January 4, May 5, September 4
Having our loins girded, therefore,
with faith and the performance of good works (Eph. 6:14),
let us walk in His paths
by the guidance of the Gospel,
that we may deserve to see Him
who has called us to His kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12).
For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom,
we must run to it by good deeds
or we shall never reach it.
But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet,
“Lord, who shall dwell in Your tent,
or who shall rest upon Your holy mountain” (Ps. 14:1)?
After this question,
let us listen to the Lord
as He answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying,
“The one Who walks without stain and practices justice;
who speaks truth from his heart;
who has not used his tongue for deceit;
who has done no evil to his neighbor;
who has given no place to slander against his neighbor.”
This is the one who,
under any temptation from the malicious devil,
has brought him to naught (Ps. 14:4)
by casting him and his temptation from the sight of his heart;
and who has laid hold of his thoughts
while they were still young
and dashed them against Christ (Ps. 136:9).
It is they who,
fearing the Lord (Ps. 14:4),
do not pride themselves on their good observance;
convinced that the good which is in them
cannot come from themselves and must be from the Lord,
glorify the Lord’s work in them (Ps. 14:4),
using the words of the Prophet,
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
but to Your name give the glory” (Ps. 113, 2nd part:1).
Thus also the Apostle Paul
attributed nothing of the success of his preaching to himself,
“By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).
And again he says,
“He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17).
This passage brings me back to the Gospel of St John, chapter 15, verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
That’s quite a sweeping statement, isn’t it? ‘You can’t do a single thing apart from me!’
And in this passage again is another warning about the tongue! It is not to be used for deceit.
Putting the two ideas together, it occurs to me that the tongue can be used for deceit (a) if we boast about what *we* have done for the Lord; and (b) if we flatter others about their spiritual state and ministry – and I do make a distinction between flattery and encouragement. We all need affirmation that we’re heading for the right track. What we don’t need is the kind of ‘encouraging’ word that the serpent gave Eve!
Again, *humility* can be seen to be the shield that protects us from both self-deceit and the flattering words of others.
And speaking of the shield leads naturally to Ephesians 6 and the full armor of God – “take up the shield of faith, which will enable you to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” And that’s just what the Prologue says! ‘Gird your loins with faith!’
Isn’t it lovely to have all these confirmations dovetailing together, just the way that truth would be expected to!!
The Prologue, I suppose, could be called the invitation. No one could accuse St. Benedict from sugar coating the life he describes. I am pretty sure my loins are girded with faith and the performance of good works, even if I do say it myself. And anyone who knows me even a little would agree I speak from the heart… a little too much so, in fact. But I make no claim for: who has not used his tongue for deceit; who has done no evil to his neighbor; who has given no place to slander against his neighbor.” I am confident I have been guilty of these.
We are all human. Merely human. Just human. We all have done these and more. One could be cast down in despair because we have so far found it impossible to do otherwise. Benedict does not leave us in that place, though. He reminds us that any good we do is from and of the Lord. Shall we all breathe a sigh of relief? We will use our tongues for deceit. We will do evil to our neighbors and slander them. We can’t avoid it. Not unless we turn ourselves over to the Lord.
By God’s grace and only by God’s grace can we ever do what is different.
This is a time when many are making New Year’s resolutions. Below is something I read last year around this time and saved to read again. It seems in keeping to me with what I’ve written above:
Today the gym will be full of people. My guess is that it will stay that way until the end of the week and then it will get back to normal.
Most of them will disappear: they will catch colds, or have two early meetings in a row, or just not be in the mood. Or they will get on the scale and not see the subtraction they want to see and get discouraged. Or they will miss a few days and mess up the perfection of their compliance with their resolution about exercise in the New Year, and then they will say to themselves Oh, what’s the use? and that will be that.
As a service, then, a few words of unsolicited advice:
1. Don’t try to keep your resolution all by yourself. Stop thinking of it in terms of willpower. In fact, consider not thinking of it as a resolution at all: think of it as a prayer. You are not alone–no one on earth is alone. God is with us, and can do things we can’t do. Just ask God for the help you need, in a childish way that may feel pretty foolish to you in the beginning — do it anyway. Try approaching it for a time as if you trusted God more than you really do — you have nothing to lose by doing this, and you may find God more trustworthy than you imagined.
2. Don’t expect or demand perfection of yourself. Think instead of developing a habit, laying down layer after layer of the behavior you want to see in yourself. People build habit from the bottom up, layer by layer — not from the top down.
3. Don’t be harsh with yourself when you fail. Everybody fails. If you are mean to yourself about it, you will hurt your own feelings, and then you will run in self-defence to the very behavior you’re trying to change, as a source of quick comfort. You have no right and no reason to love yourself any less than God loves you. Failure is a chance to let God help us.
3. Don’t start big and shrink. Start small and grow. Don’t set too ambitious an agenda at first–set a small one. Otherwise, you’ll give up when you fail to meet your enormous goal. Instead, make a small change and allow it to cement itself into the routine of your life.
4. When you break your stride, don’t try to make it up. Just get back on the horse. Don’t spend two hours at the gym on Tuesday because you didn’t spend on hour there on Monday. Just go in and do your hour. Don’t fast all day today because you ate an entire cake yesterday. Just get back on your plan. Every day is a new day.
Blessings on you in 2007. May your New Year’s prayers bear the fruit you need, and may you become, more and more, the person God had in mind in forming you.