It is with great fondness that I observe this feast of St. Benedict the abbot, and father of western monasticism. My own Benedictine roots stem from my college days at Benedictine University in Lisle (which was then called Illinois Benedictine College), and I have a deep fondness for the monks of St. Procopius Abbey, who staffed the college, and in whose monastery I made my Priesthood retreat before I was ordained. Every now and then I go there for a few days of prayer, which helps me to be ready for whatever ministry is bringing my way. The motto Saint Benedict chose for his order was “Ora et Labora” – Prayer and Work — and for me it is a constant reminder of the balance we are called to have in life.
A wonderful source of inspiration to me while I was working in the corporate world, and still today, is reading from The Rule of St. Benedict, which is a great reflection on the balance we are called to in life. It was also one of the most groundbreaking works of spirituality and monastic rule at that time. It remains a spiritual classic today. Recently, I read a quote from the rule that spoke of something the abbot of a monastery should bear in mind. My reflection on it got me to thinking it was also extremely wise counsel for pastors of parishes, and even fathers – and mothers – of families. It’s from the second chapter of the rule and it goes like this:
Above all, the abbot should not bear greater solicitude for things that are passing, earthly, and perishable, thereby ignoring or paying little attention to the salvation of the souls entrusted to him. Instead, may he always note that he has undertaken the governance of souls, for which, moreover, an account will have to be rendered. And if perhaps he pleads as an excuse a lack of wealth, then he should remember what is written: ‘First seek the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be added unto you’ (Mt 6:33), and again: ‘Nothing is lacking to those who fear him’ (Ps 34:10).
But it’s the second to last chapter that echoes the Gospel reading today. Jesus calls all of us disciples to stop being afraid to do the right thing and trust God to make things right. Saint Benedict says it this way: Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and to life everlasting. This zeal, therefore, the monks should practice with the most fervent love. Thus they should anticipate one another in honor; most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of character; vie in paying obedience one to another—no one following what he considers useful for himself, but rather what benefits another—; tender the charity of brotherhood chastely; fear God in love; love their Abbot with a sincere and humble charity; prefer nothing whatever to Christ.
Friends, this is advice not just for monks, but for all of us. When we prefer other things to Christ, when we are afraid to bear witness to the truth, we lose every benefit of relationship with Jesus. Possessions cannot sustain us; our fears cannot sustain us. So we have to follow Christ with incredible zeal. When we follow Christ with this kind of zeal, Benedict says we can look forward to the ultimate reward: And may He bring us all together to life everlasting!