Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"That no one may be distressed in the house of God"

In this remarkable phrase, concluding chapter 31 of his Rule, St. Benedict refers to the monastery no longer as a school (as in the Prologue) but as the very domus Dei, the house of God. In the Bible, the house of God is the temple in Jerusalem. I have long suspected, though without doing the necessary systematic work to verify my suspicion, that early monks considered themselved quite literally dead to the world in such a way as to be living at God's heavenly courts here and now.

I have recently been doing some lectio on the Pentateuch and particularly examining and praying over passages dealing with the Levites, the priestly tribe in Israel. The parallels between the Levites and monks are rather striking. The Levites were allowed to enter God's house in places not open to other tribes (in other words, they enjoy a kind of privilege of cloister). They are not allowed to own property. They are offered as a ransom for the rest of Israel, giving their own lives that others may be spared. In other words, their consecration removes them effectively from worldly concerns and cares.

Do we as monks today really strive to actualize this radical sense of consecration and translation from the world to the house of God? Do our brothers and sisters in the world cultivate a sensitivity to this, or are all of us happy to have monks easily excused for the purpose of attending worldly events, visiting friends and benefactors, and so on? Would we be able to recapture a sense of awe in the privilege of living in God's house? What would it take?

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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