Living the Zeal of Benedict

a blog by Sister Marilyn Schauble, OSB

Every exaltation is a kind of pride. RB 7:2

Benedict is giving us a life principle: any form of self-exaltation is a barrier between us and God.

When everything is going smoothly, when we are feeling self-sufficient, God can be far from our consciousness, even distant. We usually discover God in hard times. Our own limitations push us to look beyond human resources for a solution to our discomfort. Benedict is reminding us that we do not usually find God when the going is good. Seeking for certainty elsewhere can limit our awareness of the ever-present love, compassion and faithfulness of God.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is "O Holy Night." I find the text inspiring and at the same time challenging. Consider spending a little Lectio / reflection time on each of the verses. From this night "breaks a new and glorious morn." "Christ is born to be our friend." "Truly he taught us to love one another." May this holy season remind us that Christ's "law is love ... and in his name all oppression shall cease."

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
with glowing hearts, by the cradle we stand.
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
here came the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
in all our trials born to be our friend.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine!

Truly he taught us to love one another.
His law is love and his Gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break,
for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we.
Let all within us praise his holy name.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine!

(O Holy Night - 1847 by Adolphe Adam)

Sisters / brothers, divine scripture calls to us saying: "Whoever exalts themselves shall be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves shall be exalted (Lk. 14:11; 18:14)." RB 7:1

This call sounds through Chapter 7 as well as the entire Rule of Benedict. In the community scripture can be experienced as an encounter with the divine. The Word of God rests in the center of the community. "Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the gospel as our guide, that we may deserve to see the Holy One 'who has called us the eternal presence (I Thes. 2:12)." RB Prologue 21

It is Christ whom we follow, the presenter of the gospel message in word and deed.

The image of a ladder shows us steps along the way in which humility can manifests itself over many years of living. There will be variations from the general plan, but the process remains similar for most people. Benedict's presentation of humility is primarily descriptive and not prescriptive. Benedict do not name humility as a virtue. For him humility is an interior quality. The steps of humility are like milestones on the road toward God. Benedict reminds us that we are not "to be be called holy before you really are, but first be holy that you may more truly be called so" (RB 4:62). Keep the goals of purity of heart and perfect love always before you and just keep walking.

The root of the Latin word humilitas is humus: earth, soil, being connected with the earth, down to earth, grounded.

There are two obvious precursors to the Rule of Benedict: the writings of John Cassian, The Institutes and The Rule of the Master. For Cassian once vices have been expelled the virtues bear fruit and grow. When virtues abounds purity of heart is acquired. With purity of heart the perfection of love is possessed. The Rule of the Master, inspired by Cassian, used the visual concept of a ladder to mark the progress toward the possession of love.

Benedict copied most of The Rule of the Master for his chapter on Humility, adding and subtracting to coincide with his own belief system. In The Rule of the Master the ascent via a ladder of humility lands one in heaven and in God's love after death. Benedict's ascent via a ladder of humility lands one on earth and in God's love here and now. Benedict is more focused on the earthly reality of being influenced by the Gospel teaching on the primacy of love. For him the experience of receiving and giving unconditional love is possible during this earthly life.

Might this be a clue as to why Benedict regards his teachings as a "way of life" (Prologue 20)?