Friday, March 21, 2014

The Benedictine Verse

Today is the Solemnity of the passing of Holy Father St Benedict, the father of monks. It's one of the days in the year in which an Oblate reflects on the nature of St Benedict's legacy and spirituality.

One of the most important biblical verses for a Benedictine is Psalm cxix.116, "O stablish me according to Thy word, that I may live: and let me not be disappointed of my hope." It is in the rite of profession and the rite of oblation alike. The Benedictine way of life centres around stability, obedience and conversion of "mores" and this verse very clearly epitomises all three of these centres.

First we pray: this is part of our conversion. St Benedict reminds us that before we even begin to think about doing a task, we address God personally. The verse is addressed to God, just as the Benedictine life should be addressed to God and to God alone. Conversatio mores has at its heart the turning of the face to God regardless of its state, its fallenness and the marring of the image of God in us. Like Camus, we have to face reality head on. Unlike Camus, we see that reality directly in the face of Our Lord Jesus: the face of the Crucified Jesus, the face of the Risen Jesus, the face of the Ascended and Royal Jesus. In the Tenebrae readings from the Lamentations, we hear repeatedly - convertere ad Dominum, Deum Tuum.

Second, we pray for the gift of stability. We ask God to ground us, root us firmly in His existence and in the awareness of His existence. Our lives flit from one idea to the next, one fashion to another. We fall off one bandwagon and ascend another. St Benedict says "No!" and calls us all to commit ourselves to the choices that we make. The Benedictine sacrifices much of his freedom choice when he makes his commitment. Of course this is more relaxed for the Oblate whose life is influenced by factors other than the monastic cell. Yet, the Oblate too commits, and knows that, in making a commitment, his Oblation (i.e. self-offering and sacrifice) of his will directs him to see that commitment through to the end. This is why the conversatio is so important. All works must be begun continued and ended in God for them to bear the fruit which nourishes the world and brings Joy to the Eternal Godhead.

Third, we pray for the gift of stability in the word of God. The Benedictine recognises his superior and is obedient to that superior. The Abbot is so called because he stands as the representative of God's authority in the monastery, and yet more is written in the Rule about the need for Abbot to be unswervingly obedient to God than about the brethren. The Abbot carries the can for ALL the brethren under his authority and the authority he possesses must be completely compliant with the word of God. For the Oblate, obedience is no less important. Obedience must be directed to one's spiritual superior, namely the parish priest and especially the bishop even if these are not Benedictine themselves. Yet even if they are not Benedictine, the parish priest and bishop are under exactly the same commandment as any abbot as they have souls in their charge. A priest, bishop and abbot will fail - they are human after all - but their duty is to recognise that failure and ensure that their congregation is not scandalised or driven away by their failure. This responsibilty to be obedient to his laity is certainly drummed into an Oblate-priest, just as much as an Abbot is responsible to be obedient to his community.

These are the three aspects of Benedictinism and are central in the profession and oblation, yet the verse goes on to demonstrate that this is a two-sided deal, a covenant with God. God has an input here. The Oblate asks not to be disappointed in his hope. He offers his sacrifice to God, his conversation, his obedience, his stability and commitment and looks to God to uphold him in his new life. The Oblate offers himself for no less a reward than God Himself! This is the relationship of Created with Creator which draws the Oblate to make his oblation in order to find that satisfaction, happiness and fulfilment in God. His part of the covenant is to hold that Oblate dear in His heart, to supply the needs of the Oblate and to transfigure the life of that Oblate. And God is Faithful.

One verse really does say it all, though in ways that are deeper and more profound than we can ever explore. St Benedict recognised it, and God used the oblation of that man to show us that we will not be disappointed of our hope.

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