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Homily for November 3, 2021 – Wednesday the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

Fr. Justin Sheehan

Wednesday the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

There’s only one thing we owe to other people, and St Paul says it today in the first sentence of the first reading: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another. If we owe it to other people to love them, then how come we as monks so seldom look for opportunities to help each other, to practice the good zeal which St Benedict describes in Chapter 72 of the Rule?

This is what “fervent love” looks like when practiced in the monastery: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other”, says St Benedict, “supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love”.

Love does no evil to the neighbor, concludes St Paul. Maybe I see something in my brother that can’t be put right, because of either his physical or his moral weakness. Then how come I don’t bear patiently with him, loving him and caring for him with all my heart, and so fulfilling the law of Christ? Could it be that I don’t have the love that is patient and kind, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, but bears all things and endures all things?

Isaac of Stella in sermon 31 has some extremely strong words about what must have been happening in his own monastery of Stella. He writes: “The man who shows himself to be aggressive and overbearing towards his brother who is in difficulties, who thinks of his weakness as a threat, what can I say of him except that he has clearly given himself over to the law of the devil and is showing it? My brethren, let us have compassion for one another, and be filled with brotherly love; let us bear with the weaknesses that there are among us, and try to get rid of our own vices”. Evidently Stella in the 12th century was no better than any other typical Cistercian monastery of today.

Whatever personal practices or devotions a monk may follow in the monastery, it’s not those things but sincere love for God and for others that is really pleasing to God. Love – that’s the only reason we should do or not do anything, change or not change anything. Love is the whole way and the purpose of life. May God grant us this love, because without it we can do nothing good, and it’s the one thing we owe to one another.