March 3rd, 1981, Serial No. 00796

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Monastic Spirituality Set 2 of 12

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And we left Roberts when he was talking about obedience and conversion on life at the beginning of page 83. A couple of things, we've got to continue our digression a little bit, I think, because Father Vincent, during the retreat, talked about obedience a bit, in the last conference, remember. And he contrasted a couple of different ways of looking at obedience. He talked about the ascetical concept of obedience, like bearing the turnip upside down and so on. The idea of obedience is being the denial of your own will, so that in some way you may become open to God. So obedience and humility is being sort of going against yourself, going against self-will, to get beyond yourself in that way. And then he contrasted that with what he called the Benedictine, or even the monastic, or the later monastic notion of obedience, which he related more to the Jewish Torah, remember, a kind of guidance for your life, that is, a more positive notion of obedience.


Now, it's important for us to think about this. I think both elements are in there somehow. In the history of obedience, certainly you find both of those. And if you remember, when we talked about poverty, we found a Jesuit grocery who had discovered seven different models of poverty. Now you could probably do the same, maybe not quite as extensively for obedience. If somebody wants to do that, go ahead. Think of the different models of obedience that you can come up with. Now here we have two. One is the model of ascetical obedience, which is contradiction, right? Which is denying your own will so that you may become open to God. That's in its extreme form, where it always seems contradictory, or it always seems negative. Then there's the other positive model, in which we compare it to the positive sense of the law in the Old Testament, the Torah, and the Torah as a lamp for my feet.


Remember that Psalm 119, which expresses the joy of the Torah? And that's what Fr. Vincent was talking about, repeating, was the joy of the Torah. And in that, he was trying to counter the tendency to look at obedience, and to look, in fact, at the monastic rule, only in terms of, well, negativity in quotation marks, but only in terms of contradiction and paradox. But you've got those two dimensions in there. So those two models I would put before you. You can discover others. You can discover an organizational model of obedience, for instance, an administrative model of obedience, where you have to have order in order to run any community, any organization, and therefore people have to, you know, they have to have a superior, and they have to all do the same thing. They have to fit into the pattern. That, of course, falls short of the church or monastic obedience, but it has something to do with it nevertheless. And there are probably other models to be discovered. But those two are sort of poles, and they form a contrast, because one is, in a sense, negative, and one is positive. But if you look at them carefully, you'll see that you can't do without that negative


one. But that definitely is an element of monastic obedience. You only have to look at St. Benedict's chapter 68, you know, if a monk is ordered to do impossible things, when it comes out clearly. If it happens that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on him, let him nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority with all meekness and obedience. But if he sees that the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the limit of his strength, let him submit the reasons for his inability to the one who is over him in a quiet way, and at an opportune time without pride, resistance, or contradiction. And if after these representations the superior still persists in his decision and command, let the subject know that this is for his good, and let him obey out of love, trusting in the help of God. So that's the needle's eye. That's the narrow place, and the ascetical phase or dimension of the model of obedience, which you find in St. Benedict's rule, but not all the time. If you look at the rule, you find both dimensions, and that's beautiful. The way St. Benedict has been able to blend the positive notion of obedience as being


guided in the way of the Lord. When he speaks, when he's talking about the abbot, he says the abbot's teaching should be sort of kneaded into the hearts of the disciples like the leaven of God's justice, something like that. Now that's a positive thing, you see. It's not just corrective, it's not just self-denial, it's not just renunciation. It's not just the Paschal death in order to have new life, not just death in line of resurrection, but it's a positive guidance, and that's certainly there, you know. So, let's keep those two things in mind. I wanted to quote something from that love of the Torah and that joy of the Torah. This is from a Jewish prayer book, and they have this feast of what they call Simchat Torah, which is the joy of the Torah. Fr. Vincent mentioned it several times, where this positive dimension of the law really comes out strongly, not only in sort of an obedient filial piety, but absolute rejoicing in the fact of the law. And there you see that the law is much more than law as we have it in our notion, because for us law is legalism, is juridicism, is a structure.


But for them, law becomes wisdom. In the wisdom books, you find wisdom, that feminine figure of wisdom, which is somehow a figure also of delight and of rejoicing, identified with the law at a certain point. Here's a kind of hymn from the liturgy of that feast. Thrill with joy over the Torah. Render glory to the Torah. Her prophets are richest of all. I think Torah is feminine, but it's her prophets, and it's a feminine figure, just like wisdom. She is more precious than jewels. We exult over this Torah, for she is our strength and our light. I sing joyous praise to my God, and I place all my hope in Him. I praise Him amidst His people, my Creator, whom I trust. With all my heart I sing thy faith, ever rendering my praises. As long as I live, I will tell of thy wonders and thy kindness. Let us exult in this Torah, for she is our strength and our light. So that sounds very much like the wisdom books talking about wisdom. Or Solomon, remember in that celebration of praise of wisdom by Solomon.


I think it's in the book of wisdom itself. So you see, we don't want to get stuck on one end of that. There's the wide place, there's the positive, and there's the narrow place, and the contradictory, the paradox of the cross. They're both part of this thing of obedience. It's the loving guidance of a father, it's supposed to be. And also it's that leading through death, Gethsemane, the bitter cup and so on. And then in the Rule of Saint Benedict, at those two points, at the end of the chapter on humility, which is also a chapter on obedience, practically speaking, chapter 7, remember that running, that rejoicing, and what was formerly done out of fear? Now he does naturally, and as if just for the love of what he's doing, he does it for the love of the law, in a sense, what before he did out of fear and trepidation and unwillingness and so on. And then at the end of the prologue, where he says, the beginning of the life is narrow, but it widens,


and so then you run in the way of God's commandments, and that's got the paradox in it. To run in the way of the commandments is the joy of the law, which has proven itself to be no longer a law. And if you look at that law in the Old Testament, it's fascinating, because it's got two ends, it's got a big end and a small end, and it's got a wide end and a narrow end. And the narrow end is both where the law is put on you, so that you'll learn that you're a sinner, and that you can't do it. Remember St. Paul talks about that to the Galatians and to the Romans. He says the law is only there to show up sin. Nobody is perfect because of the law. Nobody is justified by the law. But on the other hand, the law is the pathway of life, and those who walk in its way somehow learn to please God, even though the mere doing of the law does not please God. The mere sort of paying your tithe and doing the external thing, doing the ritual. The prophets say, well, no, that doesn't please God. What he wants is your heart. But somehow the heart is led into the way of the Lord through the law. But what's important is the interior, but the interior is impossible without the exterior.


