Saturday, August 11, 2012

St Benedict's Priory Salisbury 2012: Service and Humility

As usual, I spend my retreat with the Monks formerly of Elmore now based at Salisbury. Although, I'm no longer technically in Communion with these gentlemen - one of the casualties of the CofE's break with Tradition - I received much kind hospitality and shared much with them in their Offices and in their day-to-day running of the monastery.

This year, with my ordination imminent, it was seemly that I make the focus of my retreat the nature of Christian Service and Humility. The trouble was that I didn't get much in the way of retreating. With Dom Francis away on holiday, I found myself insinuated into washing up, running errands and playing roles in the saying of the Offices. To be honest, I thought nothing of it until I began to write these words, but it strikes me that the best way is not to think about Christian Service at all but to do it and thank God for it afterwards. Perhaps too often, I think about what I should be doing than actually doing it and perhaps you do too. We can plan grand schemes for our lives based on our qualifications and experiences, but perhaps our greatest ever accomplishment in our lives will be to give a cup of tea to a lonely old soul, to wash up after a monastic tea party, or to make an anonymous donation to a charity.

It is clear that we are not saved by works, i.e. not by what we do. We are saved through the Grace of God and by cooperating with that Grace willingly. If we are given the package of salvation, then we do need to open it! What brings us to God is that we do works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal. This does rather sound that I am rather making more of my kitchen duties than perhaps I should: where's the humility in that?

Well, quite.

My main point is that we do not know what will be our greatest accomplishment in life in the eyes of God. God's vision of us is completely different from our own and levels our accomplishments so that the ones we think are least important turn out to be most so and vice versa. Our humility must be in recognising that we are limited even in the things we think we do well, but it also must be that we have the capability in every limited action of seeing God transfiguring that action into something dear to Him. It's not what we do, it's that we do.

Yesterday was the Feast of St Laurence the Deacon. When told by the wicked Roman Prefect to turn over the riches of the Church, St Laurence brought to him the poor and needy of the region explaining that these people were the riches of the Church. Tradition has it that this is the reason that the holy deacon ended up roasting on a gridiron for this effrontery.

But the point is clear. Things do not have worth in themselves. Money is just metal and paper, gold just a metal, possessions just things - all will disappear when the Sun goes nova. Likewise all the values that we hold, our degrees and knowledge, our sporting prowess, all will die with us. Our worth is extrinsic - it comes from bearing the image of God in our very selves. If we deliberately blind ourselves to this fact that we are of infinite value to God, then there can be no salvation from death.
Likewise our actions, what we do, can be given a worth more than we understand by allowing the Divine Will to consecrate them.

So what are you going to do now?

1 comment:

ed pacht said...

Brother Lawrence desired above all things to be a priest and a choir monk. When he entered the Benedictines, however, it was as a "lowly" lay brother, doing kitchen duties he initially hated, until he learned to find God in whatever he was doing. The result? the classic "Practice of the Presence of God, and a line of seekers at the kitchen door seeking spiritual counsel from the kitchen brother.

Ora et labora, either of which can be empty of spiritual meaning, either of which can be the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven.