March 31st, 1981, Serial No. 00799

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Monastic Spirituality Set 2 of 12

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We'll clean up in a few minutes when we finish, but I see it'll probably take the whole period, so let's start. This always happens. Let's start on stability next time. Stability is not that exciting anyway, is it? We're very stable. Last time we were talking about this how of the spirit of obedience, remember? Roberts talks about it on page 92, that those sort of ways of cultivating the spirit of obedience, which is a matter of working on everything in you, working on your mind, cultivating the spirit of faith, working on your heart, and cultivating just that, I don't know, that promptness. Working within our hearts and trying really to turn them towards God's will, or simply turn them away from our own will, turn them towards the will of somebody else in order to get free of our own. And then working even with our bodies, because it's the body often that teaches the heart,


and so by obeying, by doing it, we come to like it, we come to find freedom in it. Remember? Remember Isidore. And then, of course, the whole other side of not letting that other spirit creep in, the spirit which is clean contrary to obedience, and clean contrary to faith. There are lots of things that are weaknesses in obedience, or weaknesses in the various virtues and so on. Then there are things that are clean contrary to them, and those are the ones we really have to look out for. Because we espouse them, and then they begin to occupy us, like the guy with the seven devils. Now, I want to review a little bit of, Merton is so articulate about obedience because he had such a big problem with it himself, and also, of course, he was teaching at Gethsemane


just in the time when all of these things came into crisis, just in the time when that very top-heavy Stratus structure began to shake a bit, began to be subject to criticism. And the absolute monarchy of the abbot and the whole thing began to be suspect, and began to cause crises in some of the monks. And so he had to deal with all of that. So he took it very seriously, and he didn't compromise on it, in his speaking, he never compromises with that kind of obedience, he maintains the absoluteness of it. And what are we trying to do, really, when we talk about obedience, what's the problem, where's the conflict? On one side, obedience seems to threaten to crush the person, and to crush the freedom of the individual. But on the other side, that we know obedience somehow is an absolute, St. Benedict presents it as an absolute, he doesn't make any question about it, he doesn't say, well, you talk it over with the superior and then do what you think is best, no, he says, you talk it over with the superior and then you obey.


So obedience has an absoluteness about it, and yet, somehow, we have to find precisely in it the freedom of the person, rather than the crushing of the person. And this is the dilemma, sort of. Now, how can that possibly work out? And of course, that dilemma is only solved somehow beyond the two terms of the system. It's only solved, as usual, in the third, it's solved in the Holy Spirit. It's solved somehow by transcending that impasse. Now, obedience is not always going to be an impasse, but even theoretically it's kind of an impasse. But after all, it's the very impasse of living in history, living in a body, living subject to illness, death, all the restrictions of human life, and still having the liberty of the Spirit in you. In other words, it's simply the conflict between death and resurrection, the tension between the cross and the resurrection, between the law of death and the law of liberty, the law of the Spirit. It's just the same thing put in a very stark and clear way within the monastic context,


monastic life. And, in a way, it's the same thing you run into with the other vows. With obedience, you run straight into it, because it's a matter of your will. And also, we're very sensitive to that nowadays. Why? Because we have a great sensitivity to the value of the person, right? Well, the value of the person is nowhere more evident than in this matter of freedom and creativity and self-fulfillment and self-expression and all those things. We're very sensitive to those things. And if you have a form of life which seems to crush them or to threaten to crush them, to make them subject to some power, to some institution, to something which is impersonal, boy, that really becomes hateful. It really becomes a frightening thing. So the conflict is there, and it's a very real one. And the more you respect the human person, the more you realize the value of the human person, the more problem you have with this thing of obedience, until you're able to take it in a supernatural way, until you're able to see in faith that it really works.


And then by experience, of course. You can't see it in faith that it works. You see it by experience. It happens in there. But then the obedience itself has to be made, I don't want to say reasonable, but it has to be made Christian. In other words, it's not fair that a person should commit himself to a type of life which is supposed to bring him into the paschal mystery, bring him through the cross to resurrection, and instead of that he just gets the cross and no resurrection. That's not fair. That shouldn't be done to anybody. And there are forms of life which come pretty close to that because they get people into blind alleys that they can't get out of. They get them into traps that they can't get out of. They get them into psychological places that they can't really get free from. And so ways of religious life have been faulty in that way. And sometimes the way that authority is exercised can do that. The whole mentality of the community can do that. I think it happens especially in nuns' communities, but not only. Okay, I'll read just a couple of things from Merton and then we'll go on.


Remember, he stresses a lot the motivation that has to be behind obedience. You really have to take it up out of love and out of faith, otherwise it's no good and it becomes mechanical. How important it is, the fact that we're dealing with our self-will and we're dealing with this false self and somehow we've just got to want to get rid of it, we've got to want to put it to death. And our whole consolation, the reason why we're able to do this thing of obedience, to make this kind of commitment, is that we know there's something deeper than that. We know there's another self. The other self which somehow we correlate with the resurrection. In other words, that other self somehow is beyond death. It's the self that can't lose anything. The self that already stands with God, the Christ self. And Merton's whole thing between the false self and the true self, that's what we're talking about very clearly and centrally here when we talk about obedience. Then, the difficulties of... It has to be conscious and intelligent. I always stress that. And that's what you hear everywhere. Obedience can't be just mechanical, not just military.