What's important is the spirit, but the spirit somehow doesn't come without the law. And so you can't throw out either end. But remember that the large end of the law is both that largeness of heart, that interior assimilation, that interiorization of the law, which is purity of heart and which is love. Remember the Shema, you shall love the Lord. The first commandment, the big commandment there, you shall love. So it goes right to the heart. You shall love the Lord with your whole heart. And that's the broad end of the law. Now the narrow end, and the broad end of the law is also Jesus, because after all, he's a man of the law. He is a personification of the true word of God, as distinguished from the frozen, fossilized word of God, which is the other end of the law. Now, it's hard to figure out exactly how all these things fit together, but on one end the law turns into Jesus, the one who does the law perfectly, and it turns into this joy in the way of the law, discovering God as Father and loving the Lord with your whole heart.


That's one side of the law. The other side of the law is precisely the contrary. It's the freezing of the law, either so that it seems to break your neck, or so that it turns into the scribes and the Pharisees, who are the ones that crucified Jesus. You see? That's the narrow end of the law, as it were. Especially where it becomes frozen into that ego-centered thing, that St. Paul says that he throws away. He says, you know, everything that I had before is as done, for the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. And that's what the Pharisees are stuck on, you see? And that's why they can't recognize God when he comes in the flesh. They can't recognize the perfection of the law, like in the Sermon on the Mount, because they're stuck on that shell. The Sermon on the Mount, that's what it's about. You've ever heard, you know, you show an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you, you shall not even be angry with your brother. So anyway, it's a mystery. We don't want to get stuck on one end, particularly on the ascetical end,


which can lead you into a dangerous kind of negativity. This is a thing that runs through the whole of monastic spirituality, and we'll find it surfacing here and everywhere. When we talk about poverty, it comes up. When we talk about celibacy, it comes up. Whether it's paradox, whether it's contradictory, whether it's dualistic, or whether it's sort of the nourishing of God and beyond dualism. And it's got both of those dimensions in it. Both, you know, death and life. But the ultimate is life. I was going to ask how you handle things like the monastic observances. People object today that they're not gospel. It's not living in the gospel. What you have to do today is to prove the continuity with the gospel, okay? In other words, the people that say that usually are not understanding the gospel on a deep enough level. They're taking part of the gospel, okay? And they're not taking the whole of it. They'll say, well, the gospel is simply love, or the gospel is simply brotherly charity,


or good works, or something like that. But they're not reading the gospel, you see? They're only getting part of it, the part that they can see. But if you go to the heart of the gospel, you can show that monasticism springs right out of it. But then, you have to reform your monasticism, because when you find that heart, you're going to find that your monasticism is not really completely in keeping with it. But basically, its values are in keeping with that gospel, that core gospel, or full gospel. But that's a crisis for monasticism. But monasticism doesn't have to be afraid. All it has to do is be open to recognizing the fullness of the gospel. And it'll find that its own essential values are completely in harmony with it, including the values of celibacy, and obedience, and things like that. The way that tradition has interpreted the gospel in the monastic life, in this way, is a very sound foundation to go on. But you do find weird things here and there. And in addition to that, there's an evolution in the course of history, which means that we have to look at those things differently now,


and more completely, in a sense, than they did in another century. For instance, in the century of the Desert Fathers. There are things that we have to see that they didn't have to see at that time, because history was in a different place. And somehow the Holy Spirit was speaking a little bit differently at that time, even though the basic truths are the same. There are some things that are very gradually revealed in the course of history, which gradually sort of fills out the thing. What you find in the beginning seems often like a kind of violent assertion of one side of the truth, and then gradually the whole truth is filled out in the course of the history of the Church. But nevertheless, that truth that was first asserted is also true. It's only what it seems to exclude that's a problem, but that's kind of talking abstractly. But gee, the original monks really felt that they were living the Gospel. It was the Holy Spirit that led them to do it the way that they did. The only difficulty comes when you say,


well, that's the only way of living the Gospel, or the way that we're doing it now is the complete, perfect way of living the Gospel. No, that's not so. And sometimes in the Middle Ages, that's the way the monks are sounding. And they say, well, monasticism is the perfect life, and those people that are in the world sort of haven't heard the Gospel. Or when Cassian says that, when he says that the people who are married and living in the world are living the Old Law, are living the Old Testament, they haven't really heard the Gospel. That's when monasticism is getting shaky. That's right. It's come full circle. It's a precious time for monasticism in a way, because now it has to really find its true roots. In other words, no bologna anymore. It can't claim any prerogatives that don't belong to it anymore. It's got to prove itself in reality, in spirit and in truth. And that's a good time. It's a kind of a soft persecution, unlike the ones in the early centuries.


