The “O” Word

monk praying

“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (NAB John 15:8-14).

Christian charity, or love, is how one “abides” or “remains” in our Lord Jesus Christ and through Him the Father (1 John 3:24). From the mouth of our Lord Jesus comes a new commandment of love. It is the commandment of the new covenant par excellence, but it is really an ancient law, which God created for His sons and daughters to walk in (1 John 2:7).

St. Paul even places love above faith in his first letter to the Corinthians! “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (NAB 1 Cor. 13: 13).

Why is love so important?

First of all, God is love itself (1 john 4:7). And through love, Christians share in the very divine life of the blessed Trinity! Love is the currency of the Divine economy encapsulated in the person of Jesus Christ, particularly in His death, burial and resurrection.

Not only is love the essence of the drama of salvation, but it is the telos, the fulfillment of the Christian life. In the first letter of St. John, we see that the love of God is “perfected” in the Christian through obedience:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and  the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived” (NAB 1 John 2:3-6).

We read in this letter of St. John and in his Gospel passage cited at the beginning, that there is a reciprocal relationship between the perfection of love within the Christian and being obedient to the commands of Christ. Oh my, St. John used the “O” word…obedience.

In fact, St. John says that we Christians know God (i.e., know that we are in “union” with Him) if we keep His commandments. If we obey Christ, then the love of God is “perfected” in us, and we know that we are in right relationship with Him.

The opposite would also be true. If we do not obey Christ’s commandments, then God’s love is not perfected in us, and we are not in a right relationship with Him. St. John says that such a person is a liar, and the truth is not in them (1 John 2:4). Mere intellectual belief in Jesus without obedience means an individual does not have the Truth in them.

Jesus has even harsher words about what happens when a Christian does not abide in Him:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned” (NAB John 15:5-6).

“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents two statements that must be held together in tension: (1) only he who believes obeys; and (2) only he who obeys believes (1995, p. 63ff). This is the difficult truth to live out in a life of discipleship. The Christian journey requires the interdependence of faith and love.

In our modern world, particularly in the West, there is an easy-believism of faith but not a lot of obedience. This is because the Church has swallowed the rationalist kool-aid of faith as a mere intellectual belief instead of faith as trust, as faith infused with soul-transforming love.

Love requires action…

We frequently find it difficult to obey anyone or anything. It is seen as a weakness, a loss of power or rights to live as we want to live. When our lives are comfortable and we fall under the trap of believing that we can control our environment, it is difficult to follow the high bar of following Jesus. Oftentimes, this mindset sets in very slowly and innocently over the course of our lives. A jolt is sometimes needed to wake us from our cushy slumber of comfortable Christianity.

In Matthew 19:16-22, a rich young man approaches Jesus with a question about salvation. It captures the struggle of meeting the cost of discipleship:

“Now someone approached him and said, ‘Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?’ He answered him, ‘Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He asked him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus replied, ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, ‘All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (NAB Matt. 19:16-22)

The rich young man was indeed sad because he could not meet the demands Jesus placed upon him. However, one thing Bonhoeffer points out about this particular story is that Jesus created the opportunity where obedience was possible (1995, p. 79). Jesus cuts through the barriers in all of our lives so that obedience to His call is achievable, but inevitably we find a way to get around the call of Christ to what Bonhoeffer calls “single-minded obedience.” Here is how Bonhoeffer says a scenario of spiritual dodge ball might happen:

“‘It is true that the demand of Jesus is definite enough, but I have to remember that he never expects us to take his commands legalistically. What he really wants me to have is faith. But my faith is not necessarily tied up with riches or poverty or anything of the kind. We may be both poor and rich in spirit. It is not important that I should have no possessions, but if I do I must keep them as though I had them not, in other words I must cultivate a spirit of inward detachment, so that my heart is not in my possessions. Jesus may have said ‘sell thy goods,’ but he meant: ‘Do not let it be a matter of consequence to you that you have outward prosperity; rather keep your goods quietly, having them as if you had them not” (1995, p. 80).

Bonhoeffer distinguishes between this mature form of spiritual “detachment” (perhaps what the desert fathers and mothers would call apetheia) and the initial act of single-minded obedience. Being spiritually detached from the barriers to faith in our lives is what Bonhoeffer calls the “ultimate possibility” in the Christian life and is paradoxical in nature (1995, 82). However, many Christians are not spiritually mature enough to hold this paradox in their lives. What frequently happens is that the Christian just continues in their entrapment.

