Abbot Anderson, The Rugged Road of the Beatitudes, conclusion

Abbot Anderson, The Rugged Road of the Beatitudes, conclusion
Church at Clear Creek Monastery, drawing
Here concludes the Lenten talks by the Right Reverend Philip Anderson, OSB, Abbot, Our Lady of the Annunciation Monastery of Clear Creek (OK)

So what can we say about this effort toward perfection, how can we grasp such a thing in the framework of our Lenten meditations?  I would like the whole process to mountain-climbing.  We have to climb a kind of mountain of perfection.  The analogy has often been used, for example by Saint John of the Cross in his Ascent of Mount Carmel.  To give it a more biblical name, it would be the mountain of the .  The perfect one, the Saint, is the one who climbs the rugged and upward road of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

As is often the case in Holy Scripture, this biblical series of spiritual qualities has no strict logical order, as would naturally be the case, say with a Greek philosopher describing the moral life.  Divine revelation—and this is a most eminent page of Revelation—has its own Divine logic that transcends what the most brilliant human minds can put together.  There is nonetheless something more excellent in the “higher” Beatitudes (lower on the list, higher up the mountain), dealing with mercy, purity of heart, peace and the giving of one’s life as a martyr; there is something very fundamental about the beginning, about poverty in spirit, another name perhaps for humility. 
Saint Benedict, who is known as the Patriarch of the monks of the West, likens this climb of perfection to going up a ladder, the ladder of humility.  It is really the same image as the mountain climb (Saint John Climacus, icon of spiritual ladder).  Through false exaltation, through spiritual pride, a man really lowers himself, whereas, paradoxically, the one who humbles himself (literally touches the ground, the dirt, humus) rises spiritually toward the beatitude of life in God, toward the dance of Paradise regained.  The biblical reference is Jacob’s ladder, which you remember from reading the book of Genesis…His dream near Mount Bethel, vision of angels.  The monk strenuously climbs this ladder of humility day-by-day, imitating the holy angels, amid the difficulties of his life of penance, work and prayer, Ora et Labora

All religious, not just monks, climb this mountain of perfection through what are called the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.  This climb, which is in many ways corresponds to that of the Beatitudes, begins with poverty, both material and spiritual.  The religious can own nothing of his own or her own.  That is a renunciation that is more exterior, the least difficult.  Then comes, for those who vow these counsels–and also for all Christians in a certain way–then comes chastity, by which a person renounces something less external, “closer to home”, a fundamental good of the body and of our human life for the sake of the Kingdom. 

Then comes an even more intimate and radical renunciation, that of obedience, by which we give up our own will and let God’s take the place.

In a more general way, speaking of this climb up the spiritual mountain as it presents its challenges to those in the world as to those inside the cloister there are three basic stages (something of an over-simplification, but a useful one):  the first there is a time when the accent is on purification, purgation.  You have to “get out of town” so to speak, away from the hustle and bustle, the confusion and distractions of life in the world.  On a retreat, for example.  Serious sin and important imperfections as well as bad habits have to be eliminated.  The second stage, often simultaneous with the first in part is that of illumination, that is to say of a spiritual education gained from listening to teachers or–especially–from reading.  This is called lectio divina in monastic language.  This is a quiet, meditative type of reading, devoid of all haste. 

Finally there comes the most important step, one that cannot adequately be described.  It is called the “unitive life” sometimes, that is to say it involves a kind of special union with God.  There would be a great deal to say about this, and yet we do not want to cheapen such a miracle of grace by speaking too much.

Most of you are not religious.  You might wonder what form all of this might take for you in your busy day-to-day lives.  There is an example that might be helpful.  There is the case of Judith Cabaud (nee Anthony): (born 8 July 1941 in New York) is an American-born French writer and musicologist. She was born into a Jewish-American family of Polish and Russian heritage.  After studying science at the University of New York, she went to Paris and obtained her degree in French civilization in 1960 at the Sorbonne, and converted to Catholicism.  She has published several books, but the most notable is Sur Les Balcons du Ciel (in English, Where Time Becomes Space, 1979).
Perhaps, like Judith Cabaud, some of you might attain to the upper reaches of the contemplative life even while living an active life in the world; perhaps God will grant you a foretaste, just a glimpse of things to come–of the dance of angels, of a certain beatitude even amid the confusion of the world.
However, it would be quite unrealistic, untrue, to leave you with the impression that life can be a joyful climb towards Paradise regained, without mentioning something else.  Along the way of the Beatitudes that leads up the mountain of perfection there always comes that moment—we might call it the ‘vertigo moment’, of a kind of desperate difficulty.  You see, the mountain of perfection is also Mount Calvary.  We must meet the Cross.  The time comes when the sunshine that brightened our path is blocked.  Like Moses, we enter into a cloud (Holy Spirit?).  We are stuck on a sheer cliff, unable either to go up or to go down.  It is the Dark Night of the Soul.  On the road to Easter there must be Good Friday.  It cannot be helped.  Why? Nature of evil.  In the end (surprisingly) life thus makes ‘a better story’.  Whose story? Yours and God’s too.  God wants your life to be a true adventure, something worth living, and not just a “safe” excursion to the closest strip-mall.  But what if—in this great and adventurous mountain-climb– I fall?  Well, God will catch you, sustain you, but you have to at least start climbing…God created us without our consent, but He wants us to contribute to our salvation and sanctification.

         Finally, there remains the attitude of Our Lady, that of humility.  Ecce-Fiat.  Patron of this church in Houston and also of our Abbey in Oklahoma.  Our Motto is: “Ecce-Fiat” from the Gospel of the Annunciation.  Ecce = humility; Fiat = obedience.  They both lead to Magnificat at top of mountain, where God is all and God is love and we will be happy and blessed, having climbed the mountain of the Beatitudes and having re-entered the Paradise we lost, once upon a time.  Thank you and may God bless you and yours.

FINIS

Note: I wish to thank for his visit to Houston to speak at the Pope Forum. I encourage anyone who has read these conferences to pray for the Abbot and the monks at Clear Creek and to consider making a donation to the Monastery where these sons of St. Benedict are establishing a school for God’s service. With the contemplative life begins the renewal of Christian culture. Visit their website by clicking here.

These Lenten conferences by Abbot Anderson will soon be available in PDF form from the Pope John Paul II website; and also as a pamphlet soon to be available from the Forum. Send us an email (jp2forum@gmail.com) if you wish to receive a copy.

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