The soft persecution which makes you find your own life. Otherwise, you can't sort of have your identity anymore. You can't. It's got to be real. Okay. So this whole Jewishness business is concerned partly with that. It's getting out of the paradoxical contradictory view of obedience in all the monastic values, those apophatic values we were talking about, which you might get if you only read certain letters of Saint Paul. If you only read Galatians, for instance, and interpreted monasticism from that. Then you'd say that the law was made in order to force you down into the dust, in order to humiliate you, in order to prove to you that you're a sinner. But you wouldn't find that value of the joy of the law and the positive instruction that comes from the law, which you find in other places. Jesus comes not to throw away the law, not only to contradict the law, but to bring it to its perfection. But how that works out in the history of the Old Testament is a real mystery.


You find things that are supposed to come straight from God and they really jar you, the violence and so on. The Desert Fathers, in them you usually find that ascetical obedience very strongly, like the business of stopping the letter. The calligrapher stops his letter without finishing it when he hears the call of the Father. Or planting a vegetable upside down and that stuff. But you also find the positive thing. You find that warm sense of the obedience of the Son in some places in the stories of the Fathers. I took a quick look to find that in the sayings of the Fathers this morning, but I didn't come up with much. But I know it's there. This is Obedience, book 14 of the sayings of the Fathers. In Western asceticism it starts on page 149 in the Father. I don't have any really startling samples of that positive kind of obedience,


but you can search some out if you want. Here are a couple in that direction. The old man said, If a man trusts another man and makes himself his servant, he ought not to think about God's commandments, but give himself completely to obey the will of his spiritual father. If he obeys him in everything, he will not sin against God. The idea is not to sin, in other words. It's not a matter of breaking your will. It's a kind of relationship which is a sacramental relationship. In concrete terms, you're expressing your desire to be related to God, your desire to adhere to Him. Now, obedience, we tend to think of it in terms of contradiction, of doing what you don't want to do, instead of maybe doing what you really do want to do way down, but you don't know it, or something like that. There's a hidden positivity within obedience that we tend to lose sight of, largely because of these struggles of the last 500 years or so. The whole Protestant Reformation thing brings obedience down to the level of a battle between authority and the human being, between liberty and authority,


a dualistic struggle. That's not what it's about. Once you get down to that point, the meaning of true obedience has been lost, and it becomes just a rigid, structural, organizational thing, where it becomes some kind of a perverse, authoritarian agency for crushing your will, and by grinding it to powder, somehow sanctifying it. But that's not exactly it. And somehow, when you get into that dualism, whenever we get into a dualistic struggle, a tug-of-war like that, we've lost the third element. And remember, the reality is trinitarian. And the third element that we've lost is very often the Holy Spirit, which somehow joins the extremes, and makes out of that deadlock, which could be a deadlock of obedience, that dualism makes it a communion, a koinonia. The rediscovery of collegiality, you see, in Vatican II, signifies that too. It's not just a matter of pope out there, isolated, and then church or bishops over here. No, it's a communion, which is not easily understood. It's not the pope above the church,


or outside the church. The same with Mary. It's the much more difficult thing of understanding the relationship of the pope to the church, when the pope is within the church, of Mary to the church, when Mary is in the church, and somehow represents the church. No, there's more subtle realities, and they're not dualistic, in the sense of two mutually exclusive terms, like billiard balls, that whole kind of thinking, which we've fallen into in the West. They don't have the same problems, in the same acute form, in Eastern Christianity, in Orthodox Christianity, because they didn't fall into that billiard ball dualism. They retain the sense of the third element, and the sense of mystery. Part of it seems to be the dualism, that's the problem, and the other part seems to be the elimination of the paradox, where you don't get through to the resurrection, you just stop at the crushing. That's right, that's right. And sometimes, see what creeps in there, this is tricky, because what creeps in there is a kind of neurosis,


a kind of masochism. Very easily, into that point, the reason why the resurrection doesn't come about, is because somebody sort of gets into the orbit of his own suffering, and he starts gravitating around himself in some kind of sick way. And so he doesn't really grasp on hope, either because it hasn't been offered to him, or he hasn't had the faith or the courage to grab it. But he doesn't grab onto hope until he doesn't come up out of that place. You don't know where to put the finger in the blame, in cases like that. Often it's because of the way the thing has been set up. If you read Martin talking about over-control and contemplation in a world of action, I was going to get to that. I think we'll get to that a little bit later. So, I'll wait. But the interpretation of obedience in that sense that everything has to be controlled, and that liberty is bad, that liberty and therefore the human being, the core of the person, is really something negative. That leads to a lot of these evils.


And then to the evil of a bad self-image, and then this sick thing, which never comes into resurrection, because it's somehow fallen in love with its negativity. That's the problem, on the part of the... Here's another one. If you read people like Dorotheus, and Pacomius also, you'll find a lot more of the positive. And also probably if you read some of those Syrian fathers, somebody like Ephraim, Syrian monastic fathers, you'll probably find that positive Torah notion of obedience, as well as the other monastic values. Now this is a kind of panegyric of obedience which winds up as the last one and the father is just part of it. So, my sons,


obedience is good if it is for God's sake. Strive to win at least some trace of this virtue. It is the salvation of the faithful, the mother of virtue, the opening of the kingdom of heaven, the raising of men from heaven to earth. This is not talking in negative terms. Obedience lives in the house of the angels, is the food of all the saints, who turn to it at their weaning and by its nourishment go to a perfect life. It sounds much more like that Torah, that bread of life. And also remember the monks who would go to the desert father and ask for a word. They were asking for a word of salvation, a word of life. And sometimes it would be a hard word, but what they were looking for was a word, something positive. They were looking for bread, as if their life was starved for meaning and for life itself, and that's what they were looking for. They were looking for the Holy Spirit too, and guidance. And that sort of paradoxical thing, that's the second level.


