July 11, 2011

St. Benedict


"Listen, O my son to the precepts of the master, and incline the ear of your heart: willingly receive and faithfully fulfill the admonition of your loving father; (cf. Prov. 1:8, 4:20, 6:20) that you may return by the labor of obedience to him from whom you had departed through the laziness of disobedience."  Rule of St. Benedict, tr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.; Source Books (March 1997)


There is a certain urgency in this appeal with which St. Benedict introduces his rule.  He is deeply concerned for the reader, as if the very life of the reader depended upon understanding what he was trying to convey.   What he in fact conveys is a way of life, a day to day discipline for the Christian life.  Many followers of Christ are scarcely aware that our faith demands a disciplined life.  Without discipline, we cannot hear the Lord speak to our hearts.   

The saint's appeal invites a relationship.  If his appeal works, it is because the reader has somehow intuited the holiness of St. Benedict and at the same time also glimpsed in these words the concern of a spiritual father for his son or daughter. What St. Benedict learned through those who formed him in the faith, he wants to pass on through this rule that he is entrusting to us.  Someone cared enough to pass on the faith to him, to be a spiritual father to him.  Now in this rule, he shares from his heart practical advice that he learned at the price of great personal suffering.  

In his efforts to be a spiritual father, he was often rejected and at one point his reputation ruined by false accusations manufactured by those who envied him.  But no matter the trial, he never wrapped himself in righteous indignation and lashed out against those who injured him.  Instead, he quietly followed his crucified God in the humble manner he learned from his own spiritual fathers.  By suffering such obedience to the Lord, he learned how to willingly and faithfully incline the ear of his heart so that he might labor for obedience.   It is precisely this kind of wisdom we need for the Christian life today, a wisdom forged in trials and tribulations, a wisdom which cannot be shaken.

St. Benedict teaches a discipline for the Christian life in which the disciple constantly chooses to be reliant on God and the way God wants to work.  The way God has chosen to work is through our fellow sinners.  It is a kind of scandal that God chooses to work through frail human beings, even to the point where sometimes in our devotion to the Lord we must obey them, even if they appear or are mistaken.  This never means we act against our conscience -- God expects us to use our heads.  That is why He gave them to us.  But we often need to act against the temptation to think we know better than everyone else.  We also need to act against our tendency to put our own big fat ego at the center of the cosmos.  This is why we humbly make ourselves accountable to one another.  This totally goes against our cultural values which exalt self-sufficiency and individualism - even to the point of absolute selfism.  Yet, St. Benedict understands the apostolic command: we obey one another out of reverence for Christ. 

Christians are not self-sufficient. They are completely reliant on the Lord and on those to whom the Lord entrusts them. Consider how the Lord has chosen to reveal himself through the words of a preacher.  He makes known his ways through faithful teachers.  He is also teaching us through generous spiritual fathers and mothers.  Whatever our particular circumstance, our faith was given to us by someone who loved us enough to tell us the truth, even when that truth was painful to hear.  Our job is to listen to the Lord speak through such people - through them, He is speaking to our hearts, helping us overcome our laziness, teaching us how to make something beautiful of our lives for his glory, and leading us back to Himself.