+CALLED TO SERVE St Benedict, 2019
The last words of our gospel this morning, seem to me a wonderful summary of the life and Rule of St Benedict. Jesus saying: “I am among you as one who serves” describes the kind of person Benedict sought to be his whole life and the kind of community he hoped to realize through his Rule.
In this month’s issue of Give Us This Day, Robert Ellsberg in his short life of Benedict, tells us that “in place of an emphasis on fasting and mortification, Benedict substituted the discipline of humility, obedience, and accommodation to community life. Rather than envisioning a collection of individuals competing in the quest for perfection, Benedict stressed the role of community as a school of holiness.” Our gospel guides us toward a similar understanding of the Church when Jesus tell his disciples to “let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.” When one sees competing forces arise within the Church, one does well to question the origin of such voices.
And our gospel is not without humor today, it seems to me, when Jesus tells his disciples: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’: but among you it shall not be so.” Jesus flips the whole social system of his day and ours, showing us that what truly builds an authentic society is not power, but service.
Jesus and his faithful disciple Benedict are inviting each of us to open ourselves to God’s loving presence so that it pervades the whole of our personal and communal lives. St Paul envisages as much in the selection of his letter to the Ephesians we just heard. For the Ephesians to be worthy of the calling they have received, they must do so with all humility and gentleness, patiently bearing with one another through love. Only then will they “preserve the unity of spirit through the bond of peace.” Our religious communities, our Church, our society has never been in such need of this “patiently bearing with one another through love” for then the transforming work of God is able to act freely. The talents of each are put to use for the good of all.
Going through St Gregory’s Dialogues, his Life of St Benedict, I was captivated by his words that: “Blessed Benedict possessed the Spirit of only one Person, the Saviour who fills the hearts of all the faithful by granting them the fruits of His Redemption.” As Benedict became more attentive to God’s presence within and all around him, everything he did began to reflect the work of God. The prayer that he and his monks carried out during the Divine Office spread through the whole of their day.
By turning our ears to wisdom, inclining our hearts to understanding, as the Book of Proverbs suggests, our lives become fully attuned to the working of divine grace. Wisdom enters our hearts and a knowledge that pleases the soul. The Rule of Benedict is known for its discretion, so much so that many have believed this to be just the reason for its long and pervasive influence. It is a wonderful reflection of his own inner growth.
The role of the Eucharist in Benedict’s time seems to have been less central than for us today. This is probably so because the whole of their day was Eucharistic, an invitation to allow Christ’s presence to feed them all day long. Through our reception of the Eucharist, the consecrated Bread and Wine, we are made sharers in God’s own life. We experience the initiating love of Christ for each of us. Benedict assures us that as we progress in the monastic way of life and in faith, “we will run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” Amen
Prov 2: 1-9; Eph 4: 1-6; Luke 22: 24-27