Discernment Retreat Week Six
Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom. (1 Thess 2:12.)Prologue, v. 21
St Benedict rouses us to action in his Prologue with a call that is almost impossible to ignore. Every Christian is called to live the values of the Gospel. Every Christian is called to find in the stories of Christ and his teachings the inspiration to live as Christ lived. So, what is specific about living the Gospel in monastic life? Life in the monastery gives our hearing of the Gospel a particular focus. There are texts that stand out and have particular depth because of the way we live. Texts that talk about love, community and dying to self can remind the monastic of the essential values in Benedictine Life. Over the years you come to know some of the texts by heart and this is, in turn, deepens your response.
When we speak of being guided by the Gospel we are speaking fundamentally about good news. We are speaking about a series of events that have changed the world forever.
St Paul gives us a short and clear explanation of what that good news actually is:
Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures: that he was buried: and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared first to Cephas and second to the Twelve.1 Corinthians 15
If we really believe this message, then we will set out on a path that leads us towards Christ. Our hope is that day by day we will become more like Christ. Christ is our model for our daily living. The text of the Beatitudes is often quoted and often people puzzle over just what it means. All of the values of the Beatitudes are modelled for us in Christ. It has been said that the Beatitudes are not so much a spirituality but a ‘geography’: they tell us ‘where to stand’. We stand with the ‘poor in spirit’, we stand with the ‘gentle’…
How happy are the poor in spirit:Matthew 5
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
When we speak of Gospel Values, in any walk of life, we have specific things in mind. Our baptismal call invites us to a life that holds these values as central:
- Compassion, kindness, service of neighbour
- Non-violence, gentleness
- Justice, action against corruption and oppression
- Integrity, honesty, truth-telling
- Simplicity, non-attachment to wealth
- Humility, lack of ego, disinterest in status, dependence on God
- Preferential option for the lost and the least, justice
- Love, generosity, magnanimity
- Forgiveness, reconciliation
- Hope, resilience, perseverance
Our response to the Gospel in the monastery takes a particular form and this was well expressed by Cardinal Basil Hume OSB when he spoke of ‘a monastic instinct’ in his book Searching for God:
It is a kind of instinct by which one is able to judge what is fitting for a monk and what is not. This can cover a wide spectrum of activity, attitude, speech, the way we pass our holidays, how we spend money, the kind of hospitality we give, the kind we receive, our behaviour, things we say, our values. There is no end to it.
Sr Karen Joseph OSB takes the idea of monastic instinct and looks at it from a slightly different perspective. Here she outlines the qualities that monastic living hopes to develop:
- The Instinct of Listening. Listening is at the heart of monastic life. Our Lectio Divina is the beginning of listening to God, and listening to each other is the start of learning to love one another. Listening is at the heart of obedience (both in its etymology and its spirituality). Monastic life and ministry is a life of listening.
- The Instinct of Humility. Humility is an active process of centering our lives not on ourselves but on the needs of others, of choosing what is better for someone else, rather than focusing on our needs, talents, or ideologies.
- The Instinct of Holding One’s Tongue. This is not an instinct for many of us! In a monastery the practice of silence can help us learn to hold or tongue.
- The Instinct of Helpfulness. This is an ACTIVE instinct – not just thinking about what we might do that would be helpful but actually carrying it out. We are professional helpers – when we make our monastic profession, we are pledging to be available to others day by day.
- The Instinct of Bearing. Both The Rule of St Benedict and Scripture call on us to bear one another’s burdens, which often means to bear with one another, in forgiveness and patience. It is, perhaps, easier to bear with others if we remember that as we do so, they are probably also bearing with us.
- The Instinct of Reverence is perhaps the one least supported by our culture today. Reverence is seen in our behaviour in the Chapel, but also in the way we treat other people, the common objects of life, the stranger and the needy. When we see God in all parts of life, we can give reverence wherever we recognise our encounter with the Divine.
- The Instinct of Consistency. This is perhaps the most monastic of these instincts, what moves them beyond the common virtue. Monastics are people who have made a promise to do (or attempt to do!) these things for a life time.
- Use the quotation from the Rule of St Benedict and the text of The Beatitudes for your reflection during the week.
- Read through the list of Gospel values. Think of the circumstances of your life where you are most aware of these values.
- Are there any of the values which you find hard? Have you seen these values in others?
- Read over the list of monastic instincts and try to practise one or two during the week. Become aware of these instincts in others too. Use your journal to write about how you found this.
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.