Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be, May 13, 2017

January 12, May 13, September 12

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Let her make no distinction of persons in the monastery.

Let her not love one more than another,

unless it be one whom she finds better

in good works or in obedience.

Let her not advance one of noble birth

ahead of one who was formerly a slave,

unless there be some other reasonable ground for it.

But if the Abbess for just reason think fit to do so,

let her advance one of any rank whatever.

Otherwise let them keep their due places;

because, whether slaves or free, we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28)

and bear in equal burden of service

in the army of the same Lord.

For with God there is no respect of persons (Rom. 2:11).

Only for one reason are we preferred in His sight:

if we be found better than others in good works and humility.

Therefore let the Abbess show equal love to all

and impose the same discipline on all

according to their deserts.

Some thoughts
 
     Today’s reading provokes some questions. Is it true that God prefers those who are found better in good works and humility? This seems like a contradiction of God being impartial.
     So the lines “Let her not love one more than another unless it be one whom she finds better in good works or in obedience” puzzle me for the same reason. Bible teaching seems to make clear that it’s not our good works that win us ‘Brownie points’, and that God loves us totally and unconditionally regardless of how hard we do or don’t work.
     When Peter denied Jesus and they met after the resurrection on the shores of Lake Galilee, Jesus did not put the emphasis on whether He still loved Peter – that much was obvious. Instead, He wanted to find out and wanted Peter to be sure, whether Peter loved Him. Hence the same question three times over.
     Jesus looked at the rich young ruler and loved him – even when that young ruler turned aside rather than give away all his wealth – and He didn’t love him because of the good deeds that young ruler had done; He loved him just for himself.
     I’ve always understood that we can’t ‘win’ God’s love by doing good deeds – we already have God’s love. And if we love God in return, then we will do good works as a natural consequence of that love, because it’s our way of responding to it, a way of showing that we love God and want to delight him, not because we want to earn special favor…
     So what exactly did St Benedict mean by these passages? His Rule is so scriptural that I feel I must be misreading or misunderstanding something here!

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be, May 10, 2017

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Jan. 9 – May 10 – Sept. 9

An Abbess who is worthy to be over a monastery

should always remember what she is called,

and live up to the name of Superior.

For she is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery,

being called by a name of His,

which is taken from the words of the Apostle:

“You have received a Spirit of adoption …,

by virtue of which we cry, ‘Abba — Father'” (Rom. 8:15)!

Therefore the Abbess ought not to teach or ordain or command

anything which is against the Lord’s precepts;

on the contrary,

her commands and her teaching

should be a leaven of divine justice

kneaded into the minds of her disciples.

Some thoughts
 
I really love that image ‘leaven of divine justice kneaded into the minds of her disciples.’ It calls to mind making bread… flour and water, a little salt, a little butter, and yeast; the yeast
(leaven) being the most important element if we want the bread to rise.
 
So the sisters, perhaps, can be represented as the flour, into which the Abbess stirs the other necessary ingredients reading, labour, the work of God – and the ‘leaven of divine justice’. These are then kneaded together.
 
Once kneaded together, the ingredients can never again separate out into their component parts. This is impossible. The flour is leavened for all time; it’s a permanent feature of the new dough. Divine justice, along with the scriptures, the Rule, prayer, labour,community, have become so much a part of each individual sister, under the Abbess’s experienced kneading, that they can never go back to being ‘just flour’.
 
Has anyone in the group any story to tell about how they’ve felt themself changed to leavened dough? Has there been someone whose ‘kneading’ influence has brought you to a closer relationship with God? Does the Rule itself knead the dough of our faith and obedience?

Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue cont’d, May 8, 2017

Prologue cont’d

Jan. 7 – May 8 – Sept. 7

And so we are going to establish

a school for the service of the Lord.

In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.

But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity

for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity,

do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation,

whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14).

For as we advance in the religious life and in faith,

our hearts expand

and we run the way of God’s commandments

with unspeakable sweetness of love.

Thus, never departing from His school,

but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching

until death,

we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13)

and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.

Some thoughts
 
I think it’s very easy to ‘be at once dismayed’ at things that seem too hard or harsh for us, and then give up, or try something different that might be easier.
But giving up or looking for something that’s easier or more convenient might lead us away from ‘the way of salvation’. That’s a sobering thought.
The Bible has many texts about ‘enduring’ and ‘endurance’. Many blessings come if we endure. I particularly like Romans 5:1-5. The RB also expects monastics – especially beginners – to endure, to stick it out through the strictness, and thus grow closer to God.
Does anyone have any ideas or patterns for ‘clinging on’ to commitments when the going gets tough or painful?
I like it that St Benedict tells people right from the start that there will be strictness and he also mentions sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This is not an introduction that says ‘Join the monastery and be happy forever more.’ Like Jesus, St Benedict asks would-be brothers/sisters to count the cost before they begin the journey, so as not, later on, when they enter the real struggle, to ‘fly from the way of salvation’.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Isaias the Anchorite

“A Christian has great difficulty in attaining three things,” Abba Isaias the Anchorite says, “grief (over sins), tears, and the continual memory of death. Yet these contain all of the other virtues.”

Of the remembrance of death specifically, he writes: “He who succeeds in saying each day to himself, ‘today is the last day of my life,’ will never willingly sin before God. He, however, who expects to have many years to live, without fail entangles himself in the nets of sin. God sanctifies the soul which is always prepared to give an accounting for its deeds. Whoever forgets the Judgment remains in the bondage of sin.”

How many of us who follow Jesus have these three things: grief over sin, tears; and the continual memory of our death?

