Chapter Talk – 18thSunday of the Year – August 4, 2019, cycle-C
Revitalization: to impart new life or vigor…to restore to a fresh condition. What if this word became a sacred image for us as a community? No question: we worry about our future, the immediate future of our individual lives and the life of our community. Such ‘worry’ is part of our humanity and there is nothing wrong with it. However, when worry spins into incessant fear and anxiety reactions and the only sound we hear, the only vibrations we feel are these paralyzing fear and anxiety reactions, then we need to realize we are being pulled down by a negative power, and are in a state where we no longer are leaning on faith or on the power of God, the One with whom all things are possible. Do we even notice when we get pulled into a morass of fear? Pope Francis who is a remarkable physician of the soul calls this neurotic pattern the “the psychology of the tomb” (The Joy of the Gospel, #83, p.43). Here is what he says: “And so the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: ‘the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness.’ A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like ‘the most precious of the devil’s potions’. Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal for the apostolate” (#83. p.43). These are strong words from the Pope, words that carry a powerful message and warn us of this ‘sickness’ of the soul that is always lurking. Indeed, the times that we are living in are a great temptation to being pulled into this tomb-like mentality. In monastic parlance we call this inner state ‘acedia’. Let me repeat several phrases from Pope Francis that describe the ‘psychology of the tomb’: ‘faith is wearing down and degenerates into small mindedness’; ‘disillusioned…they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like the most precious of the devil’s potions’. This tomb mentality that the Pope is warning us against is not so obvious; it begins slowly and perhaps is not so evident. There are signs, for example, faint melancholy, inner weariness that ‘consume all zeal for the apostolate’, and to these we must pay heed to. If our lives and the life of this community is to be vital, radiating the Divine life, then we must recognize the beginnings of this negative dynamic that drains life and gives way to a flood of judgmental, negative reactions.
“…All of us in union with Christ, form one body, and as parts of it we belong to each other” (Rm 12:5). This excerpt from Romans that we heard during the week really struck a note for me: we form one body in Christ…and as ONE body we belong to each other…so look around dear sisters we belong to each other…we suffer when a sister suffers, we rejoice when a sister rejoices…To revitalize as a community in an on-going way, we must, together, pay attention to this tomb mentality…to those moments when we are being pulled into hopelessness and we lose the purpose for why we are each here.
What, then, is the antidote, the medicine that we need daily…and I say daily? In the first place it is fidelity to the monastic practice, fidelity to prayer, to lectio, to spiritual reading, to leisure in walking and taking in the beauty that surrounds us here…it is to nurture our relationships, to not take one another for granted, to express gratitude for what each one gives, to work through our conflicts with one another remembering the larger picture of our life together, remembering that we form one body and that we are part of one another. In the end, I dare say, we are as much, if not more, afflicted from within ourselves than from anything outside of ourselves. This desert saying that I have used multiple times is apropos for healing this tomb mentality and is a medicine that can help us revitalize: “It is said of Abba Poeman that every day he made a new beginning”. Can we say this of ourselves? To make a new beginning each day means we have changed attitudinally…there is a shift in attitude as we begin the new day that is before us. There is a renewal of heart and mind; a re-commitment of our ‘yes’; in prayer we open ourselves to a living encounter with Christ. This encounter with Christ, daily, will revitalize our lives and the life of our community. It will liberate us from our “narrowness and self-absorption” (The Joy of the Gospel, #8, p.4).
To be revitalized is work, inner work, work at self-knowledge…it involves suffering….the heart changes, is transformed through a process of letting go, of dying for greater life. I conclude with these words from Abbot Erik Varden, which express the essence of the monastic call lived fully: “To be a monk is to inhabit a limitless universe….When lived sincerely, monastic life is a habitat of transformation. The Fathers describe how the monk’s heart is crushed, then opened, and in the process healed. It begins to grow wider, to the point of containing the whole world, calling its plight to mind before God, recalling the world to God’s mercy. The monk’s heart, conformed to Christ’s, is a tent of meeting. It tends upwards in a joy that is the more confident for having been tested” (The Shattering of Loneliness, p.10).