To be read: January 29, May 29, September 29
But as regards desires of the flesh, let us believe that God is ever present to us, since the Prophet says to the Lord: “All my desires are known to you”(Ps 37:10). 24We must, therefore, guard against evil desires, because death is stationed near the entrance of pleasure. 25For this reason the Scripture commands us: “Do not pursue your lusts”(Sir 18:30). 26If, therefore, the eyes of the Lord observe the good and the bad (cf Prov 15:3)27and “the Lord always looks down from heaven on the children of men, to see whether there be anyone that understands and seeks God”(cf Ps 13:2); 28and if our actions are reported to the Lord day and night by the angels who are appointed to watch over us daily, 29then we must ever be on our guard, brothers, as the Prophet says in the psalm, that God may at no time see us “gone aside to evil and become unprofitable”(Ps 13:3), 30and having spared us in the present time, because He is kind and waits for us to change for the better, says to us in the future: “These things you have done and I was silent”(Ps 49:21).
We finally come to the end of step 1. Here Benedict addresses the issue of bodily desires. The Psalmist says that if we “delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart” (Ps. 37:4). But there appears to be a clear distinction between heart desire and bodily desire. When our heart is wedded to God (i.e. delighting in Him), then God looks lovingly on those desires. But as we see in Paul’s letter to Rome (12:1), we are called upon to give up our bodies sacrificially. I am not suggesting that Benedict is setting up a Gnostic dualism, rather he is indicating that heart, mind, AND body need to be yielded to the will of God.
As non-cenobitic followers of the Rule, we do not of necessity practice celibacy. However, we do promise stability, fidelity, and obedience. Part of that fidelity is to take marital vows seriously, practice bodily as well as spiritual discipline (exercise, fasting, and shunning gluttony), and practice moderation in all things. Whether we are married or single, the manner in which we conduct our lives has the potential to be either a positive or a negative witness to the Lord. It is one of the many ways we bear testimony to Christ. Revelation 19:10 says that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Living lives of stability, fidelity, and obedience to Christ is a prophetic witness.
The last line of this segment, in verse 30, has some interesting facets. It brings us back to the fact of God’s love for us. He spares us when we deserve punishment. He recognizes that we are weak and inevitably fall short of His glory from time to time. And though we do fall into sin, He occasionally says nothing, believing that we will return to Him and repent. Of course, though God does not berate us in our missteps, He provides opportunity for us to recognize our faults. Usually this entails some serious discomfort on our part, by coming out from under the cover of God’s protection. But that is the grace of God. He wants us to walk in His ways, humbly seeking Him and the comfort of His love and peace.