March 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections
Sources: Luke 18: 9-14; Good Work; Teaching and Learning—Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II
We begin our Oblate Meeting with Lectio Divina practice by reading Luke 18:9-14.
We began our discussion with the question: Can I find myself in both the Pharisee and the tax collector? There is no doubt that we have each of them within us, not just one or the other.
We can dig deeper by asking: How can I come into relationship with Jesus and others knowing I am a multi-faceted person, not all good or all bad. This parable is addressed to those who feel their righteousness (I’m a good guy), and may despise others for not being as good. We compare ourselves to others—our good works become a score card rather than a gift from our heart. We must avoid creating a tally of our good works or making comparisons with others about how good or bad I am (or how good or bad someone else is)—we are ALL sinners and in need of God’s mercy; not one of us is more worthy than another.
In this parable, the tax collector humbly stands off at a distance—a reminder that we need to go out to those on the margins as instructed by Pope Francis. We become self-focused, fall into pride, dishonesty and greed when we do not reach out to others. We must acknowledge our weaknesses and shortcomings, even if it is hard to see our own character defect. We are too familiar with the inner dialogue: At least I don’t (or do) this or that, thank God I’m not like that, and so on. Too often, we look down on those who are different from us, particularly those who are on “the other side” of the political spectrum. But we can rest assured that we all have good and bad within us.
We can ask ourselves: why do we do good works? Is it to be seen or do our good works lead to our own conversion? We must be on alert for our own righteousness or tendency to despise others. A Benedictine value to approaching good works is with balance. We cannot beat ourselves up for not doing enough, but we also cannot be excessively boastful. The Litany of Humility is an appropriate prayer to bring us back to the middle.
The following questions were used for personal reflection and a starting point for our discussion of the sections Good Works and Teaching and Learning in Always We Begin Again.
- What are my “good works”?
- What are my motives for doing good works? Do I resent those I feel are unappreciative or do not seem to help themselves?
- How much do I cling to my things? How much is enough?
- In Chapter 4 Benedict says that we should “renounce ourselves in order to follow Christ”. How does this charge manifest itself in my life so that I can “relieve the lot of the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and bury the dead”?
TEACHING and LEARNING
- When am I most likely to listen with an open and compassionate heart and mind? When not?
- When I disagree with someone, do I maintain a humble and warm demeanor? Why or why not?
- When do I attempt to use words and/or behavior to explain my faith?
- How easily do I submit to authority, especially if I disagree with their decisions?
- Who are the “older” leaders to whom I listen?
What is our motive for doing good works? If our good works flow from our own gifts and talents, from a place of authenticity, we live into the fullness of who God wants us to be. God provides within us the way that we can do our “good works.” Although we can learn creative ideas how to serve from lists of ideas, good works are not a calculated list of things to do. Our good works must not be done from a sense of obligation or in hopes of solving some salvation formula; they must be done with a cheerful heart.
“If you want to live the life that only you can live, do good for others, and when you have done good, you will have life abundantly.”Always We Begin Again, The Benedictine Way of Living, John McQuiston II
“Every time you begin a good work you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection….With his good gifts which are in us, we must obey him at all times….” The goodness within us IS the divine spark that is “the hidden foundation of good” which McQuiston refers to. Being kind, honest, candid, and compassionate is practicing “good works.”
“The greatest lesson, the way to live…is found only by the practice of one’s own authentic compassion.”Always We Begin Again, The Benedictine Way of Living, John McQuiston II
When am I most likely to listen with an open and compassionate heart and mind? When I set aside preconceived notions and presume positive intentions or when someone is vulnerable and shares their personal pain or trauma, I am most likely to listen openly with heart and mind. I am less willing to listen when I do not respect another person or if I sense they are mean or unfair. Often, we do not maintain a humble and warm demeanor because we get defensive or feel insulted.
“Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.” Proverbs 16:16
What is listening? Are we listening to respond? Are we listening with the ear of the heart? Listening to not just the words being said, but being tuned in to what people are saying is a deeper listening. There are things said between the spaces of words—eye contact, body language, emotion and so on.
Are we listening compassionately? Compassion is to feel with, to journey with, to enter into someone’s life situation.. When we listen with the ear of the heart we are a student to others. The dynamics shift when we have a compassionate heart—there is a unification of the heart. In the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 2, we are encourage to lead “more by example than by words”, by “demonstrating God’s instructions”, and being a “living example.”
“The true leader should never value things above the value of maintaining an attitude of care and compassion.”Always We Begin Again, The Benedictine Way of Living, John McQuiston II