St. Benedict (email only) – March 21, 2020 – Tucson
St. Benedict 101 – The Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict
“Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
My Dear Faithful,
“You’ll do it if you know what’s good for you.” Some of us were told this as kids as a last resort to get us to do the right thing. When all other reasoning failed, we were either told: “Do it because I said so” or “You’ll do it if you know what’s good for you.” Everything we do, in every act we make, in every consented thought, in every desire, in every word – we seek either a good or an apparent good. The man who wants a cookie wants it because he perceives it as good for him. But by this philosophy, that also means that sometimes the object we desire, isn’t a perfect good, but only an apparent good, and thus not completely good. No one can desire or will “pure evil.” Thus, even when we sin, we desire it as “good” though we’re mistaken. The reason I mention this is because on this “choice of good” determines our eternal destiny. We either put ourselves in the school of Christian perfection or in the school of illicit pleasure. To be clear again, most people do not say to themselves, “I’m choosing Hell” or “I’m choosing Hell as my final end” when they begin to deviate from the right path. Thus, we need a spiritual father, a spiritual master, a spiritual guide to guide us in the school of Christian perfection so that we do not waver – thus, in answer to our prayers, today Holy Mother Church presents us St. Benedict.
In every age, God raises up Saints, heroic men and women to lead the faithful on the right path to Heaven. When times are worse, God raises up greater Saints. And sometimes those Saints are giants upon which future Saints will be able to climb up on their shoulders to greater and greater heights of perfection. In the year 480, when the former ruler of the Western Roman Empire was assassinated ending the “Western Roman Empire” as such, St. Benedict was born. He was just the giant to raise up from the rubbles of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but not a political giant, but much more important, a giant in the faith to guide future generations to God.
“You’ll do it if you know what’s good for you.” We all have somewhat of that rebellious nature in us from Original Sin that shrinks at hearing what we “should” or “must” do. Every education and formation naturally has a set of commandments, recommendations, rules, do’s and don’ts. Behind the sometimes direct, cold, harsh-sounding phrasing, is a way of life that is somehow better, more pleasing, more excellent though at first it may not seem so. There is a certain level of ascetism to arrive at the greater way of live. If living a life of perfect virtue was naturally easy, then more people would be living it. But reality and experience tell us otherwise. St. Benedict in “founding a school” of perfection for his monks states from the beginning in his Rule: “We are, therefore, about to found a school of the Lord's service, in which we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But even if, to correct vices or to preserve charity, sound reason dictateth anything that turneth out somewhat stringent, do not at once fly in dismay from the way of salvation, the beginning of which cannot but be narrow.” In other words, do not be discouraged. We are going to the school of Christian perfection to learn and be docile to our master.
As a caricature, (here I’m preaching also to myself) some say that we as a society have become soft. The younger ones grew up in a world where everyone gets prizes - last place gets a participation prize. Everyone’s told them can be anything they want to be and are overly coddled and then when the slightest failures of life happen, there’s a crisis, a melt-down (here I’m preaching to myself again). The younger generations set out audaciously to “change the world” and solve all the problems and because of their foolish and overly ambitious endeavors, have the flame of their candle blow out at the slightest breeze….. Where previous generations prided themselves on “picking themselves up by their bootstraps”, now we’re often expected hand-outs. Though this is just a sterotypical caricature, there is some truth to it. Now if we transpose this… in the school of Christian perfection, we need to be reminded of elements of both the old and new. God will not make us perfect Saints unless we cooperate with His grace, but on the other-hand God does give us “handouts” as we are unworthy of His Mercy. We need the drive and perseverance of the “older generation” but we need to gladly and gratefully receive the “handouts” of God’s grace. The reason I bring this up is to take a step back and look where so many of our society, even Catholics, are leaving or avoiding the practice of their faith. Where are we failing? Charity seeks of its very nature to spread itself. Apostolic zeal isn’t satisfied until 100% of those around us are worshipping, acting, living, breathing Saints in our Catholic churches. Unfortunately modern society does not reflect this. I’d argue that many people do not believe and practice the Catholic Faith because they cannot get past the initial doorstep of seeking to enter the school of perfection, the narrow gate that only can bring us to eternal life. They cannot get past the necessary initial ascetism of denying their illicit pleasures to choose the eternal good of Faith. That’s the number one challenge, the initial need for docility, humility, and asceticism. The second, is that those that enter, are only satisfied with going through the motions of a Catholic life. They can more or less follow the commandments, but when God calls them deeper, like a teenager, they “roll their eyes”. God tries to call them deeper into obedience, into humility, into self-denial so that He can reign more extensively in their hearts – but they keep him at bay. They keep Our Lord at the front door. Sure, He’s in the house of their soul, but they “need their space.”
There is a choice to make. St. Benedict says: “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” Everyone wants happiness but not everyone will effectively arrive at Heaven. We have to put ourselves into the school of Christian perfection which is the narrow gate. We have to look past what initially may sound harsh, severe, dry, or difficult in the commandments, in the evangelical counsels, because only when we advance and progress in our “spiritual education” will we begin to see why we were told: “You’ll do it if you know what’s good for you.” Then as you begin to climb the ladder of humility, as you climb the ladder of divine charity, and you persevere, you’ll begin to experience the true joys of an interior life of prayer with Christ, and nothing will compare to that joy. And you’ll think to yourself, “why wasn’t I told about this before? Where has this divine sweetness been all my life?” And we’ll say like St. Augustine: “Late have I loved thee o beauty divine.” But then we’ll need to remember that we first had to cross the threshold of the school of Christian perfection and we had to take the first steps in learning to be docile, in learning humility, and in learning obedience: to the commandments, to the counsels, and to the inspirations of God calling us deeper. St. Benedict begins his Rule with these words: “Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.” Do not be discouraged! We have to learn humility and obedience, and these are VERY HARD THINGS TO MASTER because of Original Sin. But unlike trying to find a new and improved version of Catholicism, instead of clicking on the blog post “5 simple steps to become a Saint”, put yourself in the proven school of Christian perfection of St. Benedict that built Western Civilization and created Christendom.
Well, that’s only the “Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict.” So far, it’s simple and yet initially tough to swallow: be docile to the master, be humble to curb pride, obey to restore what was lost by disobedience, love to become a true son and daughter of God our Father.
“Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.”
My Dear Faithful, just as God rose up St. Benedict in the fall of the Western Roman Empire, He never abandons us. Look to the well-proven school of perfection taught us by St. Benedict. Just as he took the good elements from the past and set about a new foundation for the future of western monasticism, may he help us now in 2020. May we make the choice to put ourselves into the “school of perfection” of St. Benedict to grow in docility, in humility, in obedience, and ultimately in the love of God so that with St. Benedict, and the millions of Saints that he educated, we may all sing the divine praises forever in Heaven. Amen.
St. Benedict, pray for us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.