TO MAKE ONESELF NEW

Here’s a link The Valyermo Chronicle, the quarterly newsletter of St. Andrew’s Benedictine Abbey where I’m in formation to become an Oblate.

The current issue (Summer 2020, No. 264) is really quite good. I thought I’d read the homily by Fr. Aelred Niespolo, OSB, from which the below is excerpted, there. But I came across it somewhere else apparently on the website, was sufficiently struck to copy and paste, and now I can’t figure out where. Don’t you hate that?

Anyway, Fr. Aelred (who’s a monk at the Abbey) observes:

“The Benedictine monk or nun, as part of a long tradition, must respect the place they have come from, but ought also have a vision of the place they are going towards, in the hope of creating the monastery as a template for the kingdom of heaven. But establishing Christ’s kingdom means not dwelling on a sometimes all too real history of failures and grievance in self and in community, but rather sharing in, recounting, focusing on the truer history of grace in both life and community: to both tell and live out this story within the community, the cenoebia, of our lives.

To make oneself new. This is all-encompassing. This action of Christ’s life, this making new, is embodied by a Jesus who daily made new his life by listening for, and doing the will of, the Father. But what happens to us when we do not do this? When we want the kingdom now, instead of when it is truly new? In modern psychology there is a term — cognitive dissonance — that gives us a hint of an answer. The term means, in its broadest sense, the interior confusion and turmoil, the interior pain and emptiness, that is caused in those who preach, and even believe in, one thing, yet live in an opposite way.

We can also use this term to designate a spiritual state, a spiritual illness, and it is this illness Benedict addresses in his Rule—by providing a cure to the disjunction between our words and our actions, our lives and our hearts, our demands upon others, and the choices we make regarding ourselves.

We see this spiritual dissonance everywhere today—grounded in hearts made for God, yet lived out by wills ordered only to themselves. It is part of the great secularizing sickness of our times. It is part of the dread we might feel, even if we are afraid to acknowledge it. It is the fear that wakens us at night, the vision of inauthenticity, of prevarication, of a selfishness that cannot be a part of the new kingdom of heaven. Of not allowing a prayerful, living truth to enliven the dried bones of preconception, prejudice, exclusion, and entitlement.

We excommunicate ourselves, we live with a sense of homelessness. In our gospel Jesus tells us that we must indeed leave all recrimination, gossip, backbiting, power ploys, and personal arrogance behind. But what does that really mean for us? I suspect, at its very basic, it means properly contextualizing, de-idolizing, all those things and people, opinions and ideas, we hold onto in a selfish, self-preserving, way. The Rule tells us what all the great wisdom literature tells us: listen, discern, seek wisdom. And remember the fear of the Lord that Benedict writes of is not servile fear nor does it end in servile love, but is rather another term in acknowledging the complex relational dynamic we have with God, with each other, and above all with ourselves.”

Oh yes! That unsettling feeling that wakes me in the middle of the night and that I can’t pinpoint: I’m a big fake! A pompous self-righteous ass! A liar in many ways, and for sure infinitely selfish. I don’t want to wallow in self-recrimination of course. But it’s bracing, grounding, and hopeful to be reminded, one more time, that I’m neither alone, nor beyond help.

And that the answer, as always, lies in silence, examination of conscience, and prayer.

Thank you, Fr. Aelred. I hope our paths cross sometime soon!

5 Replies to “TO MAKE ONESELF NEW”

  1. Thanks, Heather, for posting this. No, you are not alone and are of great help to the rest of us who are not so articulate. Keep up the good work.
    Peace and love,
    Molly

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Love to you, Molly, on this Feast of St. Martha!

  2. Heather, I will be officially “unemployed” this Friday-on to the “retirement:? In prayer, and seeking wisdom to seek and follow Christ with the precious days left on this side of eternity. Thank you for your work. I am so happy I will have more time to read and think about each post.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you so much, Ingrid! I’m in the process of creating a new kind of creative/seeking-our-vocation workshop that will be grounded in faith…will keep everyone posted…

      1. Perfect timing!!

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