Brothers and Sisters:
I am re-reading a book I read about two years ago called “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher. Many of you reading this letter are familiar with the book, which has gained great popularity in Catholic circles over the last several years. One quote from the book summarizes his thesis:
“Americans cannot stand to contemplate defeat or to accept limits of any kind. But American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears. Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to...stop fighting the flood? That is, to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again? Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation. Fear not! We have been in a place like this before. In the first centuries of Christianity, the early church survived and grew under Roman persecution and later after the collapse of the empire in the West. We latter-day Christians must learn from their example—and particularly from the example of Saint Benedict.”
Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, recalls that:
“If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life”
Pam and I recently were introduced to an Israeli TV series called ”Schtisel”. It is about an ultra-orthodox Jewish father and son, Shulem and Akiva Shtisel, their family and the ups and downs of daily life living in their ultra-orthodox community in Jerusalem. Sounds a little boring right? It is really a great series! What is more interesting is that the series is a huge hit in America. I had to think, Why? No Sex, no violence, none of the standard ingredients for most hit TV series in America, so why is it a hit? I think it has to do with the hunger in the soul of most Americans (and most first world countries around the world) for three things: 1) community, 2) purpose and 3) identity.
A perennial poverty of modern society is the loss of meaningful connection between people and the rise of individualism and self-centeredness. This was spotlighted last year during the advent of the pandemic. Suddenly the usual ability to enjoy relationships with others was curtailed, and most of us realized how we had taken that gift for granted! The need for community suddenly took on greater significance. Along with this was a reassessing of priorities and a time to reflect on what is important in life. Our post-modern culture is searching for meaning (purpose) and identity confusion is one of the fruits.
The “Shtisel” series reminds our culture that we do not live for ourselves, but for the Lord. We don’t exist as individuals in search of meaning but are part of something greater than ourselves. The viewer of “Shtisel” has a window into a community of Jewish believers that are interdependent, live for a higher purpose and have to make intentional sacrificial decisions to continue their way of life. They live in perpetual remembrance of what God has done for them. I think this fascinates an American culture in which these concepts are absent to a great extent. It also points to the vast mission field we have!
Earlier this week I sent out a link to a wonderful podcast interview our Covenant brother Tim Keller did for a website called happyareyoupoor.com. The stated mission of the website is “Building Christian Community as a means to Evangelization”. I highly encourage all members to listen to this interview! I was very edified by Tim telling the story of City of the Lord and his own journey in covenant community. Being at a distance from us in Albuquerque New Mexico, Tim and Cathy have had to be very “intentional” about building community. This intentionality has helped them clarify and value the richness of our life in City of the Lord. Community is not “all around them” like it is here in Arizona. Consequently they don’t take community for granted like many of us here do.
I had a very wealthy client with a house high on Camelback mountain. I had occasion to visit him at his house one evening and when I walked in the door there was a gorgeous panoramic view of the City lights of Phoenix before me. I commented to him about what an amazing view he was privileged to see every day! His response was “Oh yea it is nice isn’t it? Originally, I was like you, but I guess I got used to it and don’t notice it as much anymore”.
Brothers and sisters, let us not take the life together that the Lord has given us for granted, like my client with the great view. If we want to be intentional about the gift we have been given in City of the Lord, we need to bear fruit. How? Be faithful to our way of life and agreements. That is one way we “steward” the gift that the Lord gave us. The other way we steward the gift is to invite others into a relationship with Jesus. Brining the Baptism of the Spirit to the Church and the World and then providing a community to live out that encounter is our Charism. How we evangelize can take on a variety of forms, just as the variety of gifts are present in our body. But the one common mandate we have is to share the wealth of our life together to a starving world.
To close, I am reminded of Matt 25:14, the well known “Parable of the Talents”. In the parable, those servants that invested what the master gave them, even though it put the gift at risk were rewarded. The one that played it safe, and buried the master’s money was rebuked and cast out. The Lord will bless the life we have and the many works he calls us to, in the measure we roll up our sleeves and invest in our call. The final words of the master from Matt 25 say it all:
“For to every one who has, more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29, RSV-CE)BACK TO LIST