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Homily for October 21, 2021 – Thursday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

Thursday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

For monks in the Benedictine tradition, the Rule is not simply the norm for our way of life. It can also be a guide to the interpretation of scripture, for applying scripture to our daily lives. In Chapter 2, for example, St Benedict writes that the abbot “is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery since he is addressed by a title of Christ”, abba or abbot. Here St Benedict implies that Christ himself is a kind of abbot and that whatever Christ says can have a directly personal meaning for us as monks.

If we bear this in mind and apply it to this morning’s Gospel, it would be wholly in keeping with the mind of St Benedict to paraphrase it as beginning, “Abbot Jesus said to his monks”, in a kind of chapter talk, “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return…ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks”. Since the monastery is “a school for the Lord’s service”, monks can be like the “servants” whom Abbot Jesus refers to in the Gospel, but he doesn’t say that all of them will be blessed just because they happen to be monastic servants. He says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival”.

This quality of vigilance is what St Benedict describes as the first step of humility. He writes, “Brothers, we must be vigilant at every hour”, fleeing forgetfulness of God, guarding ourselves at every moment. In the Rule as in the Gospel, vigilance means a good deal more than just staying awake: it means an attentiveness to the things that really matter. The human tendency is to become absorbed in our own personal desires, to act on our own plans instead of being “ready to open immediately when the master comes and knocks”. Attentiveness to the things that matter is a continuous conscious effort to keep the fear of God always before our eyes, and to see everything in the light of eternity.

The Gospel speaks of having our lamps lit. It’s no use having a lamp if it isn’t lit. It’s no use wearing a monastic habit if the mind of the wearer is seeking something other than God. The vigilant monk or servant is one who is attentive to the presence of God in all his thoughts and words and deeds.

The typical monk at a chapter talk thinks that the abbot is speaking about someone else. That is not the case with Abbot Jesus in this morning’s Gospel. Blessed are you if the Lord finds you attentive to him when he comes and knocks.