The more fundamental step in discipleship is single-minded obedience. It is the step where Jesus makes faith and obedience possible. In the Christian life, single-minded obedience to the call of Jesus is where one should focus their attention on and resign their will to. Do not skip over single-minded obedience for the paradoxical level of inner detachment from external goods. Open your heart and soul to divine love, participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and obey the call and commandments of Jesus. Only then will your faith be fully brought to fruition.

 

The Companions Welcome a New Member From Mexico

Father Alex

The Companions of the Way are blessed and thrilled to welcome Father Jesús Alejandro González Ovalle to the community!

Father Alex was born and currently lives in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. He pastors an Episcopal mission church the San Luis Potosí city center, which ministers primarily to those on the edge of society: the poor; the homeless; those suffering from addiction; and the home-bound elderly. Father Tim and Daniel had the distinct priviledge of worshipping with this mission community while on pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Christian hospitality is vibrant and alive in this community and in the González household!

Retablo of Mary

Raised Roman Catholic in the parish church of Templo del Carmen, Father Alex felt a call to the priesthood from a young age. Father Tim and Daniel prayed the rosary in the Marian chapel in the Templo del Carmen, and it was truly a taste of heaven on earth. It is no wonder that such a place of worship spoke to the heart and soul of a fledgling priest. To learn more about this stunning Baroque church, please read this article: https://cookjmex.blogspot.com/2014/12/san-luis-potosi-part-8-ornate-templo.html

At the age of 26, Father Alex was ordained to the Deaconate in the Roman Catholic Church, then two years later in 1995 he was ordained into the priesthood in Ecuador. For 22 years, Father Alex served the people of Ecuador, and he adopted many orphans and children being sold by their parents. The love of God pervades the life of his servant Alex!

In 2017, Father Alex was received into the Anglican Communion as a priest. This decision was heart wrenching for him, but his conscience would not be swayed. He has maintained his Roman Catholic priestly vow to be wedded to the Church in chastity, but he still takes care of his adopted sons in San Luis Potosí. Father Alex has degrees in Philosophy, Public Administration, and Law. He teaches at a local college in San Luis Potosí to support his family, as his mission does not receive financial support from the diocese.

Father Tim Father Alex & Daniel

Father Alex is excited to join the Companions of the Way and looks forward to getting to know everyone. He felt a deep draw to the spirituality of the Companions when Father Tim and Daniel stayed in his home while on pilgrimage. Father Alex’s connection to the Companions comes through one of his adopted sons, Juan, who attended Father Tim’s parish St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany while working in Georgia under a US work permit to earn money for the family.

Please join us in welcoming Father Alex to the community and to our commitment to “disciples making disciples.” The Companions of the Way are now international. Praise be to God!

What is so Holy About Holy Week?

Holy Week

As we near the end of Holy Week culminating in Easter Vigil and then awakening to Resurrection Sunday, I thought it might be helpful to think about why the Church calls this week Holy. What about a day or week makes it holy instead of just a regular day? Christians might assume that such declarations are just contrived by the Church and not really worth spending too much mental energy on; after all, we are busy people with more important things to do, right?

Our culture’s default assumption that there is a division between the sacred and secular often seeps into the mindset of the Church to the point that we begin to hold the same default assumption. In Christian thought, there is no day or time that is not under the authority and power of God. In other words, there is no such thing as the “secular world.”

The Bible and the Church do, however, speak about making people, places, or things, sacred or profane. In Acts 19:11-12, it was reported that God worked through St. Paul, even through hankerchiefs he blessed: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them” (NRSV). This is why priests today bless items, such as rosaries, and they make “holy water” through blessing. Only the power of God can make something or someone holy.

The Greek word for holy is άγιος (haggios), and refers to being “sacred” or a “saint.” In the Scriptures, only Mary the mother of Jesus is called holy, which would make logical sense if she was the Theotokos or God bearer. Holiness is a different state of being that is defined by the mighty working power of God.

In the ancient Greek and Roman liturgical books, Holy Week was called the “Great Week” because great deeds were done by God during this week. We know that the name “Holy Week” was used in the 4th century by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and St. Epiphanius of Constantia. Originally, only Good Friday and Holy Saturday were observed as holy days, as well as the requirement of absolute fasting.

