“Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door”

“Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door”

It fascinates me that one of the most influential rules of all of Christian monasticism has a chapter devoted to opening the door.  In the Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 66:  The Porter of the Monastery states,  “At the door of the monastery, place a sensible person who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose wisdom keeps them from roaming about.  The porter will need a room near the entrance so that visitors will always find someone waiting there to answer them.  As soon as anyone knocks or a poor person calls out, the porter will reply, ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Your blessing, please,’ then, with all the gentleness that comes from the reverence of God, provide a prompt answer with the warmth of love.  Let the porter be given one of the younger members if help is needed.” 

               While it may seem very strange that such a rule would focus on the person who answers the door it is, in fact, of critical importance.  You see, the way that we answer the door is the way in which we deal with the world.  If we prefer to focus on ourselves and our own needs then, when the doorbell rings, we will most likely feel bothered and annoyed.  But if our focus is turned toward the needs and cares of others then, when the doorbell rings, we will be excited by the possibility that we have an opportunity to be kind and of some assistance to a person in need. 

               Here at the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center, we feel privileged to be the porters of this house!  We are a group of crazy Christians who love to be interrupted and barged in upon.  We strive to maintain a culture of welcome and hospitality.  Here you will not find any “no trespassing” signs but rather, you will find a group of people ready to welcome you day and night in the spirit of Catherine McAuley – foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.

               The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that mercy is “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.”  I believe that we have all experienced God’s mercy in our lives and, because of that, we are compelled to be people of mercy.  This is why I love being a part of the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center where we as a staff get to be a blessing to the community that we serve here in the Saint Louis Metropolitan area and beyond!

Dave Malek
Feast of St. Benedict

How Do You Measure Up?

How Do You Measure Up? 

Success is measured in many ways.  Each of us has our way of measuring our personal and professional successes.  How do we learn what success is? How do we learn to measure it? Who determines who is successful?  Everyone at some point has either asked themselves or will ask themselves, how have I been successful and how was that measured?  
I believe that everyone possesses the deep desire to be successful and that our success will be measured in monumental wealth.  After all, we live in America and are “entitled” to the “American Dream.” What exactly is the “American Dream?” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the “American Dream” is defined as this: “A happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful with good jobs, a nice house, two children, and plenty of money, they believed they were living the American dream.”  
Over the past many years I have begun to dismantle the “American Dream” for myself.  Honestly, I cannot say that I never believed in the same dream that by which others mark their success.  As I was growing up, I understood success would be measured by getting married, having children, living in a house with a white picket fence, and by the size of my bank account and investments.  Is this sounding familiar to anyone? Little did I know someone else’s expectations would measure my success in life. Someone else’s values have been placed on my life. How could I ever measure up?  How could I ever be accepted by those who were middle to upper class?
Growing up in Southeast Texas there were not a lot of options for my future.  I knew that I would have to work harder than my friends and family to get anywhere.  The question was, how was I going to do that? At fifteen I moved from living with my mom in Southeast Texas to living with my dad in the Ft. Worth area.  The move came as a great shock to me. I went from a small school district where you know everyone in the school to a large high school where there were approximately 2500 students.  I went from living in the country to city life literally overnight. One moment I am living in poverty to the next moment not worrying about whether or not I would have a meal. I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for the transition, but I knew I had to take that chance.
After my high school graduation, I attended the junior college not far from my dad’s house.  After two semesters of not knowing what direction I was headed, I again made a choice to quit college and join the Coast Guard.  This decision was made out of hope and desperation with a little adventure poured in. Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  This is in fact what I was doing. I left behind everything that was familiar for the unfamiliar. This hope-filled leap was being taken for the second time in my life.
During my tenure with the Coast Guard, I measured hundreds of successes and failures.  Sometimes the achievements were measured in lives saved and sometimes they were not. The mariner nor I was able to outsmart Mother Nature and poor human decisions.  I couldn’t save everyone, but I did my best with the resources I had. After twenty years of majoring in search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, as well as maritime pollution response, I decided to set my sails in a different direction.
Michael John Bobak said, “All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.”  For Religious Life is outside anyone’s comfort zone and I was about to find out how true that statement was.  Once again taking a hope-filled leap into the unknown. Some would say that Religious Life is counter-cultural, I would agree, and so is joining a military sea-going service.  Before I entered Religious Life, I felt I had to divest myself of “things.” I can honestly say that divesting my life of “things” was much easier than I thought it would be. You have to understand that by this time in my life I would be measured as “successful.”  I had the car, the house, minus the children and the picket fence. I also had excellent investments and a sum of money in my bank account. So, by the Merriam-Webster’s definition, I had achieved the status of “successful.” Then why in the deepest part of my innermost being did I feel incomplete?  That’s right, success for me has never been measured in things and the size of my investment portfolio. I fell into the trap that our culture puts on the next generation.
Once I started to divest myself of property, I was able to think more clearly, to make better decisions, to stop chasing the almighty dollar, and I was able to make decisions based out of “freedom” from.  Freedom from running, freedom from working overtime, freedom from having to produce to be deemed worthy by our society, and by my family. Please do not misunderstand me, there is no ill will by my family, but there is an expectation of working until you can’t work anymore and you have to fall back on your investment portfolio to support you in your declining years.
Tony Hsieh said, “Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.”   I was beginning to figure out that I am full of passion. I needed to follow that passion, and in doing so, I answered a pull to my heart to enter another “counter-cultural” lifestyle. Passion triggers in me different things but mostly to be of service to others.  Once I stopped chasing the over-inflated “American Dream,” I began to understand that success is measured in more ways than having a house, car, and financial stability. My success was taking shape right before my eyes, and I was for the first time in my life at peace with the path I was on.  
Each step I have taken in my life has been a message of hope and realization that success will not be measured by the size of my house, car, or my retirement fund.  Success will be measured differently. “In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away,” Shing Xiong. Take time to stop and smell the roses, to see the beauty in nature and to embrace the many ways success can be measured.  Take back your own identity and live life as it is to be lived. So, in the end, how do you measure “success”?

 Patti Baca, RSM