Discernment Retreat Week Eight
It has often been said that the one of the reasons why the Rule of St Benedict has continued to inspire people is because of the simple humanity that we find in its pages. St Benedict lays out a way of life that he wants to be within the reach of anyone who deeply desires to follow the monastic path. He speaks of a ‘school of the Lord’s service’ where nothing is ‘too harsh or burdensome’. Of course, this does not mean that the monastic path is easy or can be undertaken in a half-hearted manner. Our model for all that we do is the person of Christ. Everything that we undertake, whether it be large or small, easy or difficult, has Christ as its focus.
St Benedict is very practical in his approach to life in a monastery and includes in his Rule a whole chapter with very specific guidelines as to how we are to live in love, Ch 4, The Tools of Good Works. It is clear from the first two verses of this chapter that love is the reason for all that we do:
First, to love the Lord God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, then your neighbour as yourself.
St Benedict is very clear about the discipline which is necessary if we wish to follow this path. There is a particular depth of love needed if we are to live in community. In Week 5 you reflected on Ch 72, On Good Zeal. This is a text which surfaces time and time again when we explore St Benedict’s teaching.
Just as there is an evil and bitter zeal that separates one from God and leads to hell, so too there is a good zeal that separates one from evil and leads to God and eternal life. Thus monks should practice this zeal with the warmest love: ‘Let then strive to be the first to honour one another.’ They should bear each other’s weakness of body and character with the utmost patience. They must compete with one another in obedience. No one should pursue what he considers advantageous to himself, but rather what benefits others. They must show selfless love to the brothers. Let them fear God out of love. They should love their abbot with sincere and humble charity. Let them prefer absolutely nothing to Christ, and may he lead us all together to everlasting life.Ch 72, On Good Zeal
St Benedict mentions LOVE four times in these verses. His use of the words ‘warmest love’ show us the very human quality of his teaching. We probably all know when we have been in receipt of this type of love. Learning how to offer this to others in the monastery is the foundational work of the monastic. St Benedict adds another dimension when he urges us to show ‘selfless love’. This is when we truly image Christ. Each day in the monastery there are countless opportunities to die to self in love and put others first. Perhaps, surprisingly, St Benedict also speaks of fearing God out of love. What we are to understand here is the biblical idea of ‘fear of the Lord.’ It is an idea with combines awe, reverence and love. In the monastery the depth of our love shows itself in the matrix of relationships. Within this matrix the relationship with the superior is particularly important as the superior represents Christ. Here St Benedict urges the monastic to love with ‘sincere and humble charity’. These are dispositions that can take years to develop.
Love in the Scriptures
If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.1 Corinthians 13
Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.
Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy, the time will come when they must fail; or the gift of languages, it will not continue for ever; and knowledge-for this, too, the time will come when it must fail. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect; but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will disappear. When I was a child, I used
to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue like a child, but now I am a man, all childish ways are put behind me. Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.
In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.
If you remain in meJohn 15
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you will get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
and then you will be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.
This is my commandment:
love one another,
as I have loved you.
Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. As scripture promised: For your sake we are being massacred daily and reckoned as sheep for the slaughter. These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us. For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:35-39
But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not?Matthew 5:44-48
- Use the quotations from the Rule and the Scripture passages for your reflection during the week.
- Notice in particular the phrases which strike you from Ch 72 of the Rule. Spend some time reflecting on St Benedict’s four uses of ‘love’
- Bring to mind the people in your life who have shown you ‘selfless love’. What can you learn from them?
- The monastic sets her heart on the love of Christ. Where do see the love of Christ in your daily life?
- Much of the monastic day is filled with ordinary tasks. It is through these that we show the love of Christ. How does this strike you?
- The superior of the monastery represents Christ for her community. Reflect on your own relationships towards authority. Where do you see Christ?
Rule of St Benedict: ©1981 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.
Scriptural quotations from THE JERUSALEM BIBLE, ©1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday, a division of Random House/ Penguin, Inc. Reprinted by Permission.