Somehow the whole of you has to obey. And that's really hard. It's really hard. You have to go back to the scriptures really to be able to justify that to yourself, you know. And then you look at... I don't know. Look at Abraham and Isaac. First of all, Abraham obeying God, the right to go out and sacrifice Isaac, his son, his only son. The whole promise, the whole thing rests on Isaac. He's the gut to go out and sacrifice him. And he does it. And then Isaac himself, going along with Abraham, you know. He says, well, daddy, where's the... We've got the wood and we've got the fire and we've got the knife, but where's the victim? He says, well, God will provide, my child. And then when he realized that his father is meant to kill him, you have to put yourself somehow in the biblical context and in the context of Jesus himself to be able to accept this thing. The way it has to turn into the love of a son for his father


whom he trusts in spite of the fact that he doesn't see anything in front of him but death. Jesus in Gethsemane, father, this cup can pass away, but if not, then I'll drink it because I know you're my father and I know that you're God. It has to be that if it's really going to... if we're really going to be able to accept it. That is when it gets rough. And of course, that's where it's supposed to bring us, is to that narrow place, that ultimate threshold of faith and hope where we really have to trust and we have to hope against hope. Okay. It's not going to be that way all the time, fortunately, because we couldn't stand it if it were. But there are those motives, those moments. Then he talks about the difficulties of obedience. Merton is very eloquent when it gets to things like this. As you know. I'll try not to repeat any of the ones that I read before. Everyone somewhere along the line is going to have to let go of something really valuable. And obedience demands that he does so.


God can ask of us anything, even our life. In religious life, as you go on, bit by bit, things get taken away. In all life, as you go on, everything gets taken away. Your teeth, one by one. And the deepest part of us is our will. And obedience gets right into this deepest part. The deepest part of us is our will. We need to think about how we're made sometimes and the fact that we've got a center and we've got a peel, a skin. That center, the will, is really it. The will is as far down as we can go in a certain sense. And when we learn what has to happen there, in that deepest part of ourselves, then we know a lot about the monastic life at that point. Because it's that move, a very simple move, that move almost of a child, which is maturity, by which we find freedom in that deepest part. There's something that we do and then there's something that God does. There's something that we do which is a kind of turning towards him. And that already is a gift of God. And then there's something else that he does which fills the heart then


and makes us able to do that with love. That's what Saint Benedict is talking about. But the great principle in all sacrifices is that God never takes anything away without giving you a greater good. The sacrifices that we fear making are the very ones that bring us the graces that we most need. The grace of interior solitude usually comes about as a result of obedience that tends to isolate us or cut us off or detaches from something which keeps us in contact with the rest of life. Those things which make us isolated render us solitary, kind of lonely and hopeless, are the sources of grace for us. That should ring a bell with most of you. The sense of being lonely, the sense of being sort of disoriented and solitary. And the other side of that, of course, is freedom. The other side of that loneliness is the presence of God. God never takes anything away uselessly and anything he takes away he will restore it in a better way somehow in himself.


But Merton himself had to wrestle with this often and hard. Obedience is not a question of crushing or exterminating your own will. Our will keeps on acting. We will to obey. We can't be completely passive in the realm of obedience but we still have to move ourselves. We can sort of obey on the outside and not really communicate with what we're doing with our hearts and sort of just shut that door of our hearts. It's closing something and then we're not really obeying fully. That matter of opening ourselves up is what freezes, you see. Opening the inside up somehow for that obedience and really exposing yourself. The theology of redemption is the theology of obedience. Marat Sano.


If you're blocked by obedience it's because God wants you blocked. Obedience involves God working behind the whole thing and he may want you to wait so you can do it better at a later time. That whole business of the apple in the garden. You can't stop or frustrate the Holy Spirit. He uses even those who oppose or delay us because he wants us delayed. That kind of thought is the thing that frees you from hatred and from resentment. If you have to blame it on God then sooner or later you're going to get freed. It's good to blame things on God in a way and then if you have that underlying trust that he knows what he's doing it's better than blaming it on some other person or some other man. Because then it sticks, you see, and you can't get rid of the resentment. If you blame it on God and stay resentful that's not so good. The block? Suppose that you're working on some


project, all right? You put the whole of yourself into this project. It's some kind of creative thing. It really means something to you. It's useful to the community. It makes a lot of sense. And then for no good reason the Superior comes along and says, well, forget about that. I've got something else for you to do. And this is not just for today, but this is for a couple of years. That's typical. And it's very hard to take. It's as if somebody just quenched you, crushed you and just, you know, blossomed, you know. Sure, sure, sure. Sure, the Superior seems like a total roughneck, a total redneck at that point. A Philistine. But those things happen. They happen more in a bigger community where the Superior really isn't in touch with the individual so much. He's sensitive more to the needs and everything of the place than he is to the needs of the individual. Isn't Job a good example of that kind of


you know, he's always complaining to God. Yeah, Job's sort of, he's in between. And he doesn't curse God, remember? His wife wants him to curse God. Curse God. Curse God and die. Wasn't she a sweet lady? Curse God and die. But Job says, no. He says, you go and see your psychiatrist. I'm going to work this out in faith, you know. And so Job suffers all this stuff and he doesn't curse God, but at the same time he doesn't say, I'm just plain wrong. He doesn't say, I'm just a sinner does he? In other words, his friends come along and say, you brought this on yourself. This is all your fault. But Job doesn't, he doesn't curse God and he doesn't blame himself either, does he? He goes through his misery and somehow, I don't know, just contains it. He shuts his mouth and goes through his misery. He defends himself against these friends who would tell him, well, it's your fault.


