Some years ago I attended a lecture by Nicholas King sj entitled ‘Religious Life in the Bible. He began the lecture with a wry smile, repeated his lecture title slowly and then told us that of course there in no such thing as ‘Religious Life in the Bible’. I don’t think anybody in the lecture hall had really questioned his title!
When we come to celebrate today’s feast of St Benedict we won’t of course find St Benedict directly pre-figured in the Bible. Instead the Church offers us texts that have been the inspiration for what eventually grew into monasticism.
My son, if you take my words to heart,
if you set store by my commandments,
tuning your ear to wisdom,
and applying your heart to truth:
yes, if your plea is for clear perception,
if you cry out for discernment,
if you look for it as if it were silver,
and search for it as for buried treasure,
you will then understand what the fear of the Lord is,
and discover the knowledge of God.
This text from the Wisdom literature of Proverbs resonates immediately for followers of St Benedict. St Benedict begins his Rule is this way:
‘Listen carefully my son, to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.’
There is a groundedness and loving measure in each text. I can’t hear one with out the other. This is one of the gifts of the monastic path that your ear, and ideally your heart too, become more finely tuned.
It’s from this place of attentive listening and desire to seek God that I hear Peter’s heartfelt question: ‘What about us? We have left everything and followed you. What are we to have, then?’ Following Jesus, following St Benedict or following any leader is a risky enterprise. I am sure that there comes a point in every monastic’s life when they could very easily voice Peter’s question. Jesus’ response to Peter tells us something of the dynamic at work here: we are to receive ‘a hundred fold’. Following Jesus involves a heart that is both open to giving up AND receiving. In many ways the giving up looks more straight forward. Learning to receive what God offers becomes the lifetime’s work of the monastic and anyone who wants to follow Christ.
How is God calling you to give and receive today?