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Tuesday, September 3, 2024

Seeking workers in a multitude of people, God calls out and says again: "Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days (Ps 34:13)? If you hear this and your answer is "I do," God then directs these words to you: If you desire true and eternal life, "keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim (Ps 34: 14-15)." Once you have done this, my "eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers; and even before you ask me, I will say" to you: "Here I am (Is 58:9)." What is more delightful than this voice of the Holy One calling to us? See how God's love shows us the way of life. Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see the Holy One "who has called us to the eternal presence (I Thes 2:12)."

In Benedict's mind, apparently, the spiritual life is not a collection of asceticisms, it is a way of being in the world that is open to God and open to others. We struggle, of course, with temptations to separate the two. It is so easy to tell ourselves that we overlooked the needs of others because we were attending to the needs of God. It is so easy to go to church instead of going to a friend whose depression depresses us. It is so easy to want silence rather than the demands of the children. It is so much easier to read a book about religion than it is to listen to a husband talk about his job or a wife talk about her loneliness. It is so much easier to practice the privatized religion of prayers and penances than it is to make fools out of ourselves for the Christian religion of globalism and peace. Deep, deep spiritual traditions everywhere, however, reject those rationalizations: "Is there life after death?", a disciple once asked a Holy One. And the Holy One answered, "The great spiritual question of life is not 'Is there life after death?' The great spiritual question is, 'Is there life before death?'" Benedict obviously believes that life lived fully is life lived on two planes: attention to God and attention to the good of the other.

The godly are those, this paragraph says, who never talk destructively about another person--in anger, in spite, in vengefulness,--and who can be counted on to bring an open heart to a closed and clawing world.

The godly know when the world they live in has them on a slippery slope away from the good, the true, and the holy and they refuse to be part of the decline. What's more striking, they set out to counter it. It is not enough, Benedict implies, simply to distance ourselves from the bad. It is not enough, for instance, to refuse to slander others; we must rebuild their reputations. It is not enough to disapprove of toxic waste; we must do something to save the globe. It is not enough to care for the poor; we must do something to stop the poverty. We must be people who bring creation to life. "Once you have done this," the Rule reminds us, "my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers." Once you have done these things, you will be in the presence of God.

Finally, as far as Benedict is concerned, the spiritual life depends on our being peaceful peacemakers.

Agitation drives out consciousness of God. When we're driven by agitation, consumed by fretting, we become immersed in our own agenda and it is always exaggerated. We get caught up in things which, in the final analysis, simply don't count, in things that pass away, in things that are concerned with living comfortably rather than with living well. We go to pieces over crying children and broken machines and the length of stop lights at intersections. We lose touch with the center of things.

At the same time, a kind of passive tranquillity is not the aim of Benedictine life. The call of this spirituality is to be gentle ourselves and to bring nonviolence in our wake. It is an amazing position for a sixth century document to take in a violent world. There is no Armeggedon theology here, no call to a pitched battle between good and evil in a world that subscribed to dualism and divided life into things of the spirit and things of the flesh.

In this Rule of life, violence is simply discounted. Violence doesn't work. Not political violence, not social violence, not physical violence, not even the violence that we do to ourselves in the name of religion. Wars haven't worked. Classism hasn't worked. Fanaticism hasn't worked. Benedictinism, on the other hand, simply does not have as its goal either to beat the body down or to vanquish the world. Benedictinism simply sets out to gentle a universe riddled with violence by being a peaceful voice for peace in a world that thinks that everything--international relations, child rearing and economic development, even in the spiritual life--is accomplished by force.

Benedictinism is a call to live in the world not only without weapons raised against the other but by doing good. The passage implies clearly that those who make God's creation their enemy simply do not "deserve to see the Holy One."

It is a strong passage clothed in words long dulled by repetition.