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Saturday, September 7, 2024

Therefore we intend to establish a school for God's service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from God's instructions, then, but faithfully observing God's teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in the eternal presence. Amen.

The spiritual life is not something that is gotten for the wishing or assumed by affectation. The spiritual life takes discipline. It is something to be learned, to be internalized. It's not a set of daily exercises, it's a way of life, an attitude of mind, an orientation of soul. And it is gotten by being schooled until no rules are necessary.

Among the ancients there is a story told that confirms this insight to this day:

"What action shall I perform to attain God?" the disciple asked the elder.

"If you wish to attain God, the elder said, there are two things you must know. The first is that all efforts to attain God are of no avail."

"And the second?" the disciple insisted.

"The second is that you must act as if you did not know the first," the elder said.

Clearly, great pursuers of the spiritual life know that the secret of the spiritual life is to live it until it becomes real.

The difference between Benedict and other spiritual masters of his time lay in the fact that Benedict believed that the spiritual life was not an exercise in spiritual gymnastics. It was to be nothing "harsh or burdensome." And it was not a private process. It was to be done in community with others. It was to be a "school" dedicated to "the good of all concerned." It was to be lived with "patience."

The private preserves of the spiritual life are far from dead, however. It is so much easier to go to daily Mass and feel good about it than it is to serve soup at a soup kitchen. It is so much more comfortable to say bedtime prayers than it is speak peace in a warring world. It is so much more satisfying to contribute to the building of a new church than it is to advocate for welfare legislation. It is so much more heroic to fast than it is to be patient with a noisy neighbor. It is so much easier to give the handshake of peace in church than it is to speak gently in the family. And yet, one without the other is surely fraud if life with God in community is truly of the essence of real spiritual growth.

The messages of the Prologue are clear: Life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half lived. Holiness is in the Now but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: what is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not. It may be the neighborhood we live in rather than the neighborhood we want that will really make human beings out of us. It may be the job we have rather than the position we are selling our souls to get that will finally liberate us from ourselves. It may be what we do rather than the prayers we pray that will finally be the measure of our sanctity.

God is calling us to more than the material level of life and God is waiting to bring us to it. All we have to do is to live well with others and live totally in God. All we have to do is to learn to listen to the voice of God in life. And we have to do it heart, soul and body. The spiritual life demands all of us.