HO! COME TO THE WATER YOU WHO ARE THIRSTY. EVEN YOU WHO HAVE NO MONEY, COME! The prophet Isaiah invites each of us with these words to drink deeply of the waters of life. These waters are a symbol of God's Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. He offers this Spirit without money. None of us is rich before God; we are all poor beggars when it comes to things of the Spirit. The poor in spirit are those who possess the kingdom of heaven, Jesus taught (Mt. 5: 3). While all humans are needy and poor before God, not all of us are poor in spirit for many of us do not sufficiently perceive and acknowledge our deep poverty.
To become poor in spirit is a challenging task for all of us, and it seems to me it is particularly difficult for men. For we are taught early in life that we need to be aggressive, to defend our self against any who infringe our rights or impinge upon our property. We must be assertive in order to be respected and to make our way in the world. If we would succeed we need to surpass others. The higher we are in wealth or knowledge or power the more people will respect us, and the better we seem to be in our own estimation. Not all cultures, perhaps, are as masculine in this regard as Western countries, but it seems to me that the large majority of peoples in this world teach their male children that competition and assertiveness are natural and signs of strength.
There is, of course, a good deal of truth to this view. Were it not true at least to some extent it would not be so widely distributed and so persistently transmitted from generation to generation. Like many other verities, however, it needs to be put in relation to other truths in order to find its proper expression in life. The complete person must not only have a certain assurance and assertiveness, he or she must also be compassionate, considerate and just to others. Without such virtues men live as tyrants and slaves, dominating the weak and subject to the strong. Christian society requires the strong to serve the weak and defend the helpless. This is a higher manliness than aggressive domination. This is the kind of man that Jesus exemplified and of which he was the perfect model. He taught by his own life that love is aggressive against evil and lends strength to the fight against vice and injustice.The truly free and mature man, as he showed, is gentle with the weak and the young and strong against those who dominate others.
St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans we have just heard, passes on this same message from a different point of view. He speaks of true spiritual strength that is able to overcome all opposition and oppression. "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ," he exclaims. Love that comes from God is not sentimental but based on worth and character. This divinely oriented love includes real human affection, as St. Bernard and the early Cistercian monks understood so well, that sought the personal and spiritual good of the other, not self satisfaction. This kind of love is taught in the Cistercian monastery which is a school of charity. Love is not simply a spontaneous feeling of attraction, but a benevolent dedication of the whole self to the good of another person. Our Lord not only demonstrated what such love is and does, he also instills it in his followers. To draw near to him we must learn to love as he loved. Our aggressiveness, our strength and energy must be employed in the service of others, and we must make it our ambition not to be first and to dominate but to be effective in doing good to and for others.This is what it means to be a real man. Of such men of integrity, honesty and courage who derive their confidence and virtue from the Spirit of God within them, is the Kingdom of God.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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