Reflection on Job: A Troubled Contemplative

Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (See Job 2:1-13 NRSV).

The Book of Job belongs to the Poetic Writings of the Bible in much the same way as the Psalms. Job is a legendary folktale for spiritual meditation, and and not a n actual story. Lastly, the Satan that is referred to in the first and second chapters of Job is not the evil one from Genesis or the tempter in the four synoptic Gospels. Satan in Job is an accuser, a prosecutor in the court. It is with this important information that we must begin with this reflection. Otherwise our reflection will become another doctrinal or theological argument, when Lectio Divina is not based on an intellectual understanding.

The experiences that have fallen on Job can be compared to being beaten up, and kicked on the gut all in one week. It happens to many of us. When a tragedy like COVID-19 happens, the grief is excruciating. One loss after another, and the sadness and heartbreak does not end.

Very few things make the experience of grief worse than asking ourselves questions such as “What did we do wrong?” “Were we not faithful or moral enough?” The situation is no better when we blame others for what they should or should not have done.

Job is a troubled contemplative. The worst things have happened to him. Before Job can begin to reflect on what God is doing in his life, he is getting all kinds of advice from the company he keeps. Job is a troubled contemplative, because he knows in his heart, that God is present in the good and bad times. Job is troubled, because he is turning in on himself to try to grasp what has happened.

Job is a great illustration about the importance of humility in contemplative prayer and mysticism. When we look inside ourselves, expecting to find God in our false-sense of self, we will discover an empty space. God is not only where we are most comfortable, untroubled, and whining about how come we are at the end of the happiness line. God is also in our pain, our disbelief and anger. God has given us the desire to search for union with God in whatever situation we are in. In The Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 7: On Humility, he tells us, “The first step of humility is to keep the reverence of God before our eyes, and never forget it”.

“No matter what kinds of ruins you stand in, keep moving, keep doing what you must do, keep showing up every day. Haul yourself before God no matter what.” (Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life, Lonnie Collins Pratt and Fr. Daniel Homan, OSB, p.43).

In the end, why good and bad things happen to us, and God’s participation in all our experiences are a mystery. What we do know through the mystery of the story of our redemption through Jesus Christ, is that God is always walking with us in what we are going through, right here, right now. That knowledge by itself, is why we must turn to and trust God to help us.

Will you let God into your troubled heart, and listen to God today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Darkness and Light

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. (Psalm 139:10-11. The Book of Common Prayer, p.794).

I once heard the story of a man who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His ship was destroyed and sank in the Pacific in a battle with Japanese forces. He found himself in the ocean with debris from the ship, and many of his shipmates. Some were dead. Others were wounded. Others were trying to stay alive. As he and many of the men struggled to grab on to anything that would help them stay a float, they discovered a shark fin swimming their way. The individual who told the story was one of the very fortunate survivors. Later in his life, he told us that while he was in the midst of the life and death struggle, he was praying the words of Psalm 139:10-11.

My readers have read the many times I have written about the importance of searching for union with God in the here and now. Whatever is happening to us at this moment, whether we are enjoying the warm clear air, holding a new born baby, cleaning the garage, sitting in a room, or at the point of death; God is there with us. Jesus told us in Matthew 28:20 “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

God may or may not bring us exactly what we think we need at this moment. But, God is with us in God’s Grace and Love without exception.

The contemplative person, lives in an awareness of God in our times of silence and solitude; as well as our times of working, suffering, loving, enjoying or crying. We can acknowledge God while we butter bread while praying in thanksgiving for the sun, the rain, the wheat, the flour, the cows, the milk, the baker, the grocer, and the means of how we obtained the bread and butter. As we do such things, we are living the presence of God in that very moment. In moments of darkness, in our struggle and questioning, God is interacting with us in our uncertainty.

As we continue to live through these difficult times, let us remember to look for and respond to God’s loving embrace with arms that are forever outstretched on the hard wood of the Cross.

“Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us to the likeness of God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring of his voice crying to us every day: if today, you should hear his voice, do not harden your heart.” (The Benedictine Handbook, p.11).

Where do you see God shining God’s light in your darkness?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Easter in the Desert

“The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation .” (Psalm 118;14. The Book of Common Prayer, p.761).

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

It hardly seems like Easter. Minnesota, where I live is getting a snow storm as I write this blog entry. Yet, the snow falling on Easter seems to fit. Many of us are used to being in our churches on Easter. Our churches are usually so crowded that extra chairs must be put out to accommodate the overflow. People go to Easter Sunday services while wearing the best spring clothes. It is always so wonderful when the sun is shining with nice warm weather on Easter.

Easter in the Year 2020 is not at all like what we are used to. The coronavirus is even preventing families from gathering for Easter dinner with relatives they have not seen since Christmas. Some people are rightly worried about those who are sick and suffering. Many are grieving the loss of those they love. How can we contemplate the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with everything upside down?

The Desert Monastics lived their lives in such a way, that they were always in a world that was upside down from how many people functioned. The Mothers and Fathers of the Desert gave over everything that was considered “normal” for an unusual way of life through which they searched for a deeper union with God.

Christine Valters Paintner in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings wrote,

“The paradox in the spiritual life is that this journey through destruction is necessary to reach any kind of resurrection or new life beyond it. We are rebuilt and reshaped through this process. We must fully surrender ourselves to the awfulness of it. We must stay present with how we feel compassion to ourselves in the process. We must learn to no longer feel victim to our suffering, but to instead discover a kind of inner fierceness that allows us to look death in the eye without flinching” (p.50).

The Easter experience of Resurrection is not without the pains of Good Friday. The victory of new life is always preceded by letting go of what is familiar, preferred and desired. Unless we spend time in contemplative prayer before the Cross, we will miss the mysticism of the empty tomb on Easter.

The chaos of the coronavirus can be overcome, by recognizing the inevitability of loosing everything as we have known them to be, and giving ourselves over to a new way of living for a whole new beginning.

Jesus and His Resurrection are our strength and our song, and Christ has become our salvation by the wondrous love of God.

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us to everlasting life.” (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, p.298).

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Be Not Far Away

“Be not far away, O Lord; you are my strength; hasten to help me.” (Psalm 22:18, The Book of Common Prayer, p.611).

These difficult days of the coronavirus have all of us feeling as if time has stopped. Many are bored out of their minds. The losses of the life we all had before COVID-19 took over the world, are excruciatingly painful. Yet, as tragic as everything is, we have opportunities like we have not had for some serious spiritual reawakening.

The heart of The Rule of St. Benedict is chapter 7: On Humility.

“The first step of humility, then, is that we keep ‘the reverence of God before our eyes’ (Psalm 36:2) and never forget it.”

“The consciousnesses of God is Central to Benedict’s perception of the spiritual life. (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Joan Chittister, OSB, p. 79.)

On this Good Friday, as we reflect on the passion and death of Jesus, it is difficult to miss how conscious of God He remains. Jesus is experiencing the most horrific acts of human cruelty. Yet, the words of Psalm 22 remain in His mind, on His lips and in His heart. Jesus knows where His faith and trust needs to be.

The late Fr. Thomas Keating wrote, “As Jesus approached the end of his physical endurance on the cross, he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why haven’t forsaken me?’ With these words, he revealed the fact that the act of taking on himself the weight of human sinfulness had cost him the loss of his personal union with the Father. It is the final stage of Jesus’ spiritual journey.” (The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience, p.61).

Contemplation is not the exclusive experience of feeling spiritual ecstasy. Contemplative prayer is an act of letting go of the things that weigh us down of what keeps us from a search for that union with God with a purity of heart. Purity of heart is about seeking union with God for no other reason than who God is, and not what God can do.