Grief over sin is something I talked a bit about yesterday. Seems to me that most of us excuse sin as being part of human nature as if Jesus doesn’t call us to become better people than human nature allows. Possibly this is because, at least in western society, we are so hepped up on self-reliance and self-sufficiency that we forget that following Jesus is really a communal venture and that we really should be relying on the Holy Spirit.

As for tears… I don’t know if your experience is anything like mine but I was taught that it is bad to cry.  “Big girls don’t cry,” I was told when I was three.  “Be a man, don’t cry,” my parents told my brothers at around the same age.  These messages were repeated throughout our childhoods.

And yet isn’t there something cleansing about a really good cry?  Don’t those tears wash away something too painful for words? If we were to truly grieve over ou sins, maybe our tears would make the grip of sin less strong?

Remembering that we are going to die might have been easier in the days before the so-called miracles of modern medicine.    My mother is ninety-two years old and going strong. She has some health issues but tells me that at her age a person knows death is around the corner so she isn’t too concerned.  I am younger than she and I don’t think about death at all.

As a practicing Benedictine, I should engage in memento mori every day, but I forget to reflect on the hour of my death.  I could die before I finish this sentence.  I suppose that would be a good thing because my mind is focused on what it means to follow Jesus and be a daughter to God.

Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue, May 1, 2017

Prologue (January 1, May 1, September 1)

L I S T E N  carefully, my child,

to your master’s precepts,

and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).

Receive willingly and carry out effectively

your loving father’s advice,

that by the labor of obedience

you may return to Him

from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,

whoever you may be,

who are renouncing your own will

to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,

and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all,

whatever good work you begin to do,

beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,

that He who has now deigned to count us among His children

may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.

For we must always so serve Him

with the good things He has given us,

that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,

nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,

deliver us to everlasting punishment

as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

Some thoughts
 
It’s wonderful that no matter how many times the Rule is read, there’s always something new to notice in it.
 
Starting again with the Prologue today, the words that leap out at me are these: “To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.”
 
“…the strong, bright **weapons** of obedience”. Weapons! Obedience is a weapon – how? And against what? Goodness, my mind is just filling up with ideas here! Our obedience (to God primarily and to a holy rule, and – if we’re monastics – to the abbot/abbess) arms us against our spiritual enemies, against temptation, against our own recklessness or foolish, ill-considered decisions. I could go on, but I won’t, because I’m sure everyone can add to the list of that which the weapon of obedience can defend us from.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Arsenios the Great

When Arsenios the Great fell ill and understood that at last he had reached the end of his earthly life, he began to cry.

“Are you afraid, Abba?” his disciple asked with perplexity.

“This fear, my child, has never left my heart, since the time I became a monk,” this great friend of God answered, his wise lips closing forever.

 

This Saying disturbs me.  Arsenious is one of the most quoted of all the Desert Christians, a respected teacher and monk and even he, after years of faithfulness, is terrified to die because he didn’t know if his asceticism, his efforts during his life had won him his salvation or not.

It’s hard for us on this side of the millennia to appreciate how seriously sin was taken.  Sin was sin was sin to them, all equally horrible and any sin could cost a person salvation. Some people even postponed baptism because of their belief that any sin committed after baptism would cancel the effects of baptism and send them to hell.  So they were baptized on their death beds.

Yes, of course, that kind of thinking was extreme.  But isn’t it just as extreme to think sin doesn’t matter, that it is all human nature and therefore excusable? 

I don’t think so. A continuum has two opposite ends.  Arsenious is at one end and those of us who excuse sin as human nature are at the other.  After all, Jesus came to make us better people, which means we can change, we don’t have to be bound by human nature.  Paul tells us to put on the mind of Christ.  Paul tells us to let ourselves decrease so that Christ might increase within us.

That means we have to challenge our human nature.

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 73: On the Fact That the Full Observance of Justice Is Not Established in This Rule, May 1, 2017

May 1, August 31, December 31
Chapter 73: On the Fact That the Full Observance of Justice Is Not
Established in This Rule

Now we have written this Rule
in order that by its observance in monasteries
we may show that we have attained some degree of virtue
and the rudiments of the religious life.

But for those who would hasten to the perfection of that life
there are the teaching of the holy Fathers,
the observance of which leads to the height of perfection.
For what page or what utterance
of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testaments
is not a most unerring rule for human life?
Or what book of the holy Catholic Fathers
does not loudly proclaim
how we may come by a straight course to our Creator?
Then the Conferences and the Institutes
and the Lives of the Fathers,
as also the Rule of our holy Father Basil —
what else are they but tools of virtue
for right-living and obedient monks?
But for us who are lazy and ill-living and negligent
they are a source of shame and confusion.

Whoever you are, therefore,
who are hastening to the heavenly homeland,
fulfill with the help of Christ
this minimum Rule which we have written for beginners;
and then at length under God’s protection
you will attain to the loftier heights of doctrine and virtue
which we have mentioned above.

Some thoughts:
 
Every time I get to this chapter, I am always astounded that Benedict calls his Rule “the rudiments of the religious life.” This is because I am sure that I will never achieve the degree of humility, good works, patience, temperance or ever stop grumbling and muttering. How about you? I feel too trapped by my humanness to ever achieve a holy life.
 
Then I remember the cads and scoundrels of the Hebrew Scriptures: thieves, liars, cheats, adulterers etc who are beloved of God and whose names are in the roll call of the saints in Hebrews 11.
 
Perhaps also it makes our lives holy just to engage in the struggle?