1995, Serial No. 00134

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Rule of Benedict Novice Class # 1 - 1990s

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We won't have to exactly plow through it during the session, but we can discuss it. And the same thing for the short one on stability before the final class on Friday. Heavenly Father, give us your spirit, help us to understand that to which we can call on. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. This morning we wanted to do obedience, and you have the Xerox, so as before, go through that and invite questions or points for discussion as we go through. This is coming from the English Benedictine congregation, which has its own particular issues. One of them, of course, being educational, where they have a lot of schools and colleges and so on. So, it's not the same as the Trappist community, that's for sure. And it's not quite the same as our system, as our own context, because obedience will often be experienced and understood in this context of active work and active educational


work. You'll notice he talks about educational and pastoral work a couple of times. So we need to bear that in mind. He starts out with his initial summary there, in the New Testament basis of obedience, connection with baptism. And therefore, monastic obedience is built upon Christian obedience. It is not an ascetical extra, but Christian obedience articulated in a special way. It's interesting that if you're in the world, if you're outside the monastery, you have to be obedient to all kinds of things, especially if you get married and have children, you know, and you have a job, you're obedient all the time, one way or another. And when you're in the monastery, you're protected from that kind of obedience, and what you have is another kind of obedience, which can seem to be an artificial obedience, right? A structure within which you are obedient to the rule and to the habit. So it's very important that that structure of obedience be at least as meaningful as


the one that was outside, because it can be the opposite, and that's what Merton points out in contemplation of the world of action. There are two articles in there particularly that, if we have time, I'll just read you a few lines. We've already touched one of them, the Identity Crisis article, a beautiful Merton's treatise on alienation and the... well, I'll get to that later... and the other one on the place of obedience today, which is not such a major writing. And that obedience has to be seen in context, before it was isolated a lot, and before it was conceived very vertically, just between you and God, let's say through the habit and the rule. But now you see it, understand it, in the context of community, so the horizontal dimension comes in. We say horizontal, but that's a distortion, because really it's a matter of communion, it's a matter of koinonia, and the sensitivity and responsiveness that one has that's called


for by that living in communion. It's an entirely different thing from a rigid kind of constraint of will. So he's going to talk about monastic obedience within this larger Christian context, and also related to personal growth, freedom and love, those values which are both personal, subjective, and also finally communal, the value of love. Then the tradition, okay? He says there are basically three perspectives here, coming first of all from Cassian and the Master, who are pretty close together, and then from Proconius and Basil. Now as soon as you see Cassian, of course, you suspect an aramidical background, a desert background for what he has to say. Whereas Basil and Proconius are decidedly cenobitical, of course. And the Master is somehow in between, even though he's legislating for a synovium, he's got a lot of that desert background in his thinking still, in his framework of thought,


as Deb Ogilway has pointed out repeatedly. Okay, the three perspectives. The first one, starting on page 190, is obedience to Christ, the second one is an imitation of Christ's obedience, or you might better say a participation in Christ's obedience, and the third one is obedience within a context of community, that is, obedience largely to the Brethren, or obedience as a kind of movement of that organism of community. Obedience to Christ. Remember where Saint Benedict says that we relate to Christ as Master and Father? Remember in the wage of war, right at the beginning of the bullet, under Christ the two kings, militants. So the abbot, the ancient, is Christ's representative and is such the spokesman of Christ. And so this is the idea of the apostolic line, the apostolic tradition.


For instance, why is obedience to the Holy Father part of Catholic life? Because he stands in the place of Peter, right? Why is obedience to the bishop justified? Because the bishops are the successors of the apostles and so on, whoever hears you hears me, those are the words of Jesus, and then they're just passing out for the apostolic chain. Then the apostolic thing gets translated at a certain point into the monastic line, which is a different thing. But that's a very strong, what would you call it, persuasive argument, especially, I think, at the beginning. And then later on, you may not find that one so satisfactory, and I think it's also at the beginning, not only at the beginning of monastic life, for the individual, but also at the beginning of monastic life for Christianity in general, that it's one which tends to take its place among the others later on.


A part of it, of course, is that because of our baptismal new birth, we're born into Christ. So though we follow him as disciples, yet we are also participants in his being itself. The other thing is that this one is conceived, the monk is looked at as somebody who isn't himself mature or free enough to hear God's will and obey it. But as the elder here points out, that's something that's gradually going to fade as you progress, or it should, if you're getting anywhere. If the guidance is doing its work, then it should become less necessary as you go along. You should require less mediation of another person. Now this is particularly so because the inspiration ultimately is interior. That is, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, and as you become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, you should be in less need of external guidance.


