A Path Through Advent with St Benedict (3)


Isaiah 11:1-10
Luke 10:21-24

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Today Isaiah lays out for his vision of the ideal king. This King lives and governs according to the law of God written on his heart. His faithfulness and integrity are mirrored in the harmony of all creation. It’s a very idyllic vision where animals change their characteristics and situations which once spelled danger are now scenes of peace and harmony.

We are hardwired to scan for danger. Our cave dwelling ancestors depended on the fight or flight mechanism to avoid the dangers of wild animals. In Isaiah’s poetic vision we have the invitation to imagine a deeper reality for our world and for ourselves. This vision of peace and harmony starts here and now. It starts in our hearts. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a daily choosing to do ‘no hurt, no harm’.

St Benedict has an equally breath-taking vision for his community. This comes in the penultimate chapter of his Rule: Ch 72, ‘On Good Zeal’. Here we have not the wild animals of Isaiah, but the network of relationships in the monastery. Love, in all its many forms, is the touchstone of this chapter:

‘Just as there is an evil and bitter zeal that separates one from God and leads to hell, so too there is a good zeal that separates one from evil and leads to God and eternal life. The monks should practice this zeal with the warmest love: ‘Let them strive to be the first to honour one another.’

They should bear each other’s weakness of body and character with the utmost patience. They must compete with one another in obedience. No one should pursue what he considers advantageous to himself, but rather what benefits others. They must show selfless love to the brothers. Let them fear God out of love. They should love their abbot with sincere and humble charity. Let them prefer absolutely nothing to Christ, and may he lead us all together to everlasting life.

This vision is incarnational, kenotic and eschatological. St Benedict roots his vision in flesh and blood. He is deeply incarnational. It’s the ordinary day of work and prayer which is the framework for showing this ‘warmest love.’ Trying to do ‘what benefits others’ is a way of mirroring Christ’s self-emptying love- kenosis. A lifetime of trying to live the wisdom of this chapter of the Rule has the potential to be a sign that points beyond itself, and in this sense it is eschatological.

In the very last sentence of this chapter St Benedict speaks to the heart of every monastic. All that we undertake in the monastery is for the good of the whole. Every burden carried, every joy shared, will hopefully ‘lead us all together to everlasting life.’

How can you live something of Isaiah and St Benedict’s vision today?