March 10th, 1981, Serial No. 00797

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.



Suggested Keywords:


Monastic Spirituality Set 2 of 12




We've got as far as page 86 in Roberts. I'll try to stick to him, at least to cover more of him today. But let's go back in my view just for a moment. There's something that we need to understand about this whole business of obedience and the whole of our asceticism. There's a kind of a general movement from a very dualistic kind of Christianity to a more Trinitarian view of Christianity. The dualistic view in which God is out there, you know, and you're here, and you and God sort of contradict one another. So the more he beats you down, the better. There's this over-sacrificial view of obedience, which we'll get to when we quote Martin a little bit, talking about the identity problem. And there it's really just too, in a way, too cold-blooded and too contradictory, too paradoxical. Last time we talked about the difference between two points of view regarding obedience.


Remember Father Vincent, his ascetical obedience, which is very paradoxical and dualistic, and you get turned upside down. And then the other kind of obedience, which is right-side-up, in which you find that actually your nature is drawn to obey, and you find that obedience guides you in the line of your own perfection, in the line of your own fulfillment, in the way of God. Now you have to have both of those points of view, and you can't put them together rationally. Especially the first one, which by its very nature is what defies reason. It's the wisdom of the cross. But you have to have both of them, and then it's a question of discernment as to which turns on at a particular moment. Is this the moment for the broad way of obedience? Is this the moment for fulfillment? Or is this the moment for the narrow way? It's like Ecclesiastes. There's a moment for growing, and then there's a moment for dying. There's a moment for piling up stones, and there's a moment for acquiring, and there's a moment for losing, for renouncing. So we'll be running into that continuum. The movement from dualistic Christianity, especially during the past few centuries, to a Trinitarian Christianity.


Trinitarian, which incorporates the paradox, but somehow solves it in your very life. And with this we have a return to an appreciation of the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Because as long as it's dualistic, the Spirit really is not being considered. It's the Spirit that bridges the gap and makes it possible, as St. Benedict says, to run in the way of God's commandments. You can compare Roberts with Merton, for instance. And you'll find in Merton a kind of insistence on the problem of obedience in our time. And the fact that obedience had been sort of exaggerated in the Trappist life in his time, before Vatican II, and had done a lot of damage. Not that you can be too obedient, but the thinking gets falsified. And he refers to it as over-control, and the way that that can crush people. Now in Roberts you don't find that. He doesn't talk much about the over-use or the abuse of obedience.


His weight, as it were, his persuasion is all on the side, sort of, of the institution. But Merton typically is revolting against this, even though he was obedient himself. There was something in him that rose up against the exaggerations that there were in his time. So reading him, you hear the other side pretty clearly. It depends on who he's talking to and when he's talking, though. Because if you read, for instance, Contemplation in a World of Action, the article on obedience and the article on the identity crisis, you find him sort of talking against the system in the sense that he's pointing out the exaggerations of the system and the extent to which it has throttled people, stifled them, suffocated their growth. If you read that collection by Father Jacob there, you get an entirely different impression. Because the quotes that have been selected are mostly, very much like Roberts, they're mostly sort of encouragement to follow obedience all the way, generously and to the point of your death to self.


So Merton has those two sides in himself, too, depending on the moment and depending on what he's thinking about. Let's go on a bit with... Here's a sample of Merton, for instance, where he's trying to compensate for that imbalance in the view of obedience. And he's pointing out this over-dualistic way in which obedience and many other things were conceived. So you can make the whole monastic life just too paradoxical, just too negative, too universally a matter of renunciation. Then you get something pretty weird. On the other hand, if you don't have that in there at all, if the cross isn't there, right in the center, then it's not religious life, it's not monastic life anymore. It's not obedience, it's just something else. This is the essay on the place of obedience, a kind of personal renunciation.


Theology has, up until recently, viewed the religious life almost exclusively in terms of sacrifice and immolation. Now that's the dualistic kind of Christianity I'm talking about. When Clermont talks about it, he discusses it as the God-against-man type of theology, where God's way of sacrificing is to grind you down. We've talked about this before. An outlook that corresponded to the medieval liturgical form in which the host was primarily a victim immolated in the distant and invisible sanctuary, in the midst of mysterious words and rites which the faithful observed and developed and initiated themselves. Now, with all of this, he's being sarcastic. At another time, he could talk with love about those same medieval liturgies, probably. But here, he's got something else in mind. So, let's listen to it. Try to get it back in your head. Certainly, the religious life is a sacrifice, and so is the Mass. But just as theology now stresses the Eucharist as a sign of fraternal unity


and demands active and intelligent participation in a common act of worship, so the old theology of the religious life needs to be completed and filled out with a new perspective in which the obedience of love rooted in faith becomes at once a sign and a principle of living unity in Christ and a way of returning to the Father, in and with the loving obedience of Christ. This Eucharistic concept of obedience is aimed not at an abstract, impersonal, common good, but at a concrete, personal, indeed mystical unity of love in Christ. Instead of a common good that remains external to the religious and affects his life only superficially, the fruit of obedience is the living and life-giving Spirit, who is at once God's gift to each in the unifying bond of love. So, he's brought in two things which we're not used to associating with obedience, and one is the Eucharist, and the other is the Holy Spirit. But if we don't get those things back in there, if we don't somehow look at obedience in that context, it remains unbalanced, and it remains a kind of Old Testament obedience in a sense.


And here I mean Old Testament not in a good sense, but in the sense of a love, where God is out there and you're here, and there sort of isn't any bond between the two, except the moral bond of you're doing what he wants you to do. That rather hard will of God is not only a part of love. Here, instead of the religious being forced back into the isolation of his individual will, see, a purely vertical thing where there isn't really any communion, no realized, experienced communion in any way, no vertical communion, no horizontal communion. Now, this is an unfair look at it. It's deliberately exaggerated. I don't want to make it clear. Instead of the religious being forced back into the isolation of his individual will, which he exerts in order to obtain for himself an abstract and juridical reward. That's not fair, because there's a valid kind of spirituality, which is very vertical. Many of those people did become saints. You see, those people, I don't want to be contemptuous. He's drawn into the living dynamism of fervor and love, which gives meaning to his own life,


by enabling him to contribute personally to the meaningful life of his Buddhism Christ. Now, he's horizontalizing the notion of obedience there a bit. He sees it as communion, which then is realized on the level of community. It's not just communion between you and God, it's not just communion between you and the superior, between you and your brothers. Obedience then becomes an expression of the new life and the new creation, which restores the simplicity and peace of paradise, Paradisus Christalis, to a communal life in which each is the servant of all, and each finds fulfillment in a meaningful service of love that is inspired and gratified by the presence of Christ in the Spirit. It's a kind of ideal picture. You can see how he's been turned off by the over-vertical obedience, and over-juridical obedience in the Trappist fight, and he's compensated for it by looking at it in a kind of idealized, horizontalized way. But nevertheless, what he says about the Eucharist, what he says about the Spirit, it's true. The end of Christian obedience is then not merely order and organization, well, actually, nobody ever said it was, you know.


I mean, that was not the old spiritual logic. It may have seemed that way from inside the Trappist structure, and it may have been the view of one or another Calvin. But if you read Marmion, you'll see that's not it. Marmion's a good exponent of the solid old doctrine of Benedictine monastic obedience, which is very institutional, and that is valid, it's real. Not the abstract common good, but God himself, the epiphany of God in this church, and in the microcosm of the new creation, which is the monastic community. That Eucharistic notion of obedience is very good, because obedience is a many-sided mystery, just like the Eucharist. And if the Eucharist is sacrifice, and if sacrifice is immolation, is death, the Paschal mystery, yet the Eucharist is also communion. And it's a gift of God, somehow, that we move into. And sacrum patria, after all, means to transform, to make holy in some way, by giving over to God, but it doesn't mean destruction. And then the communal context of the Eucharist, which is extremely important.


Once we narrow it down and oversimplify it, overanalyze obedience, then we tend to make it a strictly vertical thing, which is between God and me, through my superior, and that's it. That's at the center, that's not the whole thing. And that whole business of... Think for a moment about even the two species of the Eucharist, the bread and the wine. Somehow the bread symbolizes the positive, the gift of God, the fruit of God. But what is the wine? What does the chalice mean? In the Gospel, when Jesus says, I have a cup for this drink, you can't even drink one cup. That's the sacrifice, that's the other aspect. The wine is like the intelligibility, the nourishment, and the solidity of the cup. It's like the coherence of life, the gift of God, the bread of God, what comes down from heaven. And the other is like the irrational paradox of believing in wine,


or its association with creation and so on, where you have to drink the cup, and it's that sort of total acceptance, which is giving oneself over to death. You've got both of them in the Eucharist. You've got everything in the Eucharist. And there are a lot of things that we understand better than if we bring them into the light, for example, Mr. Eucharist, which is the Eucharist. So we get life through nature, and that's the bread, as it were, and there's life through death, and that's the chalice, and so on. And you can interpret these things in a lot of different ways. Okay. Let's move on while Robert's here. Then I'll come back to Thomas Martin later. He's talking about the connection between obedience and conversion of life. And remember, he makes a double connection. The first is that conversion of life gives obedience its end,


which is conversion, which is a turning of oneself to God. But secondly, he says, conversion of life, which he calls conversatio morum, gives obedience its content, because it gives it the observances, the matter, the things that you do, which fill out obedience, make it concrete, make it real, make it right. So he's saying that everything in obedience comes from conversio morum, one way or another, that they're practically identical. The heart of original sin is the propensity to do our own will, contrary to the will of God. The tendency to follow our own desires in the moment, even when they bring us to the greatest evil. The inclination to judge is good, that which attracts our self-love. And here we get into that really dualistic part of the notion of obedience, that we have to, in some way, go against our own will, because in our own will, in self-will at least, there's something perverse, there's something contrary to God. A question of sin, a question of conversion. And that's been written about so much that we hardly need to repeat what's been said.


That whole business of self-will, the Cistercians have written a lot about it. We talk about, Merton talks about the false self and the true self, and how the false self is simply unreal, as if there's a whole sort of magnetic field there. And self and will are very nearly the same thing. This fellow, Asa Jolly, who wrote a book on psychosynthesis, he was sort of a specialist in the will also, and in his little diagram of the human psyche, he makes the will sort of the first or the innermost companion of the self. When you're talking about your will, you're pretty close to talking about the self. If you don't know your will, you don't know your self. And often, you know, we don't know our will. It's a matter of discovery, surprisingly. We know our appetite sometimes, we know what we like. But often, we don't know our will. Maybe we've never discovered it. Because we've never sort of unplugged it from those other things. We've never pulled it away, detached it from those desires, from those other things in which it's stuck. And somehow, our growth depends on discovering our will,


discovering the freedom that we really have way down deep there, after we've pulled back a little bit from all those things that we're customarily plugged into. That's what the monastic love is for, too. So your knowledge, your self-discovery, and your freedom go along together. As you discover, oh my gosh, I didn't know that there was that much freedom in me. And of course, the whole desert thing is about that too, right? Because in the desert, you pull away from the things which people are ordinarily glued to, the things that ordinarily people are involved with, far enough to see them. And when you get a little bit detached from them, then you see yourself, and you see that actually, you don't depend on them. You don't need to. It's up to you whether you depend on them or not. And then you discover that you have a will. Of course, we discover that in other ways too, but there are different depths to that discovery. And it seems the further we go, the more we discover it. Often, they say that obedience gets harder the further you go.


And one reason is probably because you discover more of yourself the further you go And so if there's more of yourself at your disposal, then there's more in some way that has to be surrendered, or maybe more that has to be turned around. Because whatever depth in yourself you discover, you can still turn it around self. You can still appropriate it. You can still make it an idol, or make it subservient to the idol of self. And so obedience can get harder in that way. There's this... The chances of getting through that mania is pretty slim. Well, fortunately, there's something outside of yourself. If we had to do it by ourself, that's the importance of obedience. Because if you had to get through self-will by yourself, it would be virtually impossible. Because every time we find an escape from self-will, that itself, as soon as we get out the door, turns into another wall of self-will in some way. Because we appropriate it. We grab it. And the only way that you can get beyond that is by having something objective outside of yourself. And that's the reason for obedience.


From that point of view, at least. And that's the reason why the monks in the desert would look for a spiritual father. Because otherwise they'd know that they'd end up going around in a circle, chasing their own tails, sort of thing, doing their own will. Because what are you going to do with your will after you get it freed? You're just going to give it to God? Well, how? They could sort of put it in a bucket, put it out there and wait for him to take it. But how do you do it, concretely? You have to have an external anchor, call it a sacrament or whatever, in order to give your will to God. And that's the reason for the community, in a way. And it's also the reason for obedience, for the spiritual father, for the abbot. So the first thing that they looked for was somebody who had given the will of God and would take their will. If you read the parable of the Grand Inquisitor, though, in Dostoevsky, you'll find another view of that. It says that the hardest thing... This is Ivan, the atheist brother of Karamazov. He says that the hardest... He's talking to the voice of the Grand Inquisitor, this old Catholic cardinal,


who's the head of the Inquisition. The hardest thing for a human being to bear is his own liberty. And so people are always running around looking for somebody to give their liberty to. And so the Grand Inquisitor says, we've taken care of it. We've accepted all their liberty. We've been sort of the repository for all of the freedom of man. And we've taken it out of their hands, and now they're happy. So Jesus comes, and he says, well, get out of here. We don't have room for you, because you came to ask man to be free. And it's better that he not be free, because he won't be happy. So why don't you just go quietly away, and not disturb the... Don't shake the boat, and disturb the structure. This is the other side of the thing, by this business of obedience. If it gets exaggerated, then that's what happens. Either because of deliberate over-control for the sake of security, or because we're eager in some way not to have to be alive. We're eager to get rid of our worlds, and to remain children, just in a mother's lap, you know.


Now, not everybody is that way. The human race seems to be divided into the people who have strong egos, and who want nothing but freedom, and the people who want nothing more than to depend on somebody else. So obedience also should not just, of course, restrain people's expansion, restrain people's will, but sometimes it has to stimulate them to live. And especially in our time, half of the value of obedience is in making people do things that they don't want to do, in the sense of making people grow in a direction that they're afraid to grow in. Making people expand by asking them to do things that they'd be too dumb to do otherwise. Half of it seems to be that. And in the end, actually, all of it is probably that. Because even what seems like self-denial is usually a kind of growth that we don't understand yet. It's going beyond our own rights. Anyway. Oh yeah, I wanted to read you something by Sebastian Moore.


He's the one who wrote about the Catholic neurosis. Here he's talking about... This is a newer book of his, The Crucifixion of Jesus is No Stranger. It's pretty good, it's very interesting. I don't go along with him all the way. The way he interprets the cross, just in terms of our own self. Self-discovery and so on. He's talking here about the kind of magnetic field that the ego is, and that self-will is. Each person is, of his nature, a magnetic field that distorts reality into its pattern. Each of us wants, and has to want, reality to be after the manner of his field. There is an appropriate loss of innocence which comes to see that while the manipulation of others in its grosser and more cynical forms is to be deplored and terrible, a person with others is manipulative by nature. We're always trying to swing people into our own way. Even when we talk to somebody


about what he thinks and what we think, usually we're trying to swing him over to our side. Usually we're trying, in some way, to evangelize that person. But it's not to the gospel of the Lord. Usually it's our own gospel. And even if we are preaching the gospel of God, really it's our gospel. It's our personality somehow. We want our magnetic field, and we want to sort of build them into it. Each of us wants it his way. To cease altogether, so to want it, is to cease to be a person. So it's inevitable. It builds into us. But I am also dissatisfied with having it my way. I experience that in thus having it my way, I'm not free. And of course, that's where the monastic vocation comes in. The person is tired of having it his way. He knows it doesn't work, but he just goes around in a circle. Language expresses this fact. For the tone of voice in which one says to a person, have it your own way, is a tone that withholds something. Verbally, it gives freedom. In truth, it withholds it.


