Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
Proper 26 B - Sunday, November 4, 2018
To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.
“The founder of the world's most widely used database engine ignited a firestorm in the tech community after it was revealed that he had posted a code of conduct for users based on the teachings of the Bible and an ancient order of monks founded by Benedict of Nursia.”
What he had posted was Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict: “The Tools for Good Works.”
The chapter comprises 72 exhortations or commandments, beginning with the Two Great Commandments that we heard this morning in the Gospel: Love of God and Love of Neighbor, commandments which Jesus quotes from the Torah (Deuteronomy and Leviticus). The chapter goes on to add most of the Ten Commandments and various other behaviors or proscriptions.
Taken together they constitute a thorough moral examination of Christian living, ranging in content from observable, external actions such as relieving the lot of the poor and clothing the naked and burying the dead and not being lazy and not giving way to anger to more interior practices and dispositions that we might term habits of the heart:
• Don't nurse a grudge
• Utter only the truth from heart and mouth
• Do not return evil for evil
• Love your enemies
• Don't be a grumbler or a detractor
• Hate no one
• Don't be jealous
• Don't be proud or arrogant
• Don't love quarreling
• Don't be addicted to wine
There are even some explicitly religious directives:
• Prefer nothing more than the love of Christ
• Love fasting and chastity
• Deny yourself in order to follow Christ
• Keep death daily before your eyes
• Put your hope in God
As you might imagine, this didn't go over big in Silicon Valley...and maybe not with most of us if we are honest. It's an exhaustive and perhaps exhausting list and would be frankly impossible—is impossible—were it not for the final 72nd tool: “Never despair of God's mercy.”
Most of these “tools” are not commandments or laws in our usual sense—enforceable dictums--but only in an extended sense, just as the Two Great Commandments that we hear from Torah and from Jesus and which begin this list are not. But they help me, they help all of us to better understand the content of those two great commandments. They “unpack” them for us, so to speak. And indeed the two are fundamentally and ultimately one. Jesus invites us to acts of love...acts which are both interior and exterior, internal dispositions of the heart and external observable behaviors. And unless we have both, cultivate both, our loving is incomplete and weak. And so are we.
Here in this community, we are fond of quoting a line from the rule of our founder James Otis Sargent Huntington: “Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn.” This too is not a commandment in the usual sense—a demand or directive. It is rather a description of the very nature of love. It is not the case that we must first get our act together and then be or do something loving. Rather, it is the very nature or essence or character of love to overflow in acts of love, just as it is of the very nature or character of light to shine and of fire to burn. And this is not original with our Father Founder. St. Ignatius Loyola says as much in his Spiritual Exercises: “Love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words.”
We rightly say that the God the Holy Trinity Itself naturally overflows in creativity revealing God and Godself in an abundance, and overflow, an outpouring of love.
And what is true of God is true of us...all of us. All of us are lovers, though few of us love well.
St. Augustine says, “Everybody loves: the question is, what is the object of our love? In Scripture, we are not urged to stop loving, but instead to choose what we love.” To choose carefully and wisely and sweetly, with all our whole heart and mind and strength.
There's a quote going around on the Internet and available now in posters and note cards attributed to Pedro Arrupe, SJ, former Superior General of the Jesuits In fact, he never said it, but—like the so-called Prayer of St. Francis—it seems to me, at least for the most part, true. You may have seen it:
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
The Tools of Good Works are finally a commentary and explication of the two great Commandments—which are indeed only one. They teach us how to love, what love must look like, what shape and texture our loving will have. They offer us some of the signs and signposts of love. Yes: let us be careful what we love. But let us not fail to love and to love as Christians, guarding and guiding both our hearts and our hands: “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
There is a postscript: SQLite ultimately had to abandon the Rule of Benedict as their Code of Conduct. It didn't meet industry standards. So they re-posted it as their “Code of Ethics,” substituting instead the Code of Conduct from Mozilla, of Firefox fame. They note however that they and their developers nevertheless pledge to follow the spirit of the Rule of Benedict to the best of their ability and see it as a promise to their clients that this is how we will behave in our community. They add: “We will treat you his way regardless of how you treat us.” Not bad. Not bad at all.
In a hundred years, when Mozilla and even SQLite are forgotten, folks will still be reading the words of Jesus and, I venture to predict, the words of our Holy Father Benedict. We will still need a school of love, a treasury of tools of good works. And we will need to be reminded as much as we do today: “Never despair of God's mercy.”
Finally please, if you haven't done so already: vote on Tuesday.”