Retreat Conferences #1 and #2

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Retreat Conference #1 - #2, hosted by Fr Robert Hale

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Come, loving Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Open our hearts to this Word of Life that will come today and in these following days.
This we ask through Christ our Lord.
Amen.
Just a word of gratitude for Fr. Alessandro for providing our retreat,
and a word of exhortation that we all listen very carefully, and this is a moment of grace.
I think Fr. Alessandro is a very special person for us because he lives within our specific
and understands it and loves it, so that's very important.
And he's also just a very good man.
Oh, thank you.
He again suggests this method, to listen carefully now, and then try this morning to focus on
one central theme or message of his talk that seems particularly to speak to you.
Sometime early on this morning, the text of his talk will be in your box,
and so then get that, and then this afternoon, read it all, review it,
and then in also that prayerful way, see how that moment meditated in the morning fits into the whole.
I think that one retreat, a spiritual retreat in community, is always a time of grace.
And it is very important, a profound distinction between our time, the kairos, the time of grace,
and the eternal time.
There are three levels of time.
Our time, kairos, and eternal time, or eternal life.
St. John, in his Gospel, prefers eternal life, eternal life.
And the question for us, for this retreat, and for our spiritual life, is where we are,
in which time, because the majority of people live in this time, chronological time.
And this is our Lord, this, our Lord.
Terrible situation.
But for monks, this is not our Lord.
And I think these days, our life, we live in this time, kairos, kairos.
The time of revelation, of grace, in our time, chronological time.
But it's different.
And we are towards eternal life.
But also, eternal life is in this dimension.
And the monastic life, I think, is this life, this dimension of kairos and eternal life.
This first meeting is only an introduction.
And it's very important, this question.
Where we are?
Our life, our heart, our mind.
All of us know that the monastic spirituality does not present a systematic method of spiritual exercises.
As we can find in the famous book of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
We don't have a similar book.
And when we want to follow a course of spiritual exercise, that is, a strong moment of search of God,
and of discernment about the sense of our life,
we think of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.
But this book is a shift in the history of spirituality.
And I think, in the Church, we have not understood the profound sense of this shift in the spirituality.
But it is interesting to observe that the tradition and the spirituality of monasticism
have never organized, in a strict sense, its practices into one book.
We monks don't have a particular book of spiritual exercises.
A book which collects the ascetic or spiritual monastic practices.
The rule of St. Benedict is not this book.
Its sense is different.
We don't have a book of spiritual exercises.
Why?
Not only because there are many and varied,
but also because the true goal which monastic writers try to offer
is a spiritual life or an authentic experience of God in all its dimensions.
For this reason, the monastic spirituality has been for many centuries
the spirituality of the Church.
And it is a fact of theological ignorance
not to know that all other spiritualities
which are developed in the history of the Catholic Church
are not other than aspects of the spiritual monastic tradition.
In this sense, we find one essential goal in the spirituality of the ancient Church.
One essential goal.
The contemplative life.
This is the point.
And about this, Fr. Bede, we speak to us tonight.
And this is a good combination.
Providential.
Because Fr. Bede is an old monk with a rich experience.
And it is right that being an old monk
who speaks about contemplative life
and a younger monk
who speaks about the practice for this contemplative life.
A good combination.
Providential.
In this sense, we find one essential goal in the spirituality of the ancient Church.
The contemplative life.
And the different practices developed as concrete support for the contemplative life.
Contemplative life.
For example, the ascetic and spiritual practices of the Egyptian monks
were different from that of Syrian monks.
For Egyptian monks, for instance, the desert was the ideal place for the monastic life.
He who wanted to begin the monastic path went in the desert
following the paradigm of great monks as St. Anthony or Arsenius the Great.
But for the Syrian monks,
the monastic option was often a choice of exile in a foreign country
following the example of Abraham.
Two models.
Great models, but different.
These years, for me, I am a Syrian monk.
I live in a foreign land.
Now, the monastic tradition not only offers us a plurality of ascetic practices,
but above all, it presents us different rules.
Therefore, we have in the ancient Church works of spiritual theology.
For example, the life of Moses is a work of spiritual theology
about the sense of contemplative life.
And many monastic rules which were basic texts for a concrete monastic life.
Two levels.
And also today, in the Orthodox Church,
there are many monasteries in which the monks follow different rules
and often in the same monastery.
This is wonderful because this is the action of the Spirit
and everybody answers to the Spirit in a concrete path of monastic life.
In the Catholic Church, for historical reasons,
which are difficult to explain now,
we have one rule, the rule of St. Benedict.
But we find different interpretations of the rule
and above all, we can find many modalities of the monastic life
within the ambit of Western monasticism.