It's part of the conversion thing though. It's the realization of sin. But somehow it's not the deepest, not the... It's easy to think it is the deepest thing. Here's something from Father Hausfeld. He's a Jesuit, however, who was a good student of early monasticism. He's got this paper on the theology of obedience. And he's talking about the origins of obedience in religious life, which is in the monastic life. He quotes a lot from Pacomius, because he feels that Pacomius has a sound view of obedience in his life, especially as a Jew. But he talks about the origin of the monastic life, and therefore the origin of religious obedience. And this is the way he structures it. He's trying to lay a theological foundation for obedience. The previous considerations can be summed up


in a few simple propositions. Number one. This is page 32. The only good of the creature is the fulfillment of God's plan. So this is based on a positive plan. Now, he doesn't separate creation from redemption. See, if you call it God's creative plan, if you put the center of gravity there, like Fr. Vincent did, then you get a positive view of obedience, don't you? If you put the center of gravity on redemption rather than creation, you can get a negative view of obedience, okay? Because you say, well, the creature is fundamentally sinful, fundamentally damaged and perverse, and only by conversion, by a radical turning around, does it turn to God. Therefore, obedience is designed to turn it around 180 degrees, as it were, away from itself. If you don't have the basis, the foundation of the notion of creation, you're in danger of getting a purely negative view of obedience, you see? You see how important that notion of


creation is that Fr. Vincent brought in in the retreat? That was his key concept, sort of, in order to get a positive slant on the monastic values, on the, call them the apophatic values, or the renunciations, or whatever. Of course, another way you do it is by going to the core, the positive core of the obedience itself, or of the poverty itself, or of the chastity itself. And what do you find if you go to the positive spiritual core of those? Faith, hope, and love. That's what it's about. It's not about obedience. It's not ultimately about death. It's not ultimately about renunciation. Those things are negative. It's about faith, hope, and love. And those are somehow all one thing. Some indescribable way they're different and not the same. That's the one thing that it's all about. St. Paul says that those are the things that apply. And he says if I can burn myself up, I can give away everything I have, I can do everything, including take nine or ten vows,


but if I don't have faith, hope, and love, I'm nobody. And he says, he boils it down, he says, if I don't have love, I'm nobody. Because somehow the faith and the hope have to eventually... And that's what lasts. And all the negativities and all the renunciations somehow pass away. Just leave that. That's like the gold after you've passed through the fire. Okay, number one. The only good of the creature is the fulfillment of God's plan. Two, because man has been unable to recognize this plan and the whole of creation and the details of happenings, the divine goodness has made his desires known in the law and the Decalogue promulgated by Moses. So this is a positive teaching about God's plan. It's not just something, not just a yoke to try. Although that comes out certainly, too, that aspect, too. Three, this law of the Son of God, Jesus, made man, came to bring to perfection by his doctrine and to illustrate by his life. The difficulty still remains, however, of knowing what the will of God is in the multiple affairs of actual living. Four, this is why certain Christians, anxious never


to stray from the royal road of the service of God, imagined that the law could be made known to them by others whenever they were in doubt about their own understanding and their own righteousness. So he says this is the origin of the monastic life. When somebody wanted to find out really what the exact will of God was for him, for himself, aside from the general will of God, then he would search out a spiritual father and ask him for the will of God. So this word of salvation that they were in search of was meant to be the will of God. How can I do the will of God? Sometimes they express it in different ways. How can I be a monk? Sometimes they don't always understand it in those terms either. This has been boiled down by reflection. What we're looking for, what we're thinking of, we think we're looking for, we're looking to, we're looking at things. And then he goes into the life of Pacomius. And Pacomius is always in quest of God's will. Pacomius was depressed


and his heart full of anguish in his yearning to know the will of God. It was still night and suddenly there stood before him a being full of light who said to him, Why are you sad and why is there sorrow in your heart? And he replied, It is because I am seeking the will of God. Then it goes on and he has another experience. He was a prisoner of war and he made a promise to God that if he escaped he'd serve God. And he got out of it. And then he had another apparition. He who appeared to him gave him this reply to his anguished questioner, The will of God is that a man put himself at the service of men to reconcile him to God. To which Pacomius replied almost irritably, I am seeking the will of God and you tell me to serve men. Yet the apparition repeated the message three times. The will of God is that a man put himself at the service of men in order to invite them to go to God. And so Pacomius began to lead others in the monastic life. That was his particular vocation. I wonder if the problem of obedience


in this more modern times is the problem of doing the will of God and releasing Yes. You can bring it down to that. Setting aside the question, the difference between negative, positive, all of that, you can sit in the middle. Do we really want another will of God? We're afraid to. And people are afraid to because of a sense of sin, a sense of guilt. And sometimes because the face or the image of God is so good hardened for one reason or another they can't face it anymore. It's too terrifying. It's turned into a ferocious image, not a fatherly image. But at least an accusing image which they seem to get so much guilt from that they can't face it anymore. And that's due to many, many things. A kind of a diabolic distortion of the image of God


in the minds of people. In the hearts of people. Somehow the power of evil is able to cast a shadow over that which is most important to man so that he can't turn away from it, can't turn to it but is fighting for it. Somehow the monk is supposed to be the one who's one of the people who's heard the heard the invitation to turn around and go back in that direction. That's what St. Benedict tells us at the beginning of the poem. Listen, my son, return by the labor of obedience to him whom you have gone away from, departed from, of this love for disobedience. So somehow he's got something in his heart which leads him to, in spite of that fear perhaps, to turn around and go in the other direction. Seek the will of God. And then it just channels into that that chapter 7, the steps of obedience. About 2, 3, and 4 of the


