Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 7:31-34

To be read: January 30-31, May 30-31, September 30

The second step of humility is, when a man loves not his own will, nor is pleased to fulfill his own desires 32but by his deeds imitates that word of the Lord which says: “I came not to do My own will but the will of Him Who sent Me”(Jn 6:38). 33It is likewise said: “Self-will has its punishment, but constraint wins the crown.”34The third step of humility is, that for the love of God a man submits to his Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says: “He became obedient unto death”(Phil 2:8)

Steps two and three both speak of imitation.  The humble man, “by his deeds imitates” our Lord’s word that He came to do the will of the Father.  And the humble man “imitates the Lord” in submitting to his superior in all obedience.  The New Testament rings with calls to imitate those who are walking in the way of the Lord.  St. Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), and “you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us…” (2 Thess. 3:7).  Also, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes:  “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith” (13:7).  Children learn by imitating their elders.  The saints who have preceded us in the faith are our elders, and Benedict exhorts us, as children, to imitate their lives, to follow their example.

The second step, building on the first, moves us forward from submission of our own will to Christ’s, to modeling our lives on that of Christ’s.  We do this, Benedict says, by constraint, for “constraint wins the crown.”  The essence of this directive is that the submission of our will is not a one-time event.  We need to keep our will in check, we need to constrain it in order to be conquerors over our selfish desires.  We do this by grace, in keeping our eyes on the Lord and modeling (imitating) Him and His most faithful followers.

And the third step then builds on this practice of restraint.  Benedict says, “for the love of God a man submits to his Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord…”  As Jesus “became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8), so we, in like manner, are to be obedient to those whom the Lord places over us.  We have spoken of obedience many times already in these early chapters of the Rule.  It is a keynote to the exercise of discipline in the Rule.  But, how are we, who live in the secular realm, to practice that discipline?  Sadly, as I was writing this, my thoughts went immediately to some people in the Church who have openly rebelled against the authority of the Church.  There are two significant problems with this type of rebellion.  First, on the rebel’s side of this conflict, there is the unwillingness to accept that someone else might know better what we need, what is best for us.  It is that adolescent mentality that looks at our elders as out of touch with modern society, neglecting our feelings and “needs”—which we know are actually “wants”—and they go their own way.  Secondly, from the other side of the coin are those who are called to exercise authority but who suffer from the original sin—wanting to be like God.  These individuals want to be their own pope, infallible in their decisions, and shun oversight from anyone else.  This inevitably leads to the types of scandals which have plagued the Church in the modern era: church splits, internal power struggles, personality cults, and politicized churches electing and removing leaders at the whim of those in power.

These issues face both the cenobitic community as well as the Church community in the world.  The unstated question Benedict lays before us is whether we will accept the authority of those whom God has placed in leadership over us in both the Church and the world, or will we rebel.  To imitate Christ, the apostles, and the saints of the Church through the centuries is to say “yes”.  Yes, we will be obedient to Christ in those whom He has placed in authority over us, and we will follow their example.

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