Benedictine jihad

A few weeks ago I was in a bar to hear some musician friends. Shortly after our arrival–Cynthia and daughter Emma were with me–I met an acquaintance who, without the usual chit-chatty preamble, abruptly said, “I heard you became a Catholic. Is that true?” When I responded in the affirmative he quickly asked, “Why would you do that?” The man is Catholic himself, so I was a little taken aback to be challenged so abruptly. I stammered out something about coming clean about a long-time sort-of-in-the-closet reality in my life, and felt ashamed that I was unable to provide a more satisfactory answer–satisfactory for me or for him.

Later, in a quieter space and circumstance, I asked the question again: “Why did I become a Catholic?” Immediately, the answer came, “I was hungry.” Flannery O’Connor writes in her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away , of the protagonist, Francis Marion Tarwater, “He was so hungry he could have eaten all the loaves and fishes after they were blessed and multiplied.” That’s why I was confirmed in the Catholic Church at Easter. It really all boils down to daily (or at least as many days as I can roll out of bed to get to 7:00 Mass) access to the body and blood of Jesus, and a shared understanding of the shared experience of resurrection that occurs among all us sleepy communicants who make up the physical Body of Christ throughout the world from day to day, a more overt, constant and conscious sharing in the Incarnation of Jesus.

All that is to say that my confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil was, and continues to be, a joyful manifestation of an inner conversion of heart that has been bubbling (or churning) for at least fifteen years. My becoming a Benedictine oblate was one of the last, and probably the most important steps toward the pinnacle at the Sacrament of Confirmation. I am eager now to see what God will do next in and around me. Where will he lead me from here? One thing’s for sure: this is not the last stop.

Jihad is a much maligned and much misused word. Over the last 30 years, this word, unknown to most people in the West until the Iran hostage crisis of the late 1970s, has come to be, in too many people’s minds, synonymous with acts of terrorism. The actual meaning of jihad has to do with an inner, spiritual struggle against the evil one within. Benedict would have loved the word, I think. I my mind, jihad is synonymous with the ongoing conversion of heart that St. Benedictine, following the the steps of Jesus Christ, demands of and offers to us all.

It’s time to recover the true meaning of jihad. My small contribution to that recovery is to link the word with Benedict’s “conversion of heart.” Both words are helping me to define the exciting changes in my own heart and life. I look forward to God’s jihad in me in the eternity that stretches out before and around me.

One thought on “Benedictine jihad

  1. How interesting that you tied others’ ambivalence or resistance towards Catholicism with ambivalence or resistance towards Islam. I appreciate how you linked in the greater meaning of jihad. A Benedictine jihad–an interesting phrase to bring to interreligious dialogue too, I suspect!

    That jihad draws in Oblates in a variety of ways. I am comfortable with the sacramental emphasis within my Lutheran tradition, and immensely greatful for the Protestant Reformation–even as I have always mourned the losses it brought (particularly by way of moving away from monastic traditions and enculturating only the nuclear/extended family as the primary context of a life of faith). It is interesting and vital to ask in what contexts, out of which communities and relationships, our conversions can most take root in the deepest and widest ways. That’s a matter of ongoing discernment, and it’s life-giving that the Benedictine spirit can keep step with (or encourage the steps of) so many different life paths of conversion.


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