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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Perfection Part Seven-Stability

As those who have read my blog now and in years past know, my basic spirituality, as best as I can manage in the lay world, is Benedictine. The balance of work, prayer and study has always touched my heart as a student and as a teacher. The trilogy of such different types of focus have helped me stay focussed on the present moment, the sacrament of the time we have now.

One of the best books I ever read as a young person, was Consider Your Call: A Theology of the Monastic Life Today, edited by Daniel Rees. I highly recommend this book for all, to glean something for our daily lives from the riches therein. The other book which actually changed my life is Jean LeClerq's The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, which taught me that the innate love to know, to study, to find Truth is a path to God Himself. I knew this instinctively, to find one's self placed firmly in the Benedictine spirituality is a gift. I recommend this book, especially for scholars.

But, in today's post, I am going to refer to something in the Rule of Benedict, which is not found in the other religious orders and which is a must for the laity in today's crazy, mobile world.

We live in the age of mobility. We move to go to college and university, to obtain work, to get married and live with a spouse from, perhaps, even another country rather than our own. We move daily to and from work, Church, shopping for necessities and even meeting friends. The fidelity to place has been lost in most of our lives through travelling, choice and even, tragedy. My family came to America from Europe, breaking the stability of place in Luxembourg, Moravia and Bohemia. All my siblings, bar one, and myself included, do not live in the town of our birth. As one who moved to England, and also lived in many states for my job and jobs, I moved. But, the Benedictine ideal of stability is what I desire and have always desired. That the modern cultures of most countries demand that we move, stability becomes not only a mirage, but an ideal only seen in the lives of previous generations.

Now, people did travel, even in ancient times, as we know. Britain was visited by St. Joseph of Arimithea and St. Patrick went to Ireland. The saints of the Middle Ages, positively moved back and forth over the mountains and plains of Europe, finally coming to America as missionaries and parents.

The Benedictines are the only order which take an additional vow of stability. Perseverance, even in entering, was a mark of a vocation to St. Benedict. I would like to emphasize that the vow of stability is about “coming home”.

We travellers all know the excitement and joy of moving out of the ordinariness of our daily lives into the new and strange through travel. And, yet, we delight in coming home again. The stability, the symbol of commitment, love and rest all reside in the word “home”. For some of us, homes can be denied us through events in our lives outside of our control. In today's chaotic economics, one can lose one's home, and become a dweller of apartments, or flats. One can even lose one's entire family through tragedies, such as war and illness, or even sin.

 But, the Benedictine ideal of stability teaches us that to be in a place is the only way to face ourselves and become the person God has called us to be. If we are given gifts, we cannot use our gifts easily, if we are constantly moving about. We may even make bad choices which effect the rest of our lives when we lose our roots.

Rootedness is a sign of spiritual contentment. To be rooted in Christ, is the message of St. Paul, who was called to be a missionary, and indeed, some still are called to give up rootedness for such evangelization. Stability of place allows for stability of the heart and mind. As in a good marriage, commitment brings depth. In the Benedictine Rule, stability brings life to the inner person. I connect stability with the idea of the Sacrament of the Present Moment. If I can concetrate and live in the NOW, I can be stable interiorly. If one has a pattern of life, exteriorly, one can develop this pattern interiorly. How many of us get up at the same time daily without the use of an alarm clock? How many of us feel lost if we do not pray and go to daily Mass? These are the marks of a stable heart, even if one is in the world of mobility.

The interior life needs stability so that we are not confused or taken up with novelty and change. Stability allows for growth, like the plant in the ground,which grows from roots.

For me, stability, either interiorly or exteriorly, means that I know that God is with me. He is, like Julian of Norwich told us, the “still point of the turning world”.

And, the virtues of perfection come with stability. Perseverance in the face of sameness and repetition is a virtue. Suffering, from facing the same trials and even people, brings life. Patience, one of the greatest virtues missing in this modern world, comes from waiting and enduring suffering. Like perseverance, it comes only with practice. And, the life of the virtues is what God calls all of us to live.

I suggest that Satan is the great mover who wants to keep us moving and not settling down. He knows that novelty and confusion cause a weakening of focus and even Faith, Hope and Charity. In Dante's Divine Comedy, so many of the souls in hell must keep moving, in a fury of ceaseless, anxious frenzy, as part of the punishment for their sins. If we do not stop moving, we shall never know ourselves, see our sin, wait for God.

St. Benedict's vow is one all the laity should consider, if at all possible. And, if God, through His mysterious plan denies someone stability, one must develop the interior disposition for it, as a missionary would do in a foreign land.

That the missionaries went out in twos or more, was a sign of the need for stability. In company, one can keep schedules for prayer, fasting, charity. Such were those who came to America, such are those who go into the world daily on trains, buses, undergrounds.

Stability=resting in God Alone. Hopefully, we can find others to share in that stability. Such is a real community of grace. Such is holy companionship.