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– Br. Gabriel, OP
Today I rejoiced. The USCCB approved what I think is the most important liturgical project it has recently engaged. Today the Bishops approved a new translation project for the Liturgy of the Hours. Finally! The Roman Missal was a giant step in the renewal of the whole English speaking Catholic world. This will be no less of a renewal. But it is a renewal with a narrower scope. This, I think, will be a large step toward the renewal of the clergy and religious.
You see, we take on the obligation to pray with and for the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is our Holy Obligation, hence the name: Divine Office. It is a sanctification of all time and all space, hence the name: Liturgy of the Hours. The Office, as it is tersely referred to, is not a private devotion. It is a public act of Worship. It is not undertaken for the sake of building the virtue of religion in the one who is praying it. Rather it is prayed for the salvation of the whole world.
However, one who prays the Office faithfully cannot help but be changed by it. Such repetition begins to form one’s thinking, one’s actions, one’s prayer life. Holy habits are just as formative, and addictive, as profane habits. I know it has dramatically effected my own life. My favorite psalms are always whirling through my mind during the day. But more than that, the very schedule of my day is literally ordered around the celebration of the Divine Office. It permeates everything a cleric or religious does.
Something that is so deeply infused into the life of the cleric or religious is going to deeply form him. The Mass is a big part of this, but I think the Divine Office is a much bigger influence on those obliged to keep it. I’m really excited by this move. It is a tangible point of demarcation in the effort to renew the clergy and religious in our country.
Now, if we could only get Rome to re-reform the structure of the Office.
We all hear about the need to be holy. God tells us. The priest tells us. Mother Angelica tells us. Our Grandmother’s tell us. But what does it mean for each of us to have a personal vocation from God to be holy? Yes! Each of us. Essentially it has to do with our baptism.
Baptism turns us into something new. A baptized person is essentially different than an unbaptized person. Why? When you were baptized you were grafted onto the Mystical Body of Christ. Just like grafting in horticulture the new limb takes on some of the attributes of the plant to which it has been newly joined. We are joined to Christ. We begin to participate in his nature. We are divinized. In this identification with Christ we specifically participate in his role as priest, prophet, and king.
Our baptismal call is to live out these roles with gusto. Religious life is merely a radical intensification of what all Christians are called to do — how all Christians are called to live. Each of us are called by God on account of our baptism to live a life radically united to him. Look to how a Religious ought to live. That is how you ought to strive to live too. So, you have children and a job. Do what you can. It was said that the house St. Dominic grew up in was more like a Monestary than that of a minor noble and knight. Being a layman is no excuse for neglecting the more rigorous aspects of a radically lived Christian life.
Being baptized has consequences. Christ accepts no half measures. We are held to a higher standard because of the nature we participate in through baptism. His nature! This means all the baptized. Those who poorly live the Christian life, those who deny it, and those who try to live faithfully are all called to the radicality demanded by Christ. All are accountable to God for living that call or for squandering their life following worldly allurements. We too, those actively seeking holiness, must take care. We have an obligation to help all the baptized live this Christian radicality. We must take care that we do not place unnecessary obstacles in the path of those weaker or immature in their faith. We must not build up loads that we are unwilling to carry.
We must always remember that we are sinners. We are afflicted. None of use, myself included, live up to the life required by the Gospel. Therefore we must have mercy on each other. This does not mean we look the other way when a brother sins. On the contrary, we must hold him accountable. But, this accountability is for reconciliation. We are not so much interested in punishment. We are interested in getting people back on the right path. We want to build up not tear down. We are all in various stages of this life. We must try to help each other limp along the path. We must strive to help each other get to heaven. This is what it means to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Christian BE what you already ARE!
As a Dominican I am supposed to have a “Contemplative” life. But, what does that mean? I’m not a Monk. My job in the Church is not to simply pray with and for the Church. St. Jerome said that the job of the monk is to weep for his sins and the sins of the world. Yes, St. Dominic wept. But, instead of radically abandoning the world like a monk does, St. Dominic radically entered the world. He didn’t turn away, he turned toward.
Of course there is an immediate problem with this. The temptation is to abandon one’s self to the work of the apostolate. You must “get a job” or “do” ministry. If you don’t focus your life on these “works” then it is obvious that you must not have a “love of the people.” You should find another Order. But, this “works righteousness” approach to Religious life, to Dominican life, is absurd. It is rooted in the very Pelagianism that we were founded to combat.