The most dishonest statements are those in which we give each other freedom. Permissive statements are dismissive statements. When we give somebody freedom like that, what are we saying? We're saying, go to blazes, right? We're saying, I cut off my relationship with you, and you go your way. It's a certain kind of freedom, but if God gives us that kind of freedom, then we're really in trouble. Because our freedom somehow has to be found in relationship with others. And just to have our own magnetic field undisturbed is a terrible kind of solitude. So life involves this tension with other persons. What we more deeply seek from each other is another kind of permission, a permission to be myself that is not simply a concession to my magnetic field. It does not consist in drawing an invisible ring around me and agreeing inaudibly not to encroach. Within that ring, I have no freedom. The only climate in which my freedom can flow


is the climate that is constituted by and consists of other selves. And what we call a community is a being together of people in which the very thing that imposed caution on my claim for myself and led me to lie to the other people about my claim, that is, other people with their claims, has somehow managed to become the climate, the warmth and the moisture and sunlight in which I dare to make creative and self-regulating initiatives. Such extraordinary human phenomena exist, but they are rare. The reason they are rare is that most people cannot afford them. I cannot afford to let you be yourself to the extent that I cannot afford to relax my hold on reality, to turn off my magnetic field, to rid myself of that inner fear whose outward face has disappeared. So that rare phenomenon he's talking about is community, actually. It's koinonia, it's communion. And that's what Saint Benedict is talking about, especially when he talks about obeying one another. Good zeal in chapter 71 and 72. But that's what obedience is supposed to do throughout.


And so it's not simply a vertical thing. But where I started with this, with that whole notion of self-will, which is not just a will for one thing, or a will in one direction, but it's 360 degrees around, which is magnetic field that we're talking about. And it's an ego and it's a self. And not that you can kill it completely, you know. There's a transformation that happens. To think of sort of just extinguishing the false self, that's an illusion. And it's not biblically, it's a philosophical notion. But there's a transformation of death and a new birth which go on at the same time. Also this fact that the will is a delicate thing, you know, you can crush it. Let me... This is something that's really important to understand. It's being understood nowadays. And this is something that Martin writes about at length in this article on the identity problem. At the risk of losing some more of our time, I'll do this. I'm going to have to leave a lot of proverbs to you today,


but that's okay. Like the verses in the Gospel of Moses, as people read them all the time. It is sometimes assumed as axiomatic that every action of the monk must be subject to external control. Even in some cases, that every thought of the monk must be subject to external control. To renounce one's autonomy to the point of abandoning all spontaneous and independent reflection, intellection, volition, even feeling, is sometimes presented as an ascetic idea. Now here, of course, is caricature. And this is the old Trappist regime that he's sort of... sort of making a travesty, as he writes. The attempt to live in this manner and to make others do so is gravely damaging to souls and is a flagrant violation of Christian truth


and of the integrity of the human person made in God's image. Our monastic life can at times suffer seriously from this over-control. To be exact, it used to suffer seriously from it. In fact, as there's much more spontaneity and variety allowed today. Complete submission to external control is rarely demanded anymore in practice, but it's still accepted in theory as right and good, as the supernatural and monastic way from up to low. He wrote that sometime in the middle 60s or late 60s. The sort of... the dam had burst, and in practice it was no longer exacted because it was found in some way to be impossible, but the theory hadn't changed. And it still wasn't understood why that couldn't be so. Why control was not the best thing. Why the complete abandonment of your own self, in a sense, was not the right thing. And there's a difficulty in interpretation of that word surrender or that word abandonment. To abandon yourself completely, to surrender yourself completely.


You do that, yes, but you do it in order that you may be resurrected, in order that you may discover yourself. And if somehow the paradox doesn't work, if the paschal mystery isn't complete, well, then it's faded. It's very important to assure that one doesn't just surrender himself to zero or abandon himself to nothingness. So would you say that the theory of perfection that Vern is speaking of there, the theory itself is invalid? Yes, the theory itself is incomplete. See, it's got one dimension right and it's omitted the other dimension. It's got the sort of vertical and the paradoxical, the sacrificial dimension right. It's got the paschal dimension in the sense of death to self is necessary, right. But it's got this wrong. It says, well, automatically by death to self one acquires a new life, okay. Is it automatically by rubbing somebody out you give them a new birth? That's not so. But death to self is valid.


Right. It's like rounding out the dualistic Christianity once again with... Actually, the planetarian reality of Christianity which is a mystery and not something that's that simple, you know. It's not as simple as one-two like the old ascetical theory. It's one-two-three and you can't rationalize that. It can only be understood somehow by the light of the Holy Spirit and it can only be lived somehow by the power of the Holy Spirit, the communion of the Holy Spirit which makes the two ones. Okay, let's listen to him. He questions the honesty of remaining indefinitely minors in the religious world. See, that's what can happen. A person isn't allowed to grow and he doesn't think that he should and he thinks that perfection somehow is different from growth. That perfection and human maturity are somehow incompatible. As if to be a human person and to grow up was to be atheistic or anti-God


or at least anti-monastic. But that's a heresy and that's destructive. Over-control thus tends to do just the opposite from what is theoretically expected to do. In theory, it's supposed to be a manifestation of faith and supernatural spirit. The word supernatural is dangerous in a way because alternate can become anti-natural. In other words, when you talk about the supernatural, you oppose something else to the natural and say that, well, the natural is bad or extremely sinful and can only be expected to bring forth bad fruits. The supernatural is necessary at every moment of life and it's different from the natural. It's above it. It's not a transformation of the natural so much as something that appears over it, goes on top of it and somehow I'm opposed to it. Now here, once again, we're drawing the lines very hard in order to emphasize the contrast. In actual fact, it breeds doubt and it eventually undermines both faith and vocation. Over-control of an immature religious does not make him mature,


