Prayers for travelers today: Barb to Holland, John and Anne to
Scotland. Safe and holy trips for all! Bepp, for whom we prayed a
couple of days ago fell because she had suffered a stroke. Since she
has had both knees replaced a while back, she may never walk again.
Serious prayers for Bepp! God's will be done! Thanks! NRN JL
April 25, August 25, December 25
Chapter 67: On Brethren Who Are Sent on a Journey
Let the brethren who are sent on a journey
to the prayers of all the brethren and of the Abbot;
and always at the last prayer of the Work of God
let a commemoration be made of all absent brethren.
When brethren return from a journey,
at the end of each canonical Hour of the Work of God
on the day they return,
let them lie prostrate on the floor of the oratory
and beg the prayers of all
on account of any faults
that may have surprised them on the road,
through the seeing or hearing of something evil,
or through idle talk.
And let no one presume to tell another
whatever he may have seen or heard outside of the monastery,
because this causes very great harm.
But if anyone presumes to do so,
let him undergo the punishment of the Rule.
And let him be punished likewise who would presume
to leave the enclosure of the monastery
and go anywhere or do anything, however small,
without an order from the Abbot.
Lay people, in St. Benedict's time and for centuries afterward, were
more cloistered in the sense of media isolation than most religious
are today, especially so in rural areas. We have to put ourselves
into their perspective to see what St. Benedict is saying here. There
was no postal service, let alone electronic media of any sort.
Couriers and outriders, official or self-appointed were the only
sources of news. Gossip and hearsay were the only news media
available to most. It was, in comparison to our own day, a rather
Today's active Benedictine educator or health care provider or parish
minister could ill afford being so out of touch, much less Oblates in
the world with jobs and families. Still, it is important to see that
St. Benedict stressed this value as strongly as he did and try to
find out why he did so.
Fast forward to a Benedictine value we haven't mentioned much lately,
but a central one: purity of heart. Purity of heart is the focused,
singular monastic way of searching for God, of the spiritual
struggle. Purity of heart, as Kierkegaard said, really IS to will one
thing. For the Benedictine, that one thing is God, union with God.
A very old monastic principle, one more alive in the East today than
in the West, held that whatever did not help one in the monastic
quest was actually harmful. Under that theory, there was no middle
ground of neutrality. It helped you become a better monastic or it
didn't. If it didn't, it wasn't considered extraneous, it was
considered harmful, even evil. Since St. Benedict doesn't say that
things heard from outside "can" cause great harm, but rather that
they flat out do cause it, it may be to this earlier concept that he
Our lives and vocations are so varied and our differences are so
wide, but our quest is the same. Somehow, each of us, in every
milieu, has to find a way to carve out a little bit of that isolation
for ourselves. I love Ann McPhillips' phrase: "gatekeepers of our
hearts." Face it, we live in an age where we can easily be in touch
with virtually everything and it is not always good for us.
What St. Benedict was aiming at was knowledge of outside events. We
look at knowledge as always good, but it is not necessarily so.
Knowledge can change us, upset us, disrupt us. Sometimes these
stirrings are good, but other times they can get carried away.
I became a REAL news junkie after the war began in Iraq. I am sure
others could say the same thing: my heart was at there most of
the time for a LONG time. Much of that was good, much
of it was prayerful, but not all. I got carried away at times. I
didn't need ALL the data I channel-surfed for and got.
When I got carried away, my focus was distorted, if not destroyed.
THAT'S what St. Benedict was worried about. I think the war is a
perfect example of the fact that some knowledge actually removes us,
in a sense, from our place and leaves us riveted, even gored on the
tragedy. Prayer for the victims is one thing, obsession quite another.
It's about focus, it's about the times in one's life that one must
carve out for oneself, times in which "only one thing is needful."
When a symphony of things become needful, purity of heart is drowned
out. Maybe we have noisy families or lives, maybe we honestly cannot
get the respite we seek. That's when we have to really struggle to
build it in our hearts, to find God, as Teresa of Avila did, among
the pots and pans.
Our hearts may, in truth, be the only monasteries we have, the only
gates we shall ever keep, but that does not matter. God knew from all
eternity exactly the environments in which we would have to seek Him
and He tailor-made them for us, even though in the midst of them,
that may be hard to see at the time. He knows what He is about. We
need to build that "one thing needful" as a place within us. For many
of us, that will be the only desert to which we can ever fly.
Love and prayers,
St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA