Br. Peter Rostron, OHC
Feast of St Benedict - transferred - Tuesday, July 12, 2016
This hard work of “cleaning house” so that we are better able to love, has been presenting itself to me in many ways these past months. Occasionally, it seems too much for me, and a voice yells “Flee!” But I’ve learned to pause, knowing that an even more imperative and truthful voice soon says, “Stay.” This voice has been appearing in so many different places, that I am convinced it is God’s voice. It has spoken to me in the Breakthrough program, in my new work with a therapist, in the declining health of my mother with its resulting magnification of long-festering and dormant issues among my siblings and me, in the reverberations within this community that naturally occur when four new men enter in a short period of time, and in the surprisingly profound amount of knowledge and wisdom that I am still unpacking from my recently completed spiritual direction program. I find myself in the midst of a profusion of challenge and change and growth, but within that, I’m finding a growing awareness of God’s boundless love.
One of the channels through which I’ve been receiving encouragement from God lately has been Richard Rohr’s daily email meditations. Here is some of what he has been saying recently about the hard work of community.
Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable...Our shadow is often subconscious, hidden even from our own awareness. It takes effort and life-long practice to look for, find, and embrace what we dismiss and what we disdain... Shadow work is what I call "falling upward." Lady Julian put it best of all: "First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!"...[For this recovery to happen], we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of "business as usual" and remain patiently on the "threshold,” where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That's a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It's the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way. This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed.”
Here is that place. Here is that liminal space in which I feel my self - our selves - operating. And this is precisely the kind of space that I believe St. Benedict was seeking to create in his “school for the Lord’s service.” A school of love. A school in which the bigger world, God’s world, is revealed. Benedict would not have been familiar with some of our contemporary language, but Rohr’s message, I think, would resonate with him. His Rule provides a structure designed to offer the stability and encouragement and safety required for the hard work of which Rohr speaks and in which I, and we, are engaged. We are now seventeen men, each with his own, unique story, each with his wounds and challenges and gifts. Each doing his own work of conversion. Living so closely together, with Benedict’s Rule as our guide and source of stability, if we interact fully and honestly with one another, if we make ourselves vulnerable to one another, if we obey Christ’s admonition that we heard in today’s gospel to give up our possessions - that is, those things that weigh us down and inhibit our freedom to grow and love - then real transformation can happen. Therein lies the value of community, especially one that is grounded in the wisdom of St. Benedict.
The earliest Christians, too, understood the importance of living in community, as was reflected in today’s reading from the book of Acts. Community is essential to the full expression of a Christian life. As members of Christ’s body it is only through coming together in community that we can fully know and be Christ in the world, to experience pain, surrender, and resurrection, as Christ did. Benedict drew on the wisdom of scripture, such as we just heard from the book of Proverbs, on his own encounters with God, on his own battles with personal demons, and on the work of others to craft a brilliant and eloquent document that has remarkably stood for 1500 years. In part, it is practical, providing for a daily routine of prayer, work, and study. It offers guidance on matters such as discipline and diet and travel. It sanctifies our lives through the vow of obedience, stability, and conversion. But, pervading all of this, it is love that gives the Rule its power and longevity and universality. The Rule is suffused with love, with compassion, forgiveness, and humility, qualities that transcend the mundane and that are at the heart of a life lived in Christ. From the opening Prologue, where Benedict says that “we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” to the closing chapter, where we are gently urged to, “with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners,” one can feel the great love of Benedict, and of God.
Another strong theme in the Rule is hospitality, which is particularly relevant to our life here at Holy Cross. In her book, Hospitality: The Heart of Spiritual Direction, Leslie Hay offers several definitions of hospitality, the truest and simplest of which is “seeing and receiving all as Christ,” an imperative from St. Benedict. She quotes Daniel Homan, OSB, and Lonni Collins Pratt in saying too that “hospitality is born in us when we are well loved by God and by others.” And there again is that central core of Benedict’s monastery: love. With the guidance of the Rule, and through hard work on our selves and on our relationships with each other, we become more fully open to being loved by God, which in turn nurtures our ability to offer hospitality, to be a welcoming presence to our guests and to one another. As a Benedictine community, we can be a font of God’s love, to be spread into the world.
And, Lord knows, ours is certainly a world that needs God’s love. We have tumult and violence and suffering such as Benedict knew. As was his world, ours is in desperate need of hospitality, of community, love, compassion, humility, forgiveness. Br. Reinaldo spoke of this on Sunday. Somehow, our society needs to cultivate an atmosphere in which our impulse is to show mercy to the stranger, the enemy, to offer help and to be forgiving, rather than to vilify the “other” and pursue violent retribution. We, as a Christian community, can’t single-handedly change the world, and we can't expect change to happen overnight, but we can be a living example of the power of love. We can offer the hospitality of Christ and show others a way to live, with the wisdom of St. Benedict as our guide. His voice joins all the voices of sacred scripture and of all the saints in pointing the way. We, with God's help, must continue to listen and respond.