October 21, 2015

We Are In This Together

Mother Rebecca

Oct 21:  Vs 11-12:  Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.

Some call this chapter a shortened version of Ch 4.  Ch 72 is nine times shorter but has been referred to as a 2nd list of good works.  Ch 4 is in singular; Ch 72 is plural.  Rightly so, we begin with ourselves in Ch 4 but Ch 72 reminds us we go together.  Ch 4 is not complete without Ch 72.  So let us recap these 8 manners of love, or eight maxims.  They are:

vs 4 - anticipate one another in honor
vs5 - patiently endure one another’s infirmities whether of body or of character
vs6 – competing in obedience to one another
vs7 - following not what is considered useful for oneself, but rather what benefits another
vs8 – loving with purity our sisters
vs 9- fearing God in love
vs 10 - loving their abbess with a sincere and humble charity
vs 11 – and preferring nothing whatever to Christ

Fr John Eudes Bamberger wrote:  For St Benedict a monk is a cenobite, in this he differs somewhat from Cassian.  In St Benedict’s mind the community is not just temporary and relative.  It is a reality, good in itself, of absolute and lasting value.  Our fraternal relationships remain in the beatific vision.  John Eudes states, “One is not alone with God.  One can perhaps be so close to God that one feels alone with Him, but this very fact puts us in communion with all who are united to Him.  The tensions between solitude and communion are thus resolved in God.  Tensions remain in this world, but it is resolved in God in a way of transcending the limitations of too individualistic an intimacy and too superficial a communion.”  In the beatific vision we shall enjoy communion, but at a very intimate level which does not destroy differences.  Yet how often in community we subconsciously try to destroy differences by wanting others to conform to our own measures.  But the end result is actually perfect unity and perfect plurality.   With these thoughts of John Eudes, we could say that we can know how close we are to God in reality by how close we feel to our community.
                Marion Larmann studying the Latin word ‘pariter’ (meaning “together”) says this is an extremely important word.  She said older translations completely trivialize it by rendering it “likewise” (“bring us all likewise to everlasting life”).   Benedict envisions eternal life itself as communal.  We do not just use each other as the means to our own salvation as though the communal life is a means to our individualistic goal.  A cenobite is so thoroughly committed to the welfare of the other community members that entering heaven without them would be unimaginable. 
                When I was a novice I remember Dom Bernardo Olivera visited us.  Commenting on this verse, he used the image of all of us sitting on a bench outside of heaven waiting for our Cistercian brothers and sisters to arrive so that we could enter together.  He thought that was beautiful BUT THIS DID NOT APPEAL to me!  I think it is beautiful to greet our future and past Cistercians in heaven but I do not want to wait on a bench outside until they all get there!   This brought me to the question:  Is there anywhere or anyone in Scripture who reflects this mentality…and what does it look like?  What came to mind was Moses pleading with God not to punish his people for having made a molten calf to worship.  Moses boldly tells God “forgive their sins and if not, then strike me out of the book that you have written”!  Wow…What loyalty!  If all his people can’t join him, then Moses won’t go either.  Moses loved his community so much that he could not imagine heaven without them!  What would you say?  If God said only you would be saved in the community – would you intervene and dare to be like Moses saying “Lord, we all come into eternal life or blot me out of the book you have written.”  It is a bold and scary thing to be like Moses!
                There is a story of a monk who felt that it was easier to pray and be in communion with God in solitude and nature - more so than in community and the common life.  Then one winter day the abbot invited the monk to sit with him before the fireplace in silence.  The abbot then took the tongs from the rack and pulled out a single coal from the fire.  He placed the glowing ember on the hearth.  The two watched the coal quickly cease burning and turn to an ashen gray while the other coals in the fire continued to burn brightly.  The monk then understood his error and returned to full community life.
                I think this is what Benedict is driving at – we go together to Christ, not with “an individualistic intimacy” or “a superficial communion”…but united…together.   “All these tension are resolved in God”…and to accomplish this we must, each of us, “prefer nothing whatever to Christ”.

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