But the principle has always been that you still need some kind of checkpoint, that even the solitary, the hermit who is supposed to be able to listen to the Spirit and obey the Spirit, still needs an external reference, a human reference of some kind. And here, as he points out, the stress is in finding the objective content of God's will. And the guide here, the quality of the guide is critical. Secondly, monastic obedience is imitation of Christ's obedience. Now here he moves immediately into the idiom of sacrifice. He is the son who obeys the Father and by his sacrificial obedience redeems the world. So he's the example. So we imitate him. In imitating him, somehow we participate in his life. I came not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And so on. As he quotes John, Paul in Philippians and Matthew 26, not my will but thine be done.


You remember what that is, that's at Gethsemane. So this one tends to move immediately into the region of the passion, into that critical, crucial time of obedience for Jesus. The emphasis is not so much on discernment of the will of God as if it were an external, objective thing, but on the interior disposition and the interior unity with Christ. So it's not only vertical in that sense, but also horizontal. Also in obeying the Brethren regarding all the circumstances of his life as occasions for abandoning himself to the Father's will. The stress is on the subjective dispositions of the disciple. And he points out in Cassian about, you know, unreasonable obediences and so on.


Then the third one is quite different because it's in the context of community life itself and its basic value is that coinage, is that communion. The monks imitate Christ's kenosis precisely as his self-emptying, remember, in Philippians. We had the same quote referred to before, Philippians 2.8, in the second vision of obedience. The monks imitate Christ's kenosis, self-emptying, precisely by their mutual love and service. And you get this from Paul time after time. As a matter of fact, if you look up that passage in Philippians 2, you'll find that before the oft-repeated liturgical hymn, Christ being equal unto God, he humbled himself and so on, before that you've got this injunction to mutual love and service, prefer others to yourself. So it's really about community, what Paul's talking about is life in community. But when you move to, what is it, verse 6, which we usually quote, we usually don't quote


the first part of it, when you move to verse 6, then you forget that. And it seems purely vertical, but it's not. It's about community, actually. It's self-emptying, as Paul translates it into present life. The abbot's seen as a unitive center of the brotherhood, rather than being above it, in a pyramid image. And then he compares the three. A can be left behind, B and C cannot. And he says as monks get more educated, or more mature in some way, then A becomes less important, and B and C become predominant. Any questions about that? Are there any alternative images of obedience that you can think of? A and B become less important? A becomes less important. B remains. B and C remain. So obedience to Christ becomes less important?


The image of obedience to Christ. Okay? Now, in this sense, the abbot is taking the place of Christ. This is not obedience to Christ. That doesn't become less important. But we're talking about monastic obedience, where you're obeying a superior, right? So to see the superior as the image of Christ, and your obedience to the superior being obedience to Christ becomes less important, in proportion to the others. And especially in this particular sense of the superior helping you to discern God's will. Okay? And that comes all the way down from Cassian and the Master. Okay. Because that discernment becomes more and more something that you're able to do yourself. The fact is also that you may have a spiritual father besides the superior. Okay. We'll help with that. I guess what I like about B and C is how they each talk about the importance of the monk's


relationship to the community and to situations within the community, which says to me a lot about the conversation more, and that's who we need in the conversation. That's right. It's important, then, to see obedience within a context. I think when a person comes into the monastery, especially if, say, he's experienced a dramatic conversion, something like that... Do you remember in the mission, the fellow who tows the armor up the mountain and so on? In other words, a person may feel, if he's experienced a dramatic conversion, that he needs to be broken in some way, that he needs some, what would you say, violent means, you know, to change his will, to transform himself, to step out of the old ways and into the new ways. And then that first model may be especially attractive. He may want somebody to... And he may want to, say, abandon his own will. It's a thing purely between him and God, and he wants somebody to stand in there and give him, let's say, hard things, or help tell him what God's will is, because he doesn't feel


able to discern it. And that's quite reasonable. But later on, the context becomes more important. The context in terms of community. And also the fact of identification with Christ, the participative quality of this. It becomes less isolated, less an individual thing. So less an individual thing in two ways. By participation in Christ, so that you see yourself as obeying the Father somehow in Christ. Remember where Paul talks about filling up in his own flesh the sufferings of Christ for his body, which is the church? That kind of participation. But the body has these two dimensions. You're the body of Christ, therefore you somehow complement Christ's obedience, Christ's work, Christ's suffering. But you're also part of the body in the horizontal sense, in which your obedience is within the context of community. Okay? But in both cases, the individual shell is being broken in some way, and you're looking at it now in a context.


