Back in August, during my “birthday retreat,” (which you can read about here or here), I had the great privilege of sharing lunch with one of the monks who lives at St. Benedict’s. Sharing a meal with him affected me more than most sermons have, and I’m so thankful to God that he, in his own words, “disrupted my solitude.” I encountered God through Friar Tom, and I pray God shapes me into a person through whom others can encounter God. Here are a few of things he taught me:
1. “Tell Satan to go to hell.”
“After all, that’s where he belongs, right? When those negative thoughts start coming—‘you’re worthless,’ or temptation, or anything of that nature—that’s him and you have to tell him NO straight away.”
The moment he said it, after I chuckled, of course, I immediately knew the voice he was talking about. The one that tells me I’m a horrible mom. The one that tells me I can’t do anything right. The one that says my family would be better off without me. That voice is evil. And Friar Tom just gave me the perfect answer to it: Go to Hell.
2. “One of the great problems in our society is that people have lost the ability to be alone in silence, present only to themselves and to God.”
“Technology is invading our lives in such a way that people feel increasingly frantic and uncentered. We have to be able to turn off our devices, turn off all the noise, and be present in the moment.”
I must admit that though this wasn’t a new or novel concept to me, it was a convicting one, nonetheless. I knew that I needed to reassess my boundaries with social media and with technology, yet again. How does it creep into unhealthy levels so quickly? Why is it that I feel I must be entertained, or at least occupied at every moment of the day? Is it even good for mind not to have a moment to breathe or to think, or simply to just be in the silence and ponder?
He referenced a cartoon in which the Pope tells a group of young people playing Pokemon Go “Get rid of your gadgets and make a mark on the world!” Now, I have absolutely nothing against Pokemon Go. I really don’t know anything about it. And I also believe that “getting rid of our gadgets” in today’s society may be counterproductive in making a mark on the world. I know of many people who are, in fact, using technology to make the world a better place. But the key factor in them is that they are using the technology as a tool, and they are in control of that tool. They own and use the technology, not the other way around. May it be so with me as well.
3. Being a good neighbor means giving away your absolute best.
When I asked him how he usually spent his days, he expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to spend afternoons outside, working in the orchards or on the grounds. In passing, he mentioned that the previous afternoon, he had spent the afternoon harvesting apples, and had gathered up the very best ones and taken them around to the neighbors. He said he felt it was truly important to do our best to be good neighbors, and I wholeheartedly agreed.
But am I truly a good neighbor? Do I give my best or do I give my leftovers? Would I give away the best apples or would I give away the bruised ones? Do I spend time thinking of how I can share with others or how I can acquire more? Do I spend my money and time on myself more than others? These are all questions I think we need to ask ourselves.
4. “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.”
“We Benedictine monks follow St. Benedict’s rule of life, and it’s really a beautiful rule. But maybe the most beautiful and important part is this. We must prefer the love of Jesus to all else. That’s the heart of it.”
I’m not sure what I could even add to that. In essence, this is following Jesus. “Throwing off everything that hinders,” “taking up our cross,” “loving the Lord our God with all our heart soul, mind, and strength.”…All these are carried in this one, simple phrase.
It reminds me of one of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”
So this is my prayer today:
Let love compel us, guide us, renew us and fill us. May we all have the courage, resolve, and wherewithal to say to Satan in the midst of his assault: “go to hell.” May we live generously, giving away our best and finding joy there. May our lives be marked by and oriented around the love of Jesus. May we be the type of people, like Friar Tom, through whom others can encounter God.