THAT THE WORLD MIGHT KNOW THAT I LOVE THE FATHER AND THAT I CARRY OUT WHAT THE FATHER COMMANDED, COME LET US GO FROM HERE. (John14: 31) These words were spoken by our Lord at the end of the Last Supper. They make it clear that he undertook his passion and death as an act of submission to the Father’s will which had been communicated to him. We are not informed concerning the precise moment when Jesus came to this conviction regarding the Father’s will; nor are we informed as to the manner of its transmission. Was it in a special vision or words heard in some supernatural happening such as occurred at his baptism? Was it in the course of meditating the prophets that our Lord arrived at this persuasion under the powerful influence of a divine light? We do know that some time prior to his passion Jesus became convinced that his mission included the suffering of a painful death and rejection by his own people. That this realization grew out of his intimate prayerful union with the Father is certain. 

What we do know is that our Lord sought, by predicting these events to warn his apostles to prepare themselves to encounter such trials. However, the event revealed that they were unable to assimilate this message. The Evangelists tell us as much quite explicitly. While Jesus whole life was a continuous union with his Father and his behavior was always in conformity with the divine plan, yet more than any other of his acts Jesus’ going forth actively to take on himself his passion and death is a clear sign of his love for the Father, as he explains to his followers. It also serves to point out to all of us who would be his disciples that faith and the desire to please God cannot be separated from our acts. However intimately we might be joined to God in prayer and in our desire, we must not ignore the need to undertake those acts which God reveals to us as being his will for us. 

The Lord taught this fundamental truth in various ways and on different occasions. It not those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven but those who carry out the Father’s will. The early monks were thoroughly convinced of this truth and witnessed by their lives to its importance. They had a fear of self-will; of being deluded by their own thoughts and imagination and so they submitted to a spiritual guide and sought his advice and approval for their way of living. Later on St. Pachomius, with a view to assuring that his monks practiced this evangelical obedience wrote and promulgated various Rules for cenobitic life. St. Benedict, who knew the Pachomian tradition in the early Latin translation made by St. Jerome, took up certain of its teachings and shared his predecessor’s appreciation of the place of obedience. The monk’s whole life was to be an expression of obedience to the Gospel and he is to show his love for God and man by acts of virtue.    

From the first lines of his Rule, Benedict emphasizes that behind all the instruction and directives given by the abbot and practices prescribed by the lawgiver there is the authority of God himself.  

Listen, O my son, to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart. Willingly accept the advice of a devoted father and put it into action. 2. Thus you will return by the labor of obedience to the one from whom you drifted through the inertia of disobedience. 3. Now then I address my words to you: whoever is willing to renounce self-will, and take up the powerful and shining weapons of obedience to fight for the Lord Christ, the true king. [Kardong, Terrence G., Benedict’s Rule: A Translation, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press) 1996] 

Whether, as some think, the word ‘master’ here refers to the Lord Jesus, or as seems more probable, to the author, the obedience rendered by the monk leads to the Father because it is given to Christ. This point is reinforced by the description of the abbot’s role and manner of functioning in the second chapter of the Rule. 

The abbot who is worthy of ruling a monastery ought always to remember what he is called; he should live up to the name of superior by his actions. 2. He is believed to represent Christ in the monastery, for he is called by his name 3. in accord with the saying of the Apostle: “You have received the Spirit of adoption of children, in which we cry: ‘Abba, Father!’. (Kardong) 

As the Rule goes on to make clear,  the abbot himself is under obedience to the revealed word of God in Scripture and to the teachings of the holy, orthodox fathers. He is not free to do his own will but must see to it that the prescriptions of the Rule are applied in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Gospel. This can mean that in certain circumstances he may make exceptions to the Rule, but he is warned not to do so lightly. Accordingly, all the monks, including the abbot, are to seek God by their actions as well as by their faith. And these acts are for the most part directly or indirectly, a response of obedience. 

Obedience itself, when given from the heart in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, far from being a form of bondage is the expression of freedom. It is an act of love. That responds to the known will of one who is held in respect and affection. Benedict refers to Christ as ‘Father’ and addresses the monk as ‘son’ in his Prologue in order to convey that the obedience rendered is given with the love a son has for the Father whose commands are given out of loving concern for his child. This is implied by the expression cited in the opening of the Prologue that speaks of the Rule as the work of a devoted Father. 

This service given by each member of the community quite naturally leads to a sense of community and even of communion in the same values and ultimately to union in the same Lord. The outward manifestation of this spirit of generous obedience is ready and responsible collaboration. This willingness to work with one another in the common interest is one of the most valuable supports that we can provide for one another. It is a source of a fraternal union that bestows fresh vitality to community life. Such willing collaboration on the part of  a monk also acts as a stimulus to others to enter into the same spirit. Dedicated obedience given from the heart not only to the abbot but to one another creates a climate of trust and serves to fashion strong bonds of friendly affection. Where such a spirit is dominant, newer members who join the community are encouraged to respond with similar attitudes and so are better able to identify with the values and purposes that are put before them in the monastic setting. Others are supported in their efforts to remain faithful day by day to their vows. Those who are tempted to discouragement find support in the times of weakness. In short, by cultivating the dispositions and habits of collaborating with one another as occasion offers and the need of others indicates, we carry out St. Paul’s program for a Christian community: ‘Carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). 