does not strengthen him. It merely suppresses for the time being the questions he ought to be raising and the initiatives he ought to be taking and its chief effect is to keep him in a state of doubt. It makes him inert, hesitant, confused, helpless and frustrated. What does he mean when he says doubt? Is it the doubt that's the contrary of faith in the sense of doubting in God? No. It's self-doubt he's talking about. This over-control that he's talking about makes the person so unsure of himself by not allowing him to experience himself in making decisions or in doing anything or in expressing himself that it makes faith impossible because he can't give himself because he doesn't know himself, he doesn't have himself. So faith becomes kind of a totally willpower thing itself. It's a kind of a blank check that a person writes but the check remains blank because there isn't anything in the back of it in a sense. Because he's not allowed to experience himself because we only experience ourselves somehow in action, in expression, in a kind of liberty


to come out of ourselves, to manifest ourselves. And if that's pushed back into us well then we never emerge sufficiently to know ourselves and if we don't know ourselves then sort of our faith doesn't mean that much because we have nothing to give to God. There's no content there and it becomes purely automatic. It's like it's military in a sense. Now here I don't want to say that there's no virtue in that or there's no good in that but it's much less than the good of the faith which somehow has undergone the struggle of maturity, the struggle of growth, of sort of growing inside of it and even wrestling with it sometimes and then through contrition, through repentance, once again discovering the fullness of that faith, that's something else. But you can get this way. One is so doubtful that he thinks he's sinning all the time and he thinks that he never sins and he doesn't know the difference because he's been so pushed back into himself. I know because I've been there. Back to that question


about the death of self. Do you mean when you say death of self, death of self-will? Yes, that's the valid death of self. The death of self-will. But you've got to be careful to discern and distinguish the death of self-will from the death of self, okay? Or the death of will, let's put it that way. Well, isn't what you're trying to tell us that self-will is, it seems like God created it. I'm trying to see what you're trying to tell us what the will is called out for. Okay, well that's self-will. Well, let's call it will, okay? The will is good. And the will, in a sense, is self-will because it's your will. It's the will of yourself. What they mean by self-will is a perverse will which is wrapped up in itself, okay? It's wrapped up in its own thing, somehow independent, irregardless of God's will, irregardless of anybody else. Self-will is the will which is determined by something. It's determined by my ego, okay? It's my thing. I don't care what you want.


It's my thing. That kind of... That's the thing that has to go. But the will itself is precisely what has to be kept alive and encouraged to grow. I just want to know if maybe the will is... It's just a natural process in us, a function that we have in this will. And the problem is where it's being applied. That's right. Where it's getting involved. The will itself is not evil. That's the whole point. That's what we're talking about, okay? That's exactly what he's saying here. If you consider the will itself to be so evil or so dangerous that it has to be totally pushed down, totally bottled up, then you're going to destroy the person or you're going to completely prevent him from growing. And that growth itself is what God wants. I mean, it's only by that growth somehow that he can become a saint. Otherwise, he remains some kind of a child. And if a child remains that way, it's an unhealthy state.


If you're grown up and you remain a child in that way, it's not just youth. It's sickness and so on. So this doubt that he's talking about is self-doubt. Actually, there is great harm not only to the religious but also to the community in maintaining him in a state of doubt, ignorance and insecurity. Now, here you have to be careful that you don't... that you distinguish this from the person's initial desire to make a total gift of himself, okay? Now, this is the other pole that you've always got to keep present when you're talking about this. It might sound, if you read this carelessly, that Merton was saying, well, don't let somebody try to give himself totally because that means he'll destroy himself. He's not saying that. When a person comes to the monastic life, he's supposed to have the desire for a total gift of himself. And there has to be a way of accepting that gift, of letting him make that total gift of himself without this kind of self-destructive thing.


Because sometimes, mixed with that desire for a total gift of self is a desire for a total dependency all the time. And if that's so, then he has to be educated out of that and persuaded to stand on his own feet. It's almost as if we have to start from... that we have to start from our place in Adam. I mean, we can't... Even though we're giving ourselves, we already know that we're not giving ourselves fully. That's right. And even though we profess obedience, we still can't have that obedience in a certain sense. It's not as if you can make that total gift of self right at the outset. The person wants to, and that's got to be acknowledged and accepted and affirmed. But he can't give himself totally the way he thinks he can. He only learns how to do that as he finds out who he is over many years. As his will sort of comes alive, grows and gets unplugged from the many things in which it's been stuck without even knowing it. Okay? So it's a gradual process.


