SOLEMNITY OF ST. BENEDICT
(Proverbs 2: 1 – 9; Ephesians 4: 1 – 6; Luke 22: 24 – 27)
In Chapter 72 of the Rule, St. Benedict writes of “Good Zeal” – “They (the monks) should practice fraternal charity with a pure love; to God offering loving reverence, loving their abbot with sincere and humble affection, preferring nothing whatever to Christ.” (chapter 72: 8 – 11)
It seems in these few verses of the Rule underlining so clearly charity, reverence, sincerity and humility we hear the import of the two great commandments: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Surely, St. Benedict in writing of good zeal heard this as well. The readings for this Mass address this living of good zeal with charity, sincerity and humble faithfulness.
From Proverbs we are instructed: “…if you receive my words, treasure my commands, if you call to intelligence, if you seek her like silver…then you will understand the fear of the Lord…” For us as vowed religious it is never a matter of “if” or even “when” but of “as” – it is a lifetime of vowed receptivity, of heartfelt listening leading to conversion of heart. We can only prefer nothing whatever to Christ by going to the Source, Christ Himself. His words, His commands, His wisdom are the true source of good zeal. Our monastic life is never a personal, private endeavor – rather a generous living of faith in God with others also committed.
In Ephesians St. Paul urges us to live a manner worthy of our call; he spells out the manner: “…with all humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, preserving the unity of the spirit in peace…” All these virtues are relational – never some kind of private, personal merit badge – rather given and received so to serve one another – a service in thought, word and action. As we try to live in this Christlike manner, then we are, in fact, preferring nothing whatever to Christ as St. Benedict teaches.
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus, in responding to the disciples’ mindless argument about the greatest, turns their thinking upside down: “…let the greatest be the youngest and the leaders be the servant.” Jesus Himself is both word and example: “I am among you as the one who serves.” He could not be other! For the Lord service is not a function, rather it is His divine nature. I believe Jesus is saying to them and to us “know your place.” What is this place, mine/yours? Our place is to strive to prefer nothing whatever to Christ – to prefer His word, His example of service, to seek Him – this is our place, our inner stability – all else is secondary, or trivial, or nothing.
Of such a community, the Abbot, John of Ford (English Cistercian Abbot +1214) wrote: “There is no sign…that has more power to draw me to charity than the living voice of a soul that loves God. And if I am deprived of his voice, then his very face draws me, or, if he cannot himself come, then even the loving and pleasant remembrance of what he is…draws me on.” (Homily on the Song of Songs 40:3)
That we, too, by our graced preference may be drawn on and into Christ, “…never departing from His guidance but persevering in HIs teaching in this monastery until death.” (Prologue of the Rule: 50)