O God, you called St. Benedict into the wilderness to dwell with you in solitude and into the heart of a community to dwell with you in service to others. Through his intercession, lead us by your word to hear and heed your will for us this day and every day, through Christ our Lord. Amen. -from Morning Prayer, Magnificat, July 11.
In this week’s post, I will depart a bit from the ongoing study of John 15 and 16 to share something not unrelated to friendship with Christ (John 15:15) and the July 11 Memorial of St. Benedict.
He gave them this command: “You shall act faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord (IIChron.19:91).” – from Morning Prayer, July 11
Faithfulness: This is a virtue that is not easy to come by, even in Christians, even in apparently wholehearted Christians. And the reason I know this, is that faithfulness (and its companion, perseverance) was the first virtue which God laid on my heart right after my first conversion in 1969. My greatest weakness it seems, not unrelated to my temperament, was not keeping on keeping on with long term commitments. When things began to get tough–whether in my family, in school, in a friendship, in some project–I was “outta there” as soon as I could break free. I did have a strong sense of integrity and the desire to fulfill my word, yet when it came to the long hauls of life, I found myself weak and finally just plain unfaithful too often.
The Lord was so powerfully insistent inside me concerning His desire for faithfulness to tasks and commitments and people–teaching me first by His infusion of love and power as I was about to give up on my three-year-old marriage–that I found as years went by, it took me a long time to give up even on certain circumstances and situations which had become unhealthy and progressively unfruitful ones.
I think back to the various protestant churches which were part of our journey to where we are now, on the Rock with our “feet in a broad place,” as the Psalmist puts it. Seventeen years were spent in a small Baptist denomination in a situation which had become restricting in some ways to the spiritual growth of our family. The Lord Himself snatched us out, finally, by our tiny church crumbling apart beneath our feet, and through the help we received from a Presbyterian pastor. Eight busy years as Presbyterians contributed to our growth, and we stuck with that denomination even while increasingly longing for richer liturgical worship. Again, it’s obvious the Lord himself directed a change when He sent me to Oxford for a seminary class and to frequent worship in a Church of England. Here was the beauty in worship which I needed.
Four very intense ministry years as Episcopalians were indeed liturgically rich ones, but soon we knew we had to leave a denomination which had been drifting towards heretical immorality without any real authority to prevent it from doing so. I graduated from seminary at age fifty, after fulfilling a long term commitment to theological studies, and over the years of learning faithfulness in a variety of situations I was ready to commit myself to the Lutheran Church for the rest of my life. Except that it became apparent that the same denominational problems with heresy and authority were plaguing these Christian brothers and sisters, as well.
By the time I had aligned myself with the Wesleyan holiness tradition at First Free Methodist and was about to commit myself to long term pastoral care ministry there, the Lord placed in my soul such a powerful “No!” that I apologetically un-committed myself to that work before I even began! And as I ponder that “No!” I can recognize it as part of an important second conversion experience, a process leading me into a pronouncedly humbler state of mind and heart, a kind of desert walk for awhile.
Within a year of pitching my tent among the Free Methodists, I did commit myself to something–something far more humble: I stepped into a little lifeboat on a big sea, and embarked on a year of instruction to become a Catholic. For the first seven years of learning to be Catholic, while beginning to explore the huge ship into which that little lifeboat had led me, every tentative move I made toward some particular ministry in which I sought to become helpful and more committed became another “no,” not as loud as before but just as firm, while door after door blew shut in my face.
But now, since last Advent I have been responding to my parish’s request by facilitating Faith on the Ferry, which involves a Year of Faith commitment on my part to monthly get-togethers and weekly bloggings. The study of John’s gospel will have fit into the year perfectly by the time the Year of Faith ends in November.
“It’s the little things that are the big things,” the Lord told my heart during that long-ago first conversion; and such heart knowledge holds me in good stead as I’ve learned to wait on Him, time and time again. If He keeps me on earth awhile longer, it will be interesting to see just what kind of faithful commitments He will ask of me. In my mid-sixties, I have come deeply to recognize that any short-or-longterm faithfulness to tasks and places and people is something of which I am not, and never have been, naturally capable. It is His grace working in me, that alone, which will make it possible faithfully to commit myself to what He asks of me from this point on.
I await His bidding– much like Mary, I hope– and ask for His Wisdom and for the wholeheartedness His Spirit would continually breathe into me even now. -JC