Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 4:34-43

To be read: January 19, May 19, September 19

Do not be proud… 35Do not be given to wine(cf Ti 1:7; 1 Tm 3:3). 36Do not eat to excess, 37or be given to much sleep. 38Do not be slothful(cf Rom 12:11). 39Do not grumble. 40Do not speak ill of another. 41Put your trust in God alone. 42If you see what is good in yourself, give the credit to God. 43But be sure that any evil in yourself is your own and charge it to yourself. 

“Do not be proud…”  A difficult command for most.  And yet, most of us would argue that we are not prone to pride.  The outward signs of pride are not necessarily visible, and the evil one wants us to deny that this deadly sin is an issue for us.  Too quickly we believe the lie, and so we become proud that pride is not a problem for us.  Hmmm.

The first verses of this section, verses 35-38, are an exhortation against gluttony in all of its varied forms, and we need to take notice of these.  Let us carefully examine them and let the light of these test and challenge us.  Then Benedict comes back to the issues of interpersonal relationships:  “Do not grumble…[or] speak ill of another.”  Again, how easy it is to fall into the trap of gossip and speaking ill of another.  How do we avoid doing these wrongs, and how can we begin to apply these precepts to our lives?  In our fallen nature we all look at the apple and find it pleasing to the eye (Gen. 3:1-6).  We are gluttonous, and covetous, and prideful by nature—fallen nature.  But God…  “With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).  But God… He alone can save us from ourselves.  But God… He alone can give us the grace of discipline.  And so Benedict gives us this tool:  “Put your trust in God alone.”  Anything good found within us is from God, so “give the credit to God.”  Trust Him, and allow Him to begin to transform us into His Image.

Advertisements

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 4:20-33

To be read: January 18, May 18, September 18

Your way of acting should be different from worldly ways. 21The love of Christ must be preferred to all else. 22Do not give way to anger. 23Do not foster a desire for revenge. 24Do not entertain deceit in your heart. 25Do not make a false greeting of peace. 26Do not turn away someone in need of love. 27Do not swear to any oath, lest it prove false. 28Speak the truth with heart and tongue. 29Do not return evil for evil(cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9). 30Do no injury to another, but bear patiently the injury done to you. 31Love your enemies(cf Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27). 32Do not curse them that curse you, but rather bless them. 33Bear persecution for justice sake (cf Mt 5:10)

When we have denied ourselves, taken up our cross and begun to follow Christ, we must put our love for Him before all else.  The precepts in this section are not randomly chosen instructions.  Each one of these tools will aid us first in our relationship with God, and next in relationship with others—if we properly employ them.  But the key is found in verse 21:  “The love of Christ must be preferred to all else.”  When we actively seek Him in prayer and work, in worship and in relationships with others, then we will fulfill the call to make our “way of acting…different from worldly ways.”

When we have begun to accept and receive the transforming love of Christ, then we will no longer “give way to anger…[and] entertain deceit,” or be hypocritical making “a false greeting of peace.”  And our decision to prefer Christ, combined with the empowering grace of the Holy Spirit, will allow us to “speak the truth with heart and tongue.”  When we employ these tools, the Love of God will work to change our hearts and turn us toward the other.  The Holy Spirit will teach us love for our enemies, and thus not to “return evil for evil.”  Our “way of acting should be different from worldly ways.”  That will happen when we prefer Christ and His Way over the way of the world, and accept the grace of His Holy Spirit to do His work.

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 4:1-19

To be read: January 17, May 17, September 17

First you must love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole strength…2and your neighbor as yourself(cf Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27). 3Then, you are not to kill4not to commit adultery5not to steal6not to covet(cf Rom 13:9). 7You are not to bear false witness(cf Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20). 8You are to honor all men(cf 1 Pt 2:17). 9And what you would not have done to yourself, do not do to another(cf Tob 4:16; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31). 10Deny yourself in order to follow Christ(cf Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23).11Discipline your body(cf 1 Cor 9:27). 12Do not to seek after pleasures, 13but love fasting. 14You are to relieve the poor. 15Clothe the naked16visit the sick(cf Mt 25:36). 17and bury the dead. 18Help those in trouble, 19and console the sorrowing. 