The cry of Jesus on the cross is more of a statement of faith. At that moment, Jesus knew that Hisonly way to God was by faith and trust; with not even His knowledge of the relationship with God. “Be not far from me, O God; you are my strength; hasten to help me.” When Jesus prays these words, He is surrendering His whole self to God; and holding nothing back.

The mysticism of Good Friday during these days of the coronavirus, is to let go of what we think and know. We are invited to embrace the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, as the only thing that ultimately matters. Our personal healing and reconciliation are happening while enduring this challenging time of pain, suffering and uncertainty.

How are the words of Jesus on this Good Friday impacting your life during the coronavirus crisis?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God’s Priceless Love

How priceless is your love, O God, your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings. (See Psalm 36: 5-11, The Book of Common Prayer, p.36).

The words “How priceless is your love,,” sound like the old MasterCard commercial. The love of God is worth a lot more than a trampoline and a new car. God’s love is so priceless, that finding refuge in God is to be protected like an eagle guards her young.

In the Gospel of John 12:1-11, Mary knew just how priceless the love of God in Jesus was. God’s love was so important to Mary, that she used the best oil she had to clean and anoint Jesus’ feet. Mary’s gift of serving Jesus with her cherished treasure, was a small loss compared to God’s priceless love..

This Holy Week journey we are on during this very challenging time, has many of us giving up our yearly routines. Perhaps, we are discovering just how much we have taken those routines for granted. It seems to be that when we lose the opportunities to observe our yearly Holy Week worship practices, that we realize just how much they mean to us. Many of us have been losing our priceless treasures. We are letting them go to help keep ourselves and others healthy and safe. In so doing, we are serving Christ in one another.

The Psalmist is proclaiming God’s priceless love during a time of tremendous turmoil. The Psalmist is choosing to trust in God’s priceless love as their refuge. The Psalmist, like us, is having to make a decision to seek union with God in what is uncertain. The Psalmist remembers what the community has learned over the years. The Psalmist is singing of their trust that God is greater than the circumstances around them.

Contemplative prayer is not a means of escaping from how things are. We spend time in silence, solitude and prayer to help us deepen our relationship with God not from what is happening, but, through what is occurring. We know through our experience of God’s priceless love, just how powerful that love is in the here and now. The refuge we surrender ourselves to, may not make a situation better. It might mean going to the cross to give over everything to discover new life in the resurrection. It might mean letting go of our priceless treasures, to let God’s priceless love be all that we want and need to love God with purity of heart.

“What is not possible for us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English).

How are you experiencing God’s priceless love in your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on The Unusual Entrance

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (See Matthew 21:1-11 NRSV).

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was the beginning of unusual events. As Jesus rode on the back of a donkey, He brought a radical change to what other people thought how things were supposed to be. During the turmoil, Jesus was recognized for who He really was.

Our Holy Week journey during the coronavirus crisis is also radically different. Many of us are unable to attend the most beautiful and meaningful worship services of the year. All of our yearly Holy Week rituals are disturbed. We cannot hear the beautiful music we are used to. The Liturgical rites that make the Scripture readings come alive cannot be experienced in real time. We are not even able to gather with family and friends in the ways we usually do. Jesus is entering into our Holy Week journey to carry us through to Easter by means that are unfamiliar to us.

The current situation we are living through is a perfect opportunity for Jesus to bring us to an experience of contemplative prayer unlike any other. We are unable to rely on what has made us familiar and comfortable. Our false-sense of self that relies on us to set the schedule of what to do, is too uncertain. It is in our uncertainty, that Jesus makes His triumphant entry with God’s plan for our redemption.

St. Moses the Desert Monastic wrote, “Sit in your cell. Your cell will teach you everything.” This year during Holy Week, we have two choices. We can choose to dwell in self pity with fear that makes us ignore what is within us that drives us away from God. The second choice is to let go of what we are holding on to, and open ourselves up to the powerful transformation of God’s self-giving love . God’s love during Holy Week meets us in our fear, sadness and brokenness to bring a radical healing and reconciliation. Our pain and suffering during these dark and difficult times are not meant to be an end in and of themselves. God meets us in our cells, and teaches our hearts through the mystical experience of Christ Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection that becomes our own life’s journey.

