Monastic Renunciation

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 “Monastic Renunciation”

Renewal of Baptismal Promises

Two Options for Renunciation
Do you reject Satan?
Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?
And all his works?
Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?
And all his empty promises?
Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?

These renunciations are essential for the profession of faith in baptism. What are the necessary monastic renunciations that are essential for us to bring a conclusion to this joyful season of lent? How is the evil one tempting us? What are his illusions—his empty promises? What are his works—his glamorous signs of power?

Rule of Saint Benedict PRO:22,23,28
“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet: Who will dwell in your tent, Lord…He has foiled the evil one, the devil, at every turn, flinging both him and his promptings far from the sight of his heart. While these temptations were still young, he caught hold of them and dashed them against Christ.”

THERE IS AN URGENCY FOR SAINT BENEDICT IN DEALING WITH TEMPTATIONS, POMPS AND WORKS. WE CANNOT LET THEM LINGER OR THEY WILL SINK ROOTS INTO OUR SOULS AND BEAR THE FRUIT OF VICE AND SIN. OUR HOLY FATHER USES THIS MOST VIOLENT IMAGE FROM PSALM 137 TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT ENEMIES WHO GROW UP ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN ENEMIES IN THEIR CHILDHOOD. JUST LIKE A GROWN UP EDOMITE IS MORE DEADLY THAN ONE OF HIS CHILDREN, SO TOO, A WELL DEVELOPED TEMPTATION IS MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE FIRST MOVEMENT OF THE WILL TO SIN. SAINT BENEDICT COUNSELS HIS MONKS TO DASH THESE POMPS AND WORKS AGAINST CHRIST, THE ROCK.
SAINT THERESA COUNSELS HER READERS TO CLIMB THE TREE OF THE CROSS AS SOON AS THEY CATCH A WIFF OF THE STENCH OF THE DEVIL. BOTH SAINTS REVEAL A GREAT WISDOM—DON’T TAKE LIGHTLY THE POMPS AND WORKS OF THE DEVIL. SUCH A REACTION CAN EASILY MOVE US TO PRIDE AND THAT IS ALL WE NEED. WHEN I NOTICE THE MONKS IN CHOIR IGNORING THE ABBOT’S DIRECTIVE TO SIT IN THE STALL CLOSEST TO THE ALTAR. IT’S EASY FOR ME TO CONCIEVE A FANTASY OF JUDGMENT OR CONDEMNATION. WHEN NEXT I GET A CHANCE. SUCH A TEMPTATION NEEDS TO BE DASHED AGAINST CHRIST AND A SIMPLE PRAYER NEEDS TO BE OFFERED FOR ALL WHO LOOSE THE AROMA OF SANCTITY THROUGH THE STENCH OF DISOBEDIENCE.

Rule of Saint Benedict PRO:1-3
“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. The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.”

ONE FANTASY THAT THRIVES IN MONASTERIES IS THAT OF THE “IDEAL MONASTERY”. INDEED, THIS NOTION CAUSES THE MOST PAIN FOR THE NEW MONK. HIS NOTION OF THIS IDEALISTIC PLACE TO LIVE MUST DIE BEFORE HE CAN EMBRACE THE TRUTH OF THE MONASTERY IN WHICH HE IS LIVING. RATHER THAN LIVE IN ONE’S HEAD AND HEART TO ESCAPE THE TRUE LOVE AND REAL CHALLENGE OF THE MONASTERY IN WHICH YOU LIVE, ONE CAN FIND A GREATER JOY IN DOING BATTLE FOR THE TRUE KING. EVEN AFTER YOU’VE LIVED IN A MONASTIC COMMUNITY FOR A WHILE THIS TEMPTATION CAN RETURN AS A LINGERING DESIRE TO BE A PART OF A REFORM MOVEMENT AS LARGE AS YOUR OWN GROUP OF FRIENDS OR AS SMALL AS YOUR WHOLE MONASTERY. IDEALISM IS DEADLY AS AN INITIAL IDOL OR AS A REFORM URGENCY. SO MANY REFORMERS HAVE ENDED UP DRIFTING THROUGH LIFE WITH THE DEMON OF SLOTH. OTHERS HAVE BEEN SO UN-SELFCRITICAL THAT THEY HAVE BECOME BLIND TO THEIR TRUE KING AND HAVE SERVED THEIR OWN IGO AND THEIR OWN IDEALISM. ONLY PRAYERFUL, DAILY, CONSTANT LISTENING WILL KEEP US ATTENTIVE TO THE MASTER’S INSTRUCTIONS. ONLY HEALTHY SELF CRITICISM WILL DEEPEN AND ENTEND THIS HONESTY INTO THE WHOLE OF LIFE.

