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. 17:45).
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),
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).
Reminded of one of the sayings in the collection, _Sayings of the Desert Fathers_ about a disciple named Mark who was loved by his abba for the obedience he showed the abba. One time Mark was writing the letter omega, which looks sorta like a w. As the story goes, the abba called for Mark and so instant was his obedience that he put down his pen (a quill I suppose) and left the letter unfinished.
In the film “The Nun’s Story”, Sr Luke (played by Audrey Hepburn) consistently demonstrates an inability to obey, especially when it comes to leaving patients in order to obey the bell summoning her to a daily office. Eventually, she realizes that she will never be able to master obedience like this and she leaves the community.
In today’s reading from the RB we see Benedict insisting on obedience. By the time he wrote the Rule, the story about Mark was already known and that may have been in his mind when he wrote this section. We’ll never know of course. What does Benedict emphasize? Which points does he repeat in various ways? What metaphors does he use?