Here's the explanation and there's the explanation. They've all got explanations and the explanations mostly put the blame on him. So he doesn't accept that and he doesn't really put the blame on God by just saying, God is evil. He's darkness instead of light. And so God vindicates him in the end. That's a good Jewish position there in a way. He wrestles with God and he wrestles with God in kind of a delicate way. He doesn't curse God. He just maintains that he wrestles with his life, he wrestles with his misery, he struggles with his friends and ultimately he's wrestling with God until the darkness turns into light. He's like Jacob in that way. He's not only blocked but he's totally wiped out in a way. Everything is taken away. Then this matter of conflict and obedience, that's part of it. In other words, to be able to accept conflict,


that's part of maturity. Maturity is so much a matter of being able to live with tension instead of having to have everything simplified. Having to have a clear answer and to be totally in the clear and have no problems anymore and be able just to rest once again. Because as you go on in life you find out you have to find your rest in the middle of tension. You have to find your peace even where there's disagreement and conflict. And that even friendship and love is able to contain conflict within it. In fact, real friendship somehow is able to have a lot of conflict inside of it. People just don't have to be lovey-dovey and in agreement about everything and just... No, because somehow that's childish. They have to be able to let one another be themselves and live with that conflict and tension and yet love one another. And the same with obedience, so much the more so with obedience. To be able to live with the tension of it and yet in a kind of perfect peace.


A peace which is imperfect and perfect at the same time. That's the... I don't want to say paradox again, it's the mystery of obedience. He talks a good deal about that, that conflict. Now he didn't always obviously come up with the right answer himself. He didn't always find the ideal attitude himself. Because he had to lament and sometimes cry on somebody's shoulder and he had to to groan about his problems with his enemy. And then this matter of communication. And here, once again, is where we get to the kind of... the delicacy of obedience that it's not just a matter of doing it. It's not just a matter of charging into the thing. Of one act of willpower. But it's a matter of a really personal matter of trying to establish a relationship with God through a relationship with another person. Which relationship with another person


has to be conscious and full and in some way deep and loving and has to be mobile. It has to be the kind of free relationship in which one can communicate. A personal relationship. It's not just like the marching orders that you get, you know, the telegram that you get and you go and you do it and that's all a military thing. No. It has to be in some way a two-way thing. That's the ideal kind of obedience. Not that you not necessarily complain. Not even necessarily a lot of dialogue. But there has to be this open this open relationship. Because if not, then there's not really love there and the whole thing somehow is failing. Or at least it's very imperfect. Most problems of obedience involve a breakdown in communication. The real problem of obedience is a problem of communication. And a problem of communication usually means that you make kind of a decision. You make kind of a judgment. And you say, well, the superior's all wet. You know, I'm going to do it, but he's crazy. Something like that.


You should be able to maintain communication with a person, even if you disagree with him. And so, in that case, you don't judge him. See, what we do when we judge, we excommunicate somebody. It's significant, the word we use. Communication, excommunicate. When we judge somebody, we decide, well, I can't deal with this person. I've got just to handle him with power and not with love. It's not a personal relationship anymore. I push him off and just sort of deal with him at arm's length. Power and not love. You deal with him with your ego, with your cleverness, with your mind, with your will, but not with your heart anymore. Excommunicate. No communication. Well, obedience isn't supposed to be that. Now, sometimes it has to be just because of our hang-ups, but it shouldn't be that way any more than our fraternal relationship should be. But we find it creeping in all the time. That tendency to withdraw, to excommunicate. The fundamental obligation


of our life of obedience is to try to keep communication open, two-sided, subject and superior. We don't like the word subject and superior. And the sacrifice which is necessary for this is more difficult and more meritorious than inertia. So when he says communication, he means communication of mind, first of all, that if you have a problem and say so, you don't just go off resentfully, you don't just go off sulking. But also communication, ultimately communication of heart, even with attention that you maintain that relationship, that affective relationship. And that's hard. Okay, the communication thing leads us to this question of dialogue, obedience, which Robert treats at some length, probably because it has been a new creature in the Trappist world. Since they had a completely vertical obedience before, this dialogue obedience becomes a big issue for them, as also for us, for most of the monastic community. Robert?


Especially the saints, because the saints are the ones who will take a heroic attitude towards something very often. In other words, they get a completely unreasonable obedience and they'll just shut up and not say a word. They won't be, they won't dialogue even. They just go and do it. And somehow they're able to do it in a great act of love. For most of us, that's not advisable because we're not at that level and we're going to fall into resentment or sulking or something. And also, even for them, you can debate sometimes whether they should have gone at it exactly in that way or whether it wouldn't have been better to try to communicate with the superior. It seems like also that they're involved, from some good examples of saints who did things they had to do which were justified, even though they were maybe ridiculous and hard and lacrosse, involved in this sort of thing where you just start, especially in their ages, I think they've


formed this sort of system where you just give people these obediences and they think that's going to make you a saint. Exactly. Ridiculous things. What happens is, David Knight is very good on this, in that book of his, The Cloud and the Fire, he talks about the so-called exaggerations, the excesses of the saints, and how they were led by the Holy Spirit to do extraordinary penances and things. And what happens afterwards? People come along and they make general rules out of what the saints have done. This happens a million times in the Church. You take a saint who goes up on a pillar and then you form a community of people standing up in post. That's an exaggeration. You take a saint who does a heroic thing, who does things in his way, who's got the charism from the Holy Spirit to do this particular thing in his life, and you say, wow, that's great, let's all do that. And so you make a rule of that thing, but it wasn't meant to be a rule. It was meant for him. And you're meant to do the equivalent in your own way, not in his way. What happens is, remember this thing about the Spirit and the Word.


You have both the Spirit and the Word. Now if you turn the Spirit into the Word, you get into trouble. Because the Word is, as it were, general, meant for everybody. The Spirit is the particular touch, God's particular word, his particular charism and call to this man at this time. So you take the movement of the Spirit and you turn it into a law and you get in trouble right away. So that's what we do when we sort of canonize. Canon means law. We canonize the acts of the saints and what they did in their own life. And of course this gets into religious congregations and orders too. Because you take the particular personal spirituality of the founder and then you make that obligatory for everybody, okay? And it won't work. It didn't even work for the Franciscans, with the charism of Saint Francis. Certainly there's a kind of a general line there. But you can't take a saint's life and make it a law for anybody else. And that's what often they try to do. So it's moving, as it were, from the freedom of the Spirit to the obligatoriness of the law.