So it's not... You don't need this sometimes mechanical, external sort of piston of the habit, or this mediation of God's will, in which somebody said, well, you do this, you've got to do this. This is what God wants of you. So it's a matter of moving into context. A lot of the advance of Vatican II, I think, has been a considering of things in context, and a freedom to consider them in context, rather than in isolation. This is true with respect to the sacraments, the Eucharist, and so on. No longer that over-focusing, for instance, on the species, and on the exact words of consecration, and so on. But a considering of the whole context, which takes freedom. And that's a lot, too, of a superior to be, you know, if you have a superior who's really into power, that can be really dangerous, because he won't hear this at all. That's right. And of course, in the old days, that was encouraged in certain... I mean, the abbot was encouraged to be a kind of steamroller, I think, to weigh a hundred


tons, you know. And the stories of the old abbots, and how heavy they could be, and so on. There's a kind of a U.S. Marines gusto and joy in that. Boy, did we have an abbot! And bishops, too. Bishops, too, yeah. And because it crushes people, you know. And people may be telling stories about what a wonderful abbot he was. He was so strong, you know. And you should have heard him bawl out so-and-so, or something like that. But meanwhile, people's lives are being extinguished, and lives are pitifully being crushed, and confined, and minimized. Before this idol, this Mount Sinai of an abbot, you know. So there was a lot of that in the Trappist tradition. You hear about the ruffled abbots of Gethsemane, and so on. Okay, personal aspects of obedience. There's a personal relationship with God in union with Christ. So here he's taking up B, isn't he?


And it's as if he goes right away to the issue of the passion of Jesus, the suffering of Jesus. And it's as if that comes back and defines his whole life. I always think of those words that the Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. In other words, the serving and the giving of the life are in continuity. So that the serving is already the giving of one's life. And the giving of his life in his death is only the, what would you say, the consummation of what he's been doing all along. And this, in horizontal terms, at least on the first level. Underneath, of course, he's really doing that in corresponding with the Father's will. He talks again about Philippians 2, 5 to 11. And not about the verses that come before it, which I'd invite you to read, which are about community. Is it although he was in the form of God, or because he was in the form of God?


And I'm inclined towards the first one to tell you the truth. Because I don't think it makes as good sense if you say, because he was in the form of God. It's the form of God, somehow, which is contrasted with his humility, which is his emptying. However, the assertion is a strong one, and is good for reflection. The God-likeness and divine sonship, when translated into terms of human living and dying, find their only possible expression in total obedience. God-likeness and divine sonship, when translated into terms of human living and dying, find their only possible expression in total obedience. I think when we say that, I think there's another side to that. And the other side to it is something like freedom, or something like love, okay? If you only say obedience there, you're not saying enough. And then, when you say total obedience, you can obey almost everything.


I mean, you can obey the clock, you can obey Buddy and Scooter, if you want to. We can... So, the great question there is, what are you obeying? Exactly what does this mean? Sometimes people come into the monastery with such a disposition, such a willingness to obey, that almost they have to be asked to stop short, I think, and find out what's inside them. That's what Merton writes about when he writes about immaturity and inauthenticity and over-control, that it's very good to want to give your will away, to want to give yourself away. But look out that you don't do it before you've got it. That is, that you don't give away what you haven't got, or that you're giving it away is really a desire not to have it at all. In other words, because it's easier to obey than it is to have a will, than it is to know who you are, than it is to have any convictions or make any decisions. But that's really the whole process of living.


Yes. It's a substitute, an alternative for life. You know, a lot of people come into monastic life not as life, but as an alternative to life, because life is too scary, or because they've gotten hurt in living, in beginning to live. And I think there's probably some of that in almost all of us, especially if we come in, well, not necessarily just young. There's something to think about. Not that it invalidates the vocation, but it's got to be dealt with sooner or later, because otherwise we find ourselves continually taking weaker alternatives, making weaker decisions, and following the line of our cowardice rather than the line of our courage, which is not a good path. Or gritting up our courage to do something difficult, and not being fully conscious that at the same time we're dodging something else. He connects this obedience with baptism, down here towards the bottom of 193.


