Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 6: On the Spirit of Silence, May 25, 2017

January 24, May 25, September 24
Chapter 6: On the Spirit of Silence

Let us do what the Prophet says:
“I said, ‘I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue.
I have set a guard to my mouth.’
I was mute and was humbled,
and kept silence even from good things” (Ps. 38:2-3).
Here the Prophet shows
that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times
to refrain even from good speech,
so much the more ought the punishment for sin
make us avoid evil words.

Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important,
permission to speak should rarely be granted
even to perfect disciples,
even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation;
for it is written,
“In much speaking you will not escape sin” (Prov. 10:19),
and in another place,
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).

For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress;
the disciple’s part is to be silent and to listen.
And for that reason
if anything has to be asked of the Superior,
it should be asked
with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence.

But as for coarse jests and idle words
or words that move to laughter,
these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban,
and for such conversation
we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.

Some thoughts

Just the other day, a friend and I were talking about noise that appears to be unavoidable, the noise of every day life. Benedict doesn’t seem to me to be talking about that sort, does he? Rather he means opening our mouths and talking. Here is another place where he challenges our modern thinking about our “right” to express our opinions even if “it be for good, holy edifying conversation”. What do you make of this? What would happen if we refrained from saying even the good stuff? What would that be like?

What immediately leapt off the page today were the words “the spirit of silence is so important”.

We live in such a noisy world – it’s really difficult to find silence.  Even on a remote wooded hilltop ‘far from the madding crowd’, there might still be an aircraft passing overhead – unwelcome noise – or even the song of birds, the crackle of twigs, the wind in the leaves – welcome sounds, but also perhaps distractions.

It’s worse in our crowded towns – traffic noise, radio noise, voices everywhere speaking or shouting, music spilling out of every shop, dogs barking, building work going on with very noisy machinery…

Silence is so elusive.

And yet when we find the perfect spot, where all seems externally still, we find it just as hard to find inner silence – at least, I do.  There’s a cacophony of voices rising up inside, finally getting a chance to state their case – one lists things I mustn’t forget to do; one rakes up old worries; another reminds  me of current anxieties; yet another insists I must make a thorough confession, complete with sack- cloth and ashes if possible, before I can come  into a contemplative silence with God…

‘Be still and know that I am God’

‘Peace, be still…’ (and the wind and the waves obeyed!) 

Are the elements more obedient to Christ than we are able to be when it comes to being still?

‘Martha, you are fretting and fussing about many things…’

Martha is a great source of comfort to me…  She was a fretter and fusser; she wanted things to be just right; she seemed not to have ‘chosen the better part’ like Mary, to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him. And yet her faith was enormous – she understood all along what he’d been teaching.  She was the  one who trusted him when Lazarus had fallen ill;   she was the one who recognised Jesus as the Messiah and proclaimed as much.

Silence is important; both outer and inner.  But what is this **spirit** of silence that the RB refers to?  Is it maybe the ‘peace that passes all understanding’ that rests in our hearts despite ourselves?  Even when we forget it’s there? Even when we get ourselves into a frantic state of panic or despair or rage?

Jesus continually says, ‘Peace be with you.’ He said it twice in the upper room… perhaps the first time wasn’t enough for his bewildered, emotionally-drenched and drowned disciples. So he said it again, ‘Peace be with you.’ That’s the voice and the words I must try to listen for at the heart of the noise – yes, at the heart, not at the periphery.  Whether external or internal, the noise can be stilled by Jesus who blesses us with a ‘SPIRIT of silence’.

Oh Lord, please remind me of this next time my boat is sinking under the storms of noise, exasperation and inner rioting thoughts!

The Lord is my Salvation and my Song – and also my Source of Silence.

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 5: On Obedience, May 24, 2017

January 23, May 24, September 23
Chapter 5: On Obedience

But this very obedience
will be acceptable to God and pleasing to all
only if what is commanded is done
without hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, or objection.
For the obedience given to Superiors is given to God,
since He Himself has said,
“He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16).
And the disciples should offer their obedience with a good will,
for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
For if the disciple obeys with an ill will
and murmurs,
not necessarily with his lips but simply in his heart,
then even though he fulfill the command
yet his work will not be acceptable to God,
who sees that his heart is murmuring.
And, far from gaining a reward for such work as this,
he will incur the punishment due to murmurers,
unless he amend and make satisfaction.

Some Thoughts

A Franciscan Solitary in Scotland and I are discussion the Principles of the First Order Franciscans. Yesterday’s principle read:

“The First Order Principles, Day 23. Works (Cont’d.)

