For Whom the Bell Tolls

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I was working at my desk trying to finish up something when the bell rang. That is nothing special in a monastery; the bell rings five times a day to call us monks to prayer. This time, though, as sometimes happens, I caught myself having a little inner discussion:  should I go instantly to Midday Prayer, or should I rather continue working for two or three minutes? I would still make it to church in time. What didn’t seem to be a big deal at all, and certainly not a question of life and death, is still of interest for Saint Benedict:

“On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost speed, yet with gravity and without giving occasion for frivolity. Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.” RB 43:1-3

My father used to say: “Obedience means: do it immediately”. I didn’t like to hear that because he always said it when I was not following right away. This very moment, when I hear the call of the bell, holds a great opportunity. It invites my soul to decide: Do I follow God’s call or not? Whom do I follow? Christ, or my own to-do-list? “The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all”, St. Benedict says in his chapter on obedience (RB 5:1-2), and he points to this holy moment:

“Almost at the same moment, as the master gives the instruction the disciple quickly puts it into practice in the fear of God; and both actions together are swiftly completed as one”. RB 5:9

In the midst of my day-to-day activities I am offered to let my ego die and become ONE with God. The readiness with which I follow is an expression of my surrendering to God. No excuses; nothing more important than Him; everything to be left behind. What if I miss the opportunity of this moment? In the monastery, we are not practicing compulsiveness. Not much later the bell will ring again for another prayer time. Another chance to follow the inner voice, the conscience. Another chance to surrender.

Lord, you praised the Roman officer because of the swiftness of his following. Give me the freedom to trust deeply that nothing is more important NOW than YOU. It is so freeing to follow you. Thank you for the bell. It tolls for me.

Tremble before the Lord

It was during Sunday Vespers. I must have been in a fearful mood. I can’t remember why. But as sometimes, I was not even aware of my emotions. Suddenly a verse of Psalm 114 caught my eyes:

“Tremble, o earth, before the Lord.” Psalm 114:7

I immediately felt consoled. The fear was gone. How could this happen? As I was reflecting later, it came to me: Trembling before God seems to be much better than trembling before human beings, or situations, or anything else on earth. HE is the one and only before whom everyone trembles. Before whom everyone must tremble.

This knowledge did not increase my fear, but erased it. Fear of God is just natural because we know God is mightier than we are. However, what is better? Fearing God or fearing human beings? Being afraid of human beings, including ourselves, may be more justified because our goodness is limited and we can act evil. Not so can God. So, fearing God is the better choice. He is the loving and merciful God as Jesus has shown us. In other words, I felt consoled because I realized: Fear has a place. It has its place “before Him”, in the presence of God. It is taken care of in the presence of the loving and merciful God. I must not be afraid, because any fear is in good hands with Him. He is stronger and He is better.

Prayer against fear

Dear Lord, take all fear from me. Let me grow in the fear of you, who is my loving maker and caretaker. Prevent me from thinking and acting out of fear. Let the earth tremble and be shaken so that it may become a better and more peaceful place. I am not afraid of trembling before you.

Truly Born to Be Wild

For a long time, I thought my last name “Wilde” meant “wild” in the sense of “not civilized, uncultivated, not domesticated, chaotic”. Only recently did I find out that in the German language “wild” originally signifies a “stranger”. People coming from unknown places were considered to be “wild”. Strangers, whose behavior, customs, language, traditions, were not familiar and did not match with accustomed expectations. Monks are born to be wild. “You should become a stranger to the world’s ways [Saeculi actibus se facere alienum]”, says St. Benedict in his Rule. And he adds the reason: “The love of Christ must come before all else.” (Rule of St. Benedict 4:20-21). He is pretty outspoken; he disqualifies those who are “still loyal to the world by their actions; they clearly lie to God by their tonsure.” (Rule 1:7).

Well, I don’t have my hair tonsured, but I wear a habit. So, lying is possible. How can I be wild? How can I become a stranger to this world? I am part of this world!  I realize how much energy I spend to be up-to-date, to go with the trend, to stay assimilated, to keep up with what is expected from me. Jesus words instead sound like a warm invitation to trust the roots I have in heaven. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” (John 18:36), he says, and draws the consequence for us, his disciples: “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” (John 17:18). Jesus came as stranger and became our best friend.

It still frightens me a little bit. The first monks were wild; so were the prophets. The Saints were wild, like St. Jerome. Jesus was wild. I admire them and know that I am far away from this freedom and wildness. But I hear their call. I feel that everybody is truly born to be wild, not only monks.

Christ, help me to be wild. Take away from me the fear not to be like the others. Let me enjoy that I am different and strengthen in me the awareness that I come from God. Get me away from all that is clinging to me, from everything I am too much attached to. Give me the courage to enter the wilderness and stay there. And open my heart to my true call.

Chicago Art Inst 079 - Copy
Paolo Caliari (1585/90) – Saint Jerome in the wilderness