Have you ever had a personality fault that just keeps digging at you and won’t go away?You pray that it will go away, you try to overcome it every time it pops up its ugly head. Nothing works. The monks have a chapter of faults where they try to get rid of those little peccadillos that are like mosquito bites that keep itching at your good intentions. Here are some of my Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5) thoughts on my faults.
In his Rule, St. Benedict points out in Chapter four some faults for us to overcome if we are to sustain the mind of Christ Jesus in us. Here are some of his recommendations:
(28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue.
(29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).
(30) To do no injury, yea, even patiently to bear the injury done us.
(31) To love one’s enemies (cf Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27).
(32) Not to curse them that curse us, but rather to bless them.
(33) To bear persecution for justice sake (cf Mt 5:10).
As you can see, these are the practices that we must either do or not do for us to love one another as Christ has loved us. Most of them are based on Scripture, and Scripture is there to help us deny outselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ. I have selected the following instruments or tools for good works, as St. Benedict calls them because they are indeed transformative practices, key to dying to self and rising with Christ. The whole notion of the Church is to love others as Christ loved us. It is not to know all there is to know ABOUT Scripture, although we should always want to know more. It is not to have faith in Christ so we can SHOW to others that we are his followers and not like the rest of sinners. It is not even to attend Mass on Sunday to fulfill some worldly habit we received from our parents that it is just the thing to do, without actually converting our lives daily through the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ to the Father. As it applies to the six items St. Benedict gave us to root out of our lives, it goes against our animal nature of self survival, our mental mantra of being the center of the universe, or what the world teaches us to be if we want to be happy. No. The Rule of Opposites kicks in here. Read these six behaviors that are expected in the Kingdom of Heaven. They are the opposite of what you expect from what the world thinks.
(28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue. — The world says that the truth is what I say it is, or what I interpret it to be. When I make an statement that I believe the Church to be founded by Christ to give us grace, among many other things, my friends at Starbucks rail against me that this is just my opinion and my notion of truth but it is not what they believe. This thinking is seductive because it is partially true and partially false. Truth is not true because I believe it to be true but because my source of truth is the Way, the Truth and the Life. People can disagree what that means, which is called the freedom to choose. Often, people are angry when I state my convictions (which are actually not mine) sometimes to the point of hysteria that I am going to Hell, screaming at me that I am worthless and God does not love me. It is in these times, although not frequent, that I turn to these six admotions from Christ to be strong and hold onto the Faith of the Church Universal.
(29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9). Following up on what was just said, I do not argue these days about my faith. Faith is not an intellectual arguement, one where you can convince people through mental jousting that you are correct and someone else is not. Faith is the quiet conviction that you have in you wish to have the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5) and that, with God’s grace, you will be faithful to the gift of Faith give to you in Baptism and which you accepted in Confirmation. When people call me names, say that I am a failure, mock my spirituality as something in la-la land, put down religion as something where I just go to gain attention from women, I indeed want to hurt them back. My human nature wants to protect itself from outrageous comments that demean me to my core. It is not normal to not want to respond and that is exactly what Christ tells us to do, through his disciples. I bite my tongue to keep from saying anything back when someone
(30) To do no injury, yea, even patiently to bear the injury done us. When someone injures us, more mentally and spiritually than physically, we want to get even, to get revenge on them. This seems to be built into the human psyche and is covered by what I call Original Sin. The world says get even, Jesus says to bear injuries patiently. That just doesn’t make sense, unless you live in three universes.
(31) To love one’s enemies (cf Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27). Jesus bid us to love each other as He loved us. The “each other” includes all those who hate us. That doesn’t make sense, in terms of the world, yet that is the challenge for those that call themselves by the name of Christ. I can say I love my enemies, but I keep struggling to overcome these attitudes all the time.
(32) Not to curse them that curse us, but rather to bless them. I fail at this many times. I don’t curse them audibly but think that in my heart. It is instictive. As a Lay Cistercian, I am getting better at holding my thoughts. At least I know what is right and wrong.
(33) To bear persecution for justice sake (cf Mt 5:10). Ever had someone screaming in your ear that you were going to Hell, absolutely convinced they were doing God’s will? I have. I could smell the hatred and anger at me. What does hatred smell like? A week old garbage can smells better than this. Hatred is the perfume of the Evil One and the smell waifs long and wide from those who spew hatred, envy, jealousy, calumny, detratction. Read Galatians 5. What did Jesus do before Pilate and the Chief Priests? He was silent. He bore the effects of Original Sin for justice sake. We all should count ourselves blessed to bear such persecution.
St. Benedict wanted his monks, and all of those who wish to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus, to practice the instruments of good works that lead to our dying to self so that we can rise with Christ. Each time I am tempted by these human responses to the challenges of my faith, I proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again. As St. Paul says in Philippians 3:7-10, “For him, I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ Jesus and be given a place in him.”
There is a reason why the martyrs of the Church gave up their lives. There is a reason why men and women give up everything to become Cistercians and follow the contemplative way to what is meaningful in life. There is a reason why Lay Cistercians make Final Promises to convert their lives to love as Christ loved us. There is a reason why we follow the pattern of Christ in Baptism, the Holy Spirit healing and making all things new. We follow Christ because to whom else can we go, he has the words of eternal life.
Praise be the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology