Commentary on the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict
Mother Rebecca Stramoski
January 14, 2015
RB vs 40: We must, then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions.
Obedience is not only in the heart, it must be witnessed in the body – obedience, in other words, must be manifested both inwardly and outwardly to be authentic. We can fool ourselves in thinking our heart is obedient yet we are still slaves to our bodily desires. Or we can think we are obedient because we outwardly do the motions, but have resentment or criticism in the heart. Benedict says ‘no’…there must be interior and exterior unity in holy obedience.
But we can take courage from the great saints, for even they had to battle with holy obedience. St Paul said “I do what I do not want to do and don’t do the things I want to do” - a perfect description of a heart and body that are not united! St Peter, in fear of being arrested, told a little girl at the fire “I don’t even know who Jesus is”! As his mouth spoke, his heart must have broken – again there is this disunity of heart and body. Yet who could deny that these people were full of God and wanted what God willed, yet their battle was intense and long lasting.
Even Jesus had battles with obedience to the Father’s will. In the desert for 40 days, He had to fight temptations, the first was of bodily hunger and the others were of the heart. He conquered them by leaning on the words of Scripture. Jesus also struggled with obedience in the garden of Gethsemane, fearful of the events to come. To the point of sweating blood, He begged: Please let this cup pass from me! But your will, Father, be done.
We are told St Benedict, against his own heart’s desires, left the hermit life to become abbot of Vicovaro – this was not without interior struggle. At another point we hear that St Benedict struggled with his bodily desires of lust and threw himself into a thorny bush. We see that Benedict is telling us from personal experience to “prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience.”
How do I respond to requests made of me that I don’t want to do? Am I too busy, or do I too easily say “I can’t”, or as we spoke of last week, seek a second opinion? Or do I let go of my own will and my time so as to do for another? When am I too busy to be charitable or to love?!! When did Jesus say “I can’t” and just quit answering other people’s needs? Jesus asked us to follow His example and be obedient until death; not obedient until tired! Is our obedience encompassing sacrificial love as Jesus showed and Benedict demands?
But let us take courage from Peter and Paul who failed in their efforts many times. However, we need to follow their example in their failings as well. They acknowledged their fight, and sometimes defeat, but got right back on the straight and narrow road. They used scripture to keep them focused, they knew they were loved, and they trusted with utter confidence is Christ’s unending mercy.
Warren Wiersbe says when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, most of us pray, “Father, get me out of this!” If nothing happens immediately, then we prayer “Father, when will you get out of this?” But what we ought to be praying is “Father, what should I get out of this?” One of the purposes of struggles is that it reveals to us who we truly are and want to become. We don’t want to be comfortable; we want to be conformable! Our true desire and God’s, is that we “be conformed to the image of His Son”. (Rom 8:29) We may get tired in our battles but we should never grow tired of receiving them. They are our teacher. They give us grace and virtue.
Wiersbe went on to say, enlarged troubles can produce enlarged saints – giants! He says “can produce” because troubles don’t automatically produce giants. Some Christians go through the furnace and the fight and come out midgets. To be small in our outlook and small in our faith will make us small in our ministry. King Saul and King David illustrate these opposite effects of trial. Saul was a big man physically but was a midget spiritually – and his experiences in battle only made him smaller. David while still a boy was already a spiritual giant – while physically little he could slay Goliath. The difference was that David trusted God and knew God’s merciful love in his life.
Our tendency in the furnace and in the fight is to constantly check the thermostat…and the clock. When doing this we focus on our self rather than God and His holy teachings. We all must go through the battle of obedience in life and we must expect to be defeated at times. Accepting this fact will make us masters rather than slaves of our circumstances.
Benedict is telling each of us that we are all capable of being spiritual giants – like St Peter, Paul, Benedict, and David – but it only comes through the battle of holy obedience. So let us put on the armor for this battle which is our intimate and dynamic relationship with Christ, a trust in Love, a confidence in Mercy, and the Word of God always close to our hearts.