steps of humility in chapter 7 on the matter of obedience. And that's the practical external labor that he seeks. Because the Benedictine law is the way of obedience. Philip? Well, in some way we're sort of searching for the will of God and to perform it in a monastery and superior to... My impression is you give very few what would be called, say, commands. That's right. But to what extent can we have confidence that by obeying a command from you we're obeying the will of God? Okay, now Roberts goes into that a little bit. Househair goes into it further. I'd recommend this article to you because I can't exhaust the subject. In fact, since I haven't been thinking about it too much before, let me just read part of it on top of my head. First of all, you don't have to think of the will of God as always being


a particular thing that he wants you to do at this moment. As if God had fixed a thing that you're to be doing at every moment during the day, and you have to sort of check with Big Brother in order to find out what it is. That would be an exaggeration, okay? Because there's a liberty, which is supposed to be in human life, even in the context of obedience. In fact, somehow obedience is supposed to educate you to liberty in a certain sense. Would obedience educate you to liberty? Yeah, it should. Which doesn't mean that you're always going to have increasing external liberty, but that you're going to find interior liberty. But also, because of your interior liberty, because of your detachment, you will be able to be given a larger and larger degree of external liberty. Although a person gradually discovers that he's set into a context of life, and there are a lot of things that he just has to cope with in his life. He can't change a lot of commitments. I refer back to one of Father Vincent's homilies when he said, well, when you're 20 years old, everything is 360 degrees around you of possibility. Then you're 30, and you feel less supportive, and it gradually narrows down there.


There's about one or two choices left, you know. By the time, as he said, you're old and senile like me. You don't want to harden the notion of the will of God too much, because it's as if God lays out a road, and he says, walk on it. But you can walk on the right side of the road, or you can walk on the left side of the road, and so on. And it's a matter of really, rather than talking about a precise will of the Lord, it seems to me that it's a question of hooking into a relationship with the Lord, right? Hooking into the guidance of the Spirit of God, or hooking into the wisdom of God in such a way that you become directed by God, which is a matter of obedience, yes, but on a deeper level, it's a matter of communion. At a certain point, it may seem like just raw obedience at the moment of Gethsemane, or the unwelcome, the unwilling, crucial choice, the cross. At another moment, it's a kind of a sweet guidance


which allows you to be rather free and creative in walking on the road of the Lord. I mean, you can choose your own path on that road. It's not an extremely narrow path which doesn't allow you any liberty at all. Okay? There's that too. So the monastic life offers you a way in which, ultimately, the Spirit is to guide you into your own path along that rather broad road in a kind of dialogue with authority. That is, a dialogue of obedience with authority. Is that a dialogue with the Lord? It's a dialogue with the Lord, but also through the medium of another person who is a superior. Okay? So it's not just a matter of his issuing... It's not a unilateral thing by which he issues commands all the time, and your love is completely programmed. It just comes out on a kind of ticker tape, and you read it off and you undo it. It's not exactly that way, but it's a kind of dialogue between the interior voice of the Spirit in you, which does not cease to talk when you come to the monastery and make a vow of obedience. He continues


to talk. So it's a dialogue between that and the exterior word from the superior, as well as the context of your life. Okay? Because most of the things you have to do, I don't tell you to do. They're laid out in the life. Some of them are matters of rule, some of them are matters of custom, the things that we do in this community. So a person just sort of falls into that channel and begins to flow with it for a while. But within that, there will be times when you'll be asked to do something, okay? Say I come up and ask you to put a hundred gallons of gas in the new van. It's rarely a matter where you have to ask yourself, is this absolutely the law? If every time Father Bernard asked you to fuel up the van, you had to ask him, I wonder where he's going? I wonder if I'm furthering some illegal action. I wonder if I'm sinning. I think I better check this with


Father Prior. But I don't know, I'm not so sure about him either. Maybe I better write to the bishop. Father Bernard, wait until I get my reply from the bishop. I'm not going to fuel up the van. Somehow, you don't have to ask yourself that basic question about the morality of the action every time you're asked to do something, okay? There's a certain freedom also on the part of the superior in the monastic life. It's more like a family where all the decision, God's will is not a unique thing. That seems to be the fundamental thing we're talking about. God's will is not just one thing that has to be done this day and everybody has to fit into that in a particular way, okay? It's not that kind of plan. Which means that the superior also is a little free about what he commands. And there's a kind of ease of relationship, smoothness of relationship there, just like there is in a family where the father decides something and decides, you know, to go to the beach or something. Some of the family may not like it if they go along because in order to work things have to go that way.


It's not all uniquely determined and only one thing right, but there are those possibilities. So there's a kind of a smoothness there, and the question of actual is this against the will of God shouldn't come up too often. If the thing is running right, it shouldn't come up too often. Now, when it does come up, unless it's a matter of real sin, you can assume normally that it is the will of the Lord for you. And even though it may seem to be a mistake because of something else, it may seem to be slightly foolish, the thing that you're asked to do at a particular time. Maybe a practical thing concerning the work, you know. But if you present your side of the thing, you say, well look, do you think this is really a good idea? I mean, we're going to... It seems counterproductive to me, whatever you've asked me to do, you know. If the superior persists and says, well no, I think we've got to do it this way. Unless it's a crucial issue, you should go ahead and do it. And you can be sure that you're doing the will of God and doing that


somehow, because that's... That's the answer to that. You just answered the question. That's the way it operates. That's the way the system, the monastic system operates, so that the superior doesn't have to be infallible. In fact, he doesn't even have to be right all the time or a whole lot of the time or anything like that. But it just runs that way, because if it didn't run that way, then it would be... It works that way in two ways. It works in an organizational way, that is, the monastery is able to operate. But it also smoothly... But it also works from your point of view, from the ascetical point of view. In other words, by doing that, you in some way are not only going beyond yourself, your own will and your own judgment, but some way you're hooking yourself into the will of God. Why? Because you do it out of faith, right? Because your basic motive is a desire to obey God. So what you do is you put the whole thing into your relationship with God. Okay? And your dialogue is with Him, not directly with the superior. So the superior may guide you a little bit here and there, you know,