“The brothers and sisters must be glad at all times to relieve those who come to them for help or counsel. They must never give the impression that they have no time for such ministry. Rather must they be ready to lay aside all other work, including even the work of prayer, where such service is immediately required, confident that such a negligence will surely be well-pleasing to the Servant of all.”

I like the word “glad” here. Use of “glad” might cause one to ask why one is not glad and what one must do about it. To my mind, a different take on “”God loves a cheerful giver” which we have all heard so often, particularly at the Offertory.

Seems to me God not only wants our obedience but also for us to be happy in obeying, by obeying, as a result of obeying. Does it seem that way to you?

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 5: On Obedience, May 23, 2017

January 22, May 23, September 22

Chapter 5: On Obedience

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay.

This is the virtue of those

who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ;

who, because of the holy service they have professed,

and the fear of hell,

and the glory of life everlasting,

as soon as anything has been ordered by the Superior,

receive it as a divine command

and cannot suffer any delay in executing it.

Of these the Lord says,

“As soon as he heard, he obeyed Me” (Ps. 17[18]:45).

And again to teachers He says,

“He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16).

Such as these, therefore,

immediately leaving their own affairs

and forsaking their own will,

dropping the work they were engaged on

and leaving it unfinished,

with the ready step of obedience

follow up with their deeds the voice of him who commands.

And so as it were at the same moment

the master’s command is given

and the disciple’s work is completed,

the two things being speedily accomplished together

in the swiftness of the fear of God

by those who are moved

with the desire of attaining life everlasting.

That desire is their motive for choosing the narrow way,

of which the Lord says,

“Narrow is the way that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14),

so that,

not living according to their own choice

nor obeying their own desires and pleasures

but walking by another’s judgment and command,

they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them.

Assuredly such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord

in which He says,

“I have come not to do My own will,

but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).

Some thoughts

What gets you back on the track of preferring nothing to Jesus? In his community, Benedict believes obedience will recall the monastic to this desire. How do we out in the world manage this?

Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works, May 21, 2017

January 20, May 21, September 20
Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works

44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.
48. To keep constant guard over the actions of one’s life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them
against Christ immediately.
51. And to manifest them to one’s spiritual mother.
52. To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech.
53. Not to love much talking.
54. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily in one’s prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess
one’s past sins to God, and to amend them for the future.
59. Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh; to hate one’s own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbess, even
though she herself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of
the Lord’s precept, “Do what they say, but not what they do.”
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first
to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

Some thoughts
As I read this just now I thought to myself, what does he mean about fearing the Day of Judgement? To be in dread of hell? If we take our Christian faith seriously, seek to daily give it flesh by thought, word, and deed, what do we have to fear or dread? We’re headed for Heaven. right?
To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit. Does anyone else find this a challenge living in the midst of a consumerist society where we are daily bombarded with messages of being “less than” because we don’t have this or that or do such and such? Or how about those ads which tell a woman the only way she can know she is loved is if she is given diamonds? Despite the inhumane way diamonds are mined.
To keep death daily before one’s eyes. I had a parish priest once who used to be a Benedictine monk. He said it was the custom to meditate 5 minutes a day on the fact of one’s death. What would that be like? As my mother gets iller, it’s not my death I think about.
To keep constant guard over the actions of one’s life. Constant? Who has time for “constant” these days? Sometimes I feel so much is going on that I have time to react and to hope I have sufficiently nurtured my spirit with prayer, Lectio, Eucharist etc so that my reactions are from God. That’s my hope, at any rate.
To know for certain that God sees one everywhere. Sometimes I find this thought enormously comforting. At others more of an “Oh Oh what have I done now?” What about you?
When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them against Christ immediately. Not if, I see, but when. What a realist Benedict was. Now, if only this was my first thought when evil thoughts cross my mind.
To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech There is so much i could say about this but Jesus and James said it better and with fewer words than I ever could.
Not to love much talking. Yeah, well, got me there, St. Benedict
Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter. Not to love much or boisterous laughter. At first glance, one could hardly be blamed for a “You’ve got to be kidding” reaction. However, I am the proud possessor of Kardong’s Commentary on the RB and in the “Index of Key Words and Themes” I learn that Benedict used 2 words for laughter: risus and scurrilitas. And thanks to the amazing internet, one can google Latin and learn that “risus” means a casual sort of laughter while “scurrilitas” refers to lies, slanders, and obscenities. So clearly, not a restriction against the laughter that arises from joy.
To listen willingly to holy reading. Few of us, I think, have someone who reads to us. But we can choose to read that which enriches the mind and spirit. What are you reading?
To devote oneself frequently to prayer. Daily in one’s prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one’s past sins to God, and to amend them for the future. Ah, prayer! Perhaps the first thing I sacrifice in the face of all the other demands on my time. How about you?
Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first, to be holy, that one may be truly so called. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Anonymous

One Father says: “The nearer a man draws to God, the more he sees himself a sinner.”