From the freedom of the Spirit to the general and obligatory character of a commandment. So we have to be very careful in which we look at the saints as being examples. And even the imitation of Christ, you see, can't be taken on a literal level because we don't go around healing lepers and a lot of things that we don't do that he did. What does the imitation of Christ mean? We imitate his heart. We imitate the disposition that was in him towards the Father and towards men. It's an interiority of imitation. Okay. Dialogue of obedience. Now you notice there's a kind of ambiguity when he talks about this because there are really two kinds of dialogue he's talking about. He quotes two passages from Saint Benedict down at the bottom of page 93. First is chapter 3. Let the brothers then give their opinions with all submission and humility. So remember Saint Benedict says in the chapter on calling the brothers


to counsel that they're all to be listened to. Everybody's to have an opportunity to speak and often God, the Holy Spirit speaks to the youngest. But then he says at the end that after they've said their peace, then it's the abbot who decides and so on. Okay, this is a kind of horizontal dialogue in the sense it's a communal dialogue. The other one that he talks about is chapter 68 which is a whole different thing. When a monk is commanded to do impossibilities, remember? When under obedience he's asked to do something which he considers impossible or very difficult simply too much for him. Then that's a whole different thing. That's a vertical situation of dialogue in which the monk is just talking about his life and his particular obedience thing he's been asked to do with the abbot. So it's a different case. Somehow the two are not clearly distinguished here. By obedience you unite yourself to the divine plan for the salvation of the world. Obedience is our way to God.


This plan of God, this way, is a mystery of communion. It's important to think of it I think in that way and also when we talk about the plan of God we tend to imagine a kind of blueprint, don't we? When we hear that plan of God it sounds a little heavy. Why? Well it sounds like there's a blueprint and it's all mapped out and what you've got to do is find your little place in that blueprint and stay right there and don't move. You've got this little place for yourself in God's plan and the whole business of your life is to find that and then root yourself there and stay put. Don't get out of place. But is God's plan really like that? That once again is to overemphasize the dimension of the word, of structure at the expense of the dimension of freedom and spirit. Because God's plan is really your liberation. God's plan is a plan of redemption, of liberation. So what he wants you to do is to be free. Which doesn't mean free in the most superficial way


or the most absolute way but in the ultimate way of being free. God's plan is your liberation. So the thing explodes at that point from a closed plan, a closed diagram or program into an open plan. God's plan goes like this not like this. It opens. It's to open you. It's to open the world. God's plan is the resurrection ultimately. And yet there may be something he wants you to do in this world but somehow the element of freedom the dimension of freedom and of the spirit is always getting lost when we talk about these things. So that they get hardened and they get closed and they seem to be a box for us. So when he says this plan of God is a mystery of communion so that we're to find God's plan by dialogue together the fact that it's a mystery of communion also means what? It means somehow that it gets beyond those hard lines. That it's not contained. The mystery of communion


is a mystery of freedom in some way. It's communion with God and with one another. So the word plan somehow doesn't do it justice suggesting a map or a closed diagram as it does. Geometry always falls short when we're talking about God. We all have responsibilities. I hope that you have read this on your own because I'm not covering every point here. Then those two places in Saint Benedict's rule and Saint Benedict is remarkable about that rule despite the sort of heaviness the authoritarian character of the rule it's remarkable how he leaves room these little spaces these little openings for the Holy Spirit and for freedom. Dialogue presupposes the spirit of obedience otherwise it will not be dialogue but escapism and the expression of pride. What does he mean there?


Dialogue presupposes that you're detached enough from your own opinion so that you're really free to go either way. In other words, dialogue presupposes the freedom to accept either outcome yes or no. And that's the spirit of obedience of course. It's that absolutism of obedience once again the absolute principle of obedience which cannot be sacrificed or compromised. Then a person is free for dialogue. But the same thing is true in lesser measure in any dialogue. Because if you go into a dialogue, a conversation with somebody and your mind's all made up and it's closed and you can't listen to him and you're so fixed on your own point that you're not really interested in what he has to say the same thing is true there's no dialogue at all. That's another situation where it's a parallel thing. But the dialogue of obedience demands much more. Not only do you have to be willing to sort of set your position aside while you listen to the other person but you have to be ready for your position in the end


to be excluded to be decided against and that's much harder. So dialogue means openness and in this case it's a kind of ultimate openness. It's a question of obedience. This whole business of authority versus respect of persons, authority versus community, these two dimensions the vertical and the horizontal are playing back and forth between you. Authority as service obedience as active and responsible. So here you see both sides sort of being softened the edges are being rounded both of authority and of obedience so that neither one is cold and external and military. One is service the other is active and responsible. So authority is not retiring exactly but is making way for the human person on the other side and on the other side you see the human person expanding


to fill out with an active and responsible obedience not just a childless or slavish obedience. You see what's happening. This is the consciousness of Vatican II you see manifested in this particular department and the respect for the human person and this atmosphere of dialogue which was really the climate the soil of Vatican II wasn't it? That was sort of the genius of Pope John XXIII that whole notion of dialogue what does it rest on? Trust, respect. Well the other fellow, he's a human being he's a man, he's a child of God he may have something worthwhile saying maybe I haven't got all the answers. It's a very unusual pope that's able to say that that was able to open that up it was from the top of the church from the peak of authority in the church that position, what would you say that openness, that humility that willingness to dialogue that's what broke open the dam


that's what broke open the stone wall of the monolithic Catholic thing at that point you see so that the Holy Spirit could really transform it. And then the same thing is propagated like with succeeding popes you know when Pope Paul kisses the feet of the patriarch it's the same thing it's another expression of the same abandoning of control and power the thing which has nothing to do with Christianity in favor of that freedom and that humility and ultimately that faith and trust and respect for the other which is Christianity itself it's a beautiful thing to watch because the whole power structure and everything really doesn't have that much to do with Christianity it's something you have to have it's not Christianity it's a kind of functional necessity just like we have to live in buildings and then Paul VI


in Ecclesiastes his business of creating an atmosphere basically it's an atmosphere of trust an atmosphere of trust on both sides the monk trusts the superior somehow because he knows he's interested in his benefit and the superior trusts the monk because he knows that somehow he's first of all he can speak for the Holy Spirit secondly, he's a person worthy of respect and equal in every respect and thirdly, somehow he can be trusted to get beyond his own self-interest it's not just a battle a struggle of egos, you know, like bigot holes or marbles it's a question of human persons there's a beautiful text from Paul VI there by obedience therefore


in the context of dialogue we mean the exercise of authority and the full awareness of its being a service and ministry of truth and charity he says a whole lot in those words authority as a service and that's right in the example of Jesus of course washing of the feet and a ministry of truth and charity that demands a lot because authority so often has been divorced divorced from truth has had a kind of arbitrariness about it that had a lot to do I think with the reformation back in the 16th century then he gets on to the qualities of dialogue common search for the will of God the quality of our obedience is proportional to the quality of our discernment of God's will


and this is proportional somehow to our freedom because discernment is proportional to detachment or as we might prefer to call it freedom you can't see God's will unless there's a kind of a you've gotten somewhat over your fear of God's will once again it rests on trust it depends on how you think of God fear of God's will in other words if we consider God's will to be something hostile something threatening if God is out to get us and often reading spiritual literature you can sort of get that idea the idea is you're a sinner there's nothing good in you and you're going to get what's coming to you sure you can get very negative that way because that's not really the way God is it's difficult to get together the two things of God's, of our sinfulness and our worth to hold them without


going off on one end or the other and to think of our sinfulness without thinking of God as a judge as a vindictive punishing judge a man of prayer is the only person who can truly practice dialogue with beings because otherwise we're sort of invested in our own thing and we're going to be maneuvering manipulating, jockeying for power trying to get our own idea across trying to get our own programs through and that's not what this is about at all and it has nothing to do with a monastic life in practice how should it be carried out and he has a bunch of hows there as he did for the question of the spirit of obedience as for dialogue itself Father Dubé has a book called I think it's Caring is the name of it in the back of it he's got a whole


list of sort of ground rules for dialogue which are quite good for discussions, things like that the spirit of dialogue in a dialogue, I'll just break out a couple of points here in a dialogue our manner of speaking, our attitude and spirit of cooperation frequently carry more weight than the ideas we try to express in other words there are at least two levels operating one is the level of ideas, of content, of what you're talking about, what you're suggesting and so on fine but the other level is often where it's really at and that's the level of the heart and it's the level of trust the level of love the level of willingness to give and so on it's the real level of communion or communication between people whereas the verbal level is something else and often disguises it or misinterprets it and that level is going to come across the vibrations will come across in the way that we speak more than in what we say


in the way that we speak and in the way that in speaking we leave space for the other person if we don't leave any space for the other person if we have to steamroller him or snowball him or bulldozer him into our position we have to have confidence in the other person and have confidence in the truth too, alright? the idea that well the truth is going to come out the Holy Spirit is going to speak and finally we're going to get to the right answer maybe I don't have it all, maybe you don't have it all but let's see what we can get together between us and the truth will win, not the best man will win but the truth will win the truth will win now if you have that kind of trust then you can be fairly modest in the way that you speak the person needs to speak clearly and to get out what he wants to say to do justice to the truth that he has right? but at the same time you have to respect the other person's truth and you have to have confidence ultimately the truth is going to be the outcome and that somehow if we all seek the light that's what we're going to find


and I'm not going to have to capitulate to your position or something like that be run over by you those kinds of fears that make dialogue impossible and I feel that the only acceptable outcome is if I get what I want because if you get what you want it's going to be murder, it's going to be ruin, it's a disaster the tension between dialogue, obedience and humility now he's talking here mostly about the vertical thing about dialoguing with your superior about a problem of obedience but that tension is alright it's like the conflict that Merton was talking about looking at it in a different way here the conflict is within you between what would you call it if you consider it in the truth you know consider it in the light of the truth there shouldn't be that much problem because humility is a matter of truth it's not a matter of


just walking in a certain way or not a matter of any kind of exterior behavior it's a matter of the truth about yourself and the truth about yourself can't really be different from the truth about your idea the truth that you're trying to propose so if you have this dedication to the truth and this confidence in the truth it should work out alright even if in the short run it doesn't seem to you have to believe in the power of the truth that if you stand in the truth the truth defends itself you don't have to force it excuse me, would you say again what the difference was between the truth and the truth about yourself ok, let me try to get back to it let me quote him first a tension between dialogue, obedience and humility now, consider that humility is nothing with the truth, right and what are you trying to get across if you're dialoguing about your obedience you're trying to say something that's true that the superior


doesn't realize it, right there shouldn't be any conflict in that the conflict comes when we are not writing the truth, but we're writing our ego when we're mounted forward charging forward on our ego instead of on the truth then there's a conflict with humility but if what you're proposing or the reason for your objection to the superior is what you conceive to be the truth, there shouldn't be any conflict at all with your humility and as a matter of fact, both you and the superior sort of are under the shadow of the truth in some way, this great truth I say under the shadow of the truth as a light but the truth is there and both of you are trying to find the truth and the more truth you find, the more humble you get because it's not your truth it's not your thing the more truth is dug up the more truth is unveiled the more humility there is because the better you know yourself the more you expose the truth if it's real truth, the more humble you get so there isn't any conflict in that way there may seem to be because of the way


