JULY 11, 2004, FEAST OF ST. BENEDICT -
HOMILY- PROVERBS 2: 1-9; GAL 6:14-16; MT 19:27-29
MY SON, IF YOU TAKE MY WORDS TO HEART, YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHAT THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS AND DISCOVER THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. These words from the Book of Proverbs seem to come from the mouth of St. Benedict himself, so well do they capture his manner. The teaching that he is to impart comes as an invitation, not a command; they invite the listener who is willing and eager to learn to follow “the ways that lead to true happiness.”
In his Rule for Monks, Benedict describes in detail the specific ways that he considers the surest to follow so as to arrive at the goal of life in the kingdom of the Father. The paths he points out are the ways of obedience, humility, prayer and fraternal charity. These are the lessons he will teach as he describes the various studies to be learned in the School of the Lord’s service that is the monastery. St. Benedict makes no claim to teach a developed theology of the spiritual life. However, he does set forth some clear principles treating of obedience and humility.
The basis of his doctrine is faith. In particular, faith in Christ and his Church is the atmosphere in which the whole of monastic living lives and moves. This faith finds expression precisely where Jesus had taught his apostles express their love for him, in obedience. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Benedict taught that “the abbot is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery.” (Ch 2.2) Consequently, the monk and nun living according to the Rule necessarily strives to show all respect and honor to the abbot or abbess, not only by carrying out the express commands of the superior but also by giving moral support and showing friendliness, even affection. The abbot, in turn, must strive to prove worthy of such a responsibility by obedience to the Rule and by conducting herself in such a way as to be loved rather than feared.
Faith finds further expression by the interior life of prayer, and in particular by remaining always in the presence of the Lord. Work in its various forms is no hindrance to this practice; on the contrary, by constant attentiveness to the Lord whose eyes are ever watchful, the monk strives always to make of work and other activities a continuation of prayer. Above all, through study and reading the word of God, and meditation on its meaning for his own life, the Benedictine enters into a communion with the Lord which increases desire for union with Him as it grows. Although the monastic legislator sets forth no special doctrine on prayer, yet he encourages the same kind of spiritual life that his biographer, St Gregory the Great, speaks of: “For us to search out the depths of the scriptures is to contemplate the good things of eternity. (In 1Kings 3.148)” and “The more a saint progresses in scripture the more scripture progresses in him. (In Ex 1.7.8)” Holy reading is the practice that, together with the liturgy, most characterizes the spirituality of our Father St. Benedict.
In the second reading of today’s mass we heard St. Paul’s closing words to the Galatian faithful. They serve well to remind and inspire us with the high purpose to which we in our own Cistercian community are called. As we commemorate our Patron, Benedict, at this Eucharist may we all receive the grace to experience them in our hearts and show them forth in our lives.
“But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world…. Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule.”
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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