May 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
“Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10) supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.” (RB:72)
Learning to live well in community is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality and the topic of Chapter 72 in the Rule of St. Benedict. “A person living in solitary retirement will not readily discern his own defects, since he has no one to admonish and correct him with mildness and compassion.” (Beil, Study Guide)
The gift of Benedictine Spirituality to the modern world may well be community itself. “The desert ascetics before him (St. Benedict) had been disciplined, other-worldly solitaries whose sole work of life was concentration on God. Benedictine monastics, on the other hand, were ordinary people whose whole work of life was concentration on God and service to one another.” (Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily)
It is easy to think of running away from the community we exist in for a more peaceful one, but that is a fantasy. “I would love to go to a monastery to get away from this mortgage and this wild child and this pressure and this sloppy wife and this demanding husband and this corporate rat race and these sponging relatives. Hold it. Not so fast. The monastery will not offer an escape from all of this, but it might offer a model for dealing with them.” (Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily)
Living in community can be challenging. “Community is the ultimate test of humility—it is in groups that bullying becomes possible—unless we stop it at its first advance. It’s in groups that we learn to listen to others and so make ourselves capable of listening to wisdom beyond our own. It is in community that we begin to see the value and goodness of the others who cherish what we cherish but hope to preserve it in ways different than ours. The humility inherent in the eighth step is the call to inherit the word of the others.” (Joan Chittister, Radical Spirit)
As a Benedictine oblate and hospice volunteer, Cyndie was enthusiastic to take her dog, her spirituality and Catholic teaching into her ministry. She quickly learned that the people she would sit with just wanted her “to show up.” This awareness was both a grace and a humbling experience. Being included in a community is a gift we can offer others, but we also learn about ourselves and grow in our relationship with God. “Belonging is engrained in our human nature. We want to know that someone needs us and counts on us.” (Beil, Study Book)
Sometimes we have a choice of who is in our community (for example, choosing a spouse) and sometimes not. Oblate, Jodi Gehr writes, “As the department chair of several high school business educators, I have the opportunity to influence the teachers who are hired and the courses they teach, but that doesn’t mean that I can always hire the perfect teacher or that I always get to teach the classes that I want or that every decision made is going to be the best for me. This can be a humbling situation. I must always weigh what is best for the whole community, the entire business department, based on individual talents, with the ultimate guide for decision making as being what is best for all students. Community, then, is looking beyond what is best for one individual. Recently, I made some decisions to teach a new class and move my homeroom. These decisions bring uncertainty (and, by default, discomfort) but it was better for the community and students in the long run. Community can cause discomfort, but that discomfort can bring one to spiritual growth.”
“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead what he judges better for someone else.” (RB 72)
But how do we know what is better for another? We must ask, listen and pray. And listen some more. We must withhold our opinion, set aside our individualism and narcissism that seems to prevail in contemporary society rather than a respect for the other.
Community means UNITY and IN COMMON. The root of community is communication—we must listen. Listening may be the most important interpersonal skill, but the least often taught.
“To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.” (RB:72)
What is love? Simply put, TIME. Spending time with another is a way to demonstrate love. Learning how to love is being drawn into community. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “our daily bread”, not MY daily bread. The self-help movement says to love yourself first, but we can’t just love ourselves in solitude. It is by being loved and loving others that we know what love is. It is a both/and experience, not linear. We cannot love self first and then learn to love others. The elevation of self is not loving. Love is self-giving and what it means to be Christ-like.
“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.” (RB:72)
The Trinity is our exemplar of community. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit show unity in community and the circle of self-giving love…”In unceasing loving communication and mutual self-giving and self-expression w/ each other.” (Beil, Study Book)
May we live well in our communities—practicing humility, showing love and respect, withholding judgment, and practicing patience. May we practice stability by remaining in our community, seeing what God would teach us. May we see Christ in the other.
Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72
New American Bible, Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-35
Wisdom Distilled in the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, Joan Chittister
Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life, Joan Chittister
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB