St. Benedict, Sarabaites, and a Good Rule to Live By

St. Benedict delivering the rule

Before he gets into the details of his rule of life for monks, St. Benedict speaks of the kind of monk that none of his disciples should be:

In their works, they still keep faith with the world…They live without a shepherd…in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord’s. Their law is their desire for self-gratification: whatever enters their mind or appeals to them, that they call holy; what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

Now, the life of the other kind of monk—the diligent, faithful, obedient one; the invisible one who quietly changes the sheets of the guest-room beds and washes the commodes before the sun rises, and then sings the psalms with the brothers in the chapel with a heart full of joy—the faithful monk’s life teaches us, better than anything else, what our Christian lives must be like.

Our goal is to reach the antithesis of what St. Benedict condemns. The greatest trap for any soul is to believe that what I will is what God wills. The greatest freedom is actually to will what God wills. The temptation is to regard as God’s those things that I like. The liberation is to like God’s actual things.

The way from the one to the other does not involve rocket science. No one needs special genius to follow the path from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. The way from calling my will God’s to willing what God wills is simple: Living for years, decades–an entire lifetime–as a humble son or daughter of Mother Church, going every Sunday to Mass and every month to Confession.

I do not claim to have any spiritual insight whatsoever. I certainly am not holy enough to lay down any rules. But I guarantee that this method will work. Doubt nothing that the Church teaches. Go to Mass every Sunday. Go Confession every month. Fifty to sixty years of this will do a person a great deal of spiritual good.

Resolving with St. Basil

st basil cathedral onion domes

Jan. 2: Memorial of St. Basil the Great.

Anyone ever laid eyes on St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow?

Officially, it is the Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos. We kept the Solemnity of the Theotokos, Mother of God, yesterday, on a holy day of obligation, binding on all able-bodied Catholics.

The St. Basil whose relics are kept in the church on Red Square is actually a later St. Basil, who lived in the 16th century, not the original St. Basil the Great. But it sure is a beautiful-looking church.

Here’s a quote from the original St. Basil, friend of St. Gregory Nazianzen:

There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease.

Here’s another quote, from the beginning of St. Basil’s Rule for holy living:

Since, by God’s grace, we have gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—we who have set before ourselves one and the same goal, the devout life—and since you have plainly manifested your eagerness to hear something on the matters pertaining to salvation…I implore you then, by the charity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for our sins, let us at length apply our minds to the affairs of our souls, and grieve for the vanity of our past life…Why will we not place before our eyes that fearsome and manifest day of the Lord?…We say indeed that we desire the kingdom of heaven, yet we are not solicitous for the means whereby it is attained…

But, teacher! asks the disciple, Since Scripture has given us leave to propound questions, we must ask, first of all, whether the commandments of God have a certain order or sequence, as it were, so that one comes first?

St. Basil replies:

Your question is an old one, proposed long ago in the gospel…The Lord answered: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

So let’s resolve to make 2013 a year of faith and Christian love.

Benedict’s Disciples

An old friend of mine, a family man, once told me that he had picked up two books in his life that immediately impressed him. These two books, he said, offer practical, kind-hearted, fatherly wisdom on every page. He read them both cover-to-cover, and could hardly put them down, because they made so much sense. He wanted to drink in the calm and realistic Christian spirit that these two books possess.

This friend of mine has had a successful professional career. He has a lovely, musical wife and charming children, who are now young adults. You couldn’t pick this man out of a line-up of Washington lawyers, consultants, and defense contractors. Perfectly ‘normal’ guy. His two favorite books ever are: 1) The Code of Canon Law, and 2) The Rule of St. Benedict.

Our Holy Father the Pope obviously holds St. Benedict in the highest esteem. He explained why he chose Benedict’s name. For one thing: the humble, thoughtful, diligent way of life which St. Benedict taught made Europe Europe. Countless people living the Benedictine way built our civilization with their quiet lives.

And for another thing: St. Benedict’s Rule offers a simple precept by which a person may always guide his or her life: Prefer nothing to the love of Christ. Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

Commentators agree that the Rule of St. Benedict has two particularly notable qualities. First: the Rule establishes the monks as a family—living, praying, and working together. A monk, by definition, seeks God in solitude. But St. Benedict grasped that one best succeeds in doing that by submitting yourself to the family life of a monastery.

The second distinctive quality of the Rule is its legendary emphasis on welcoming guests. St. Benedict does not stipulate that the guest-master must put little chocolate mints on the pillows in all the guestrooms. But the saint does command that all visitors must be treated as if Christ Himself had just walked in out of the rain.

My old friend knew real wisdom when he found it. May we learn to prefer nothing to the love of Christ, with St. Benedict helping us from heaven to live lives of humble, diligent, daily service of God and neighbor.