maybe a zigzag path. But you're always in direct contact with God as long as you maintain that channel yourself through interiorizing your obedience through faith. Faith and obedience are immediately related. Another aspect of this spirituality of obedience, I think much of it from monastic obedience is sort of directed towards the superior as Lord, as the Lord. To what... Could you say a few things about how you feel about that kind of spirituality? I feel nervous about that. And in fact, most of the church does nowadays, okay? That's a sensitive item. The kind of structure that Saint Benedict presents where he says at one point, the abbot is called Father and Lord, and he takes the place of Christ. Well, on one side that's right, but on the other side you've got to be mighty careful of it. Because there's been kind of a solidifying of authority in the church sometimes, and an assuming of


prerogatives, which has knocked things way out of shape and which has had very bad consequences. In other words, if the abbot, the superior, understands it in that way and begins to get inflated with that role, then you're really in for trouble. Nevertheless, the monk, you know, he doesn't basically change his attitude. He still has to obey, and he still should obey with that same faith, that same facility. But things can go badly. Merton in his quotes on the vows that we have, makes a statement something like this, that properly you can't say that the will of the superior is the will of God, but the will of God is to obey the superior. That's a good way of putting it, yeah. You have to automatically say that the will of the superior is the will of God is dangerous. You can say that it's the will of God for me at this particular moment, but then you have to interpret too, and you have to say, well, yeah, but does God make mistakes about what I'm doing, you know, impractical mistakes? No, it doesn't work that


way. It's the way you say it. It's sort of subjectively, from my point of view, this is the will of God for me. From the objective point of view, that's another question which I'm not responsible for, after I've made known my view of the situation. Saint Benedict is pretty good about that chapter on impossible things that I read, you see, that there can be stupid-seeming things that we're asked to do, but after we've presented our case, then we just obey, unless it's a matter of sin. Now, if it's a matter of you're really committing what you consider to be a sin, then you have the right to appeal, and a person should in certain circumstances. That business about the lordship of the superior, we're in another age now, and that doesn't have meaning for us. It doesn't work. We need another image somehow for the superior. He's to be much more brother, or a father is a much better image, even though Jesus says, call nobody father. From the beginning of the church, they called the desert fathers, they were called fathers.


So he doesn't exclude that, that's not what he means. He means, call nobody father in that sense of idolatry, or that opaque sense in which you blot out the fatherhood of God, because really you just have one father. The whole thing depends on whether you see the relationship as a sacrament, or whether it stops with the superior. If it does, then there's trouble. Either if the superior begins to absorb that honor that you're paying to God, or if you do yourself, you can only see as far as him. Did you just say that the relationship should be a sacrament? Yeah, but I don't mean in the technical theological sense of sacrament, but it is a sacramental relationship, and that's part of the beauty and the depth of the whole thing in the role of St. Benedict. That is, the relationship with the superior is a sacrament of your relationship with God. Call it Christ, or call it the father. It seems to work out better as the father, because then you find yourself in the place of Christ, which is the way it should be. But also as a disciple


of Christ. It works both ways. But then your relationship with your brothers is a sacrament of your relationship with the whole church. So all of your relationships in the community are sacramental relationships. So the monastic community is a sacrament of the church, and a sacrament of God. It's a sacrament of the whole church, the mystery of the church, and at the same time it's a sacrament of God, of the kingdom of heaven. Then these relationships would be in place. But that thing of the the superior standing for Christ, or standing for God, is a very delicate thing. Because it's true. And it's true of the priest, and it's true of the bishop, and it's true of the pope. But especially in the monastic world, there's a very deep sense of the other side of that thing. And if the person, if the superior, has any self-knowledge at all, he'll realize what a daring paradox there is


between his sense of himself and his sense of his role, his humanity, his poverty, and sort of the dignity of that role of sacramental. Here's Hausser writing about the two deviations from this kind of obedience, the distortions. First of all, between its origins and the present time, there could be two causes of corruption of the original meaning of the monastic institution. The arrogance of some, and the heedlessness of others. Arrogance, in its etymological sense of arrogating to oneself rights which do not belong to one. Heedlessness, in the sense of letting things slide, of indifference, of a passive resistance. He's talking about one on the side of the superior, and the other on the side of the monster. Arrogance. There have been royal abbots, a thing of ridicule. But there has been worse, abbots who lived like princes, a disgusting thing. All this is no longer true, thank God, but some of its effects can linger.


Heedlessness. Then he goes on to talk about the kinds of monks who haven't been able to relate to authority in the right way. There have been monks without a vocation, that is, those who have entered the monastery with motives which were not simply care concerning the will of God. Compulsive vocations scarcely ever exist in our day, unless assured. But there can still be lost vocations, that is, monks according to their habit, but no longer according to their will. Some take too much interest in their work and come to forget that they are first of all monks. Others no longer take a real interest in their quality as monks and become disaffected from their superiors, with the result that they are disaffected from the will of God. In life in common, superiors and subjects, that word subjects is rather disagreeable, but all this language tends to have a kind of frosty aspect. Forms such as spiritual solidarity, the word of St. Paul is literally verified in them.