It is true that we have another great rule, the rule of the Master.
But for us, in the Catholic Church, the rule, the monastic rule,
is the rule of St. Benedict.
But we see many interpretations of this rule
and many modalities of monastic life.
We come out as monks, have a somewhat different history
and other ascetic spiritual traditions
than the Benedictine monks from the Trappists or from the Cistercians.
Therefore, we monks don't have a book of monastic practices,
but we have the rule of St. Benedict.
Or better, that rule with the other classic rules and monastic writings.
This is important, very important,
because in the ancient conception, the rule was an option of life,
a personal choice of conversion
and a spiritual program to follow.
When a person wanted to become a monk,
he went in the desert about the guide of an old monk.
And this old monk gave a rule, a short rule,
probably four, three, four, five words, very important, essential.
The rule, not the book of a spiritual exercise.
The rule.
The rule was an option of life,
a personal choice of conversion and a spiritual program to follow.
And often, the rule was for beginners.
What does this mean?
It means that in the ancient monastic conception,
the monk needed a rule only in the first years of the monastic life
to learn this new way of living.
And in these first years, the monk took literally,
and in these first years, the monk took literally
the teachings of his spiritual father and of the rule of his monastery.
We must not forget that often one spiritual master would write several rules
for different monks.
Very interesting.
But after 10 or 15 years,
this monk began to follow only the interior teachings of the spirit.
And often he changed his own ascetic practices substantially.
Second conversion.
First conversion.
And after, second conversion.
In other words, I want to say that we monks don't have a set form of the spiritual exercise
because our spirituality understands the monastic life itself
as an ongoing journey of spiritual practices.
Every day, every day, we live important spiritual practices such as stability,
attention to oneself, that is custody of the heart,
mindfulness, meditation, silence, prayer,
and many others such as obedience, purity of heart, simplicity,
openness, many practices.
But every day.
But the monastic practices are not simply things to do.
This is my point today.
But the monastic practices are not simply things to do.
They are a dimension of the spirit.
If we are not able to live them, we are not monks.
They are a dimension of the spirit.
If we are not able to live them, we are not monks.
I don't say if sometimes we don't live them, we are not monks.
Because sometimes we live moments of temptation and of sin,
but we don't cease to be monks for this reason.
But I say, if we are not able to live them through a continued life of conversion
and of prayer, we are not monks.
I insist on this point.
Spiritual monastic practices are dimensions of the spirit.
They are not moral, moral of devotional exercises.
On the contrary, they are a spiritual field in which we seek God
and in which we are found by God,
in which we can also live strong temptations,
in which we see our poverty and fragility,
in which we sometimes experience sin.
But we are able, with humility and by grace,
to remain in this field of transfiguration.
We monks should know what temptation and sin are.
And we should also know what forgiveness and the compassion of God are.
Because we have personally proved them.
But despite temptation and also despite sin,
we are still here in the monastery.
And we persevere in our spiritual life.
This is the point.
We can live many proofs, temptations and also sins,
but the grace of God is greater than our heart.
And the most important point here is that
we stay here in this field of grace, of transfiguration.
Therefore, in these days,
I will try to offer you some meditations
about the most important monastic practices.
But seeking always their contemplative dimension.
For this reason, every day we will begin with a biblical text.
It is important to have the Bible.
Every day we will begin with a biblical text,
sometimes one verse, three or four words, not more.
And through this text and through the monastic tradition,
I will try to present you the concrete path of the monastic life.
I want to conclude with a text of Georg Friedman,
which seems to me a modern interpretation of ancient monastic practice.
We have forgotten now the profound sense of the monastic practice,
the ancient monastic practice.
Sometimes writers, probably outside the church, know this sense.
Today, let us try to meditate this text as preparation for the next days.
Could you repeat this text, please?
To undertake one's own flight every day, slowly.
At least a moment. It can be brief, but it must be intense.
Every day a spiritual practice alone or with another who wants equally to grow.
Spiritual practices to go beyond duration.
Endeavor to strip oneself of one's passions, of one's vanity,
of the desire of internal noise surrounding one's name,
which every now and then smarts like a chronic disease.
Flight from distraction.
To lay down one's piety and one's hatred.
To love all of free humanity.
Eternalize oneself, surpassing oneself.
A moment of silence with the author.
Prayer.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text today is Matthew chapter 7, 24-27.
Bob, could you read this text, please?
Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice
is like the wise man who built his house on water.
When the rainy season set in, the thorns came and the winds blew and buffeted his house.
It did not collapse. It had been solidly set and well.
Anyone who hears my words but does not put them into practice
is like the foolish person who built his house on sandy ground.
