January 17, 2014
The year 1875 marked the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict, whose Rule I am bound to follow by my choice of becoming an Oblate. Now, another 125 + years later, not a day goes by that I do not marvel at the wisdom of this “Father of Western Monasticism” and how it applies to my life today. Moreover, by the grace of God I can see how He has arranged my life to make it possible to follow this Rule without complications. Not that the road is easy – just that the path is not hidden. The barbed-wire fences and hedgerows along the way keep me from wandering beyond the point where I would lose direction. That is, in fact, one purpose of having a rule in the first place.
In Chapter 57 St. Benedict writes:
If there are craftsmen in the monastery, let them practice their crafts with all humility, provided the Abbot has given permission. But if any one of them becomes conceited over his skill in his craft, because he seems to be conferring a benefit on the monastery, let him be taken from his craft and no longer exercise it unless, after he has humbled himself, the Abbot again gives him permission.
Abbots, like parents, have special graces granted by God to fulfill their duties of guiding and protecting the spiritual and temporal life of the family. In the case of the monastery, the community is supposed to be self-sufficient under the direction of the abbot. The talents of the various members are to be applied, according to the discretion of the abbot, in the service of the daily upkeep of the household.
In a monastery we have a gathering of multiple talents, just as we observe in families and in secular society. Painters, carpenters, artists, bakers, cooks, musicians, writers, farmers, etc. each have gifts needed to support the community. As a society, we cannot be self-sufficient without the gifts of all the members. As a family, we cannot do well if everyone doesn’t pitch in to do his/her job to make the house run smoothly and peacefully.
Here’s what Father G. A. Simon wrote about this part of the rule:
It naturally happened that the production surpassed the needs of the house. St. Benedict sees nothing wrong in drawing profit from that production. But what he is anxious about is that the success in a trade or an art and the consideration of the gains which the monastery draws from it do not lead the workman or the artist into temptation. They are to work by the order and under the good pleasure of the Abbot. They are to work also “in all humility.” As the monk’s soul is worth more than the money he earns or the advantages he brings, it is preferable to take him away from his work rather than let him succumb to vainglory….
It is a very frequent temptation that prompts us to glorify ourselves over what we produce, whether the concern is with science, with art, or even with manual labors. We attribute to ourselves an importance which we have not, and this vanity, at first more or less conscious, may end by encumbering our spirit and may prevent our soaring towards God. We are pleased with ourselves, we are somebody, we admire ourselves.
As lay people, many of us without spiritual directors, we must take great caution in the exercise of our talents so that we do all for the honor and glory of God. In fact, one of the mottoes of the Benedictines is “that in all things God may be glorified.” If we make that our starting point, we can consciously admit prior to exercising our talent, that it came from God, that we received grace from God to develop it, that His grace gives us the physical and mental power to accomplish it, and that the purpose is to glorify Him and not ourselves. This means that God can take away what He has given us any time He wants and we have to be ready for that to happen through humility and disinterestedness. We might also add detachment to this duo and make it a trio.
There is nothing like aging to bring this point home. But we can also tell from life circumstances that God may be asking us to put down something and take up something else. It may be through reverses in health, reverses in finances, losses of one sort or another that we see God setting up the barbed wire fences and hedgerows, but at the same time introducing us to fellow travelers on whom we can lean and to whom we may give a gift we didn’t even know we had. This is why I appreciate the Holy Rule of St. Benedict so much and the life circumstances God has gifted me with. It helps me focus on the really important things like the development of virtue, seeking God’s will, obedience to Him, and always looking and listening for Him.
The other benefit of living the Rule is the understanding of community and our part in it. “No Man is an Island” is the theme of Meditation XVII by the English Renaissance poet John Donne. St. Benedict would have appreciated Donne’s words. Our highly individualistic society would have us stamp out any sense of connectedness, of authentic generosity towards others, of extending ourselves personally for the good of our neighbor and instead make a god of our government or some athlete or movie star rather than looking to the One, True God who created us in this time and place that we may help one another reach heaven. Today’s world would have us glorify ourselves and we can see the worthlessness of it all when we realize that we can’t take an Oscar or a Nobel Prize into the next world with us, not even that little sports trophy we’re so proud of.
This chapter of the Rule makes me ask myself:
- What talents is God asking me to use for my local community today?
- Do I trust that He will take care of my needs when I give away to others what He has given to me?
- If I make a profit from my talents, who does God want me to share it with?
- Am I keeping in mind with every undertaking, “that in all things God be glorified”?
Want to subscribe to posts by email? Visit the third box in the sidebar.
R. Now and forever!
(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)
This post linked to Sunday Snippets.
9 Comments to St. Benedict on Humility and Disinterestedness
Email notification of posts
I am grateful for even small donations to help keep this site going. All donors will be kept in my prayers.