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English).

In what ways is Jesus changing your heart and life as we begin this unusual celebration of Holy Week?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection for Good Friday

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV).

Today is a good day to think not only about the words of Jesus that I have quoted above, but also those words from the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive,,,, as we forgive…”

I think that sometimes the hardest person for us to forgive is ourselves. We all have those people in our lives; past or present that we find hard to forgive. As Jesus prays for all of us and our sins that put Him on the Cross; we may be too arrogant by only thinking about God forgiving us for our sins. The concern about our relationship with God is very important, of course. Our relationship with God through our relationships with others is equally important. Our relationship with God includes how we relate to ourselves, and that we forgive ourselves.

Our struggle to forgive ourselves comes by way of false guilt and/or guilt that really is ours. In The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4: On the Tools for Good Works, he wrote,

“Place your hope in God alone. If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, but be certain the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p. 27-28).

St. Benedict is telling us to notice and use the good things we are given to use, and give glory to God in and through them. He is also warning us to be cognizant of who owns the evil we commit. Sometimes, we concentrate on what someone did to us and how much it hurts too much. If we will spend some time in Lectio Divina on the words of Jesus on the Cross, and especially the words “forgive,,,,, as we forgive…” we might discover that the person who needs our forgiveness the most, is ourselves. Whether we were directly responsible for what happened or not.

Contemplative prayer leads us to search for God beyond the surface. God is working God’s wonders through our pain, frustration and lack of self forgiveness. God is at work in our often unconscious decision to beat ourselves up about things that are not our fault. God is calling us through them to spend some time with Jesus at the foot of the Cross to hear Him pray for us in the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The contemplative sees these words, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the way to a deeper relationship with God by allowing God to help us to experience a profound healing, by forgiving ourselves. Until we spend that time, we often walk around through life in a pain and darkness that we do not notice or acknowledge how much it is destroying our life and relationships. When we trust in the crucified Jesus and these amazing words prayed from the Cross, and those in the Lord’s Prayer, we will know a freedom with God, others and ourselves that brings us to a wonderful Easter experience.

Have you taken time on this Good Friday to ask Jesus to help you forgive yourself?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Arms Stretched Out

“Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (See Mark 8:27-38, NRSV).

I am sure the title of this blog entry and the Gospel quote might seem a little odd to some. Jesus is calling us to carry our cross, to give up our lives and follow Him. Yet, I titled the blog post as about the arms outstretched.

The mysticism of the Cross is that our God in the Person of Jesus stretched out His arms and embraced us. God’s love is so profound, so complete, that Jesus held nothing back.

St. Julian of Norwich wrote, “Christ carried us within him in love and travail, until the time of his passion. And when all was completed and he carried us so for joy, still all this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love” (Canticle R Enriching Our Worship 1, p.40).

The contemplative experiences the love of God in such a way, that we know that love is more than a theological thesis. It is known in the depths of our hearts. Contemplation is an encounter with the loving arms of God stretched out, while we embrace that love in whatever comes our way. It will not always come in something warm and fuzzy. It happens because God’s grace has moved within us to stretch our arms to embrace the challenges we are given in the here and now.

Taking up our crosses is about faithfulness. Carrying our crosses is not about being perfect. Carrying our cross is God’s holy love forever outstretched for us to embrace God at any time, any where and in anyone.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p. 15).

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, p.100).

Are you ready to carry your cross, knowing that the arms of Jesus are forever outstretched for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Wounds

Crucifixus

“Packs of dogs close me in, and gangs of evildoers circle around me; they pierce my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.” (Psalm 22:16 The Book of Common Prayer, p.611).

