AUGUST 9, 2009
Visitors to the monastery in the summer sometimes ask me if I am a monk? In the past I have gone through a long explanation of how I am not a monk, but live here with the monks each summer and then go off and work for a living the rest of the year in preaching, teaching, and missions. But I have come to the realization that the very question is misleading.
I will never be a monk, but I am becoming a monk. The process is never finished. I am not joining the monastery, but I am becoming a monk. Flannery O'Connor, the Catholic writer of the 20th century said, "You don't join the Catholic Church. You become a Catholic." It is a process. The process involves change within oneself over a lifetime. People can change in their sense of themselves, and in their actions or the way that they live their lives.
My process of becoming a monk can be compared somewhat to someone who is going to night school. When I was in college, I was a full time student. I got my college degree in four years. But there were other people who had full time jobs and went to school only at night. They would get their degree eventually, but it would take them longer than it took me. I am becoming a monk more slowly than the people who live full time at the monastery because I have another job to do for eight months a year. But, hopefully, I am progressing, be it the will of God. One can make a vow in the monastery, but that does not end the process of becoming a monk. People can make vows and then simply stagnate. They resist grace.
One of my sisters got married a few weeks ago right here in Colorado. With a proper marriage license, the professing of vows in the Catholic ritual, my sister became married legally and sacramentally. She became a wife. She is joined to her husband. But this is only the beginning. It will take her a lifetime to become a wife. Why? Because she will have to deal with the human condition of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 4: 30 to 5: 2. He says that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. That is what we receive in Baptism. Then Paul lists a lot of faults that we have to overcome and replace with virtues. Stop shouting, reviling, being bitter and replace these with compassion, kindness and forgiveness for instance. This takes a lifetime and requires grace and hope that it can be done.
A woman can become a parent by adoption or giving birth. In one sense she is now legally and biologically a mother. But in fact it will take her a lifetime to become a mother, because she will have to deal with her faults and replace them with virtues. Stop shouting, and reviling your child and replace it with kindness, compassion and forgiveness as Jesus forgives us. This is a long process of growth. I was ordained at a certain point in time, but I am always becoming a priest. We call this, "being in formation." It never ends. It requires change and grace as I come to better know myself, my faults and gifts in the course of my priesthood.
The neighbors of Jesus did not believe in change. They knew Jesus all his life up to this point in the gospel. They could not see him any way than his past. Jesus was presenting them with a new self-understanding, a growth into being more the Christ in his public persona. They would not accept it. "People don't change," is what we hear from some skeptics. That means you don't believe in grace or hope.
Where will the grace come from to sustain our hope that we can change and continue on the way of becoming all that we are meant to be in God's plan? It comes from the Eucharist and the Word of God in Scripture. Both feed us. Up to Jesus' time, the people knew the Scriptures as the food from God. Pondering the Word nourished them. But now with Jesus, the Word has become flesh and the Eucharist will also feed us.
To join the Catholic Church and not enter into the Word or receive Eucharist, is like getting married in a ceremony, but staying selfish, self-centered, and egotistical. You are married but you are not becoming a husband or a wife. That is a lifetime process of change. If we were perfect we would not need the church. Sacraments are for the imperfect person who wants to be more than a slave to the passions.