that we've taught to understand humility but humility is not so much a refraining from living humility is not so much sort of foregoing life and withdrawing from freedom or anything like that humility is not I don't know, letting life go by or denying what we are denying that we are, denying that we're alive or denying that we that we have to live no, it's something else that's the way we play at it until the real thing comes along but the real humility is simply our reverence in the presence of the truth and the knowledge at the same time of our untruth humility is even before ourselves isn't it? Think of it humility is not to say that you're nothing it's not to say that you're no good when you say that, you always say that sort of with your left hand remember like the Jew who said you gotta have two pockets and in one pocket you call it the right pocket


that you're the image and likeness of God that you're somehow man is the lord of the universe man has coming to him the glory of God and in the left hand pocket I am dust and ashes and when you say you're dust and ashes you got behind your back the other hand with the thing in it that says you're the lord of the universe that man is glorious and so when we humble ourselves we're humbling ourselves before ourselves in a sense it's this thing of the ego and the true self or whatever you want to call it, the old man and the new man but when you're humble really humble it's a comparison of what I've made myself with what I really am what I have made out of myself with what God is making me alright? or the ways in which I try to establish my own ego, I try to shore up and confirm my own identity compared with what God really says about me this is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased so you're humbling yourself before yourself in a sense you're washing your own feet


I'm making that sound a little bit ridiculous but do you see what I mean? you can't deny that glory of your being you can't deny really what you are in humility you can't say I'm just a no good just a piece of garbage a piece of junk God doesn't make junk God's children are not junk so humility is something else humility is before the truth and the truth that we are humble before is the very truth of our own being is the very glory of our own being when we see sort of the quality of our life in comparison with that but the real thing of course is something God gives you it's not something we work out rationally because unless we have an intuition from the Holy Spirit of what we really are we can't be humble that is of our true greatness we can't be really humble it's that they say well look this is what I've made myself to say I am a sinner that's what it means doesn't it to say I am a sinner means that


I have somehow thrown away what God offered me I have thrown away the being that God gives me I have been unfaithful, untrue to myself not just to a God who is out there but to a God who is in me and who gives me his glory in some way offers it to me as his son remember the prodigal son out with the pigs he's out with the pigs and he remembers his father and it's the difference between those two that's humility we find ourselves feeding the swine and empty and hungry and miserable and we compare ourselves with what we are as sons of our father as what we are sort of in our father's house and it's that with the best robe and the ring it's that which is humility it seems to me and of course you can hook onto that in the wrong way and become inflated over that too but somehow that's where it is it seems like repentance


is the awakening of humility yeah repentance is the awakening of humility you know it's turning back to your true being from your false being because what is sin but sin is being less than you are in some way sin is you're made a son of God you're made something glorious and you're made something free and then you make yourself on an animal level or something like that make yourself something else it's not wrong to be an animal but it is wrong to be an animal if you're made a man if you're made a son of God and the whole the prodigal son thing is just beautiful in that respect those two levels and when the father welcomes him back you know he welcomes him it's not as if all that stuff is just I don't know extra or all that celebration is just for one day no he welcomes him back to exactly


what belongs to him in a sense because that's his son and he says to the other son everything I have is yours so all of that glory and the music and the dancing and the best robe and the ring and the shoes it all belongs to you it's yours everything your father has is yours and then we find ourselves out with the pigs and that's the source of humility when we look at the level of our life as it is and then what it ought to be ok a little more about about obedience I mentioned this dimension of the Holy Spirit which is awfully important when we talk about these things and also in connection with dialogue of obedience and about the relationship of obedience with freedom we need a kind of we need a Christian theology of freedom


which would be a kind of revolutionary theology it turns Christianity upside down in a sense because it tends to be it tends to be a heavy thing it tends to be a structure and that's not what it is at all Christianity is a liberation and it's a liberation because it's the finding of yourself it's being given yourself it's receiving yourself from God reborn with God inside of you in such a way that he becomes your life and so that the potential reach of your life is infinite now obedience has to be seen in this context otherwise it inevitably turns negative otherwise another thing about obedience is you've got this paradox of the paradox of the cross the paradox of the of the beatitudes of the sermon on the mount that when somebody slaps you on one cheek turn the other cheek and blessed are those who mourn and blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty and blessed are the little ones blessed are all those who go against


as it were their own inclinations and if anybody wants to be my disciple let him take up his cross and follow me so this whole business of self-denial now what happens unfortunately something else gets associated with that in the church in other words you've got this you've got people called to this self-denial and then something else comes along somebody else comes along and says okay I'll be glad to help you with that if you want to be hungry and thirsty I'll keep you hungry and thirsty if you this is where Marxism comes in at this point if you want to mourn I'll give you something to mourn about if you want to be sacrifice your own will I'll take your own will if you want to give up your freedom as the gospel tells you to I'll take your freedom it's the whole thing of the grand inquisitor and so you get a combination of two things people trying to commit themselves to this gospel to this whole self-denial to the cross and then a kind of a power thing that comes in


or a security thing that comes in and accepts it all so you get a structure in which people are kept permanently somehow in this state of as Martin says or as Marx says alienation simply because that keeps the structure intact that keeps a community or something intact because it's so good to have all of these willing children who keep everything going and yet it's not doing what it's supposed to do because they're not growing up they're not being matured but they become in some way the peons the servants of this structure when Martin says that sometimes it sounds kind of drastic but there's a truth in it see this happens in the church and it's a tragedy of religious communities that they become self-propagating structures which are sort of existing for their own sake and keeping people in a state of minority keeping people in a state of childishness not childlikeness because those two things