That underlying the prologue of the Master, and therefore the prologue of St. Benedict's Rule, there may be a post-baptismal catechetical sermon links monastic obedience very closely to paschal-baptismal obedience. And the idea that baptism has given you this ability to walk in the ways of God, and so that your life is a return, actually, to the paradise, the innocence that's given to you there. Top of 194. St. Benedict's obedience is not in the first place executive obedience. A means of getting something done. That's where Merton excels himself, because he loves to lampoon the monastery which is sanctifying its monks to make cheese or fruitcakes. In other words, where obedience has become detached from serving the monk's sanctification,


to become some kind of means of accomplishing the ends of the institution. It may be money, it may be glory, it may be this or that. There's been a lot of that in the past. The value in God-likeness is derived not from the end product, but from the manner in which the human spirit becomes free and is conformed to Christ. Thus the heart of monastic obedience is the monk's personal, free, humble, and love-impelled surrender to the will of God. And then he keeps correlating this with the words of St. Benedict. And then he starts talking about the difficulties. And they come up, not in the theory, but in the practice, in the concrete business of living. And especially when you get to the point... He defines two levels of obedience here. One is reasonable. It can be almost instinctive, natural, automatic.


That is the obedience to a situation. The obedience to conforming to what's needed in life. That's a kind of elementary wisdom that, in a sense, we have to learn if we don't always want to be losers, if we don't always want to be bucking the stream, the flow of life. That's an obedience which verifies itself in the sense that something goes dreadfully wrong if you don't. Then there's a supernatural obedience where it's not rational, it's not obvious, it's not necessary, it doesn't seem natural, and you really have to struggle. All of a sudden you're up against an unexpected wall. There's a block in your path. So, it's the boundary line between this two, where you're called to move from one to the other. Say, from the everyday burden of obedience, which you become even unaware of after a while, because it becomes habitual, because you do these things, and why not do these things?


And then the exceptional thing, which can come from several directions. The monk's spirit of obedience need in no way be eroded by the fact that he can appreciate the reason for a course of action required of him. The abbot should be willing to give reasons when he can. The maximizing of information generally promotes charitable community life and adult obedience. You'll hear so many complaints about the lack of that, not so much in the monastery, not this one anyway, because Robert is extremely good about that, but even in parish life and in other situations where a father just doesn't say anything, he makes all the decisions himself, nobody ever knows why. Or in departments, university departments and so on, that way of presiding. The harmony between faith and reason.


Another way in which that's smooth is when you just trust the abbot, because you know he makes good decisions, and that he's got your own best interests, or those of the community at heart, rather than his own agenda. But the element of sin comes in, and so there are these times when the dragon rises up before you. The monk is not asked to practice blind obedience or unreasonable obedience, that is, deliberately. This arises from the circumstances, not from some sly ruse on the part of the abbot. You can imagine smiling, smiling mischievously and designing this snare to put around the feet of the monk. This will get him. He's asked to step for a time with Christ onto the plane of obedience and faith, into the mystery of the redemptive, loving obedience of Jesus. That's where things are just black, and you can't... It doesn't make any sense, and also it's very painful. It might not bother you so much if it didn't make sense,


except that it hurts. Saint Benedict anticipates this in the fourth rung of the Letter of Humility, meeting in disobedience with difficulties and contradictions and even injustice. Contrastatio, that's sadness, saddening. To obey with sadness is a major obstacle for Saint Benedict. So, anything... Remember where the cellarer has to dispose things so that nobody will be saddened in the house of God? That means that the heart somehow, a cloud, a shadow has come over the heart, and so the monastic thing isn't working at that point. The vow of obedience. It's interesting how he connects this with the body. That quote from the psalm, You have prepared a body for me, I come to do your will, O God.


Marmion loved that passage. That's from Hebrews, isn't it? And indirectly from the psalm. Christ's human body was the means of communication with men on earth, and when glorified it became the source from which the Spirit could be given to all. Now, of course, obedience has to do with the body too. And the vow is a public, that is bodily, witness to this determination. I wonder if that comes from Marmion when he quotes that. It's not something you'd ordinarily think of. And then the personal or individual and communal aspects of this. It follows that monastic obedience implies both a highly personal asceticism of surrender to God and love and humility, the vertical dimension,


and also the experience of transfigured human relationships. Relationships of love, trust and commitment. That's his transition to the next session. Section about obedience and community life. And then, in that first paragraph of the next section, he's got a string of different objects of obedience to God, the creator, to the gospel, to his monastic vocation, to the abbot, to the brethren, to the rule and the constitutions, which are supposed to articulate the covenant between himself, God, and the brethren. And he says not to isolate any of these elements. If the abbot and the place of obedience are paramount, they're set within monastic life, within the context. Conflicts. Coming out this issue of the crisis of obedience from another angle now. The abbot can have the duty and right to insist