If one member is harmed, all the other members suffer with it. Then he goes on with something I think is pretty important. Only truth delivers from vice and leads to virtue. The theology of God's will as we have treated it is simply truth in the sphere of authority and submission. Then he goes on to apply these principles in a more practical, concrete way. Truth. It's not a kind of drama, a fantasy. Dramatization is something which is not truth. It's an attempt at living the truth. And therefore, just like humility, we get into trouble if we consider humility as a kind of I don't know, tour de force of the will of the shallow self, the superficial self, versus the external self, versus the interior self, the true self. That's useful. True self, underline that word


true. So it's a matter of getting beyond the superficial or untrue. You don't have to call it false, but it's certainly untrue. Self to the deep self, the true self. And that's what humility is about, and that's what obedience is about. So somehow, when we have to go against our own will, or away from our own will, what will are we talking about? We're talking about not the will, as it were, of the true self, which is one with the will of God, but the will of that other self. When we talk about humility, about sort of wiping ourselves out, becoming nothing, we're talking about that ego, that shallow self. Father Vincent doesn't like that language either, the language of utter nothingness and so on. You notice his interpretation of poverty and of obedience, which he included in that. There are these sort of two traditions, the more humanistic, more positive tradition, which is related to that notion


of Torah. And then there's the sort of absolutist tradition, more like the tradition of the desert. He also identified it with the Jesuits, as far as obedience is concerned, which is a death and resurrection, rather than a kind of education, rather than growth. We're always going to run into those two different interpretations, and really we need both of them. We have to blend them. There's a moment for each. But for a community, the broader interpretation is better. And then, like St. Benedict, you've got to have that chapter 68 in there, where you say, well, there are going to be moments when you're going to have to invoke the other interpretation of obedience, when you're really up against it. The moment of Gethsemane, of the impossible thing, the impossible obedience. Impossible in quotation marks. It's subjective impossibility. So, the truth. First of all,


the truth which nourishes. Now you think about, sort of, the bread of life, the word of God. So obedience, somehow, should be that leaven, which gives you the nourishment of God, the bread of God, the light of God, the life of God in your heart, somehow communicates the spirit. On the other side, the negative side, in quotation marks, it's that which helps you to get beyond your shallow self, to die to the ego, and so on. But there is truth too, isn't there? Because it teaches you self-knowledge. As St. Paul says, you know, the law manifests sin, shows up sin, doesn't justify it. Two sides. Okay, let's continue with Robert's talking rapidly. Obedience and conversion


of life. He talks about that the reason why we obey, it's because we want to fundamentally, but we don't always remember that. The inner value of obedience versus the externals of it. The need to keep our focus on the interior dispositions, because that's what it's all about, is nourishing those inner dispositions. And they're positive dispositions, faith and hope. Limits on what a superior can command. This just opens up the subject for that, but they treat it at more length in books on moral theology, and some books on monastic life too. He talks here in particular about things which would tend to go against the vocation, against the monastic vocation. The superior has no right to command a prolonged absence for an end contrary to the nature of the order. To be a military chaplain and go somewhere


for two years just to make money or to help in a parish. It's easy for him to order somebody to go out for two weeks to help in a parish and nothing else. But a basic change of life for a long period, which is really going to affect the monk deeply, that's to be honest. And then he talks about the duty to appeal in a case like that. The superior can change things in order to suit the needs of individuals and professors. Then the fact that our first superior is the Holy Father, that's in the constitutions. Beyond the general and the general chaplain and so on. The pope retains jurisdiction over everyone in the church. But religious in a special way because they're built into the church structure in a special way. And among the religious are the monks. I made a mistranslation of the old


conditional constitutions of that article and said let me see if you could have the monk shall obey their superior like the pope or something like that. It was a really comic mistranslation. Instead of, he shall consider the pope as the supreme superior. So the pope could tell you, could ask you to go to Indochina to run a parish or something. It's not very probable. Now the relation of conversion of life to obedience, this gets kind of theoretical. On one side, conversion of life expresses the basic orientation of obedience. In other words, the monastic life is a life of conversion and that's what obedience is about. It's about conversion. So the word conversion renders that part. On the other side


I lost my sheet of paper. On the other side it gives the content to obedience. anyway and that's the word conversatio expresses that better. If you're talking about the content, the observances, then it's conversatio. If you're talking about the orientation, then it's conversio. When Fr. Vincent was talking about obedience, he tended to emphasize conversatio over conversio, remember? He went from obedience to conversatio and then to the notion of the Torah, the positivity of the Torah, the teaching of the law in the Old Testament, and the joy of the Torah. And those sort of tend to move towards our two poles there, the one positive and the other paradoxical. The one of the positive obedience and then the ascetical obedience, we'll call it. Excuse me, you used the word orientation


in connection with conversio. What did you use in connection with conversatio? Well, content. The stuff of the monastic life, the concrete external things that you do. That's what he gets into here. In case anyone didn't follow the logic of his next few pages, I don't think we need to go into that detail. I'll leave it to you. The heart of original sin is the propensity to do our own will contrary to the will of God. He says that those first words of St. Benedict in the cornerstone of the rule, that you may return by the labor of obedience to influence and be part of the disloyal disobedience. We can get kind of tired of hearing that for a while. Then we get to this notion of self-will. The Cistercians are very strong on that. St. Bernard, for instance. They had a book of Gilson, The Mystical Theology of St. Bernard. He treats that very well. The notion of proprium. He didn't even say


voluntas propria all the time. He didn't even say self-will all the time. He just said self or own. Or proprium, which doesn't have a good translation. Your own thing would be a pretty precise translation. Your own thing. That, in a sense, is what separates us from God. And from our brother, because it's our own thing. It's that personal grown-up. Private possession in the deeper sense, in the spiritual sense, in the psychological sense. Not just something that's outside of yourself. We can possess ourselves of almost anything. The tendency to follow our own desires at the moment, even when they bring us to the greatest evil. Okay, now, this is delicate because it's easy to say well then our desires are evil. Our basic tendency is evil. No, that's not it. Your basic tendency is positive. It's good. Your desires are even good, basically. The energy and somehow the substance, the creative value of those desires is good. But, what is it? It's the inclination


