Feast of Benedict: March 21, 2014

Feast of Benedict: March 21, 2014

The Gospel reading for March 21 ends with, “…everyone who has given up home, sisters or brothers, mother or father, spouse or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life.”

As Benedictines we are used to the same exhortation phrased a little differently in Chapter 72 of the Rule: “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life”‒one of the most often quoted phrases in the Rule of Benedict.

I want to share with you what one of today’s well-respected teachers of the Rule, Sister Aquinata Bockmann, OSB, wrote about this well-known passage:

“Love for Christ,” she writes, “is the motivation for obedience, for living in community, for being open to the world…Benedict, she believes, writes from a practical standpoint‒“he is rooted in monastic practice, in everyday community life, in the experience of liturgy and in the concern for human beings. From there he always finds, or leads to, the living Christ.”

• She believes that “preferring nothing whatever to Christ” will lead us into the community established through Christ; that each one of us is responsible for the other and that we cannot reach our goal without the other.

• She believes that “preferring nothing whatever to Christ” is the reason why the community opens itself to those in need, because Christ approaches the monastery from outside. While we individually renounce the world, this personal renunciation leads to the community’s service for other human beings as a means of following Christ.

• She believes that “preferring nothing whatever to Christ” means to walk with the Gospel as our guide as the highest rule. In the Rule of Benedict it is the Word of God that puts everything in its right context.

I think that this explains well the experience that many of us had when we first read the Rule—it may have seemed a bit like all that Benedict did was pick out scripture passages that supported his idea of community living. However, what better examples could there be than the life of Christ and his own living, praying and seeking of God.

So instead of taking phrases such as “…everyone who has given up sister or brothers, mother or father,” literally, we know now that the giving up is really a turning to or a concentration from one center of our life and commitments to another center for our life and commitments.

Again, as monastics we can interpret this “giving up” as more of a setting out on the way of “conversatio morum,” a journey, with the community, that takes a lifetime to God and with God and ends in God.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “the practice of law” or the “practice of medicine” as if it is describes continual exercises, procedures and growth that never have an end point or a completion.

When I reflected on Aquinata’s phrase that Benedict was rooted in “monastic practices,” I turned it around and thought that we are indeed involved in the “practice of monasticism.” There are monastic practices that we learn, live, repeat and embrace day after day. We are committed to the “practice of monastic life.”

We are faithful our entire adult lives to the practice of “preferring nothing whatever to Christ,” so that “Christ may bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Happy Feast Day, everyone.

Sister Anne Wambach, OSB, the twenty-first prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania is a native of Philadelphia. She moved to Mount St. Benedict Monastery in 1992 to respond to a desire to experience the monastic way of life. Previously a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Sister Anne began the formal transfer process to the Erie Benedictines in 1993 and made her monastic profession in 1997.

Sister Anne has served the people of the Diocese of Erie as a teacher at St. Gregory's School in North East, Pa., from 1992-1995, and at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, beginning as program director in 1995 and as executive director since 2005. She served on the Monastic Council from 2006-2010.