The rains fell, the thorns came, the winds blew and lashed against his house.
It collapsed under all this and was completely ruined.
This text introduces our meditation about stability, monastic stability.
Stability is the first practice of our monastic life.
For me, this practice is so essential.
For this reason, I speak to you about this practice two times, today and tomorrow.
Today is an introduction, a spiritual introduction.
This text is very well known.
It concludes the Sermon on the Mount.
Now, some scholars interpret the parable of the two houses in a eschatological sense.
The house would be our life at the Judgment Day.
Rain, floods, wind would be the apocalyptic manifestations of the Divine Hour.
The first house does not fall because it had been founded on the rock,
that is, on the practical hearing of God's Word by doing.
The second house falls because it is built upon the sand.
The first man is wise, the second is foolish.
Everything in this interpretation is clear.
For example, one of these scholars is Father Tupon.
He has studied this text for many years.
This interpretation is good.
The eschatological sense is good.
But I prefer a different interpretation.
I don't read this parable in an eschatological sense,
but I understand it in an existential and spiritual sense.
The parable is addressed to me today and for my present life,
for a decision in my life.
If today I hear the Word of the Gospel and do it,
I begin to build my life upon the rock of Christ.
Continually, the Psalms think of God like the rock of the believer.
See, for example, Psalms 28, 31, 71, 78, 96 and many others.
And the Fathers of the Church have interpreted the rock of Exodus 17
as the image of Jesus Christ, the rock of the Spirit.
But now I don't follow my notes,
and it is necessary an explanation about the sense of the Psalms.
Last night, the point of the conversation with Father Bede
has found me a little bit confused.
His position about the Psalms.
Only this point.
The conference is wonderful, but this point is not clear.
I disagree with him about his interpretation of the meaning of the Psalms.
And for this reason, today, after the video,
I have had breakfast with him
and I have spoken about this point.
It seems to me that the Psalms reveal the human being in all its dimensions.
If it is right to say that we must not repress our negative dimension
in our spiritual path because they become negative forces,
but we must transform them,
and for this reason we follow some practices,
I see in the Psalms the believer in all its human reality.
Therefore, in the Psalms we find not only expressions of praise,
of thanksgiving, but also of anger,
and also of hate, because this is every human being.
And sometimes in our prayer we are angry,
probably with a brother, I don't know.
In this sense, the believer is in the presence of God
with all his human reality and personality.
In the Bible there is a fundamental law of the believer
which I call resistance and surrender.
And surrender, this word last night,
has been used many times by Brother Bede.
In the Old Testament, until to Jesus Christ,
and Jesus Christ has prayed always the Psalms,
in synagogues, the prayers of Jesus Christ were Psalms,
no other.
In the Old Testament, until to Jesus Christ,
the experience of God is a path of resistance,
also in Jesus Christ.
Don't forget the terrible hour in Gethsemane,
also in Jesus Christ.
There is a path of faith.
But Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
He is the place of the grace, the divine grace.
And for this reason, in Him, the resistance is totally surrender.
In the Old Testament, until to Jesus Christ,
the experience of God is a path of resistance
and of surrender to God's will.
The question for me is, are the Psalms prayers or not?
My reply is, yes.
Yes, the Psalms are a great prayer.
And for this reason, we monks have always prayed the Psalms.
And we will continue to pray the Psalms.
And in my conversation today in the morning with Father Bede,
he has recognized this.
There is a literal sense, and sometimes in this literal sense,
the Psalms are terrible.
Of course.
But we pray not in this literal sense,
but in Christological and pneumatological sense.
Another level.
For this reason, at the end of every Psalm,
there is doxology.
Trinitarian doxology.
Because this is the key of interpretation of the Psalms.
And I have remembered, to Father Bede,
a great work of St. Augustine about Psalms.
His commentary, spiritual interpretation,
deep interpretation.
And after our conversation, he has recognized
there are two or three levels of interpretation of Psalms.
And for this reason, Psalms is a prayer for us.
It is essential.
And now it distinguishes the literal meaning
and the spiritual sense.
And this second dimension is the most important for us
and for our prayer.
Excuse me for this long, but this point is important.
Because now, today, also in the Church,
for many priests, religious, and probably for monks,
there is confusion about this.
No, sorry.
I am a little bit strong about these things.
Forgive me.
Continually, the Psalms think of God like the rock of the believer.
However, I think that we must enter into the spiritual sense of the rock
to understand not only the parable of the two houses,
but also the meaning of monastic stability.
This is my point.
The first man, the wise one,
is the spiritual man who builds his life on the rock of God,
on the Word made fresh, on the Gospel.