to prefer our own desires to the will of God. It's that very delicate thing there. It's more in the spirit, more in the reason. Not in the reason. It's in the heart. But it's not just the fact of your carnal desires or whatever. We don't want to oppose the spirit to the body, the spirit to the material in the wrong way. And this gets manichean if you're not careful. And that negativity creeps in again. Or say that dualism, whereby man is split into two parts. And one has to war against the other. And we've got to believe that we're basically good. That the core of ourselves, and even the core of our physical reality is good, not evil. If we get the other notion, we get ourselves into problems. And sometimes you find a hint of that in some of the Fathers, especially in St. Augustine, in that tradition. It's something that still has to be exorcised from our Christianity. St. Paul uses the word flesh to mean


just the orientation, not the actual body. No, when he wants to talk about the body, or the physical part of it, he uses the word body. Sometimes he uses the word flesh for that also, but not often. But when he talked about the flesh in Romans chapter 7, or also in Galatians chapter 5, remember the works of the flesh? What he means, yeah, but not only that, he means the whole man under the domination of evil. The whole man has been turned upside down so that instead of being ruled by reason, will, and thence by God, he's ruled by passion, by his lower instincts, if you want to call them that, and ultimately by the power of evil, which somehow has put a fascination and a power into these lower instincts that they didn't have before. Because it's counter to the law of God. It's a very curious thing, the way that arises. He talks about it in Romans. The law brings out sin and makes a man more perverse, because it turns him against God consciously. Whereas before there was no sin, he said.


Well somehow the flesh is this thing that's emerged, and which is against the law of God somehow, so that the law and the flesh are in this deadlock. But the law is man, the flesh is man under the domination of evil, and ultimately under slavery to the devil. Somehow I think through this fear of death, remember in Hebrews. And therefore under the domination of the power of the passion. But the passions are just the immediate instruments which keep man under the domination of this evil principle, which is outside of oneself. But the body is something you could say neutral, but more than neutral, it's positive. It needs to be redeemed and freed from this evil influence and turned right side up, rather than upside down. Is that clear what he's saying, James? Because the tongue can be used for speaking evil He says you praise God and then you curse your brother. And it comes with the same tongue. Right. It's got to be


converted. Basically it's good. And here we get back to our Jewishness again. Because the Jew believes that the good Jew, the real Jew, believes that everything created is basically good and belongs to God. And that's why there's a kind of a wholeness and a kind of a wholeheartedness about the Jewish worship and the Jewish attitude. The idea of praising all the creatures praised God, and then the whole of yourself, even your evil urge, is somehow able to be turned to good. This is magnificent. It's not as if there's a chunk of yourself which is just plain evil and which you have to be ashamed of and which ultimately has to be somehow condemned. No! Or wiped out. All of you is good even your evil urge. It has to be somehow tricked into collaborating with the rest of yourself and moving in the way of the will of God. Vasidim took it that way. Not all of the Jews. But that's somehow grounded in that basic Jewish notion of the goodness of the creation. All of it. What would be an example of that that's kind of hard to explain? Your passions. Okay? That is


say the sexual urge or whatever is a power which needs in some way to be transformed or we'd say sublimated so that it can be turned towards God and into your worship. But that's not necessarily an evil urge. No, but they talk about it in more ambiguous terms because they don't have as precise a distinction the psychological distinction between say what's purely physical what's purely psychological and then so on. But in fact some of the Hasidim have got this Kabbalistic notion in there which does get out of order where there's even that evil is a necessary principle somehow inside the good almost. Okay? So there's something not quite right in there. But there's something at least dubious. There's a kind of dualism. Some of the Kabbalists put it even inside God. God's got evil inside of himself. Jacob Berman does that in some of these Russian guys. The basic notion however that everything that you are every atom of it is good and all can be somehow taken out of the shadow of untruth


and unreality and turned towards God. That's the essential thing. This whole thing of rejoicing in love strikes me because he's under the law and he's accepting his own death and everything and he's on the side of truth and it's his purification because he's joyful and he's adoring God and he loves the law. That's right. Even when it's very difficult that business about singing the Kaddish the hymn of praise when one is mourning for somebody the immediate reflex is to sing this hymn of glory to God. That's magnificent because it's got that same thing in it. In other words, even your suffering is positive. It's a matter of learning how to read it. Even your trials and everything negative is in its own core somehow transmutable into gold, transmutable into the positive. That's very Christian to me, the love of the cross.


The difficulty with the love of the cross thing, if we don't understand it against this background of the goodness of creation, it gets us into a dualistic mind where we feel that it's the will of God that we be crushed so that good may come out of it, you see. Unless we sort of have that background to look at it, it turns into another deadlock against God in which, I don't know, it can't psychologically. Just think of anything which comes along. It's turning it all into good. In fact, basically the good is already there in some way. It's adjusting our attitude. It's not that we have to force it into good, but we're seeing it wrongly somehow. We're not reading it. We're not seeing the word of the Father or the hand of the Father in some way. Is the purpose of asceticism to get some kind of overview so that you can see the connection between the dualistic suffering and joy in order to get an overview? I'd say that's one of its fruits. It should be. But if asceticism, we're always talking about asceticism


not becoming an end in itself, but a view of asceticism which doesn't go beyond asceticism is wrong because it becomes negative. It becomes either a self-operating thing in which you're doing your own thing, it's not really relating you to God, it's not really relational, or it becomes a negative thing where you're repressing part of yourself in order to liberate another part, but that's not it either. It's got to be positive and it's got to be integrated in the relationship with God. The relationship with God and therefore your oneness with God and then the goodness of all of you. And so it's a matter of liberation from illusion in some way which casts a shadow over part of us, where we have to fight part of ourselves in order to liberate another part. That's still in the dualistic mind. . [...]