There's an initial self-gift which seems to be complete. And when a person makes his vow, when he makes a vow of obedience in his profession, he believes that's a complete self-gift. And it is to the extent that he knows himself, but he still has to meet a lot of himself. And his potentiality, which is his real self somewhere, still has to be revealed. And as it is, then he finds out what it really is to give himself. There's a relationship here to what Peter Damian was saying the other night about the needle in the leather. You know, that you can't jam it in too fast. Yeah, this one. It's a principle of discretion, once again. Some of the effects of over-control on immature monks. First of all, when you withhold information from people and so on, they get a kind of greed for information, which is childish. By keeping the subject in constant doubt about himself, by making him repeatedly experience himself as a being of dubious worth, a questionable object, besides preventing him from having inner peace,


which is necessary to a solid interior life and for growth, one makes him all the more likely either to doubt everything and everyone, since he can't believe in himself. And somehow the affirmation is all one, you know. When you affirm something, you're affirming yourself in the same moment. To the degree that you're unsure of yourself, you can't affirm anything else. Now, it's possible to hear those words and not to have the most idea of what they mean, just as it's possible to hear the word identity and not have any idea of what it means. But that affirmation and that identity are the key to our ability really to will anything else, to affirm anything else, or to love anything else, you know, anybody else, including God. What else encourages a blind dependency, which in the end cannot help becoming pathological if the person is seriously vulnerable. And then, in resume, it is likely that in the case of modern American youth, the phenomenon of over-control in our monasteries will only result in confirmed self-doubt on their part, coupled with a deep and eventually hostile suspicion of authority. In a word, over-control is dangerous


and self-defeating. And then he goes on to talk about maybe why this is true a little bit. And it's not as if people came out of a background of freedom in our country. They come out of a background of very subtle control, very subtle over-control. And he attributes that to the mass culture, the mass media, and so on. The whole invisible mechanism of our civilization, which takes all the important choices away from us, as he says in another place, and just leaves you the choice of what toothpaste to buy and what I want to do and whatever. And once again, that's a caricature. But there's a lot of truth in it. That as life becomes such because it's dominated by these great big interests and these very powerful persuasive things that come at you and tend to take your life out of your hands before you even know it's gone, before you even know you have it. A lot of your choices you've already made just because you've been exposed to this kind of osmosis. That in the end, you're alienated from yourself and you don't


know yourself. So the person who comes into the monastery, rather than having his liberty carefully taken away from him and repressed and restrained at every moment, very often has to learn who he is, has to learn to discover his liberty and getting a distance from this over-controlling society. That's his thesis. I think there's a lot of truth in that. So the person who comes into the monastery is liable to have a lot of self-doubt already and a lot of alienation. See, alienation is to be not to know yourself. It's the opposite of identity. It's to be all out into something else, be all projected out into something else, drawn out of yourself. So a person comes to the monastery to discover himself and you have to make sure that he's allowed to do that. If you simply pass over that alienation, that over-control from the media, from our civilization to some kind of authority in the monastery, you're just changing the, I don't know, changing the content but you're not changing the essentials at all. The person


remains what he was and he doesn't grow. To sum it all up in one word, our postulants come to us from a society in which man is alienated, in which he's systematically deprived of his serious identity, in which he cannot believe in his dignity, in which he has good reason to be profoundly skeptical of everything and everyone, and in which he tends to renounce all hope of experiencing himself as real and genuinely worthwhile. It's a society in which he has not much left but to resign himself to the side, to passivity, to the can of beer in front of the TV to do a certain kind of freedom but it's a vegetable freedom. The term alienation is used of the human being who is systematically kept or allows himself to be kept in a social situation in which he exists purely and simply for somebody else. And then he talks about how this kind of person experiences a monastic life. How will an alienated person act and experience the realities of life in a monastery? In his spiritual life he will tend not to experience realities directly


but second hand. In the liturgy for example, instead of deeply feeling and understanding the meaning of the chants, texts, rites and sacred action, direct and personally as relevant to his own response to Christ the Saviour and so on. He will experience the fact that in doing these things he's doing what is right, he's doing what is approved by the church, he's doing what the superiors and professors of liturgy have described as the highest form of worship and so on. With his reading he won't follow, he won't know his own interest really but he'll do simply what is approved. Now there's a balance there. Martin was one who was very much on the side of, because of his own character and personality, very much on the side of one's own inspiration and one's self and so on. Very much into himself, a very keen sense of identity. A lot of people are not like that and also there's a certain balance between the object and the subject. It's not as if you just follow your own lights and he knows that. But here he's talking about one side of the question. But you mentioned his keen sense of identity that really didn't develop until maybe like 20


years, 15, 20 years. I don't think he seemed to have it earlier. It was on a different level. I think even when he was in the world he had a keen sense of identity and a sense of originality but gradually it has to find its way through various blind alleys and various turnings until it settles finally somewhere. And even at the end, you know, even at the end he was groping in a way. But he had a keen sense, let's put it this way, a keen sense of his search for identity, right from the start. A very keen hunger for a sense of identity. But the image in which he would locate that identity would keep changing from time to time. From being a writer, you know, a literary man, to being a young Trappist and sort of identifying himself totally with what was given to him, you know, with the system and the whole spirituality, to reacting against that so that his individuality, his identity emerges and he begins to look at the monastic life from within


himself, as it were, rather than the way he got it, rather than the way it was given to him, OK? And this, even as far as the Eastern group and so on. And the whole Zen thing was kind of a, in a way, a reaction of Merton into freedom, away from that over-control and away from that sort of objective theology and spirituality which had been put on him in the Trappist system, I guess. It was kind of a declaration of independence, in a sense. Even the freedom and the kind of irrationality of Zen was something like that for him, I think, against an over-rationalized and over-structured life and thought. But anyway. I'd probably have to say, though, wouldn't you, that it's a step in the right direction to be in the context of control of the Church, in the way it's now being done, just the world. Oh, right. It's certainly a step in the right direction, you know. You're more likely to be close to God, to be able to do God's will, than just to be out in that ocean where the sharks get you, or one