He hears the Word.
He understands that the Word is a living message,
a message for his whole life.
This hearing is to receive the seed of the Word
which becomes a rock in our life.
Here, the first step of the Christian wisdom consists in the hearing.
And the second step of wisdom is to live this world of grace.
Thus, the heard Word becomes a living Gospel through our life.
To be a living Gospel is our monastic goal.
It is the sense of our spiritual life, to be a living Gospel.
In this light, the rock is the Word of the Gospel
and the house is a life of stability and of conversion.
In other words, the hand of my historic existence
and the meaning of my transformation in Christ are hidden
in this circle of hearing and of living
which the monastic tradition calls obedience.
This word is very important, obedience,
because this word comes from the Latin verb ob-audire.
We are obedient because we hear the Word of God.
Our obedience is not practical because the superior says to me something.
My obedience is in Jesus Christ.
My spiritual obedience is in the Gospel, through the Gospel.
And the paradigm of obedience is Jesus Christ, the obedience of the Son of God.
The circle of hearing and of living is obedience.
Here, historic existence and spiritual life are not two different realities,
two different levels of being and of the Spirit,
because as the Spirit grows in history, and history reveals its presence,
so in our existence, the spiritual life grows within my historic life
and it is a condition of the possibility of my relationship with the Spirit.
Now my whole being is an original gift which comes from the grace of God.
The life of everyone, the life of everyone,
and life is body, personality, character, sensibility, culture, language,
is an original revelation of the Spirit.
Especially for our monks, for our monks,
everyone, every person is a gift of the Spirit.
And for this reason, in the tradition, there is plurality.
Yesterday we saw the plurality of the rules, of the practice,
because we are different, but expression of the Spirit,
we are a gift of the Spirit.
In the Christian way, in the Christian interpretation,
human existence is a place of spiritual manifestation which is divine.
Also the time, the history, my concrete and daily life in its temporal dimension
are not moments of an eternal return,
but the revelation of a unique event which will never come back.
I think this is a point of our faith.
Though a conversation, a meeting, a friendship, a prayer
are not fugitive moments of the chronos, of the time which devours itself,
but they are gifts of the kairos, of that time which is God's grace.
And I return to our division of the time.
This division is Christian, because in other religions sometimes
the time is cosmological, it's good,
but I think the Christian interpretation of the time is better,
it's profound, more profound.
And now I have another sheet here, important.
What is time for us?
What is my historic life, my historic experience?
And for us time is my historical life,
my life, concrete life.
And to understand what kairos is,
we must comprehend what everlasting life is,
the levels of the time.
But the time is one, not three times.
But the revelation of time is different.
But the time is one.
Everlasting life is eternal, not only in its temporal dimension.
When we think about everlasting life,
we think a time which does not finish.
But this is one aspect of eternal life.
But eternal life is eternal, is everlasting,
for its quality.
Everlasting life is different from my existing, my historic life,
because everlasting life is a life of fullness, of love.
It is a fullness of loving life.
Do you understand this distinction?
Eternal life is not only in its eternal, temporal dimension,
but the characteristic is the quality of this everlasting life.
The quality is different.
It is different in its quality.
Now this life of love has been revealed in Jesus Christ
in a concrete historic event
which has transformed the deep sense of our time.
And for the pagans, the time is chronological.
Carpe diem.
Keep the day now.
Joy to joy this moment.
But the Christian interpretation has transformed the deep sense of our time.
This is a revolution.
When everlasting life enters into my historic life,
in my chronological time,
when I receive the gift of grace, which is God,
my chronos becomes kairos.
Kairos is time of grace for this reason.
When the eternal life enters into my historic life,
and for this reason my life, my hour, my present,
now is not only chronological time,
but is kairos.
For this reason all Christians live in the kairos of God.
All Christians live in the kairos of God.
And especially we monks,
we don't live in chronological time.
It's terrible for me, I repeat.
My schedule is, ah, my watch, my agenda.
What kind of time we live?
Chronological time or kairos?
Kairos.
Though a conversation, a meeting, a friendship, a prayer
are not fugitive moments of the chronos,
but a revelation of kairos.
Monks live in the kairos of God
because today is the day of God.
Today.
This day does come back never more.
Never more.
I can return in America another time, I hope.
But this day is a unique event.
This hour.
Today God speaks to me.
Today God calls me.
Today God reveals to me through human reality and the creation.
Let us pray today two psalms.
Psalms 8, but in the Lord we have prayed this psalm.
And 140, excuse me, 4, 140.
And in a contemplative view,
everything's a gift of grace and of testing.
