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A Priest's View: The unspeakable sweetness of love: Christian challenge?

We Christians receive butt-kickings from time to time on the Opinion pages of the Duluth News Tribune. We need and deserve such reminders when we fail in our efforts to live the life of Jesus with hearts moved by compassion. Our failures should n...

We Christians receive butt-kickings from time to time on the Opinion pages of the Duluth News Tribune. We need and deserve such reminders when we fail in our efforts to live the life of Jesus with hearts moved by compassion. Our failures should not be explained away; that would serve neither the Church nor the larger community.

Christian scriptures clearly announce each member is graced. Yet there is much that is deficient and even un-prophetic in our current efforts; there is much to be lamented in what we leave undone. There are many moments in our Christian lives when we might certainly wonder how well we understand the absolute nature of human dignity and how often we sin against that dignity in the treatment that many of God's people endure even in and from the Church.

Mainline churches are hemorrhaging members; the numbers of our young people are just a shadow of what they were a generation ago.

But when St. Benedict concluded the prologue to his Rule for Monasteries, he noted, "For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, / our hearts expand / and we run the way of God's commandments / with unspeakable sweetness of love. / Thus, never departing from His school, / but persevering ... according to His teaching until death, / we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13) / and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom."

Benedict made it clear not just to monastics but to all seekers of God that we must be attentive and open to the possibilities each day brings, for these are the opportunities for us to seek and serve God in ways that, as the rule pointed out, are neither harsh nor burdensome. The challenge is to be active and alert until death, faithfully aware always of the holiness that surrounds us and of the divinity to which we aspire.

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Thinking about all this, I went for a hike in the Skywalk downtown and overheard just a snatch of a conversation between two young guys, maybe 15 years old. One was telling the other in earnest, "Well, the spirituality I follow ..." I wondered what spirituality that might be, if it is one he crafts to fit occasions or moods or moments, or if it might be some personalized variant of a religion he has read or heard about. I also wondered why a teenager would think he has to craft a spirituality. What about a ready-made spirituality, maybe Methodism or Catholicism?

We who seek to follow Jesus in the company of the Church have a spirituality readily at hand, one proven by saints and mystics over all the ages. How about studying the religion that teaches that God became what we are so we could become what God is? That's Christianity, of course.

Some will suggest -- in fact, many will insist -- that the Church in our age is riddled with bad will and ineffective leadership, that it is increasingly irrelevant in the power struggles that overshadow a true spirit of evangelism, with angry apologetics taking the place of sincere gospel outreach.

Whenever I hear a Catholic speak of "telling the truth in love," I cringe. He often means something quite different, I am afraid, than did St. Benedict when he wrote about running the way of God's commandments "with unspeakable sweetness of love."

Some suggest that in the Church we have a pearl of great price, but we have difficulty seeing and recognizing it, because that pearl is in a bucket of murky water. Those who see only the murky water may have limited vision. If we are responsible in any way for making clear water murky or murky water darker, then we have failed in our Christian duty.

If we wish to see the face of God, we must prepare ourselves not just to insist on orthodoxy and strict observance of the law as we choose to understand it. Instead, we must do (and be observed to do!) exactly as Holy Father Benedict wrote and advised all those centuries ago: We must let our hearts expand that we might "run the way of God's commandments / with unspeakable sweetness of love."

The Rev. William C. Graham, Ph.D., is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth, a professor of historical theology and director of the Braegelman Program in Catholic Studies at the College of St. Scholastica.

Mother Scholastica Kerst was a giant

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On the Roman calendar, today is the Feast of St. Scholastica. She was the twin sister of St. Benedict, who is regarded as the founder of monasticism in the West. His Rule for Monasteries was written in the 6th century and is followed by Benedictine monasteries of monks and sisters everywhere in the world.

Here in Duluth, the Sisters of St. Scholastica follow this rule, too.

As the feast is kept in Duluth, we also celebrate and honor our foundress, Mother Scholastica Kerst. We must not tire of hearing the tale of Mother Scholastica standing on the hill above us to prophesy: "My dream is that someday there will rise upon these grounds fine buildings like the great Benedictine abbeys. They will be built of stone; within their walls, higher education will flourish." She embodied the monastic ideal: love of learning and desire for God.

Duluth's first bishop, James McGolrick, accurately and honestly said in tribute to Mother Scholastica Kerst, "She built my diocese." More than 101 years later, we remember gratefully the legacy of Mother Scholastica and those first sisters and the task that they leave to us. We are mindful, as Bernard of Chartres observed in the 12th century, that, "We are standing on the shoulders of giants."

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