So, Holy Week is holy because of the mighty work God accomplished through Jesus Christ, the reconciliation of the world to Himself. By consecrating special days during the liturgical calendar as holy, the Church is inviting all of us to participate in the life-giving power of God’s grace, not just as spectators but as adopted daughters and sons of God. I would like to leave you with one question to ponder as we observe Good Friday, if the Holy Spirit can so empower a hankerchief to share in the miraculous power of God, how much more are we empowered and healed by observing Holy Week?   

A New Monasticism?

monk praying

The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.  I think it is time to gather people together to do this. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Testament to Freedom (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1997), p.424)

20th century Christian martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents a seemingly “radical” challenge to the contemporary Church to live out a new kind of monasticism. This great challenge calls for Christians to live counter-culturally to the secularization of the culture. Why is this call necessary in our time and is it really radical? Bonhoeffer would later expand on this call in his famous book The Cost of Discipleship:

The expansion of Christianity and the increasing secularization of the church caused the awareness of costly grace to be gradually lost…. But the Roman church did keep a remnant of that original awareness.  It was decisive that monasticism did not separate from the church and that the church had the good sense to tolerate monasticism. Here, on the boundary of the church, was the place where the awareness that grace is costly and that grace includes discipleship was preserved…. Monastic life thus became a living protest against the secularization of Christianity, against the cheapening of grace. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) p.46-47)

The cheapening of grace was killing the Church according to Bonhoeffer, and I think that the same message continues to apply to us today. We have forgotten our Lord’s own admonition in Mark 10, where Jesus tells the rich man to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. Peter turns to Jesus as says:

Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first (Mark 10:28-31, NRSV). 

If we are to follow Christ and become His disciples, then surely Christians must follow the early model presented in the book of Acts. After Pentecost, the Scriptures state that Christians lived in community with a common purse. They engaged in daily discipleship by following “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, NRSV). 

Intentional community and living according to a “rule of life” were the marks of early Christian discipleship, to following the way of Jesus. Monastic communities throughout the centuries embodied this kind of Christian discipleship that saw grace as very costly, and they lived their lives as a protest to the cheap grace that the world offers. How many of us Christians today are discipled by the values and principles of the secular world?

Monasticism offers a road map for Christian discipleship by offering a “rule of life.” To many modern ears the idea of a rule of life may sound harsh and overly authoritarian, but this is far from the truth. Simply put, a rule of life is how one organizes their life. People organize their lives around work, sports, family, extracurricular activities, etc. Whatever the configuration, that is their rule of life—it is the value and time structure they place around daily and weekly activities. A monastic rule of life organizes life around the rhythm of faith. A crucial part of becoming mature disciples of Jesus is to make faith the central axis around which our lives is organized. The Companions of The Way live out a rule of life that consists of traditional practices expected of all Christians. By forming a common rule of life around discipleship, Companions have both accountability and support on the journey (The Rule of the Companions of the Way).

There are many different configurations of the New Monasticism movement, as it is not centralized in any one tradition or group. Here are the “Twelve Marks” of new monasticism according to www.newmonasticism.org.

  1. Relocation to the “abandoned places of Empire” [at the margins of society]
  2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us
  3. Hospitality to the stranger
  4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation
  5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the Church
  6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate
  7. Nurturing common life among members of an intentional community
  8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children
  9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life
  10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies
  11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18
  12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life

The mission and vision of the Companions of the Way fits nicely with most all of these “marks,” and we see our community as continuing the ancient and ever relevant monastic way of life. Monks and nuns are not professional Christians paid by the church to do our work for us. They are followers of Jesus Christ consecrating their lives to pursuing His kingdom. The Companions of the Way are tapping into this spiritual stream and living it out from within our own modern context. We take vows and live according to a rule of life, but we are husbands and wives, sons and daughters, employees and business owners. Our lives of discipleship are consecrated for the mission of the Kingdom of God.

We are living out a new kind of monasticism, but it is one which is not cut off from Holy Tradition. Being a part the Church means that we do not get to decide for ourselves what it means to follow Jesus. The Holy Scriptures and the practices and teachings of the Church provide the road map in following Jesus Christ amidst the kingdoms of this world. Our prayer is that you will join us in following our Lord, to become companions of the way.