Such willing service to the brothers and to the abbot does not always arise spontaneously. It is much easier for us when we have to do with some one we find agreeable, friendly and easy to work with. Others may present very real challenges to us because of their character, or due to some past difficulty or even injury we may have suffered at their hands. Actually, if we are ever to arrive at purity of heart it is precisely in confronting our resistances to opening ourselves to such persons, and overcoming any repugnance or reserve we feel that we can rid ourselves of the obstacles to the measure of charity Christ expects of his followers.

 If we are determined to seek union with God we need to discover such resistances that have grown up within our deeper self, often enough unconsciously. And it is commonly certain men whom we find uncongenial who enable us to recognize these hidden resentments and refusal of charity. Once we recognize these tendencies we need to act against them and, most demanding of all, do so from the heart. Whether the defect we encounter in the other is large or small, we need to work at altering our disposition toward him and sincerely strive to be of service when we can.  

Only by such efforts, guided by insight into ourselves, can we expect to give our best in God’s service and be united with him in purity of heart. It was precisely in such a way that St. Therese of Lisieux arrived at such purity of love and of heart. She has described for us in minute detail how she learned to overcome a strongly felt antipathy to a rather difficult sister, to such a degree that the nun in question came to think Therese had a natural attraction for her company.  And in fact, it is not unusual that once we set our minds on doing good to someone who has injured us or whom we find offensive, often enough with good reason, that we come to experience a real affection for that person. 

God loves us with a charity that makes us good, even though he finds us undeserving of love, selfish and self-indulgent. If we would be friends of God we must strive after a similar charity, so that we give love in the form of collaboration and other helps, where it is not merited. When we learn to serve from love in this manner we create love in others. To live in this manner is to imitate God and his Son, our Lord Jesus. We must not expect such a change to take place overnight in ourselves or in others. Such a manner of relating to others requires not only good will but courage, for we are rebuffed at times. We will need patience too both with our own efforts which are too often inadequate and with the one we strive to assist who may not respond as we would like. 

When we speak of the community life as a help to perfection we include any number of advantages that it provides for its members. But this one of showing up our need to enlarge our inner horizon to include those who we have an aversion for or who have in some way injured us, is not the least of its advantages. Evagrius Ponticus had already observed that the hermits are tested by their thoughts and cenobites by brothers who do not treat us as we would like. He presents this testing as the normal way of spiritual growth. Our Cistercian fathers, and St  Bernard in particular, had a strong conviction that such fraternal efforts were important for the purification of the inner man. 

But such an admission of the need to work at creating love where love did not exist is far from implying that community life is above all a struggle and a penance. The contrary is the case. It is a source of strength and of consolation. St. Bernard himself spoke of the monastic enclosure as reproducing the state of man as he existed in paradise. From his teaching and description of the community that he knew at Clairvaux the expression Paradisus claustralis, the cloistered Paradise came to be applied to Cistercian life. It remains an ideal that we are invited by virtue of our heritage to strive to create. In a highly imaginative sermon the abbot of Clairvaux lists and describes the five regions in which men engage in different kinds of business and trade as they seek God. The first, he affirms, is the region of unlikeness where this once noble creature, man, lived in misery and captivity, having fallen from honor through sin. Here are Bernard’s words as he then goes on to describe the next state.  

The second region is the Paradise of the cloister. The cloister is in all truth a paradise, a region defended by the palisade of discipline in which there is a great quantity of costly merchandise. A glorious thing it is that men of identical customs live together in the same house. Good and happy the dwelling together of brothers. You see one weeping over his sins, another exulting in the praises of God; a third serving all, while one teacher the others. One prays while another reads, and still another shows compassion. That one over there castigates himself for his sins while his neighbor is burning with charity and another is making progress in humility. You see one who remains humble in prosperity alongside of one who is sublime in adversity; over there you see a monk at work in activity and near him still another reposing in contemplation. Seeing all these you can exclaim: ‘These are the camps of God!’ (Genesis 32.2) and ‘How awesome is this place; this is nothing else than the house of God and the gate of heaven (Genesis 28.17)’…. Review the virtues of those who dwell in the house of the Lord of virtues and make of this your business, your form of life  [Sermo 42.4 de diversis, (B.A.C.:Madrid 1953) 1055]. 

What is the theological characterization of Paradise but the place where man lives at peace with himself, with his companion and with nature because he enjoys God’s favor and walks familiarly with the Lord. By grace Christ has become our peace. He did so by his obedience even unto death, as we saw at the beginning of this talk and he showed us the way to imitate him who, as he went forth to suffer explained the meaning of his death. THAT THE WORLD MIGHT KNOW THAT I LOVE THE FATHER AND THAT I CARRY OUT WHAT THE FATHER COMMANDED. By his loving obedience Jesus has restored us to God’s favor, and calls us to live together as witnesses to the reconciliation and peace that he offers to all. May we prove worthy of this call by our willing collaboration in our common vocation.U

 Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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