on obedience, even in a minor thing, if he sees the monk's difficulty as being self-will. On the other hand, once in a while it happens that a monk has a duty to follow his own conscience, even if this leads to conflict with the abbot or the community. It's not that these things happen very often, but when they do happen, they're major events in life. A good tradition. So he's talking, obviously from personal experience, about the kind of atmosphere there is in a monastery, and the way that things are done, and just the, what would you say, the fabric, the atmosphere, the climate of relationships and interactions between the abbot and the community. On one side, you've got obedience, and on the other side, you've got initiative or responsibility in a particular job, for instance. And he may very well be thinking of the school context. Monastery and school. So, to speak the truth in love,


either one can be too timid, flabbiness and irresponsibility, which seems like obedience, submissiveness, or an irresponsible whim to speak or act, as if there were no superior, as if nothing need be respected, as if one were the prophet. So he's talking about the relation between obedience and the other commitments, the other vows. Stability. Conversion. Remember, he's considered conversatio moral to be equivalent to conversion. And then the individual aspect. Personal responsibility and the forming of one's conscience, not just doing what one is told. Even asking permission requires a personal responsibility, a sense of responsibility.


That's something I think that's pointed out by our Constitution, that when you ask permission for something, you should first really think in yourself, reflect in yourself as to whether you should. Just because the superior gives you permission doesn't mean you should do it, doesn't mean you can have it. It's a matter of conscience before it's a matter of permission. Through multiplied individual fidelities of this kind, a strong tradition of mature obedience is formed in the community. To rule an abbot. He connects the person of the abbot with the person of Christ, and they rule with the Gospel. And of course, those are delicate identifications, aren't they? Delicate. They have to be weighed and not applied in a monolithic way. The title Abbas in the rule.


This title, Father, indicates that he loves his monks and serves them in such a way as to promote their growth to maturity in monastic life. That's a great, great issue, the abbots promoting the growth of the monks to maturity, and not simply keeping them in line, not simply making sure that there are no waves, nobody rocks the boat in the community, the community goes along smoothly. Smoothness sometimes has to be sacrificed to this growth. The abbot's duty to study the needs, gifts and grace of each monk. Saint Benedict is good on that, but of course the 6th century is one thing and the 20th century is something else. So that goes with the age of psychology, the psychological age and the age of the individual. That becomes a much bigger issue perhaps than it was in Saint Benedict's time. Or calls for different sensitivities. Obedience to the brethren. Now, this is largely the new issue, I think, in our time. And it corresponds to that Vision C, remember, that we looked at before. And Saint Benedict has a chapter on it


which is quite unusual in monastic rules, early monastic rules. So the abbot himself has to be obedient to the will of God for the community. And actually the structure of chapters and things is set up so that sometimes he has to be obedient to the community, that is, to a deliberative vote of the community, the chapter. And he himself is an instrument of the community, he's elected by the community. And he has to be obedient to the will of God Obedience to the community is fundamentally a matter of charity. It involves the love of persons rather than the love of some abstract idea or ideal. That's something we may have to wrestle with. First, we have to become conscious of it, that we're really attached to an ideal rather than to the people, rather than to a real community. There can be a lot of tension between the two of those as we go on and see the shadow side. That can happen very quickly, too. We see the shadow side of the community, of the people.


And we have to decide whether we're more in love with our ideal or with the real thing. Now, how the abbot deals with his officials and so on, this is something we don't have to dwell on right now. But he needs to leave them room for personal initiative, and at the same time, they have to, in some way, be in continuity with him. And keep the abbot informed. Consequences. A. Obedience and dialogue. That word dialogue seems like almost an invention of Vatican II. And what we're talking about here is so largely a movement, a transition in our time from an exclusively vertical model to... I don't like to say vertical and horizontal model because what's happening actually is this movement to a context of communion or to a living context.


