Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Opinion of Benedict

Sermon for the feast of St Benedict

As far as the Church is concerned, you ought to have a distrust for isms.

The Church has suffered much from the heresies of Arianism, Donatism, Nestorianism and Modernism and many more. So why should we trust Benedictinism?


It's good to know your heresies because knowing how things go wrong puts you back on track. All heresies come from an opinion. Some people think that Jesus was created or just a good man: that's how Arianism and Ebionitism work. Some people think that Jesus' God-ness can be separated from His Man-ness: that way lies Nestorianism. Some people think that, because we are more technologically and scientifically advance than we were, the Christian Faith needs to change in order to reflect those advances: that's Modernism.

You notice that a heresy starts with "some people think that..." A heresy never starts with "it has been revealed to the Catholic Church that..." The Church is still fighting all these heresies today. If there is one thing that can help, it's Benedictinism.


Why should St Benedict be any different from Arius? Both are putting forward opinions. Surely it's one man's word against another's. Except...

Except St Benedict preaches the virtue of humility. His is a practical theology. He doesn't seek to change Church teaching: he seeks to fit his life to the life of Christ and bend his will to do the will of God. St Benedict knows that he is just a man and wants nothing more than to do as God bids him.

For St Benedict, it is the good of the community that matters more than individual thinking. Indeed, he tells his Benedictine monks that they can always bring their opinions to the discussion but, once they have presented them, they must sit down and not press them. Those opinions are then weighed by the abbot who has been given the charge of the monastery. If he rejects those opinions then that decision must be respected, even if it is the wrong decision. The wholeness of the community is worth more than the value of opinions no matter how good they are.


Today, having your opinions rejected is regarded as having everything you hold dear rejected. It's almost like your opinions are a part of you. And then we begin to see the trouble.

If we value our opinions too highly, if we make them part of ourselves, if we defend them with more vigour more than our own lives, then we might just be worshipping our own point of view. We may just be worshipping our own ideology.

True: to be a Christian means to hold the opinion that Jesus is God. But it's more than that. It is truth. It is how we live our lives according to that opinion. Christianity is based in real, objective fact - not opinions. Jesus tells us to love God and to love neighbour. We can't have an opinion on that because He said it! Even then, He was quoting Moses! 

Over the centuries, the Church has come to recognise the Truth in her doctrine. Heresies have been shown up for what they are - an individual's ideology which denies the facts of what God has revealed to us in Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers. Those who hold to heresies hold opinions that are contrary to the Truth and value them more than the Truth. Those opinions are worshipped more devoutly than God.

St Benedict's answer is to be humble. He tells us to deny our opinions in the face of what the Church teaches. He teaches us to look for the goodness of God and work for Him and pray for Him. He teaches us to look out for the good of others and to build the Church community out and away of the noise of heresy and dissent. In short, St Benedict is teaching nothing more or less than the commandments that he has received from Christ Jesus Himself: love God, love Neighbour. 


At present, the monasteries and convents are dwindling. People prefer the comfort of their own opinions to living lives of stability, obedience and constant repentance. This is worrying as the monasteries have always stood against the divisions of this world as bridges to God in prayer. There are too few who will give up their lives and the worship of their own self-satisfaction in order to pray, work and study for the love of God. People prefer profits to prophets.


As Christians, it is our obedience to Christ that should stand out. Our obedience should scandalise the World with its desires for rights and freedoms and permissions. Our obedience to God and the sacrifice of our ideologies on the altar of the cross we bear, this obedience and sacrifice give us true freedom and true joy because the World and its foolish concerns for the material will pass away, fading into complete and utter insignificance.

Our Lord's challenge that St Benedict takes up is that Christians are indeed called to change the world. However, you change the world by changing yourself. If you become less greedy then there is less greed in the world. If you become more devoted to the Lord, the more that this world becomes devoted to Him.

 The fewer opinions we worship, the more like St Benedict we will be and the more like Christ we will become.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you Father, Benedict-ism (sorry about that) is no bad thing.