Thursday, April 8, 2010

Not my power or piety - or my feelings

For our Lenten discipline, my wife and I read a bit of The Rule of St. Benedict each night and joined with Oblates and other friends of Blue Cloud Abbey in praying for vocations - that is, for men to sense God's call to become monks there or in other Benedictine communities.

My wife and I just received a letter from the Oblate Director today, which read in part,

...thanks again for the Lenten prayers for vocations. They may be working. We may have three novices this summer (two for sure). Meanwhile, four associates are coming this month...

I want to spike the ball, do an end zone dance and point to the sky - it must be our awesome prayers working, right? But here's a long time monk, well practiced in prayer and spiritual counsel, taking a more sober approach: the prayers "may be working."

Earlier today I made a pastoral visit to a church member at his office. It was a no-agenda visit, just a chance to hang around and talk. He always has good questions about faith and today he asked about prayer. He isn't convinced that a person can say with certainty, "God answered my prayer." He wonders how much of that might be projection of our own inner needs rather than conclusive experience of divine communication. Although this man is newer to the practice of faith than the monk, both took the same sober approach where I would rush to enthusiasm.

Their wisdom might have been explained at our church altar earlier. Each day of Easter Week has assigned readings for the service of Holy Communion. In today's first lesson, a crowd oohs and ahhs over the Apostles Peter and John, who appear to have healed a permanently crippled man. But Peter responds,

"...why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? ...the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus... And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you."

Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus when confronted by one crowd, now denies himself and extols Jesus to a new audience. Peter recognizes the real power he's wielded to heal a man, but quickly points away from himself to the one who is the power.

The devil knows that virtues can be turned into vices with very little effort. We can be caught up in the drama of spiritual power and tempted to give ourselves credit and praise due only to God. The oohs and ahhs of others, however well or innocently intended, are our spiritual enemy's best tool to flip our point of view.

As Benedict warns, "Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are" (Rule 4:62). And Christ tells his followers, "don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

So I give thanks and rejoice that there are men exploring the holy vocation at Blue Cloud Abbey. I can say with certainty that this is a desired blessing, one for which I've been praying. But anything beyond "Thanks be to God!" might be a vain, even dangerous claim.


Undergroundpewster said...

"They (the prayers) may be working..."

Benedict's rule may be working on you and them too you know, but you are right that the real work is not being done by us.

Thanks be to God!

Anonymous said...

Praise God for Blue Cloud Abbey and for those who pray to Him for their needs. BCA is truly a blessing! Thanks be to God.