It's almost like, at a certain point... We keep lambasting the recent past, but there are reasons for it. Because it was so easy to fall into a mechanical model, a mechanical vertical model of so many things, which is travesty of the truth. And it's not subtle enough and sensitive enough to correspond to the actuality of the church or the community. To substitute a mechanical model of monastic life for the real thing. Because the institutional model, the purely institutional model, easily becomes mechanical, like an internal combustion engine. The monk does not have to always conform his interior judgment to that of his superior. He's encouraged to communicate his feelings and convictions. And in the appropriate form, sometimes privately to the abbot, to the superior, sometimes to the community,


sometimes to his spiritual father, perhaps, if that's somebody else. So a dialogue between the abbot, let us say, and the monks should be a mutual, a shared discernment, actually, of the will of God, which may not be just one thing. So a margin of freedom, a space of freedom may be left at the end. He's talking more here, I think, of the individual dialogue with a single monk or the abbot. The same thing holds in a chapter. We shouldn't be dismayed if we're left to make up our own mind about something, and there are several possibilities. Because that's how we grow. We don't have the satisfaction of knowing this one is absolutely the will of God. We don't have that glow. Maybe something else is going on. Then he relates that to the difference between


obedience as disciplined behavior, that is, following a line, staying on the rail, staying in the groove, versus a more mature obedience. And the discernment of considering the will of God as a groove, as a single thing, a single groove, as a clear absolute, to an obedience which has to be one of continuing discernment. And he talks about two relationships to the mystery which we're talking about when we talk about obedience. One which sort of reduces the mystery immediately to a puzzle, and two, a problem which has a solution. And where we go with perfect security, having found that solution, having got the ticket somehow, we feel perfectly secure. The other one, we're continually traveling in the mystery, and therefore continually having to travel in faith. So, the idea of the building blocks. It's not a crossword puzzle, but a set of building blocks, leaving you free to design the building yourself within certain limits.


He quotes chapter 68 at that point, which is the one about impossible obediences, remember? To point out, however, it might seem to lead in the opposite direction. There's a nuance there, there's a turning of a little corner there. The vocational obedience is therefore an invitation to growth and self-transcendence. Saint Benedict suggests this in chapter 68. The stretching at that point, however, is not suggested by Saint Benedict as a kind of creative stretching to imagine other possibilities, or to create something new, but actually as the yielding to some immovable necessity. Something that seems just too heavy to bear. So I'm not sure that the citation is apt in that place. He's got a little poetry in there. The arrow endures the strength to become in the gathering outweaves something more than itself.


You may not like to think of yourself as an arrow, but that's a biblical image. Then he talks about the English Benedictine tradition and the history since the Counter-Reformation. Of course, the English Benedictine tradition had a lot to do with the Counter-Reform, didn't it? Because the English monks were displaced persons in France, and they had to come back and re-establish monasticism there, later on, which introduced a lot of special things. Probably had something to do with their educational function, too. Tensions are bound to arise. Obedience rendered to God by persons indwelt by the Spirit ought to be joyful, even in the strict sense of the word ecstatic. Now, what ecstasy means is standing outside yourself, right? Being outside yourself. There's a mystical ecstasy which is being lifted up into God, so that Saint Paul could say, I don't know whether I was in the body or outside of the body. But this is the ecstasy of the will. I think Saint Teresa refers to something like this, in which you're outside of yourself because you've completely stepped out of your own preferences.


You've completely stepped out of your own ego, in a sense. And that's the part of the great good of obedience. A lot of it is that. Simply being able to step out of the capsule itself. The difficulty is that, obviously, that's a very sensitive issue, as to when to step out of self, and when you should really be there trying to work from that position for all you're worth. Freedom and Love and Obedience. Now, here we come back to the paradox which we're apt to hear first, and be put off on that inobedience a person becomes truly free. You can say that superficially. You know, it's one of those things you can say very easily. And I think, for instance, bishops and officials and prelates have preached it into the ground, saying it very easily on all kinds of occasions. Now, my good sisters, obey your priors, because obedience will make you free.


Well, what was it that was over the gate at Auschwitz? Work will make you free. Yeah. Arbeit macht frei. So, we should remember that. Because that paradox, like so many paradoxes, the paradox of the cross, can be just used too easily. Used too easily. And the person who uses it may have all the interest in the world, all the investment in the world, in obedience, and no investment at all in freedom. The person who preaches that may be thinking entirely of obedience, and really doesn't want any freedom at all. So promises that, maybe not even knowing what it is to talk about freedom without even having any idea of what freedom is, really. Because one thinks in such institutional terms. One has been thinking in these ecclesiastical terms forever and ever. So people have to be careful how they use that. It has to be proven. But I'm sure that you've had experiences of times when you seem to be confronting an absolute impasse, you know?


