Reflection on the Rule of St. Benedict by: Mother Rebecca
Verses 29-30 of the Prologue: “Those who fear the Lord are not elated by their good observance, but consider that the good things in them cannot have come about from themselves but are from the Lord. And so they magnify the Lord working in them, saying with the prophet: ‘Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory. ”
In Give Us This Day awhile back there was a write up on Johann Sebastian Bach. The summary said that at the end of each of his compositions he would put the initials “S.D.G.” “Soli Deo Gloria” or “to God alone the glory”! He seemed to have gotten this precept of St Benedict down pat.
However my tendency in good works is to initial them, of course with “SDG”, but I like to add “RS” too! At times I like to take some credit too. But is my good work really my work or only a measure of my openness to God working within me?! This attitude develops only from a healthy relationship with God through prayer.
Another person who captured this stance well was M Teresa. There is a funny story of Pope John Paul II giving M Teresa’s nuns some space to build a home for the elderly right up against the walls of the papal audience chamber. A senior Vatican archbishop came to preach at the ceremony of its inauguration, attended by M Teresa. The Archbishop spoke for about 2 minutes of the kindness and generosity of John Paul who gave the land and buildings to her. But suddenly there was an interruption from the front row. M Teresa smiled and pointed her finger up in the air and said “We must thank the Lord first!” The archbishop was embarrassed, smiled, and then continued his prepared homily but M Teresa kept pointing her finger straight up into the air whispering “The Lord…The Lord first!” I love that story and her bold yet simple truth – she also got this precept of St Benedict down pat.
To be congratulated or acknowledged for our good deeds is a way in which we can build up our self-esteem, but this can be dangerous. What if the affirmation and gratitude doesn’t come? Then we will be depressed at not being appreciated and will begin feeling badly about our self. The reason is because we did not quite understand this precept of St Benedict. The desire and energy behind a good work is so that God can be recognized in our midst – to bring the kingdom of God into the world. To do this I must be transparent and other centered. However, we learn as children if we do good, we win the love of parents and significant others and we feel good about ourselves. So it is an easy trap to fall into. But we need to unlearn this dynamic in order to be steady and persevere in our good works. St Bernard said if the gift is not for God’s glory then there is no glory at all!
Our Constitutions state “Only if the sister prefer nothing whatever to Christ will she be happy to persevere in a life that is ordinary, hidden, and laborious”. Our prayers for peace in the world, healing for the sick, comfort for the lonely…are the hidden works of our cloistered life. But also the hidden acts of charity throughout the day – removing bread crumbs from the counter, fidelity to our studies, a smile, cleaning the sink for the next person – all these can give God glory. Br Lawrence says even picking up a piece of straw in His name (or a dust ball in the cloister) can become a hidden work for God. It is so simple - if we are mindful…if our hearts are full of love. Opportunities are plentiful – even infinite! Yet we are lucky sometimes if we recognize 1 or 2 in our day. We have to work to train our mind and our eyes to see these hidden invitations to love.
So today’s verse is a call to reflect on why I desire to do loving deeds and practice good observance. This answer will determine my motives but also give me the strength to persevere in love and good works. Today our mantra can be just what Benedict is telling us: “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory.”