Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
Feast of St Benedict (transferred from July 11) - Sunday, July 10, 2011
The Associates in retreat have been steeped in monasticism this weekend. Following the saints of the Desert… holy ones who, if the truth were told, were a little nuts – not that nuts is necessarily crazy! Who in their right mind would walk away from everything to go live in an empty place with no distractions to do nothing but pray? Not many. Even then, there were not many but they were lovers of God. We’ve got the stories gathered together and they make a sizable collection but they were a small portion of people in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps what would surprise them more than anything else is that a group of fairly comfortable folk in a yet to be discovered continent two thousand years after them would be gathered to hear their wisdom. They had not the grandiosity to dream like that. Single minded and simple in their longings, they lived their lives out in love with God.
They paved a way that disciples have walked since then and will continue to walk.
Benedict whom we celebrate today was in his own time, such a one who fled… they called it “fuga mundi”- flight from the world.
You probably have heard Benedict’s story. He was a disappointment to his middle class parents, I’m sure. A college dropout who left the greatest known city to go live in a cave in an isolated valley to think and “find himself.” And there he sat, trying to get away from what appeared to him to be an evil and sick world.
He didn’t get away with it! Shepherds came to the holy man… the poor of the area always hunger for what is beyond… they know their need.
And so the people gathered… from the cave, our saint began to live with the seekers and finally left Subiaco, winding up next to the highway at Monte Cassino. His monastery is right by the way to Rome, the center of the (somewhat) civilized world of the day. And there he finally stopped, grew old, and died.
What is wonderful to me is that Benedict didn’t seem to have a five-year plan. He didn’t write a book on the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Monks”; he wrote a reflection steeped in Scripture of how to live together in a strange and often hostile world so that the Kingdom of heaven would be evident. We call it “The Rule”. I’m not sure what he called it, or if he even gave it a name. But he did lay down so clearly a human journey into the heart of God. And his call has become the norm for monastic life. And even more – a guide for mothers with teenagers, for postmen, for nurses, for teachers and students, for grandparents and in-laws – for anyone who is longing for a closeness with God, a life rooted in Christ.
Benedict calls us away from the spurious security of a life based on standards that don’t really last and gives a glimpse of life together. Life bound up in common prayer, common ownership; life shared and growing.
The Gospel passage for today had me a bit stumped. It always has stumped me in the past. Jesus seems to be calling us to be crafty. The tower, the army are symbols of security. But then he does what he does so well, he shows up that security for the sham it is. “Therefore – and I think he means “but” – if you don’t give up all of that misplaced trust, you won’t follow me. If you want to build towers and gather forces, do it, but if you want to follow me carry the cross. That’s another stumper! What is the cross?
I heard a man once describe his mother-in-law as “just a cross I have to bear!” I’m sure his mother-in-law could have reversed the sentiment. But the saints of the desert, Benedict the saint of Nursia, our James of Haddington, Massachusetts, the Associates of the Holy Cross, the wild men of OHC, and all the odds and sods of history who have walked this way, in cloisters or out of them, know better. The cross is no burden – it’s the treasure buried in the field we sell everything to get, it’s the pearl of great price in our lives. It pulls us into God’s love and sends us back to our true community, the community of the faithful people, the community of God’s hungry and poor, the stranger at the door. The desert fathers and mothers thought they could escape and disappear but they didn’t for here we are, chewing on their wisdom and humor; their wonderful grasp of reality. Benedict thought he would escape but God thought differently. He didn’t die in that cave but in the house by the roadside where travelers and pilgrims were sheltered and fed.
We are no different. This holy place is not a shelter but a way station on the journey for thousands of pilgrims.
Armand Veilleux, a Canadian Trappist* said…
If someone comes to the monastery because he finds the world is sick and evil and he wants to leave it and find his salvation in the cloister, it would be better to send him back to the world and help him to love this sick word as God loves it.
Benedict likes that! Believe me!
Holy Father Benedict, pray for us.
* abbot of Notre Dame de Scourmont monastery in Belgium