Cambridge, MA, October 27. Today’s tragic, outrageous murders at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, following so closely upon this week’s bomb threats against many leading citizens, seems destined to convince us yet again that our society is in decline, harsher and crueler each day. Natural disasters and human-made disasters are everywhere threatening more and more of our sisters and brothers around the world. And the Catholic Church too, my Church, continues to suffer through the long after-effects of the appalling abuse scandal. Alas!
But amid all this trouble, we can still be reminded that hope has not been extinguished; rather, we are called to love in the long run, quiet and persistent and simply unwilling ever to give in to the violence and selfishness of our lives.
This hope came to mind this week too, when I heard the news that Abbot Thomas Keating, OCSO, died on Thursday evening, October 25. He was 95 years old, nearly 75 years a monk. He was a very well-known monk indeed, a writer, teacher, and guide to so many walking the spiritual path.
Fr. Keating shared the gifts of prayer and patience and silence to which all monastics are called, but he was also a leading figure in the contemplative renewal of the second half of the 20th century, famous particularly as “Centering Prayer” – a form of prayer which, as Contemplative Outreach puts it, is “a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God's presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.” It is a deeply Christian form of prayer that resonates deeply and widely with the contemplative prayer of other religious traditions as well: a meeting of hearts where often the mind and the word lag behind. Fr. Keating wrote prolifically on this practice, teaching it, and living it out in his own life.
So there is hope. It seems particularly important, in this era of bad news, to remember this, and to see once again the simple truth: evil is noisy, pushy, and too often seems on the edge of victory. But in truth, the way of the Spirit will win out, is winning out. Fr. Keating's long life and enduring ministry remind us of the quiet power of spirit and life moving among us even on the worst days.
The first reading at Mass on Friday, just hours after his death, put it very simply and well:
Sisters and brothers:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace;
one Body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4)
Fr. Keating now rests in that deep peace of the Lord. And may we right now rediscover the peace that is so near to us, that we might be filled with the power of a love, quiet, sustained, and vital, that can center our lives, give us hope, and outlast the evils that beset us every day.