This is true of my experience.  Is it true for yours?  If one approaches God with reverent awe, one can’t help but notice one sins and has sins and maybe even some guilty pleasure sins.

In The Episcopal Church, we don’t talk about sin very much.  We don’t talk very much about the pursuit of holiness either.  We do talk about following Jesus, becoming more like Jesus. We talk about it positive terms because I guess talking about sin is a downer and we don’t want to have that effect on people.

Which is all well and good. But how is it possible to become more like Jesus unless something within me gives way to that?  Seems to me my personal sins are a barrier. So I pray about them, offer them up, repent, repent, repent, pray to have them go away, live, confident that the Holy Spirit is hard at work within me even if I have no idea what She is doing until She tells me.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“An old hermit once became gravely ill. He had no one to take care of him. With great difficulty, he would fix a little food for himself, thanking God for the trial which He had sent him. An entire month passed and no one knocked at his door or brought him relief. God, however, saw his patience and sent a divine angel to serve him. In the meantime, the brothers remembered the old hermit and went to his but to see how he was. As soon as they knocked on the door, the angel withdrew.

“From inside, the hermit shouted pleadingly: “For the love of God, go away from here, brothers.”

“They, however, hastily opened the door to see what had happened, and he shouted: “For thirty days I suffered completely alone and no one thought to come to see me. So, the Lord sent me an angel to keep me company. And now you come and chase the angel away.”

“And as soon as he said these things, the elder died in a sweet manner.”

Imagine being ministered to by an angel!  How blessed and cool that would be? And yet, how many of us could be as an angel to another person?

A few years ago, I had a heart attack on a Wednesday morning.  Various tests were done, stents inserted on Thursday and Friday morning I was sent home.  I felt quite seriously ill and like this monk, I could not care for myself.  Fortunately, on Tuesday, the day before the heart attack, I had gone to Costco and among my purchases were hard-cooked eggs and cans of tuna. For several days, that’s what I ate.

When the Tuesday after the heart attack, I called my priest, explained how ill I was and that I needed help.  He said that he would put me on the prayer list.  As sick as I was, I was unable to think clearly and did not at the time realize that was all he was going to do.

So I waited and waited and for days I expected phone calls from the people at my church I thought cared about me and no one called and no one came to see me.

My best friend was unable to do much as she was caring for her father who was quite ill with cancer.  But she did make me a pot of chili and another occasion and Italian pot roast.  Which made a welcome change from hard-cooked eggs and canned tuna.

Someone called Adult Protective Services and a social worker came, assessed, and returned the next day with three bags of frozen meals that all I had to do was microwave. I was so grateful.

My parish really hurt me and let me down, so I thought.  A few years after this, I ran into someone from that church who expressed concern that I no longer attended. This also happened to be one of the people I had thought would come to my aid.   I explained about the heart attack and this person said that the priest never said a word to anyone.

This long long story is told because I would hope the moral of the story for you would be to take a look around you.  Who is missing that usually see?  Call that person.  Visit that person. You might have the opportunity to serve that person as the angel ministered to the monk.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“A monk in our times tells us that his own grandfather, who had wished to be a monk, but turned against his deep desire, told him the following before he died: “All that has befallen me is the result of a wrong choice. God placed it in my heart to be a monk, yet I ignored Him. I introduced my family to other faiths. Out of my many children, few lived. My wealth brought me no happiness. And now my mind and body are wasted. By removing myself from His grace, I lost the knowledge of God. I willingly cast myself into the cruelty of a demonic world. I only hope that, not blaming Him for my suffering, God will have compassion on me and call me in my heart, at my last breath, once again.”

Such a sad Saying.  I wonder what caused this man to turn against his “deep desire” to be a monk. There could be any number of reasons.  But it does me no good to speculate.  I have to deal with the actual text, not what I want to read into it.

He made a choice.  He lived his life. He know heartbreak and sorrow.  He earned lots of money and it didn’t make him happy.  At the end of his life, he confronts his deep longing for God.

I think his deep longing for God must have been with him every day of his life, don’t you? When God places a desire in our hearts, doesn’t that desire drive us?  From this Saying it is clear that even though there is the desire, it didn’t drive this man to be a monk, to embrace the desire.  He ran away from it and it did him no good at all.

God calls us. Each of us.  God calls us to be our most authentic self, the person God envisioned when God created us. Our calling, our vocation is to fulfill that vision. It’s the only way we will ever know contentment.

The questions for each of us is this: Do I hear God calling me? Have I made myself a receptive vessel for God’s call to fill me? Will I embrace it?