come together the gospel self-renunciation and then the structure which takes yourself away from you but doesn't give you back what you're supposed to get in exchange it gives you the cross but it doesn't give you the resurrection but instead the structure sort of soaks up your being I shouldn't say structure so much but there's a kind of thing that happens and it's deadly which we need very carefully to discern and to try to escape from it's not that the person is simply above the community anything like that but in the Holy Spirit there's a kind of harmony between the two so that the community is not basically structure but the community is an organism in which the person grows in which the person becomes free if we talk about the core of Christianity as being freedom and Christianity itself the coming of Christ as being a liberation and really that's the way he presents himself he's not a lawgiver he's a liberator


then of course this hooks up with a lot of other liberation movements and liberation theologies and so on that we talk about and we think of sort of abortive liberation and revolution movements in the past few hundred years right from the time of the renaissance and the reformation and you know the french revolution liberty liberty liberty our country is built right on this notion but all of them fall short because all of them fall short in some way of God and the monastic life in some way and Christianity is the one that's supposed to go all the way even Marx and Freud they're liberators in a way but they liberate the proletariat the underclass the libido the life force one is psychological one is sociological but they don't really liberate the person because they don't really believe in the person you can't believe in the person unless you believe in God and Christianity is the real revolution


the real liberation which is supposed to carry it all the way but somehow has never been able fully to do it on a mass scale monasticism has something to say to all that of course and to contribute to it because monasticism is supposed to be a place in which you can go all the way to that freedom that's what the desert means is that freedom to do nothing but seek God but on the other hand you leave God free so you're exposed to him you're totally exposed to him but unfortunately the monastic life easily turns into a protected thing where you're not exposed to God at all but you're protected but on the other hand you're not free either it turns into that kind of thing do you feel the reason historically why Christianity hasn't been able to liberate the mass because of the relationship between the church and the state it's something like that it's the church and culture for instance look at the time


of Constantine when the church comes up out of the catacombs it's no longer an oppressed thing but it's recognized and it even becomes powerful it's free in a sense but then it becomes enslaved on the other hand because it's tied to power and it's tied to wealth and so it begins to become a kind of imperial church look at the Byzantine church too how it becomes an imperial church and it happens another way in the west and then Christianity loses its character it loses its charism as it loses its freedom so what is monasticism? monasticism is the reaction to this in other words the total rejection of power the refusal of power and wealth and the flight into the desert where there's none of that in order to be free and in order to expose oneself to God's freedom but then monasticism gets institutionalized and it begins to be so structured that the same thing happens, the same process which is inevitable the security thing


and the power thing and so on and the efficiency thing and the organization and so on and gradually therefore the spirit, the charism is lost again and again and again and then again and again and again it's tried to be recovered by one or another saint or one or another community St. Francis is an excellent example when monasticism had gotten pretty rigid and also pretty corrupt and the very stability had sort of walled it in and taken away its freedom St. Francis breaks out of the whole thing and he's sort of the vagrant the mobile, just like the desert fox the tramp for God but he's got the freedom back again and then in his congregation pretty soon it gets set into a heavy structure and once again exposed and leaps out with St. Ronald and then bang the juridical thing comes down and pretty soon it's built into concrete for the next 800 years things that are happening


liberation of the whole person ... see this is a social manifestation of the same thing in other words it's recognized yeah, monasticism is supposed to do it in another way not that it's completely unplugged from that social thing but it attacks it on another level it attacks it on the level of the heart to find freedom from yourself that's the key of monasticism because if we talk about freedom just in the external way you can go and shoot somebody else to get your freedom and you're just turning the thing that's what the Marxist thing does you turn the wheel around again so that the people on the bottom are on the top but pretty soon they're like 1984 they're just like the old bosses and then you have to flip the wheel around again as long as you do it inside that cycle you have to free the heart you have to get free from yourself and that's what monasticism contributes that fundamental form of freedom because if we start talking about freedom you can't just talk about freedom and nothing else you have to bring in another term because freedom can be anything freedom can be just complete sexual liberty


or whatever you like so you have to bring in another term and what's the other term the corrective to the term freedom what's the counterpoint slavery? no, I don't mean the opposite I mean the word that makes sure that your freedom is the right freedom that keeps freedom honest truth I think that's it in other words true freedom you've got a whole gradation in kinds of freedoms if you say true freedom then you've got a kind of order you've got the freedom of the flesh all those freedoms what's the deepest freedom it's really freedom from yourself ultimately the deepest freedom is freedom from death which is the resurrection this is a Christian experience the resurrection which frees you from death from the fear of death and hence makes you able to love without any fear perfect love casts out fear casts out the fear of death casts out the fear of punishment the fear of God in the wrong sense that's what monasticism is about


to get you to that true freedom that word true is mighty important because if it weren't for that word true all of the monastic renunciations and the asceticism and everything would have no purpose because you just stay free you don't have to do any of that why discipline but you bring in all of those things to get from just a wild kind of freedom to true freedom to get from the freedom of the flesh or of the ego to the freedom of what Martin calls the true self which is really the freedom of the resurrection even though we still have to die and true freedom is the freedom of love based on a kind of trust fundamental trust in being because somehow you've got it inside of yourself it seems like the people in Central and South America who are really in that true freedom are the ones who are really being they're just interested in since they're so interested in the human person


