March 15, 2011

My Spiritual Fathers

Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives.

They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint. For many absurd reasons they are convinced that they are obliged to become somebody else who died two hundred years ago and who lived in circumstances utterly alien to their own.

Thomas Merton, "Integrity" in New Seeds of Contemplation, 98.

From Ben's comment yesterday I was thinking about Seraphim Rose. He's one of a handful of people, along with Thomas Merton, Francis of Assisi, and Augustine, to name the most influential, who have had a deep impact on how I understand myself as a Christian, and especially as a convert.

It's a very delicate business, these influences. On the one hand, these men were my formators in the faith and in my religious life. In important ways, I came to understand myself through their language and grasp the meanings of my own experience through their accounts of understanding theirs. In the midst of my crisis of conscience around the first war in Iraq I met Francis in a history class, and his renunciation of privilege became my desire. It was only years later (see this post) that I realized how much Thomas Merton's account of his purchase of breviaries (after his first dream of religious life didn't work out) became a model for me when I was dismissed from my first try at being a friar, and the whole business accounts somewhat for the grace of fierce devotion to the Liturgy of the Hours I have even now. The conversions of St. Augustine and Fr. Seraphim from philosophy to prayer became means for me to understand what had happened to me in the course of college, which I entered without a thought of God as a student of philosophy and mathematics, and left four years later as a zealous convert on his way to religious life.

On the other hand, Merton's words quoted above are real wisdom. Our spiritual parents give us the language by which we can grow up and understand ourselves, God, and the world, but the circumstances of our lives are different than theirs. Our sanctity will not be the same. Grace builds on nature, and as each human person is a unique and unrepeatable creation, so each is a unique and unrepeatable locus for grace, a grace that will be individual and particular. I understand myself through these men I have named, but it is a temptation to want to grasp for their experiences.

The balance is delicate. We must find ourselves as the children of our parents, but we must also find ourselves therein as our own selves.

As he was dying, Francis said to the brothers, "I have done what was mine; may Christ teach you yours."


Anonymous said...

Wow, Brother Charles! This was excellent. Thank you so much. What a gift to start the day by reading it.

cesarsalad said...

nice post, very true..many religious today try to assimilate the life of their founder or particular saints and forgot the world / present affairs they are placed upon...a good reflection point to ponder the charism of one's order in the present times or your mission-vocation..

God bless us all..

Mark in Spokane said...

Very nicely put. You know, I have been wrestling with a cross that the Lord has given me, and wrestling with where I am in my own vocation right now, and this reflection really spoke to me. Thanks for posting it.