Sunday, June 10, 2012

In for the Long Haul

In my youth a year sounded like a long time.  I had no idea at the beginning of my Christian walk that I was in for the long haul.  Now looking back, after having been a Christian for more than half a century, it seems like a short time.

What I didn’t understand at the beginning was that the waves of spiritual warfare that assaulted my youthful and emotional soul were just the leading edge of a lifelong battle.

St. Benedict says,

The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience.  This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.[i]

Do not be distressed by this warfare as though it were the specific lot of Christians.  The whole world is at war.  It has always been at war.  The Psalmist laments,

Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!  Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.  I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war![ii]

 Only the dead do not have war, and some of the dead are still living.  They do not know that they have war, even though many of these dead are walking wounded.

Benedict asks us if we are ready to give up our own wills “once and for all.”  If you read The Rule carefully you will see that this “once and for all” is merely a starting point.  I remind you that Henry Suso said, “No matter how much one abandons oneself, one repeatedly finds more of oneself to abandon.”[iii]  Once and for all surrender is a way of life, not a momentary surrender once given and always possessed.  But always remember that there is a rhythm to spiritual life.  Even old Screwtape, looking at humankind, recognized that,

Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.  If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down.[iv]

St. Benedict in his Rule, calls us to both a surrender of our time and of the disorderly nature of our lives.  He does not call us to obsessive all-encompassing spiritual disciplines but to a life of balance.  He advises us that,

Prayer should be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace.  In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the superior gives the signal, all should rise together.[v]

For Benedictines there is a holy balance of work and prayer.  And we might also add, of holy leisure.  One saint said, “I could not pray because I had not worked.”[vi]  It may also be true that both prayer and work can be dulled by the fact that we have not played.  This balance is evident even in simple things,

For the daily meals, whether at noon or in the midafternoon, it is enough, we believe, to provide all tables with two kinds of cooked food because of individual weaknesses.   In this way the person who may not be able to eat one kind of food may partake of the other.  Two kinds of cooked food, therefore, should suffice for all the brothers, and if fresh fruit or vegetables are available, a third dish may also be added.  A generous pound of bread is enough for a day whether for only one meal or for both dinner and supper.[vii]

Given the living conditions of his day the allowance is generous and the sense of balance without compulsion is kept even in the matters of the table; not however without a warning about over-indulgence.

The insistence on maintaining balance in the ongoing warfare of our lives is a Benedictine distinctive and a mark of our lives as Oblates.  We are not monks and our call is different as is reflected in our Oblate Rule of Life.
The Oblate Rule of Life

The call to make an oblation of their lives in a specific Benedictine Monastery comes to those who by necessity live their lives in the midst of the world of family and business.  Oblates are conscious of the principle of St. Benedict that Prayer and Work must be balanced in their experience.  The Oblates Rule of Life is regarded more as aspiration rather than obligation, yet it provides a guide that calls us to gentle accountability. 

The Rule of Life
1.      To pray at least one Office a day.
2.      To attend Eucharist on Sundays and where possible on Feast Days.
3.      To pray daily for the Monastery, including our fellow Oblates.
4.      To spend some time daily, however short, in Lectio Divina.  Lectio Divina has four steps: Reading Scripture, Reflection, Response in Prayer, and Resting in the Presence of God.
5.      To read the daily reading from the Rule of St. Benedict.
6.      To wear the Medal of St. Benedict.
7.      To make, in so far as possible, an annual retreat at the Monastery.
8.      To support the work of the Monastery financially and in other tangible ways.
9.      To be flexible and governed by love and common sense in the carrying out of the Rule of Life.

Oblates make their oblation, or renew it, at an annual retreat at St. Scholastica Monastery, or at whatever Benedictine Monastery where they have made their Oblation, or at our Oblate Chapter Meeting by arrangement with Director of Oblates.  The oblation, although not a calling to be a monk or nun is nevertheless made in the context of The Rule of St. Benedict who said, “Let him who is to be received make before all, in the Oratory, a promise of STABILITY, CONVERSION OF LIFE, and OBEDIENCE, in the presence of God and of his saints.”[viii]  Our call as Oblates equips us to live a balanced life in the midst of our too often very busy and demanding schedules, rather than in retirement from the world.[ix]

It is important to recognize that we are in a state of warfare, but it is important to “take up the strong weapons of obedience” in the context of a balanced, non-compulsive, orderly, Benedictine way of living.

[i] The Rule of St. Benedict in English, ed. Timothy Fry, (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982), p. 15
[ii] Psalm 120:5-7  
[iii] Henry Suso, Sermon 4, The Exemplar, trans. Frank Tobin, (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), p. 372
[iv] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 40
[v] The Rule, p. 48
[vi] John Cordelier, but where the reference is I do not know.
[vii] The Rule, p. 61
[viii] D. Oswald Hunter Blair, trans. The Rule of St. Benedict, (Fort Augustus: The Abbey Press, 1934), p. 155
[ix] The Oblate Rule of Life is unique to our Chapter, St. Anthony of the Desert.