And then in the absolute impasse you discover your freedom. You can be lifted. You go through a dark time, you go through a pit, and you're lifted to another level that you didn't know until then. Okay? You discover degrees of freedom and levels of being that you weren't aware of until you were put into that fix. So it's a little passion and resurrection. We have those in our lives. And obedience, of course, the idea is here that obedience is precisely that which puts you in that position of the immovable object, you know, and so on. That's chapter 68 of Saint Benedict's Rule. But we've got to be very careful we don't use that too easily. And people can be crushed by that kind of belief, that kind of... It becomes an ideology. A man becomes truly free when he finds and accepts his true identity, his son of God, and experiences this relationship and obedience. In a sense, it's discovering your life, isn't it? Because your life has certain limits. And within those limits of your life,


one of them, the big door at the end being death, you've got to discover freedom, you've got to discover love. But those limits remain. We're going to die. There's a rope around the stadium in some way. There's boundaries. Now, the boundaries are relative in one way, and there are all kinds of boundaries that are illusory. The boundaries, the shackles that we seem to experience every day are really largely illusory. It's just because we don't have the courage to shake them off with the imagination. But there are limits at the end. And we have to discover the illimitable depth and height of our life within those limits. So, it's a very paradoxical game. Our freedom is not an absolute, isolated from anything else, but it's given to us to make possible a relationship of love. We're truly the children of God when we yield our freedom to God who created it, and thereby find it. Remember, the back of that, I think, is the image of Genesis 4.


They took the fruit from the tree, remember? So it's taking that freedom and separating themselves from God in that way, and our job, Empress St. Mary says, to return by the labor of obedience. To restore that freedom to God. But it's very delicate how we restore it to God. We can't just put it in a box, tie a ribbon around it, and put it on God's doorstep. The freedom is going to be taken. We can't give it all, and we'd like to. We'd like to jump over the cliff of obedience and have it over with. Dash ourselves on the rocks of obedience far below. But we can't do it. It's got to be taken away, and we have to know the discernment of when it's proper to plunge like that, and when we should be remaining in our own place, in our own self, in our own convictions, in our own freedom. The Holy Spirit has to tell us. Obedience is one of the great forms of giving in monastic life.


The outpouring of the Spirit means the creation of a new heart, a transforming, recreative action of God at the deepest springs of our freedom. Only God can touch us there. And then he concludes with those two stellar parts of the Rule of St. Benedict, where the narrow way turns into the broad way, and that which we bear, maybe with a good deal of pain and rub, becomes delightful. Okay, and that's the end of Chapter 7 on humility and the end of the prologue, remember? Running with inexpressible delight, an enlarged heart in the way of God. Unfortunately, I noticed it again. The R.B. 1980 translation of the prologue, I think Muffs said, with hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. That seems to me to be a little... Hearts enlarged, the expanded heart. Because of dilatato cordi, you know, your heart gets bigger in some way.


That's a violent image. It's in the prologue, verse 49. As we progress in this way of life and of faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. That's like a New American Bible translation there. So the image of, which is that dilatato cordi, expanded heart. And I should have, first of all, referred you to the treatments of obedience in the Rule and in the Constitutions, which I'll do now in just a minute. In the Rule we have chapter 5 on obedience, which we studied. Obediently. And then there's chapter 68 on obedience in impossible situations, remember? Assignment of impossible tasks to a brother.


So you might want to read through those two short chapters. Then at the commandment of these Constitutions, I shall read a couple of paragraphs. The first is chapter 2, number 27. We believe that the prior assumes the role of Christ in the monastery. According to Saint Benedict, the prior is called to be a father, teacher, and guide for the monks. Those words were worked on. They're the result of a lot of discussion and work. Father, teacher, and guide. To guarantee and favor their sincere openness to the voice of the Spirit, both as individuals and as a community. And then number 31 in the same chapter. So that's the part about the prior. And this is the part about the monks, their response to this role of the prior. The monks are to show that they recognize the prior's mission in a spirit of faith


by offering him full, conscientious, and responsible obedience, as is fitting for those who enjoy the freedom of the children of God. Like the Lord who came to do the will of the Father, become obedient unto death. That's our B, remember? Let the monks offer themselves to God, especially with the image of sacrifice, the participation now in Jesus' life and death. Let the monks offer themselves to God by their obedience as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, their true spiritual worship. It's very heavily loaded with biblical phraseology there, biblical metaphors. Living sacrifice, true spiritual worship. And then the fraternal dialogue, which is appended at the last part of 31. By a life of fraternal dialogue which reflects on earth the communion of the three divine persons,


like every effort to preserve the unity which has its spirit as its origin, and peace as its binding force. Okay, any further issues or questions before we move from obedience to poverty? And actually, in a way, I think it's good, because what you're getting in the beginning, I think it's very good to be drawn by that, because you're drawn by the whole thing. You feel, I've got to give myself to this. Routine, let us say, or this structure, is perhaps through a belief like that. But the probability is that I'm never going to experience what St. Therese experienced. In fact, I may never experience hardly any of it, you know. That his life simply may not hold those mystical contemplative experiences for me. So, I'll have to face that sooner or later. I shouldn't face it as a sentence, that is, that it can't happen at any time. But there can be a real, a myth there, which is a little bit tricky, isn't it?