Brother Henry from an Abbey out West
During a modified communal exercise called “Chapter of Faults” each member of the community had an opportunity to reflect upon a passage from the Holy Rule and share with the brothers how he managed to fulfill and failed to fulfill the chosen directive from the Master. Brother Henry started out with a question: “When was the last time one of the brothers asked you to do them a favor?” Then he paused deliberately and then said—if you have not answered the question yet, you are in a heap load of trouble—because we only ask others to help us if they are available. When someone is always making excuses about how busy he is; when a monk is always complaining about how impossible his schedule is; when someone never has time to finish any assigned task—we never ask that monk to do us a favor. We do not want to bother that brother. We do not want to burden him. We know he is not available. If we are not available, we are not living in mutual obedience. If we are not attentive to the needs of another, we are not living in community. If we are not alert and ready to offer a helping hand, we are not pouring ourselves out in loving service.

The two greatest enemies of monastic life are possessions and murmuring. Both vices reveal a lack of faith. The monastic life is built on the solid rock of faith. We believe that the LORD is calling us to give up our own wills and to find our delight in doing His Will. We pray the way the Lord Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. We pray each day: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” Notice Saint Luke has the Lord Jesus admit his desire first. In all honesty we want the cup of suffering to pass us by. We do not want to drink from yet another chalice of suffering. Yet, even more than that honest desire, we want the Father’s will to be done—as we pray daily—“on earth as it is in heaven.”

Possessions reveal a lack of faith in God and His providence in bringing us to this monastery, because we are convinced that the superior and the community will not take care of my needs. We buy into the values of our world that teach us “we must take care of number one” and “if we don’t take care of ourselves who will?” These voices demand a great deal of attention in our conscience. The Abbot will not give me enough affirmation. The community will never compliment me enough for all my loving service. Even my friends in this monastery do not take care of my emotional needs. I need someone outside—my collection of friends. I need something special to comfort me—my collection of pens. My needs are so unique and so vital to my happiness that I must find a way to surround myself with creature comforts even if they become idols in my life. After all, I am so loving and self-giving to the superior and to the community—I am entitled to a little bit of comfort in this monastic wilderness. My life of daily lent has to have an occasional moment of relief or I may have to find my fulfillment elsewhere. Is it any wonder that the Master, Saint Benedict, found the vice of possessions to be most insidious?

Murmuring is likewise a severe lack of faith in God and his loving care in providing this leader and this monastic community to challenge and comfort me on my journey to our heavenly home. Talking about another provides us with a certain distance from that person in which we can separate ourselves from dangerous attitudes and offer a judgment of the other’s heart. Indeed, we must evaluate behavior, but we can never judge another’s heart. Certain actions are wrong, always and everywhere, but whether or not someone is deciding freely to do wrong is not our judgment call. Only Our Father in heaven sees what goes on in secret. Only The LORD can sift though the motives of our hearts. We see external behavior, but we cannot impugn internal motives. Using words as a weapon to get back at our superior or another member of the community continues our participation in the monastic vice of murmuring. In our hearts we can easily condemn those who hurt us. In our need for self-justification we are bold to expose to communal derision our leaders and our fellow monastics. The most well honed form of murmuring is often cynicism in which we deny all hope and refuse to give one another the benefit of the doubt—the very thing that we expect others to give us—and to give us immediately and generously.

So what then are the illusions and works of the evil one that must be renounced before we can renew our monastic consecration during this Holy Week? Perhaps we are sill caught up in the illusion that we have the right to use our possessions to secure our comfort and happiness. Perhaps we are still convinced that our illusion of power over the superior and our companions is established by putting them in their place when they are not in earshot. Or we may be fighting for the wrong King. Or we may be nurturing temptations rather than crushing their heads on the Rock of Christ. Without confronting the weakness of body and soul in ourselves and in our community we cannot enter fully into the Joy of Easter—the joy of rebirth and the excitement of new life. In the Holy Rule our Master teaches us to “bear with” the infirmities of body and soul that we find in our fellow monastics and even in our superior. The original Latin used to be translated as “tolerate” instead of “bear with”. As one wise Junior Master once shared, to merely tolerate is a passive response to our brother or sister. We must do something, even if it is only to pray for the brother who is so weak or the sister who is so sick. This kind of “bearing with” enables us to deepen our faith response to suffering and to all with whom we suffer in this monastic adventure. It is this kind of attentiveness and availability that invites us beyond elitism and enables us to share with others growing in a monastic manner of life in which our commitment is an authentic and bright witness to Christ and his Spirit for the Glory of the Father, now and always and ever and forever.

Rule of Saint Benedict 58:17
“When he is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.”