There are many ways of looking at the Passion and Death of Jesus on the Cross.  They are each unique and have something to contribute to the whole.  Jesus’ death was a terrible event.  It was ugly.  It was bloody.  In Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion is the experience of every form of human suffering that can be imagined or experienced.   Christ’s Death on the Cross is the confirmation of our faith that God is with us in whatever is happening to us.  God’s extravagant love is poured out for all  humankind in this amazing act of obedience.

The Contemplative looks upon the wounds of Jesus on this Good Friday and sees in them a way into the depth of God’s loving goodness.  The cry of anguish, helplessness and a willingness to accept where God had Jesus in what was so vicious and cruel.  Yet, love for His Father and all of us was Jesus’ sole objective.  St. Julian of Norwich wrote in A Song of True Motherhood “Even when all was completed and he carried us so for joy, still all of this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love.” (Canticle R. Enriching Our Worship 1, p. 40).   The very reality that all of humankind has many many problems are mysteriously represented and accepted by God, as Jesus hangs on the Cross between eternity and time with His arms outstretched; is God’s arms of love ever ready to embrace all of us.

When we open ourselves to experience the love of Christ on the Cross within our wounds we discover what Abba Pambo said, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”  Christine Valters Paintner in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated and Explained writes, “The desert elders saw the heart as the center of our being  where we encounter God most intimately” (See pages 26-27).   As Contemplatives, we can always meditate on the wounds of Jesus, our wounds and those of humankind from our interior selves.  When we surrender in obedience to the grace of God through Jesus Christ; the transformation of our own lives and those of the world around us becomes possible so long as we get ourselves out of the way.

“Brothers, now that we have asked the Lord who will dwell in his tent, we have heard the instruction for dwelling in it, but only if we fulfill the obligations of those who live there.  We must , then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions.  What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.18).

How do you see the wounds of your life in the light of the wounds of Christ on the Cross?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Foot Washing

WashingFeet

“And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” (John 13:3-5 NRSV).

I have been enjoying reading the book Ashes and the Phoenix: Meditations for the Season of Lent edited and compiled by Len Freeman.  In his meditation written by Jason Leo for Tuesday in Holy Week he writes,

“there is more going on in the story of Holy Week than Jesus’ death, more going on than a horrible story of the execution and death of a good man.  It is the beginning of a journey to new life for Jesus and for us–for all of us’ (See page 99).

In the journeys of our lives we all come from pathways full of circumstances.  Some of those circumstances have happened by the chances of life.  Some are because of choices we made good or bad.  Others are the result new experiences that changed our sense of direction.  Others gave us sense of ourselves that have boxed us up in to who we think God is to each of us (and sometimes everyone else).

Contemplative prayer brings about the greatest of mystical experiences when we let go of who we think God is and what God does.  The contemplative opens herself/himself up to letting God show us who God is in Jesus, and who we are because of who God’s Incarnate Word is.  The desert Mothers and Fathers teach us that our experiences of God bring the greatest of changes to our lives when we let the masks come off, even if we do not like what we see reflected in our interior mirrors.  God accepts us as we are, and wants us to as well.

Our feet often tell us and others  a lot of what our personal walk with God is like.  We have all walked long, dirty, painful and stinky pathways.  We have experienced suffering in ways during which we dragged our feet and got a few callouses.  Our toe nails have gotten too long.  Our feet may have dry skin as we walked through the burning desert of denial.   Jesus wants to wash our feet, because He has been walking those same roads with us.  Jesus washes our feet to tell us that it is okay to let go and begin to walk a new journey with Him.  That journey will take us to the Cross where our false-sense of self will be crucified and die.  On Easter, we will rise with Jesus to begin walking in the way of new life.

“With this conclusion, the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings.” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.18).

“An old man said, ‘Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even so, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for that thought destroys everything.'” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p 32).

Would you let Jesus wash your feet?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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