(“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Buddha)
The thing about praying is that you never know where it will take you. For instance, the reading for this morning’s office of Vigils was pretty straightforward: Ephesians 6, “the whole armor of God.” The verses are familiar and well worn (pun intended). The belt of truth holds things together; the breastplate of righteousness protects the heart; the shield of faith fends off spiritual ills; the helmet of salvation keeps our thoughts on Christ; and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God cuts through falsities and the hoo ha that assails our better sense about what God wants for the world. It draws a pretty vivid picture of the ways in which the faithful must be equipped by the Almighty to faithfully live in a culture not prone to faithfulness.
But there is one last piece of spiritual wardrobe, the description of which never before quite jumped out at me like it did today: “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”[i] “Whatever??” Huh… So there is no One Perfect Type Footwear of Proclamation (sneakers, snowshoes, sandals, pumps, wingtips), just whatever “makes you ready?”
That made me think of the Rule of Benedict, chapter 1 on “The Kinds of Monks.” There are two types of which Saint Benedict expressed his approval: hermits and cenobites. He might have named other kinds as well, since there were numerous forms of monasticism in his day as in this day. But Benedict was not the kind of fella to go on and on about things. For purposes of this wildly flowing stream of thought, let’s just agree that for Benedict, there is no One Perfect Kind of Monk.
Can we then paraphrase Paul here—with a smattering of cliché thrown in? “Whatever form of monastic life makes you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, just do it!” And let’s not get tied up in too many knots about whether we’re getting it “right.” Let us instead exercise a two-fold humility in our practice:
· First, we must follow the example of our elders and not presume that we know better than they how to be monastic (7.55); and
· second, we must follow where our Lord leads us today (Prol 35) and be students rather than slaves of tradition.
Admonition over; back to this morning’s Vigils.
Today is the memorial of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. The breviary had a couple of dandy readings by the saint. Here’s a snippet:
Love is its own justification. It pleases of and for itself; it is its own merit and reward. It requires no cause beyond itself and no further fruit, for its fruit is in its very exercise. I love simply because I love, and I love in order to love. Love, then, is a splendid thing, provided it keeps returning to its source, flowing back into the fountain whence it came and drawing thence its power to continue flowing forth.[ii]
That made me think of how the Benedictine (indeed, the entire Christian) charism is nothing, nothing, nothing other than loving Christ (4.21; 5.2; 72.11).[iii] If we do this one thing with all of our hearts, we will have no fear in following wherever he leads: honoring one another above ourselves (72.4), welcoming the guest (53.1), tending the sick (4.16; 36.1), serving the poor (4.14; 31.9) and generally practicing the presence of God wherever we are and whatever we do (7.62-64).
And that led me back to where this ramble began. After the Apostle Paul tells us what we must put on, he gives one simple instruction about what exactly we must do to make ourselves ready for the service ahead, namely, pray. Not just once or occasionally and not just for ourselves. We must persevere in prayer and pray fervently for one another.[iv] If we want to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called,”[v] if we want to truly love and know ourselves to be loved, if we want to be Good Monks, we must pray and pray until we become all prayer. There’s nothing else for it, loved ones. That is our call, our privilege, our joy. Blessings on it!
Grace be with you all,
[iii] Yes, we as Benedictines do follow a particular set of practices in our learning to love but if I expounded upon all of them here, then how would I build the suspense that keeps readers coming back for more? The key to successful blogging is cheap theatrics. (Okay, not really. I’m just checking to see if anyone ever reads these footnotes. I’ll stop now.)
[iv] John Wesley, Notes, 6:18-20: “Praying always - At all times, and on every occasion, in midst of all employments, inwardly praying without ceasing. By the Spirit - Through the influence of the Holy Spirit. With all prayer - With all sort of prayer, public, private, mental, vocal. Some are careful in respect of one kind of prayer, and negligent in others. If we would have the petitions we ask, let us use all. Some there are who use only mental prayer or ejaculations, and think they are in a state of grace, and use a way of worship, far superior to any other: but such only fancy themselves to be above what is really above them; it requiring far more grace to be enabled to pour out a fervent and continued prayer, than to offer up mental aspirations. And supplication - Repeating and urging our prayer, as Christ did in the garden. And watching - Inwardly attending on God, to know his will, to gain power to do it, and to attain to the blessings we desire. With all perseverance - Continuing to the end in this holy exercise. And supplication for all the saints - Wrestling in fervent, continued intercession for others, especially for the faithful, that they may do all the will of God, and be steadfast to the end. Perhaps we receive few answers to prayer, because we do not intercede enough for others.”
[v] Ephesians 4:1