We must be prepared to engage the world. We cannot afford to plunge into the depths of the world armed simply with our habit, our talents, and hard work. We need the grace of God before all else. If we are not intentionally seeking the face of God in our common life (both privately and communally) then we will be a broken tool in the hand of the Lord. Yes, we may drive a few nails; but, eventually our rusty head will snap from its shaft and we will be fit only for the trash heap.
It is a mistake to set aside time for contemplation. We are called to live a life permeated by contemplation. This is not something opposed to the active apostolate. Rather, it precedes it and gives it depth. Without it we will always be lacking in our apostolic ministry. This, contemplative life begins with our common regular observances. It is from these observances that we come to understand the Lord as a community as Dominicans. From there we seek the prayer of study and meditation. We then go out into the world to pass on the fruits of this private and communal contemplation. But, even this going out into the world must have a contemplative character to it. We don’t leave the life of contemplation back in the cloister! Contemplation is not something or the choir stall for the cell. It’s having our entire being focused on the Lord. It is one thing to say this and give it lip-service. Many professed Religious do. It is another think to live it.
We Dominican’s must recapture this life of contemplation. We are not social workers, we are not Diocesan priests who wear white, nor are we monks. We are Dominicans. We are scholars who sing. We are monks in the city. We are preachers. We must live out the life as defined in our Constitutions. We must love and appropriate our entire 800 year tradition continually seeking reform and renewal. We must be zealous for the Lord and equally zealous for the salvation of souls. We must reside in the heart of our Holy Mother the Church. We must constantly seek the face of God. We must not give in to the workaholic tendencies of the modern western world. We must not seek to be relevant. We must not seek to be popular. We must not seek any worldly laurels. We must not appropriate the relativism and subjectivism of our age. Rather, we must chase after Christ and him crucified without fail. In the radical following of Christ, there can be no compromise.
But, as with all things, reform and renewal always begins at home. It is not enough to live the Dominican life faithfully. It must be lived zealously. We must rise up like Matthias Maccabaeus, confident in the truth, reliant on the Lord, and courageous in our actions. Anything less is unworthy of those blessed brothers who preceded us. We have a family name to uphold. We must, once again, take up the banner of Christ, armed with contemplation, study, and penance. We must make war against those powers that seek to drive us into our cloister walls. We must help all of Christ’s faithful avoid mediocrity. This is our time! Now, is the time for the rebirth of the Order.
The New Evangelization beckons!
We’ve spoken about both the objective character of a sin and the subjective character of sin. Hopefully this will be helpful. Maybe it’s just been confusing. If it’s been confusing or you have questions just shoot me an email. You can find that email address on the About page. In this final post in this series I’ll try to give some practical advice for the Christian life.
Actually prepare before you go to confession.
Take the time to think about the manner in which you have been living your life. Identify your sins and really think about the gravity of each. Be honest with yourself. Be willing to admit to yourself where you are weak and where you are strong. Ask God to help reveal your own heart to yourself. Too often when we examine our consciences we neglect God’s assistance. The Lord is the one who knows the heart. As a psalm says, “in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.” Implore his aid in your examination. “O God come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me.”
After going through this process get yourself to confession.
Go to confession as frequently as you need. In doing this don’t simply think of confession as something functional. Think of it as it truly is — an encounter with Christ. We should think of the sacraments as acts of love. We should want to receive the sacraments because we love God not simply because of what they do for us. So, go to confession because you love God. Make this your disposition and it will be rewarded.
When you go to confession make sure you are faithful to the requirements of the Church.
Remember to name the sin, express its gravity, and the frequency with which you committed the sin. When you do this it doesn’t need to resemble a shopping list. You can have a conversation with the priest. Remember, confession is not spiritual direction! If you need spiritual direction make an appointment. However, have an honest conversation about your sins with the priest. Also, you don’t need to confess the sins of others. Exercise Christian maturity and take responsibility for your sins. Don’t try to blame others for your sins. Only recount the involvement of others if it is essential for explaining the gravity of a sin.
Enjoy the sacrament.
Sacraments are celebrations. Celebrate the great mercy that God has given us in the forgiveness of sins. What a wondrous thing! I think that it is hard in our present culture to do this. It requires us to first realize that we are all sinners. Our society doesn’t like this reality. They think it harms our self-esteem. I say, better my ego is damaged than my immortal soul be lost. I think we have so much anxiety over going to confession because we are told that we are supposed to be perfect already. We are told by the world that if we admit our sinfulness then we are somehow less. But remember, Christ came for sinners, not the righteous.
I think the main point is that we need to feel sorry for our sins and at the same time rejoice in God’s mercy. If we keep this disposition in mind and educate ourselves then we can celebrate this sacrament well. Our God is truly a savior who has promised to provide for us in our deepest needs.