Chapter 4 is the extensive list of more than 70 tools for good works.  As previously stated, the Rule of St. Benedict is a practical guide for how to live the Gospel, and this chapter is, as it were, the tool chest for practical application.  He begins his list with our Lord’s Summary of the Law—the Great Commandments.  Then in verses 3-7 he lists the 6th to the 10th commandments from the Ten Commandments.  These latter are the commandments focused on relating to others, and Benedict sees them as foundational for living in community.  Though we do not live in an enclosed community, these are tools that every Christian must employ in order to represent Christ.  Jesus said that we are to “love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  If we are going to be effective in living the Gospel in the world, we must utilize these tools to do the work of Christ.

Verses 10-19 are transitional between the commandments of the opening and Benedict’s challenge to be different from the world (tomorrow’s meditation).  To make that kind of transition and to open ourselves to the transforming work of Christ, we must first utilize the tools of self-denial and self-discipline.  “You are to honor all men…Deny yourself in order to follow Christ…Discipline your body…Relieve the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, help those in trouble, and console the sorrowing.”  This work that we are called to do is the work of the Kingdom, and each of us is given, by grace, specific tools to use for the building up of His Kingdom. 

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 3

To be read: January 16, May 16, September 16

Whenever weighty matters are to be transacted in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community, and make known the matter which is to be considered. 2Having heard the brother’s views, let him consider the matter himself and do what he thinks best. 3It is for this reason, however, we said that all should be called for counsel, because the Lord often reveals to the youngest member what is best. 4The brothers, however, should give their advice with humble submission, and let them not presume stubbornly to defend their own views, 5for the decision is rather the Abbot’s to make, so that in what he considers best all obey him. 6But just as it is proper for the disciples to obey their master, so also it is becoming for the master to settle all things with prudence and justice. 7Therefore, let all follow the Rule as their guide in everything, and let no one rashly depart from it. 8Let no one in the monastery follow the desires of his own heart, 9and let no one dare to dispute insolently with his Abbot, either inside or outside the monastery. 10If any one dare to do so, let him be placed under the correction of the Rule. 11Moreover, the Abbot himself must do everything in the fear of the Lord and out of reverence for the Rule, knowing that, beyond a doubt, he will have to give an account to God, the most just Judge, for all his rulings. 12If, however, matters of less importance, having to do with the welfare of the monastery, are under consideration, let the Abbot use the counsel of the seniors only, 13as it is written: “Do all things with counsel, and you shall not need to repent when you are done”(Sir 32:24)

Over the course of my 36+ years of priesthood, I have heard the ministry variously described as herding cats, or corralling butterflies.  And there is a certain level of truth to that.  It is why the priesthood is called a “holy order”—it is the clergy’s role to bring order to the life of the community.  There is a need for order in the life of the community of the Church, and it is the job of the clergy to govern the people of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This chapter in the Rule of St. Benedict reflects this need for order and governance in the community of believers, and the crucial role that the Holy Spirit plays in that governance.

The Church as a whole has lost her bearings because we have allowed worldly models of government to take precedence in Church affairs.  The Church is not a democracy (government by the people), nor is it an autocracy (government by one person with absolute power), nor any other manmade model.  None of these forms of government work because they are not the government instituted by God.  Benedict calls for the Body to return to the New Testament model presented in Acts 15.  This a Holy Spirit driven decision-making model.  “Whenever weighty matters are to be transacted in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community…”  The goal of such a gathering is to seek the mind of Christ.  This is not a democratic process, seeking the will of the majority; this is a theocratic process, a communal seeking of the mind of Christ.  Benedict says that the reason for calling all together for counsel is, “because the Lord often reveals to the youngest member what is best.”  This type of government requires careful listening and humility among the leadership.  There is a need to listen to what each person is hearing from the Lord.  And it just might be the youngest member who is hearing most clearly at any one time.

This type of government requires an honest give and take within the community, a level of trust that must be built up over time.  These governmental gatherings are not an occasion for airing opinion, but for humbly seeking the mind of Christ, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, that the community may understand and do the will of God.  “The brothers…should give their advice with humble submission, and let them not presume stubbornly to defend their own views…”  And ultimately, when a decision must be made, the one appointed by God as Father of the family and entrusted with the care of the flock, must speak for the community declaring the resolution of the matter: “the decision is…the Abbot’s to make”.  And he must  “settle all things with prudence and justice.”  Benedict goes on to say that these decisions are of and for the Body.  No one is to “follow the desires of his own heart…[nor] dare to dispute insolently with his Abbot.”  The fellowship of the community is the fellowship of the Body of Christ.  And even as our Lord repeatedly said throughout the Gospel of John (5:30; 6:38; 8:28; etc.), “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”  And with His last prayers to the Father in the Garden, Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42).  This is the model and the attitude we need bring to decisions in the Church and in our personal lives.  