Yeah, the kairos is a gift of grace by God,
but also is a testing for us.
Because every day, every hour, every experience
is a gift which I receive, but also a test,
because I can also refuse to correspond,
to answer with an open heart,
and I can remain closed in myself.
This is very important for us.
Many times we don't have in ourselves
this stability, this stability of grace,
which recognizes the secret ways of God.
Sometimes the faith of a brother or of a sister
is a grace testing.
Grace is a gift of grace, but also testing.
Because I can also refuse to correspond, to answer.
A conversation is a grace testing.
The daily work, the meal which we share together,
the life in common, the liturgy.
The liturgy is a great gift, but believe me,
it's a great testing.
Our fraternity or an important decision community,
always, everything is grace and testing.
But also an illness can be a grace testing,
an operation, a moment of tiredness,
a long time of depression or of temptation,
because they are gifts of purification.
Of silent meditation and of compassion.
A monk learns from his existential adventure
the wisdom of God.
A monk learns from his personal situation
of being a sinner to open his eyes
to contemplate everything in the light of God.
So our life is like a house.
But a house is a construction
which has time, energy, and above all, a plane.
When I want to build a house,
I must have money, energy, and above all, a plane.
What kind of house?
One flower, two flowers?
My life is this house.
What kind of house?
I want to insist that everyone presents a personal structure.
It is the result of a building which is never finished
because the building yard of our life is always open.
At least, this is the meaning of the Christian life.
A life always in progress, in transformation.
In this sense, it is essential for a spiritual life
to learn to know our own house life,
to dwell in our own house life,
and above all, to love our own house life.
To know, to dwell, to love.
Now, monastic tradition has interpreted stability
as conversion moral.
I know this is a very critical point
because in our profession,
the vows are true.
Stability and conversion moral.
But in the authentic tradition,
stability is already conversion moral.
But we often have a wrong idea of conversion
as if it were the fruit of a personal choice
or a sudden shift in a way of living.
Let us try to learn from the examples of monastic tradition.
We take, for instance, St. Anthony the Abbot,
who is the paradigm of every monastic life.
St. Anthony, the first monk, the first Christian monk.
His conversion begins in church,
hearing the Gospel, the Rock of God.
Do you remember the life of St. Anthony?
His conversion, he is very young,
he begins in church, hearing the Gospel.
The text of the rich young man.
He hears the word of the Gospel.
He understands that that word is a divine call.
He wants to live that word.
He wants to live that word.
He wishes to build his future life on the Rock of God.
He understands this word is the Rock of my life.
About this Rock, I build my house, my life.
Wonderful.
So, he sells his goods and finds a place outside his town.
New stability.
Outside his town,
in which he begins to seek God through poverty, silence and prayer.
Therefore, there are three steps in the beginning of monastic conversion
and monastic stability.
The hearing of God's word.
It is the word of the Gospel which calls us.
The Gospel.
No other words.
Human words, no.
Only this word.
From this point of view, the beginning of monastic vocation
is in and from God.
It is not a simple human desire.
Oh, monastic life is good, is nice, wonderful, beautiful.
I don't know.
Sometimes we have a deep desire.
But our vocation comes from God.
Not from human words.
Necessity of living the word.
Second moment.
Here our life becomes a concrete response.
Response, reply.
So, we begin a spiritual journey
which has been compared to the call of Abraham
who lives everything.
And St. Anthony sells his goods for radical decisions.
And the third step.
Stability.
Stability.
In poverty, in silence, in prayer.
New sense of life.
It is a discovery through exterior stability
in a place of an interior stability
in which every man lives his ongoing conversion.
This is the real stability.
Our ongoing conversion.
In other words, we live a paradox in monastic life.
We stand firm.
That is, we are members of a monastic community.
We are members of a monastic community.
We are monks for this stability.
Exterior stability.
It is important.
St. Benedict has strong words about this.
We stand firm.
We are members of a monastic community.
Exterior stability.
And at the same time, we make a journey
to the promised land.
Interior stability or conversion.
And we have arrived in this promised land
when we realize that we were there all the time.
In other words, we are already in the everlasting life.
We are already in the everlasting life, but we don't know it.
And for this reason, it is necessary
a path of conversion, of transformation, of transfiguration
to seek everlasting life.
God.
For this reason, we must firm in the Kairos.
We must firm in our Kairos.
In our vocation.
We must leave the steps of the monastic conversion.
And above all, we must begin a path of obedience.
Obedience.
Some questions for our meditation.
Also for me.
Do I receive myself as a gift of God?
Do I recognize the Kairos of God in my life, in my community,
my church, my history?
Do I live a path of obedience to the Spirit?
Yes.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.