kind of mass domination or another. But yet it's not as good as to grow and find yourself, and then knowing yourself, give yourself to God, you know, with possession of yourself, with a kind of maturity. Give that greater self to God, rather than the little kid, you know, rather than the child, which has renounced its own development because it wants to be good, you know. That's not enough. The kid who doesn't cross the street, you know. I only say that to him. But if you never cross the street all your life, you don't get very far. Okay, that's enough about that. He keeps summing this up. He keeps making the way I get. The authenticity which the modern monk sincerely and rightly desires, whether or not he may be fully conscious of it,


is first of all the fidelity to his own truth and his own inner being as a person. The authenticity of his own identity. The very first thing of all, something that was much less precarious in the past, is the authentic affirmation of his own identity. Without this starting point, everything else will be lost. Now, that takes a lot of discernment to tell that from self-will, to discern that affirmation of your own identity from just the affirmation of your own thing, your own will, and so on. And it's in the process and the tension of obedience that this gets worked out, as well as the tension of living with others in the community, which can be seen as another kind of obedience. But a much more two-sided, much more dialogue type of obedience. Okay, let's see how far we can get with Robert's here. The whole business of self-will takes a lot of discernment. That's where the prior and the abbot and the spiritual director come in. That's right. To keep us from


that circle you spoke of earlier. That's right. Because if you've got an anchor outside of yourself, it keeps you from the circle. And that's the virtue of the law in the Old Testament very much. To have an objective norm, that's a precious thing. And it seems like an impersonal thing. But before being impersonal, consider it as being un-egotistical. But if you follow that straight line long enough, it turns out to be a circle that circles around God. In other words, he's the center of that infinite circle, which is the law, which is God's Word, in a positive sense. So in getting outside of yourself there, you're doing a lot more than just getting outside of yourself, because there's no neutral ground there. And if you're listening to God's Word and you're not moving out into a neutral ground where you just sort of follow a rational course, you're actually beginning to orbit around God. You're in God's magnetic field, his gravitational field. You're doing his will. And so that's something entirely different turns on there. But that's where Christian obedience turns on. You see, because you're obeying because it's


God that you're relating to. And the whole of obedience is not just a matter of getting outside of ourselves, it's a matter of turning ourselves over to him, of relating to him. It's in a dialogue with him. And so obedience fits into this pattern of Jewishness very well, in dialogue, intense relationship with God. And even the struggles are part of that relationship. It's not always a gentle, tranquil, serene relationship. It can be a violent relationship, as you see in some of the Old Testament people, like Job. Okay, I'm not going to be through with what he talks about here. In fact, I suppose we should talk about defective obedience. Very pleasant subject. He starts it on the bottom of page nine. All the ways in which we can fall short of obedience.


And he talks about the sins which are real, sort of overt and serious breakings of the vow of obedience. And then he talks about defects in the spirit, and the way we fall short of them. These are the modest and venial sins of obedience, the way we fall short of the fullness of the spirit of obedience. And then he talks about the ways in which we can promote in ourselves a true spirit of obedience. First of all, who are we to be obedient? And then talks about the a true spirit of obedience. And there are


ways of acting in our life which sort of grow and become habitual and which gradually make us insensitive to the will of God. Habitual negligence, laziness, carelessness, tardiness, even though punctuality sort of reflects our inner care, our He who makes no effort to correct himself even in those things offends against himself. Negligence can be indirect. In other words, we can be so stuck on something else that we simply don't hear the word of God. We can be so taken up in our own thing that it never comes to mind. We never dream that the superior or our brothers or God himself could want anything else. We've got to be careful that we don't simply get married to our own will or not will, to our self-will. It's easy to do,


too, because something, you know, something's good, something's justified, it's a good work, it's necessary. But, at a certain point, it's our thing. And everything is good, but we have to be ready to drop it for God's sake. Once again, it's this matter of sort of sanctifying the name of God's sovereignty, of God's uniqueness. We affirm him, and we make an act of faith, and we're able to step out of the particular thing, just in response to his word. There are a whole bunch of examples of that already in the Old Testament. That response of Samuel, like, here I am, you know, those things which you find in the prophets. And then, of course, Jesus himself. And then ways of avoiding having to obey, by not being around at the right time, when the disagreeable job comes up, and so on. Defects in the spirit of obedience, murmuring, spirit of


criticism, habitual resistance to the desires of others. Now, the murmuring and spirit of criticism is a kind of a cancer, a kind of bilge water that tends to salivate over the religious life, because it becomes an interior world of negativity, and also is very much influenced by the evil spirit. There are certain things in the monastic life where the devil just jumps in and makes it his own, where we really give him room to operate and turn an area over to him. And one of them, of course, is the murmuring criticism, which is not to say that there should be no criticism, but it's very difficult to criticize without admitting that spirit of evil. It's almost as if before doing anything in the way of criticism, we have to pray and make sure that the other spirit, the good spirit, is in our hearts when we do it. It's just like reproving somebody or criticizing a Buddha. It's very difficult to do that without harshness. It's very difficult to do


that without bitter zeal, without a little fear, without a little anger. The only way to do it with a gentleness is to have the Holy Spirit in your heart when you do it. And that requires prayer. Because the affirmation always has to be greater than the criticism. Otherwise, what is it that's predominant? It's our own ego, our own will, and the other guy, the devil. It really gets into the memory. And we know that when we're talking about memory, we can even talk about negativity about somebody else. When two people get together and they begin to talk about Brother C, first of all it's kind of complimentary, and then it's neutral. And they begin to find a very sweet joy in discussing the defects of Brother C. There's nothing that makes people happy in talking about somebody else and just finding themselves perfectly one at heart in this other guy's defects. Why is that so delightful? What is