they're not taking up the arms they know that martyrdom is one of their true freedoms they know that that's going to it's going to liberate them even though that whole issue of taking up arms I don't know anything about that as far as the curiosity of the masses you know I haven't read enough about it even Ernesto Cardinal took up arms at a certain point I think he became one of the guerrillas sometimes one of his partners criticized him because they were both non-binary yeah that particular thing is debatable at a certain point whether it's legitimate to take up arms or what an oppression is really we're getting a little off our subject but at any rate the real freedom is that one and you see that liberation of theology, you can criticize it all you want you can say well it's incomplete but it has some it's a key in a certain way to what Christianity is supposed to be even though it may be it may have soaked up some Marxism


and it may be an eliminated political sphere yet it's a kind of a key to what Christianity needs to become to find itself and that's why it scares so many people probably because they're somehow identified with power and with the structures you see and they're identifying Christianity with the power and with the structures and with an institution not that the institution isn't necessary it is but it can't be the soul and the heart it seems like in South American and in the third world generally the rising up of these basic Christian communities a function of monasticism for the lay person okay that sounds like the thing really happening at the grassroots and without the violence of the whole political preoccupation because theology itself all theology should be liberation theology but not in the narrow political sense in every sense if the knowledge of God is liberation and the reason why we have to stress this and we need to talk about it repeating that word liberation of freedom so much is because


we're coming out of a situation which is exactly the contrary a frozen situation where the church has seemed to be structure and power and not freedom so the church itself has to has to become freed to be itself as long as it's not itself it's afraid and it's defensive you see and it has to build higher and higher walls but Vatican II is the turning point from defensiveness to the church's sense of identity and their perfect confidence in the face of the world and where it begins to be able to speak the liberating word to the world instead of just the word of guilt and of moralism and so on so it's a beautiful time okay probably that's enough about obedience next time let's go on to the exciting topic of stability you spoke about structure being doing half the job as if we're real well


it can take the self away but it's not giving the new self in exchange for the resurrection I just wonder if part of the problem is we depend on structure to do too much for us I'm wondering if you could talk a little more about how that might be corrected how could structure do better let me think about that just a second because the trouble is yes we're too lazy to live and so we depend on structure we depend on structure to live for us or to make us live or to substitute for life so structure becomes depending on which side you're on it either becomes an excuse for not living say if you're a monk or a nun or it becomes an excuse for not being what you should be as a superior it's either dependence or it's authority it gives you an excuse either for over dependence or for over authoritarianism so the structure in some way has to become a kind of channel


or a kind of, what would you call it a framework, a matrix for personal relationship and personal responsibility the structure has to be totally personalized in a way so that it becomes a kind of a not empty but it becomes a kind of just very transparent let's use the word transparent and somewhat flexible framework in which personal relationships and personal reactions and personal responsibility can arise so that everything has to be personalized because in the end we don't have room for any structure which is not personalized so structure has to be taken up into person has to be taken up into relationship just as law has to be taken up into your dialogue with God it can't remain just a kind of block of unassimilated matter any more than you can eat food and have it remain undigested in you so structure becomes like the bones that are inside


the personal being and which give support to your everything you do, you know but they don't inhibit those bones there are two kinds of insects there are two kinds of creatures there's the one that has the bones outside and the one that has the bones inside if you're an insect and you've got your shell on the outside you can't grow beyond a certain point because you've got that armor thing there which contains your life and it can't grow any more if you've got your bones inside if you've got your structural principle inside then you can grow so the vertebrates are able to grow I don't know what you call those other characters that have the shell outside invertebrates I guess the crustaceans also so it's partly that that's a good image because the structure is taken up and personalized when it's a vertebrate structure when the bones are inside


when the crust is outside that thing is, that inorganic thing is containing it, is defining your life and so it's not really personalized it doesn't allow you to move it closes you in rather than freeing you and giving you enabling you to be yourself I think there comes a time too where at certain points in your life you need certain structures but you don't you have to run and you've got to chuck them even once you've interiorized and discovered new ones I don't know many structures that would assist a person their entire life I mean I structure practical kind of certain prayers and structure and liturgy, yes, but I'm not talking about that a structure is a habit or something like that almost everyone has to give way to something else and if you think of it your bones grow as you grow if your skull was still the same size as it now as it is when you were an infant I think one of the traumatic points for many religious at the time of their counsel and subsequent changes


is that they had interiorized structures which really means for me and somehow that interiorization became endless for them that if you did these things you would become a saint and so they saw the whole church as sort of raping and taking it away from them and therefore the consequences of preventing them from being a saint and so they see every move then as a watering down or as a loss or as a corruption and that's a pitiful, a total pessimism you see, that the only good things are the things of the past you know the thing about there aren't many structures that you can keep actually our life is supposed to have that kind of open into it you see, solitude, the hermit life is supposed to have more freedom and less structure than the cenobitical life, this is a typical example for different reasons, you need more just for mechanical reasons you need more structure if you live together I suppose somebody's got to go through the door first sometimes


but the solitary life is supposed to be a less structured life to allow greater liberty to the spirit so it's an example of what Fr. Abraham was talking about that as you go on, you leave structures behind and of course some of the hermits would be very, extremely free some of the ones that you read about, the desert brothers and so on there's a paradox that sometimes they become reclusive and so their external freedom is limited to the maximum but their spiritual freedom becomes maximalized is that how you found Fr. Paisios? a very liberated a very free person and once in a while he'd travel around he'd go to Constantinople or something there's a there's a hermit that said the hermit has no rule because he's sensitive and open to the Holy Spirit and what else is there? that's right, he has no rule and yet he's going to he doesn't live every day differently he's going to have certain habits he's going to have a certain pattern, a certain schedule


like Paisios, what was it, he'd pray for an hour then he'd work for an hour or something else, he'd do this all the time he had a structure, a very free structure and like a person has to you know, has to eat every day that's a structure too, come to think of it, a structure's not so bad three meals a day or whatever a lot of these words have emotional overtones that prevent us from dealing with them you know, objectively okay, stability next time