Friday, March 23, 2007

St. Benedict on Lent, Part 9

"So that each of us will voluntarily offer to God something above our usual measure with joy in the Holy Spirit."
RB 49: 6

God loves a cheerful giver. Abbot Leo Ryska of Benet Lake pointed out in our recent retreat that this chapter on Lent is the only one in the Rule that mentions joy twice.

The exhortation to joy, especially amidst self-denial, gets at one of the cruxes of our modern interpretations of spiritual texts: is it inauthentic for someone to make an effort to be joyful when he is not? Is he being dishonest? Is St. Benedict throwing his weight behind the power structures of the Church and of the monastery when he insists that brothers be joyful in deprivation? What if things are rotten in the Church or in the cloister? Are we still to be joyful? Is this anesthesia or a willful playing along with injustice?

So on and so forth...

Let's begin with the 'what if' part of that rant, pieces of which I have heard both externally and internally. Living with 'what ifs' is a spiritual killer. Life in this world is uncertain and a million things might or might not go wrong, at least from our perspective. Living intent on exploring ifs, woulds, coulds and the like distracts us from being, from awareness to what is: the present. So let's agree that if nothing is wrong, we won't look for something that might be wrong (except for the sin that hides in our hearts and pretends that there is nothing wrong _there_).

Things do go wrong in the Church and in the cloister. We all suffer for it. In these cases, the questions we must ask ourselves are "Do I believe that the Holy Spirit operates through the structures of the Church?" "Do I believe in the Paschal Mystery--that I can rejoice even in the midst of suffering?"

My sense is that if we are faithful to the inner work of conversatio, to silence and stillness and the sifting of thoughts, we will be too aware of our own weakness to be raging against the injustices, real or perceived, in the Church or cloister, especially when they fall outside of our explicit authority. Awareness of our own frailty also should bring about a corresponding gratitude to God for the salvation offered us in Christ. Here is our joy: we practice the ascesis of Lent not in order to perfect ourselves, but to become more and more disposed to God's grace, and it is God's grace that brings joy: the joy of the Holy Spirit.

If we are called to a prophetic word and we speak it out of a center of joy, charity and faith, it has much more chance of effecting change than a word spoken out of fear, incrimination and anger. So joy is not incompatible with prophecy: witness Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa, two recent examples of fearless, joyful persons.

I close with a quote from Sigrid Undset:
"Her father's wondrous gentleness came not therefrom that he saw not clear enough the faults and the vileness of mankind, but that he was ever searching his own heart before his God and bruising it with repentance for his own sins." (from Kristin Lavransdatter)

1 comment:

Harry said...

Insightful reflections ... thank you for being available for God to use and speak through.



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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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