To be read: April 29, August 30, December 30
Just as there is a harsh and evil zeal which separates us from God and leads to hell, 2so there is a virtuous zeal which separates from vice and leads to God and life everlasting. 3This is, therefore, the zeal which monks must pursue with most ardent love: 4“that they should be the first to show honor to one another” (cf Rom 12:10), 5that they bear, with the utmost patience, with one another’s infirmities, whether of body or mind, and let them vie with one another in obedience. 6Let no one follow what he thinks useful to himself, but rather to another. 7Let them practice brotherly charity with a chaste love; 9and to God, loving fear; 10and to love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection. 11Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, 12and may He lead us all together to life everlasting.
We come to the penultimate chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict, but substantively, the final chapter of instruction and direction. So here are Benedict’s final words to us on the consecrated life, his summary of what we are about. It is often as interesting what Benedict does not say, as what he does. If we were to set forth a statement of “good zeal”, that is, the eager and earnest desire of our hearts which will lead us to God, what might we say? Very likely we would frame some statement about loving God with our whole being. Unquestionably that is what Benedict intends, but he understands it to be lived by showing respect for one another. It is about relationship: our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another in community. Once again Benedict directs our thought to something that seems very simple but which is profoundly transforming if we begin to live it. For Benedict, God brings “us all together to life everlasting”; salvation is not an individual project, but one which we undertake with and among our brothers and sisters in Christ. We work out our salvation not only individually in fear and trembling, but also in community. It is in our care for, and interaction with, one another that we become the Body of Christ, now and forever. That is why Romans 12:10, referenced above, and the other ethical portions of Paul’s letters and Matthew’s Gospel and the Old Testament “wisdom literature” are so central to Benedict’s thought and the Rule.
Preferring Christ is something we are able to do in hundreds of ways, each and every day, because we have zeal for life lived together under the rule and reign of Christ. And the discipline of the Rule of St. Benedict helps us focus on these Godly precepts. We are given daily choices to accept the love present implicitly in every portion of the created world, by abandoning our self-will in favor of that purity of heart which knows itself to be the recipient of God. The movement toward Christ in heart, mind, and spirit within the daily round is the whole goal and the whole longing of the Rule.
As seeking Christians living in the secular world, but not of the secular world, we can apply these teachings to our lives in communion with one another and in the larger community of the Church and world by showing mutual respect. The keys that Benedict points to are deference and charity. If we listen deeply when another is talking, disagree with charity and gentleness, letting go of ego, self-will, and entrenched opinion, we will be able to hear the other—his or her heart as well as his or her voice. We need to learn to respect another’s new ideas, new insights, and practice an objective perception. All of this will eventually help us toward the goal of chapter 72, the exercise of “virtuous zeal”. Benedict assures us that there is a “virtuous zeal which separates from vice and leads to God and life everlasting”. But how is this zeal made manifest? “The zeal which monks must pursue with most ardent love [is] ‘that they should be the first to show honor to one another’ (cf Rom 12:10)…” That is a zeal for which we should all strive—the monastic and those of us outside the cloister.
Let us strive to live together in mutual obedience and respect. For the world is dying to see Christ manifested in those who are called by His Name.