March 12, July 12, November 11
Chapter 34: Whether All Should Receive in Equal Measure What Is
Let us follow the Scripture,
"Distribution was made to each
according as anyone had need" (Acts 4:35).
By this we do not mean that there should be respecting of persons
(which God forbid),
but consideration for infirmities.
She who needs less should thank God and not be discontented;
but she who needs more
should be humbled by the thought of her infirmity
rather than feeling important
on account of the kindness shown her.
Thus all the members will be at peace.
Above all, let not the evil of murmuring appear
for any reason whatsoever
in the least word or sign.
If anyone is caught at it,
let her be placed under very severe discipline.
Murmuring is the monastic term for gossiping, but it covers much more
than just that. "Seditious speech" might be a more apt description.
Unfortunately, it is about as popular as gossip. I have known some
monastics so holy that they never murmured at all, but, for me, and
for most of us, it is a vice indulged in at varying levels and
various times. Sigh...
Murmuring is an easy tempt for the Evil One, because she knows that
we are all human, less than perfect and living together at close
range. [Now, don't start another firestorm over my jocular attempts
at inclusive language here. That would please the Mother of Lies
immensely!] This is true of any group, not just monasteries.
Murmuring can attack any member of the community, though it is often
directed at the superior. Any murmuring can be disruptive and
destructive of unity.
It's a tough call here. Jesus called us to be innocent as dove AND
wise as serpents. He said He was the Truth and He did not call us to
be blind. Fine, but sometimes, no matter how much we wish we did, we
do not see the Truth. No matter how sure we are that we have assessed
things perfectly, we have not. At such times, if we bestow our
reflections on the ears of others, we murmur, plain and simple, and
we also sin by judging in the bargain.
The old speck-in-her-eye-plank-in-mine technique works very well
here. Look first at ourselves. We say we believe the Abbot holds the
place of Christ. We believe Christ is present and served in all
people, even (perhaps especially!) the least of them. Fine! That
might not get very scrupulously observed by us at times, but here is
a very useful way to employ that belief. Substitute Christ for
whomever you are murmuring about.
"Did you see how easy Christ let her get off? Boy, has He got some
nerve! Who does He think He is?"
"Christ swooped down like an enraged harpy on her. Such charm!"
"I am so sick of Christ's antics I could scream."
"All Christ cares about is power. He has all of those jobs and He
doesn't do any of them well."
See what I mean? Those were so ludicrous that it honestly hurt me to
type them, though I hate to admit I have murmured similarly myself.
Sometimes the only way to unmask absurdity is to put the shoe on the
foot of Christ and see how it fits. The results of such tests in
murmuring are bound to make even a half-awake soul cringe in humility
Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB St. Mary's Monastery Petersham