I offer you the results of my meditations on parts of the Rule of St. Benedict. As one who can only aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, the Rule of Benedict has shaped my spirituality towards a more contemplative leaning. http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbejms2.html#4
Each of these short reflections come from my own desire to move from self to God. I use the Cistercian approach to the Rule of St. Benedict, although there are certainly other applications of the holy rule, such as Benedictine and Carthusian approaches. The one I use comes from Cistercian sources. The Rule of Benedict is how to organize monks in groups to work and pray together using the Psalms and Lectio Divina on a consistent basis to seek God. Cistercian monks and nuns add silence and solitude to the Rule of Benedict to put a distinctive contemplative spin on living in the community. http://www.trappist.net Carthusian monks use the Rule of Benedict but live out the Life of Christ as hermits, yet still in a community of monks or nuns, called Charterhouses. http://www.chartreux.org/en/index.php
Benedictine, Cistercian and Carthusian movements use the Rule of St. Benedict as the core of their spiritual living. They both date from the Eleventh Century, the time of St. Bernard (Cistercian) and St. Romuald (Carthusian). Cistercian practice is further divided into Regular Observance )http://www.cistercian.org/abbey/history/the-Cistercian-order/modern-challenges.html) and strict observance, or Trappists, in the Eighteenth Century. All of these traditions exist today, as well as many Benedictine monks and nuns. http://www.saintmeinrad.org
Since this is the first in a series of meditative reflections on the Rule of Benedict, I have taken the liberty of being a little more historical. My reflections will begin with Chapter 4, Instruments or Tools for Good Works.
1) In the first place to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength…
(2) Then, one’s neighbor as one’s self (cf Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27).
I am happy that St. Benedict has, as his first tool or instrument for good works, love. I noticed that this same admonition by Jesus for his followers is also contained in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6. Jesus came, not to break and fracture the old, but fulfill it. I get a sense of that in these passages.
Loving with all my heart is impossible because of original sin. I said that to one of my friends and he rather heatedly disagreed saying that we can give all, each time we love. Our assumptions, evidently are not the same. My take is that I can approach all as a human being, but I cannot sustain it. Most of the time I reach 40 to 50 percent of what I can do before some other sound or interruption tears me away from gaining in love. In this way, it is much like contemplation. The tough part of contemplation for me is isolating myself from interruptions and phone calls long enough to sustain a thought. That is why I like to go to the chapel at Good Shepherd in Tallahassee, Florida and sit before the Blessed Sacrament or, even better, stand as sentinels in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament To the world, all this is poppycock. To me, it is an instrument or tool to gain good works, in this case, honor, and glory to the Father through the Son in union with the Holy Spirit.
Loving God with all my heart and soul and strength is like throwing darts. I must confess to being terrible at throwing darts but I instinctively want to do so each time I take up a dart. Rarely do I hit the bull’s eye or center, but I keep trying and trying. To me, this is what I do with trying to love God with ALL my heart. The condition of original sin means I exist in a world that does not recognize God as the center of all that is. For me to place God as my center takes spiritual energy, energy I don’t have by myself, energy that comes from outside of me, energy that can move mountains, energy that can sustain me until I fulfill my destiny. This energy or grace is freely given and is a gift I do not deserve. It was won at a great price, the love of Christ for the Father, the only human, outside of Mary, who would actually love with all their heart, their soul, and their strength, and even then, Christ was tempted to not to do so.
This passage from Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s rule is one I Hope for (upper case H), yearn for, long for, and wish I had it. It shows how far I need to go to be perfect, as my Heavenly Father is perfect. I wish I had perfection but each day starts at zero again and again. By the time I build up to the end of the day, it is time for Night Prayers (Compline) and vigils. What gives me Hope is Love. What gives me Love is Hope. What gives me strength each day is doing the Cistercian practices of silence, solitude, prayer, work, in the context of the larger Lay Cistercian community, so that I might grow a little closer to God from self.
I wrote a book, actually, several of them which you can access by looking at the Store tab on the front page of this blog, in which I talk about the Six Thresholds of Life that I had to encounter as I plodded along my path of life to where I am today. The first threshold is a question: What is the purpose of life? The answer, in my mind, is, what is God’s purpose for humans is, particularly for those who call Jesus Lord. The answer is Matthew 22:47 and Deuteronomy 6. It is the same as the first tool for good works by St. Benedict, asking his monks to prefer nothing over loving God with all their hears and mind and strength. Easy to say, a lifetime to keep attempting to do. This purpose makes it all worthwhile. When the world tells us that we waste our time by all this foolishness, we respond that the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of humans, that the proof of a life well spent is not the money, fame, fortune, or power that you accumulate, but the riches of family relationships, and your relationship in love to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” says the Fox to the Little Prince. Indeed!
THE THREE SISTERS
Once, there were three sisters whose father had a very rich endowment as his heritage. He told his daughters he would give it all to the one who could tell him how to safeguard his money and property so that we would not lose it to debtors, lawyers, and politicians. He told them to come back in a week with their proposals. When the day of presentation arrived, the three daughters appeared before him, each carrying a box. The father looked both amazed and perplexed at what he saw before him. The three boxes were identical in shape, size and color. He told each daughter he would take them into the next room and they could tell him how to keep his money safe. The three daughters went into the room with her father and gave him the box. He opened all three boxes and to his amazement they were all empty. The father said to his daughter, “how is it that you gave me an empty box when I asked you show me how to keep my money and property safe and secure for my old age?” The daughter told him, “Father you have given use everything we have, but more importantly, you have given us who we are. Since childhood, you taught all of us to love God with all our hearts and if we did that, we would never be without true riches. Last night we all sat down and came up with the same answer to your question. What is in the box is our collective answer to your question” “But there is nothing in the box,” said her father. “Look again, “said his daughter, “there is everything in the box and yet there is nothing in the box. It is the answer to your question. The reason we could not put anything in the box is that there is no way to safeguard anything so fragile and fleeting as power, riches, property, titles, or fame. What is left is what we can take with us to Heaven. That does not corrupt. That is the answer we have for you, Father.” “My daughters,” said the Father, “how stupid of me to think of such a terrible question to ask. Because you all have given me the answer that is right but the one that is not convenient, you shall all inherit everything I have, and you have the love of a broken-down, old man. Thank you all.”
Love is the energy of the spiritual universe, love that can never be less than it is, love that can always be more than it is when joined with the love of the Son for the Father, love in which we share as adopted sons and daughters. The only way we can approach loving with all our hearts is by placing our heart next to the heart of Christ and letting everything that is, be.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, the God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology