Friday, July 11, 2008

Feast of St Benedict of Nursia - 11 July 2008

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Feast of St BenedictFriday 11 July 2008

Proverbs 2:1-9
Luke 14:27-33

Almighty and everlasting God, give us hope and fortitude to persevere in carrying our cross, day after day; that we may deserve the name of disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, your Son. Amen.


There is truth in advertising in today’s Gospel. We are not promised a rose garden. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem; eventually he will wear a crown of thorns. And turning to the crowds that follow him, he challenges them to measure the depth of their commitment.


Last week, on our way back from “Monk Camp” (as we affectionately call the Benedictine Juniors Summer School) Br. Randy and I visited our Mount Calvary Brothers, for a few days.

And then, on Sunday, we flew back home out of Santa Barbara airport, which seems to be a movie set from the fifties. In the airport lounge, Randy picked up a few freebie magazines to browse on the plane.

One of those magazines billed itself as being about wellness, lifestyle, metaphysics and spirituality. By the way, note that ethics and religion don’t seem to move advertising newsprint these days any more.

One article, disguised as an interview, was publicizing an upcoming seminar by an inter-denominational guru who shall remain nameless here.

One sentence got Randy puffing in disbelief and giggling at the same time. It advised this guru’s followers to find and practice their chosen “bliscipline”. That’s right, you heard me: “bliss-ipline”. At first, it looked like a typo, but upon a second reading, it appeared that another oxymoronic neologism had been born. Bliscipline!

The combination of discipline and bliss into a new word is not innocent. It attempts to erase the fact that following a discipline -- that is; a training that corrects, molds or perfects the moral character -- will require effort, perseverance and trials.

Instead, it tries to imply that such training could occur in perfect happiness -- in bliss -- and allegedly, without effort.

I must admit to feeling somewhat sorry for that guru’s clients; disillusion is bound to await most of them. Either the expected bliss will fizz out or the results of true discipline will never show up.


We get no such gloss-over from Jesus, today. He warns his followers on the full extent of the renunciation and obedience that is expected from them if they want to be his disciples. And he warns them to do a thorough reckoning of whether they are that eager to be his disciples.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells us that the cost of discipleship is twofold:

· First, to carry the cross and follow Him,

· And second, to give up all our possessions.


Carrying the cross is not a once over event. It continues throughout our discipleship. As monastics, day by day, our cross presents itself to be carried in various ways.

Some day, it is the annoying behavior of a brother. Some day, it is an inability to see meaning in the journey. Some day, it is the maneuverings of community life. Some day, it is my unyielding sinfulness gnawing into my best intentions. Some day, it is the perceived poverty of means for the terminal accomplishment of objectives (mine as well as the community’s). Some day, it’s just routine and ennui.

But the nature of the cross we are to carry with Jesus remains the same: it is a phenomenon we are to stay with, no matter the cost, if we are to reap the full fruit of discipleship. The stability of the monastic makes it possible that, given prayerful attention, God may give me to taste, feel, hear and see what I need to learn out of my experience.


The other pre-requisite of discipleship that Jesus offers us is the need to give up all possessions. In reading both books from Luke the Evangelist (the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles) we can determine that Luke sees this as a multiple renouncement.

The initial post-Easter Jesus community lived in solidarity after multiple relinquishments:

- For starters, they had abandoned living with their families of origin. In their society, this stripped them of status, access to family support, family networks, land and other patrimony,

- And then, whatever assets they had owned coming into the Jesus community, they disposed of and they gave the proceeds to the community.

In joining a Benedictine order, monastics eventually do the same and then they renounce two more possessions.

One is the arbitrary disposal of their body and heart in relatedness to others. They choose to be in loving relatedness to God and to all of God’s children. This comes at the expense of being in relatedness to a partner of their sole choice.

The other renounced possession is their arbitrary self-determination. In obedience, monastics choose to aim for mutual collaboration. They place the common good of ever larger groups of humans before self-indulgence.


Well, if none of the difficulties of community life that I listed earlier seemed like much of a cross to bear to you, some, if not all, of these renunciations ought to make up quite a cross to carry to most observers.

And the grace-filled thing is -- that in carrying our cross with Jesus, day by day -- the monastic life fills most of us, most days, with purpose and meaning in this life and with hope and expectation of even greater justice and love in God’s Kingdom.

Forget any chosen “bliscipline”! Give me the discipline of following Jesus any day. In carrying our cross day after day we find redemption, we find freedom!


In closing, allow me to pray with a quote from the one whose life we celebrate today, holy Benedict of Nursia:

Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen.


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