Every decision we make affects not only ourselves but the Body of Christ.  Seeking the counsel of the elders, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, is wise.  “Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14).  Whether it is a large decision (e.g. moving to a new home) or a smaller one (e.g. a special gift for the parish, getting a dog for the family, etc.), praying through that decision with members of the family of God will be of advantage to you.  Benedict notes that there are less important decisions that need to be made from time to time.  Rather than gather the whole community together for those decisions, a select group of elders should be consulted.  Regardless of the size of the concern, the Body is to be consulted, that the Mind of Christ may be made manifest.  And Benedict leaves us with this encouraging word:  “Do all things with counsel, and you shall not need to repent when you are done” (Sir 32:24). 

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 2:37-40

To be read: January 15, May 15, September 15

The abbot must know that anyone who undertakes the care of souls must prepare himself to give an account for them.  38Whatever the number of brothers he has in his care, let him be sure that on judgment day he will, without doubt, have to give an account to the Lord for all these souls, in addition to that of his own. 39And thus, while he is fearful of the Shepherd’s future examination about the sheep entrusted to him, and is watchful of his account for others, he is concerned also on his own account; 40and while by his warnings he has administered correction to others, he amends his own failings. 

As we come to the end of this chapter about abbatial qualities we need to remember that those in authority over us, regardless of their personal qualities and personality, need our prayers.  Benedict states that “The abbot must know that anyone who undertakes the care of souls must prepare himself to give an account for them.”  If an abbot, a bishop, a priest, or a secular leader, such as the mayor, governor, or president has responsibility for our well-being, then we NEED to pray for them.  Yes, they will be held accountable for how they have carried out their duties, but regardless of whether we like them or not, we are also called to support them, especially by lifting them up before the Lord.  Besides, if their concern is the care of our souls (or the welfare of our temporal being for secular leaders), we need to pray for them for our own benefit.  And if they are amiss in anything, we need to ask God to reveal that and bring them into right relationship with Himself.  Leave it in God’s hands.  He alone can change the hearts and minds of man.

Benedict makes an interesting point in the final verse:  “While by his warnings he has administered correction to others, he amends his own failings.”  Often, we find that in helping others we have helped ourselves.  If we are open to the Holy Spirit, He can open our eyes to see that a fault we found in others is one we also possess in ourselves.  It is important to recognize that when we think we are the one giving, pouring out ourselves, and ministering in the love of Christ, that we are receiving manifold ministry in return.  How often have I visited someone in prison, the hospital, or their home and have come away far more blessed than I could have imagined.  

The one in authority carries a burden not only for his own soul, but for all under his care.  And as St. Benedict notes, “on judgment day he will, without doubt, have to give an account to the Lord for all these souls.”  But this burden of responsibility is too great only if it is not carried in the Lord.  Those in authority need God’s grace that they may be accountable, not only at the final judgment, but throughout their lives and ministry.  Pray, therefore, for the shepherds committed to caring for the sheep.  And pray that each of us, lay and clergy, may faithfully carry out the ministry to which our Lord has called us.  

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 2:30-36

To be read: January 14, May 14, September 14

The Abbot ought always to remember what he is and what he is called, and to know that to whom much has been entrusted, from him much will be required. 31Let him understand what a difficult and arduous task he undertakes in directing souls and accommodating himself to a variety of characters—speaking gently to one, to another by reproof, and to still another by entreaties, to each as is appropriate to their understanding.  32Let him so adjust and adapt himself to each one that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold.  33Above all, the Abbot must not neglect or undervalue the welfare of the souls entrusted to him, having too great a concern about fleeting, earthly, perishable things. 34Rather, let him always keep in mind that he has undertaken the care of souls for whom he must give an account. 35And that he may not complain of the want of earthly means, let him remember what is written: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well”(Mt 6:33). And again: “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing”(Ps 33[34]:10)

The responsibility entrusted to the abbot for the cure of souls requires accountability.  Benedict says, “The Abbot ought always to remember what he is and what he is called…”  He is called “abbot”.  He is the father of the family, and is thus entrusted with the “care of souls…”  And as a result, “he must give an account.”