so sweet about that? The same thing holds for memory. It's sort of the devil's candy machine. How do we grow in obedience? There's all sorts of good advice there. See obedience as a work. If you want to look at obedience that way, then read Merton's things in this anthology of Brother Jacob, because there he gives you the other side of the whole thing. He talks about obedience as the struggle of the monastic life. Here are a couple of examples. The hardest vow to keep is obedience, and it gets into everything. All the other vows as you grow older get easier, but obedience gets harder. You don't like your life shaken up because in getting new jobs, superiors, and so on. It's really important to work at obedience. You really have to keep working at it. See, a lot of things, if we don't look at them as a work, then they slip by us, and we


don't do them. So the way that we look at things is pretty important, and the way that we locate our work, the way that we focus our attention, our our energy, if you don't know something as a battle, if you don't know something as a struggle, what's going to happen? You're going to avoid it because you don't see it as your work. You say, well, I don't have to struggle. I mean, this isn't necessary. In other words, you have to in some way convince yourself to obedience, otherwise you won't be able to do it. Otherwise you'll evade in some way. You'll either evade or oppose because you haven't faced it, and you haven't fit it into your commitment in some way. You haven't taken the concrete situation and fit it into your faith commitment, and therefore you see it as something irrelevant or something that can get by. So it's a question of bringing the concrete together with your basic commitment. Always bringing things back and putting them into that basic commitment. And the basic commitment, of course, is where the electricity is, that's where the energy is, and where you really find the ability


to do what you're talking about, even though you may not find the feeling there right away. But if you put it into that faith commitment and then wait on God in prayer, you'll get what you need to do it. That's sort of God's guarantee, because it's within it, we have to do it, not just physically, but it will. Cultivate the life of faith. And that means meditation. In other words, to get this context of thought, to get our mind furnished with the context that's going to enable ourselves to relate the situation, the problem, to that basic commitment of ours, and to see it fit in, even when it's paradoxical, even when it's contradictory. If we don't fit it into the cross of Christ, if we don't fit it into the gospel, we won't be able to handle it right. We won't be able to meet it head on, and hence we'll find a lot of trouble. We need


to see it clearly, in other words. The way that we look at it is very important. It's not just a matter of willpower, like a bulldozer bullying all those in its path. No. It's a matter of understanding. You'll find that Roberts, in this chapter, emphasizes understanding very much, intelligence very much in the matter of evidence. Even though intelligence makes it harder, in a sense. It's much easier just to grit your teeth and close your eyes and lower your head and go through sometimes. When we do that, we don't grow. We're making ourselves hard and invulnerable in a way. We just get tough. Place the emphasis on humility. There's this business of knowing that our own will doesn't produce very good fruit. Knowing our own history, knowing from memory that we're capable of sinning, that our own will


is very prone to sin, and that it just makes us miserable. We have to have that kind of experience and distaste for our own will before obedience makes much sense on a level of healing. Submit things. Try to enter into the mind of the superior. That can be a very difficult effort if our relationship is not too good. No solidity and flexibility. And as he says at the end there, this business of obedience prepares us for the exterior and interior purifications that God is going to use in our sanctification. If we sort of line ourselves up and then try to find it in our hearts to do things willingly and with enthusiasm, then we'll be able to say yes to God. Because it's as if our whole life is a matter of saying yes. The only thing that matters is that we say yes. We need to do it intelligently. We need to do our focus and we need to make our context of


mind and all those things we've been talking about. But basically when it comes right down to it, it's a matter of learning how to say yes and not to get it confused with a no, not to let ourselves say maybe. To learn how to point ourselves at God in every situation and say yes. Then the situation becomes rather irrelevant in a sense. But if we're too dumb about that, if we're too unintelligent about that, we find ourselves doing something else. We find ourselves really going around in that circle again if we don't open our eyes. It's a matter very much of listening and trying to understand the situation, where God's will really is in there. Because if I close my eyes and grit my teeth and lower my head and barge through with willpower, I may find that I'm not really doing God's will at all. I'm determined on a straight line and I follow that straight line and I'm deaf and blind to anything that he wants to say to me after I start. We're not supposed to be like a rocket with no control, like a shell that's


fired out of a gun with no control afterwards. God should be there somehow to speak to us at any moment. And it's more painful to have to keep our eyes and ears open. Because that means we have to have that kind of detachment at every moment. We have to be ready to turn away from our own will at any moment. That's what obedience is about. Then he gets to dialogue and here he means two kinds of dialogue really. He means the dialogue in a community where you have a discussion like in the chapter of the St. Benedict book where everybody speaks and says his opinion and the abbot decides at the end. But then also the dialogue of obedience between the individual monk and his superior. In chapter 68 of St. Benedict's book where he says about hard things and seemingly impossible things that tell your difficulty to the superior and talk it over with him. But in the end it would be insistible and somehow plant your feet on your faith in God and do what he says knowing that God will help you. There's two kinds of


dialogue. That's kind of a big subject. Maybe we'll touch on that lightly next time and then after that we'll go on to stability. If you have any questions or other suggestions if you want to talk about connection and well-being try having those the next time.