Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Perfect love

In all humility, toward the end of his Rule for monks, St. Benedict defers to Scripture, the Church Fathers, and to his predecessors in the monastic way of life as even more excellent "tools of virtue." Mastery of his own Rule, he maintains, is only the beginning of perfection.

That is a humbling notion, because few, if any, monks can claim even that. Still, we must all--monks and non-monks alike--set our sights on the Perfection that is God alone and strive to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," as Jesus himself tells us (Matthew 5:48). If this seems impossible, it is heartening to recall that "all things are possible for God" (Matthew 19:26).

The key, as always, is love, for "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). This, too, St. Benedict emphasizes in his chapter of the Rule on humility (7): "Through this love, all that [the monk, or Christian] once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit, and delight in virtue."

This ability, and the desire that precedes it, is innate to us. Since we are made in the image of God, it is implanted in our souls at the moment we come into existence. Sin, of course, can obscure and distort all this, but even then, we each have a stronger, unnamed desire deep within ourselves to love and be loved perfectly. This is from God, for God is Love.

But what is sin? To answer this, I heed the advice of St. Benedict and turn to a passage from St. Basil the Great and his Detailed Rules for Monks (which Benedict implicitly refers to in his Rule):

"As soon as we come to be, a power of reason is implanted in us like a seed, containing within it the ability and the need to love. We have already received from God the ability to fulfill all his commands. We have then no reason to resent them, as if something beyond our capacity were being asked of us. We have no reason either to be angry, as if we had to pay back more than we had received. When we use this ability in a right and fitting way, we lead a life of virtue and holiness. But if we misuse it, we fall into sin.

"This is the definition of sin: the misue of powers given us by God for doing good, a use contrary to God's commandments. On the other hand, the virtue that God asks of us is the use of the same powers based on a good conscience in accordance with God's command.

"Since this is so, we can say the same about love. Since we received a command to love God, we possess from the first moment of our existence an innate power and ability to love. The proof of this is not to be sought outside ourselves, but each one can learn this from himself and in himself."

May your love be upon us, O Lord,
as we place all our hope in you.
Psalm 33:22


Tulle said...

Dear Brother Francis.

Since becoming an Oblate-novice this last November of my much loved Benedictine community of monks, Saint Benedict's "Little Rule for Beginners" has become THE guide-book for my life and way of living.

As long as I can remember, I have seriously struggled to be able to believe in and accept God's love for me. Why would and could He love someone like me, when not even those closest to me were able to!
Saint Benedict has become my true companion, and with his help I can now see that I too am loved and cared for. Our Lord counts all His sheep, even that one who seem to stray but in reality just were unable to find her right path.

During a recent retreat with my community, I was thinking of you and your coming solemn profession.
I pray to God that you are feeling ready, and that you are going to have a wonderful day.

Blessings to you.


Br. Francis de Sales Wagner said...

Thank you, Tulle, for sharing that insight. What you have expressed, I believe, is experienced (but often not recognized) by more people than we may think. Awareness of the "gap" you describe is actually a great grace. Those without such awareness also need our prayers.

Yes, the Lord counts all His sheep--but not EVEN the one who seems to stray! ESPECIALLY the one who seems to stray! "If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine" (Matthew 18:12-13).

God is faithful, even--and especially--when human beings fail.

Congratulations on becoming a Benedictine oblate-novice ! St. Benedict's words of wisdom ring true because they are steeped in the Gospel, are practical yet adaptable, and contain a profound understanding of human nature.

Thank you for your prayers (solemn vows is less than two weeks away!).

Through the intercession of St. Benedict, may God's love continue to be poured upon and through you all your days--until He brings "us all together to everlasting life."

Br. Francis

Tulle said...

Dear Brother Francis.

Thank you so much for very kind words, they are more appreciated than you can imagine.

Yes... having become a Benedictine Oblate-novice has changed my life and outlook on life in a way I didn't expect.
Just the short but really beautiful ceremony, made that day to one of my most special ever. Every day I strive to do the best I can, to live out the values and principles of Saint Benedict. With his help I have come closer to feeling the presence of the Lord in my life.

Not long now until "the big day". I am and will be thinking of you and praying that you will never doubt your vocation. That you will always find God at your side and love for Him in your heart.

Peace be with you.