There are so many out there who want to be the leader.  They want to preach.  They want the accolades that they assume go with being the pastor of a church.  There is also the common disease among the clergy in liturgical churches of wanting the next step up:  deacons wanting the black shirt of the priest; the assistant believing he is better suited to being rector; of the priest with “purple eyes”, wanting to be bishop.  But the qualification for any clerical role is “calling”.  The abbot is called.  The priest is called.  And every baptized member of the Body is called!  We do great harm to ourselves and to the Body when we try to take on a role that does not belong to us.  We are all called to serve, both laity and clergy, for Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).  Jesus chose you, called you, and equipped you, that you may labor in His vineyard.  And each of us has his or her giftings and calling.  As St. Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7), and he “apportions [the gifts] to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).

We also do great harm to the Body when we have accepted a call to serve and refuse to be held accountable for the manner in which we carry out the calling.  “He must give an account.”  This is not simply the reckoning that all must give at the final judgment.  If a man in a position of authority has no one to whom he may be held accountable for his behavior, then he is walking in paths fraught with danger, relying on his own resources, reason, and subjective judgment.  But whether we walk in a clerical leadership role or as a lay servant of Christ, we all must be accountable for our life witness for Christ.  We need objective perspective on our life, ministry, and witness.  We need a brother or sister in Christ with whom we can share our walk and who will speak honestly to us about our life, our service to the Lord and His Church, and our witness to the world.  We are not our own.  We all represent Christ to the Church and the world.  Like the abbot, we must always remember who we are, what we are called (i.e. “Christian”), and Whom we represent.

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 2:23-29

To be read: January 13, May 13, September 13

In his teaching the Abbot should always observe that principle of the Apostle in which he says: “convince, rebuke, and exhort”(2 Tm 4:2), 24that is, mingling gentleness with severity, as the occasion may call for, let him show the severity of the master and the loving affection of a father. 25He must sternly rebuke the undisciplined and restless; but he must exhort the obedient, meek, and patient to advance in virtue. But we charge him to rebuke and punish the negligent and haughty. 26Let him not shut his eyes to the sins of evil-doers; but on their first appearance let him do his utmost to cut them out by the root at once, mindful of the fate of Eli, the priest of Shiloh (cf 1 Samuel 2:11-4:18). 27The well-disposed and those of good understanding, let him correct at the first and second admonition with words alone; 28but let him chastise the wicked and the hard of heart, and the proud and disobedient at the very first offense with stripes or other bodily punishments, knowing that it is written: “The fool is not corrected with words”(Prov 29:19). 29And again: “Strike your son with the rod, and you will deliver his soul from death”(Prov 23:14)

The abbot must exercise discipline with his monks, but Benedict notes that he must mingle “gentleness with severity, as the occasion may call for…”  One size does not fit all.  Each of us approaches life, both spiritual and temporal, in our own unique way, and God recognizes our uniqueness, dealing with us lovingly and tenderly, but firmly.  The abbot must reflect the Father’s love for his children, showing “the severity of the master and the loving affection of a father.”

Benedict once again calls for some measures of discipline that seem harsh and outdated to our modern ear.  He says that the abbot should “chastise the wicked and the hard of heart, and the proud and disobedient at the very first offense with stripes or other bodily punishments…”  He is to do this for the good of the individual as well as the community.  He should “not shut his eyes to the sins of evil-doers…but cut them out by the root at once…”  Though the practice of corporal punishment is no longer acceptable, we do need to root out evil from the Body of Christ.  Alas, that is much more difficult in today’s Church.  If one does not want to change, he or she need only find a more tolerant church, one which will turn a blind eye to the practice of ill behavior.  And sadly, there are dozens of such congregations in any metropolitan area.

But for those pursuing Christ, discipline from the elders of the Church should be welcome.  For “God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7).  And why should we submit to such discipline?  “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:1).  As ones who seek to follow the way of Christ in accordance with the precepts of the Rule of St. Benedict, but are doing so in the secular society, discipline is key.  To be able to submit to the authority of Christ manifest in the ecclesiastical authority of the Church is important.  Without those checks and balances on our behavior we can be tempted to fall into the worldly patterns of the society around us.  The discipline may seem painful rather than pleasant at the time, but as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews points out, it will yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”