. If you broaden the sense of this communion to include the interior experience of God as well, whatever deep experience and manifestation of God's communion, participation, self-communication, experience of the Spirit, whether you experience it horizontally, that is in community, among other persons, or just interior, just yourself.


This is my life in the sense of rightness, of vocation, of identity, in the sense of, you know, this is where I should be. This thing that's with you, that you feel so strongly and then disappears and then reappears strongly again. That's what Merton writes about when he's talking about solitude and so on, that sense of rightness, the sense of being in the right place, that kind of thing, which comes and goes. But which, in some way, which demands a commitment of faithfulness from us so that we're worthy for it to reappear. In some way, it's not a question of worthiness, it's not a question of merit or deserving, but it's only by our fidelity that we can expect it to reappear. This is in the same line as sort of zeroing in on our freedom, because that's where our freedom is. That's our freedom. Our freedom in a kind of, how do you say, personified sense or organic sense, this notion of Sophia. It's our freedom in terms of the promise


which God gives us, the promise of the Spirit. Our freedom taken up into the Spirit and seen as personified. The letter to the Hebrews is good on this whole thing. The letter to the Hebrews in which the author is talking to the Christians, putting them in the tradition of the Jews, talking about the desert experience, and talking about this commitment of Jesus who gave himself, remember, once and for all through his death on the cross, and asking for a kind of corresponding, unconditional commitment on our part. No turning back. He who turns back, he who gives up hope, he who doubts. You've got to keep going, and so to enter in. And if you do, then somehow you enter in while you're still on the path. And this all in terms of desert, the desert experience, and in terms of the discipline of the Father. Remember, what son is there whose father doesn't discipline him? If he doesn't discipline him, then he's not an authentic son, and he's a legitimate son.


So, inserted finally into that Trinitarian scheme, the movement through the desert in obedience to the Word of God in order to receive the Spirit as the fullness. And it's the experience of that Spirit already that sends people into the desert. Once again, Gabriel Winkler's tapes, the impetus, the impulse of early monasticism. It's the baptismal gift then of this life of the Trinity which sends a person towards a monastic vocation and which calls forth this commitment. And remember, baptism is one commitment. That's our basic commitment, right? That's the response to God's commitment to us in Christ. It's a response to Christ's commitment to us in his death, in the Eucharist, and in the gift of his Spirit. Now, if you want to make a further or deeper realization of that baptismal commitment, what do you do? Well, what you do is what's been done in the tradition when the monks went into the desert and made that kind of commitment, which for them was a commitment for life, even if they didn't make vows at the outset, okay? So what they were trying to do in some way


was realize that Trinitarian life which had been given to them by putting themselves in a kind of sacramental context which means with a spiritual father in some kind of a group, usually. But essentially, there was that spiritual father relationship, hoping to receive from it that Pagia Sophia we were talking about, or that gift of the Spirit, which they had already tasted. But they wanted to get deeper and deeper and deeper and that thing has to be purified. And if it's to be purified, then you have to give it up. You have to lose it. Let it fall into the ground like the seed so that it can reappear in its fullness. So somehow, it's best understood, I think, in the Trinitarian scheme of life. Even though that may not immediately say the permanence thing, but if you think about it, there were a lot of people involved in that. We use that word, the father, an awful lot when we talk about early modernism.


And this is one reason, because it's a sacramental reproduction of the Trinity in some way. Once again, the communion remains the criterion. The communion, not just in a horizontal sense, but communion in the sense of the gift of the interior experience of the Spirit, of wisdom, of God. And then remember, there has to be this death and resurrection thing, and the Paschal experience. Okay, that's enough on that, unless somebody has some questions. Actually, this whole business of commitment, though, it's not something that can be absolutely justified in the abstract or with words. It's a conviction that has to be in the individual, just like it was for the early monks. It's inside of you. It's not a question of it goes this way theologically, and it's got to be that way, and so on. It's a question of what's inside of you. And the kind of absoluteness with which God's called,


not officially so. Well, I'm trying to say that in that last part there, you know, just the general fidelity of the Christ, you know, that's, you know, everybody's got to have this. Yes. That's what he was addressing. Then there's a further call, okay? There's a further call for some, like with the monks. They felt that the church was too lukewarm, too shilly-shally, the time of constant time. Yeah, they wanted to take it to its fullest realization if they could, and realize that initial experience somehow in its purity, and then finally in its fullness, okay? Now, to do that, you have to go through a kind of a death and a resurrection. So the desert represents a kind of death, you know? The renunciation of the desert in Cachem, when you go out, I have a call, they leave behind everything you know. You leave behind your world, and therefore you're leaving behind yourself, in a sense. So you go into the desert as a kind of death, and you submit yourself, you put yourself, there's a commitment already there, you see? They didn't make permanent vows,


they didn't even have vows in those days, but the commitment is that commitment to the total experience of death and resurrection, okay? But the way that they did it was concretely to put themselves in this context of spiritual father and brothers, you see, which in some way is the Trinitarian communion. Yeah, he made a permanent, a temporary vow, I guess it was the Nazarite vow. Well, they didn't have a vow in the sense of, you know, I promise to do this for the rest of my life or something like that, you know? But it was taken for granted when they put the habit on it, that's what they were gonna do. And yes, they went to the desert, it was considered some kind of terrible apostasy. So it was presupposed, kind of. This is all written up in the books about the history of monastic profession and so on,


and so on, only God knows what I wrote there. Well, the symbolism was there, that's for sure. The symbolism of the monastic habit, which reproduced in some way the symbolism of baptismal habit, right? The white habit of baptism, which was a permanent commitment, a representative commitment. It's a new man, you know? So the monastic profession, in some way, is also a commitment to a new man. But according to the writers, there doesn't seem to be any written or formal verbal vow before the communion, something like that. It was presupposed. Anything else about this before we leave this area? Also, we can raise this point later on if you want to. We'll go on next time then with Robert's next chapter. We'll probably go fairly quickly through the rest of his book, where he tries to tie together monastic spirituality,


experience helplines. Okay, thank you.