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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

On Benedictine Balance


This is a dangerous posting. So many people have fallen into hedonism and selfishness that to write about not being vigilant and strict with one's self all the time may seem inappropriate. However, I want to caution some of my traditional friends on being too harsh with themselves. Perhaps my perspective is so Benedictine, a way which always considers the weak, that I write this cautionary tale from St. Anthony Abbot:   A desert hunter saw Anthony Abbot “horsing around” with his fellow monks. The hunter expressed shock, even scandal, when he saw the monks enjoying themselves at some recreation. Anthony Abbot told the hunter to string his bow and shoot at a near target. The hunter did so. Then, the Abbot told the hunter to shoot another arrow. The hunter did so. When the Abbot asked the hunter to shoot a third, the hunter replied, “If I bend my bow so much at a time, it will break.” Anthony Abbot replied. “So it is with my monks. If I do not give them rest and recreation, they will break.”

The point of this story is relatively clear. But I think the larger question has to do with the works of piety and prayer. Christ warns us not to pile on repetitious prayers one after another. He decidedly does tell us to pray and fast. Fasting is ignored for the most part today. And, so much fasting is what I call “token fasting”, such as giving up luxuries, such as chocolate or going out to dinner. Such is the wealth of the States, that fasting resembles ordinary life for the rest of the world.

However, there is a stage wherein the great words of St. Benedict apply to all. When he writes of the balance of work, study and prayer, he indicates that all three activities are important in a day for a person pursuing holiness. An entire day of prayer is not natural for us lowly humans. The necessity of work and the need for study, such as the reading of Scripture daily, create a rhythm of activity, all focused on Christ. To omit one is folly and shows a lack of appreciation for the needs of the human, who is body and spirit. Above all rules, that of St. Benedict reveals an understanding of what it means to be an organized, healthy human being.

That Anthony Abbot recognized the needs of his community shows the Holy Spirit working within the Church in all ages.

To balance this approach, one must be more harsh with one's self than most people in the world. We cannot slack off in the pursuit of salvation, that is, in cooperating with grace. However, we are clay, and God has given us guidelines for the good of our bodies and our souls.
St. Thomas More wore a hair-shirt and he said when in prison that he wished he had been harder on himself in order to prepare for his martyrdom. His example were the Carthusians being stretched on hurdles and taken to Tyburn, singing in the mud and grime. If one is called to such serious penances, one must have a spiritual director. But, for the lay person, the joyous accepting of daily sufferings without complaining may be enough penance. May we all realize that complaining is a sin and if we refrain, we change our entire outlook on life to one of gratitude and joy.





9 comments:

JonathanCatholic said...

Glorious post, it has me pondering the wisdom of the saints. Such an amazing wisdom it takes to balance a life in Christ between repetitive prayer and the sharing of rapturous intimacy, the mortification of self and the ecstasy of being in communion with Christ and His Body all around you. When one has found the answer to perfectly balancing such worthy paradoxes, I imagine such a one has become a Saint. Benedictine Balance indeed.

New Sister said...

Supertradmum ... ARRGH! Your posts are so good and numerous - poor little me can't keep up.

A good problem to have I guess; "my cup runneth over".

You're doing much good through this blog, for my Lenten journey and Catholic faith at the very least. Reading several of your posts has made me crave Confession before our Merciful Savior. May God reward you, good sister - good "mum".

New Sister said...

Supertradmum ... ARRGH! Your posts are so good and numerous - poor little me can't keep up.

A good problem to have I guess; "my cup runneth over".

You're doing much good through this blog, for my Lenten journey and Catholic faith at the very least. Reading several of your posts has made me crave Confession before our Merciful Savior. May God reward you, good sister - good "mum".

Supertradmum said...

New Sister, considering I have been living in an Internet dead zone for three weeks and had to travel by bus through the country to go on with the blog, I feel like I have not done much. So, thanks for the encouragement. I needed it. Ireland is lovely, but not a place for techies, although, ironically, some of the buses have wifi, which I just discovered today. I have not tried blogging on a bus yet. God bless you and I love the Benedictine spirituality so much, I could write on it forever.

Supertradmum said...

Jonathan, and St. Benedict appeals to us lowly lay people as well as the great monks and nuns....how wonderful, is that not?

JonathanCatholic said...

Yes, it is certainly wonderful. Supertradmum, is there any particular reading that you could direct me to in order to immerse myself in Benedictine spirituality? I love what little I've encountered, and would surely love to learn more.

Supertradmum said...

Jonathan, Start with the Rule, which is very simple. Then, read the two books I have recommended-Jean LeClerq's here http://www.amazon.com/Love-Learning-Desire-God-Monastic/dp/0823204073

and http://www.amazon.com/Consider-Your-Call-Theology-Cistercian/dp/0879078200 by Dom Rees

JonathanCatholic said...

Thanks, I appreciate it! :)

Clerk said...

I'm enjoying your posts on Benedictine spirituality very much - wonderful, thought-provoking stuff.