Because it's a little bit, what would you call it, deceptive. The same thing is true with St. John of the Cross, in the sense that if I do these asceticisms and renunciations, you know, then I'll be filled. In fact, the presumption is almost that I'm already being filled, that I'm overflowing with these delights of contemplative graces, and that therefore I just renounce everything and it will get bigger and bigger, even though I'll go through hell on the way. But that's not the experience today. People are, with some exceptions, people are simply not filled that way with divine favours, contemplative favours. So there is a deceptive thing there. Sometimes it's necessary to consider the whole myth of the religious life, the whole myth of the contemplative and practical monastic life, and distinguish it from the actuality which we're experiencing today. We can always say, okay, we're not doing it right. Okay, we're not fervent enough. We're not obedient enough. We don't have enough faith. Nevertheless, by and large, the experience is not what you see in the works of St. Teresa,


where she would say, well, most of my nuns are experiencing, you know... Was it the Prayer of Union? Or only... I can see how, for instance, most of the novices could be experiencing the Prayer of Quiet at some point, clearly. But not beyond that. So there's a real illusion there. When I said it was in some way necessary or justified, I think God grabs us in that way. The honeymoon is part of it. And that promise and that belief is part of the initial experience. But we have to, what would you say, become disillusioned from it, become weaned from it, and realize that probably that's not going to be our experience sooner or later. And here, you know, there are exceptions. But the part of it, maybe, that especially we have to drop sooner or later, is the idea that just by doing these particular things, I'm going to be a realized person. Even if that thing be scrupulous obedience,


that by obeying or by doing the rule, you know, and all these things, I'm going to be transformed. Because it's not true. There has to be something inside that's really rising into consciousness, that's really changing and filling, a real inner transformation. And it's not just the, what would you say, the experiences, the contemplative experiences, the inner transformation. It's a subtle thing. But just doing anything in particular is not going to make it happen. Anything else we should talk about before we quit this morning? It seems like, you know, it's hard to break out of that model, you know, that what the institution, what the church says is going to do it worst. Yeah, yeah. And to get to that other point, especially if you've gone that way for so long,


you know, and then to realize that there's something more, and that there's a whole interior, interiorization, and that the divinization happens through the interior transformation, rather than just what the church or the institution or a particular way is saying. And it's hard to break out of that, you know. And I think of a comment you made back on the weekend retreat, you know, that if the church would say, would preach these things, we probably would, in one sense, preach itself out of existence. And again, I'm not saying we don't need the church, but we do. But that doesn't always necessarily lead to that freedom and further transformation and that stretching and openness that also come forth. Even if the church didn't preach itself out of existence,


that particular preacher is preaching something beyond himself. In other words, he's preaching himself out of existence, in a sense, because he's preaching something he doesn't have, probably, the way it is nowadays, which is very difficult. And so, naturally, the preacher is going to go back to the security of his own thing, you know, the thing that was given to him in the seminary, and that he's built into, and where he's got a status, and this and that. And that would be sort of the end of it. And it works, because here I am, I'm part of it. Now it works. But we find out that it doesn't. And you get the people inside, who often don't get anywhere, and gradually get there, and so many people outside, who are rejected the church just for that reason. So, how can a church, and how can a monastery, be a place of the real stimulation of this interior thing, which is so fugitive, and so difficult to put your hands on, this mystery? Yes, and that was a good word that you used today, about living in the mystery of it. Or letting the mystery live in you. Either one.


And yet, there should be some way of guidance, some way of nudging the person, you know, off the track where he's wasting his time. Onto the track where something can happen. It's much more a mystery than we thought. And there was so much security in that image of the church before. And in a way, I think it's good for that Gibraltar image to be there at one point, at a certain point. But then, it has to collapse, it has to decompose, and the person is left in that desert, where something has to come out of themselves. Thank you, Kurupi. To the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And so next week, we're on schedule. And so next week we're on schedule. And so next week, we're on, on schedule.