of Creighton University's Online Ministries
July 11th, 2011
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Today is the Universal Church’s celebration of the Feast of Saint Benedict. My imagination of a Benedictine Monastery or Convent is that of a quiet place of prayer and order. I was privileged to attend high school at a Benedictine boarding academy and to be supported by the calm hospitable environment that made learning easy. But the truth is that Benedict himself lived in a day that was anything but calm and ordered. The Roman empire of his day was under assault from barbarian tribes from every direction in wave after wave of violence and disarray. Cities were destroyed and gradually the system of governance collapsed. In the midst of violence and chaos that bred a spirit of “us against them” and “everyone for himself” came the voice of this educated Roman patrician who had abandoned his career and family and gone into the wilderness in search of God’s presence and wisdom. There he discovered a call to gather men (and later women) who wanted to follow him and establish a way of life that is ordered, patterned on prayer and work (ora et labora) and rooted in stable communities. The response to the collapse of human social structures was met with these new communities of grace.
Benedict and his followers can be credited with providing the Church and Western civilization with wonderful gifts and resources through the centuries. Benedict’s Rule and way of life established the pattern for virtually all religious life in the Church for six centuries and has continued to provide one of the most life-giving ways to follow the Gospel right down to our own time. But such a way of life has been paid for in many cases throughout the centuries with the final costs of the prophet or the witness, as the recent movie, “Of Gods and Men” points out in its beautifully filmed account of the Trappist monks who died in Algeria a few years ago during great political unrest there.
The feast provides us with much to ponder in the life and rule of Benedict, and the Gospel passage from Matthew invites us to consider one of Benedict’s strongest demands – that his followers create a new kind of “family” that is utterly dedicated to the work and word of Jesus. We are to abandon the family of origin, if that group challenges our following of the Gospel. Even at the cost of family or political conflict. We cannot put anything in front of our loyalty to Christ – not loyalty to family, friends, country, ideological group, or any possession or human structure if they or it separates us from the love and loyalty we have to have toward Jesus himself. This is frightening – especially when we recognize with Jesus’ earlier remarks in this passage that we may be causing conflict and disruption – even bringing persecution upon our heads – by being loyal to Christ’s call.
The first reading from the Exodus tells us that it is not in collaborating with the Pharaoh (or Caesar, or the latest expression of “empire”) that our security lies. Political systems come and go. Some may be friendly to God’s friends and others may set themselves up as false gods. We have to be discerning and prepared to be persecuted if necessary, to be faithful to the demands of mercy, compassion, and discipline of the message of Jesus. Benedict abandoned much in human comfort and wealth to discover much more. Each of us is asked to leave behind whatever is blocking us from being totally committed to following Jesus Christ as a disciple. For those who will be faithful, our help in is the name of the Lord, as the psalmist reminds us.
I will pray for my Benedictine teachers, friends and colleagues today – living and dead - and invite you to do so for those who have brought good news to you. I will ask for them the grace of fidelity to Jesus’ way of life – even unto death; and while I am at it, I will ask the same for myself!
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