Holy Rule for May 9
Prayers, please, for the spiritual, mental and physical health of the following, for all their loved ones and all who take are of them:
Peter O., having colon surgery for removal of polyps, also for his conversion.
Pat, radiation for inoperable cancer in his lower abdomen.
Mike, alchoholism, now has two months of sobriety, Deo gratias and many more!
Mary Jane, who is having a total hip replacement on Monday.
All those in formation at St. Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, CA, for their perseverance in their vocations.
Prayers, please, for Fr. Bob, who gave me the job at the wonderful mission I
write about today, and for all the people there. The little Church is now sadly
closed, but what a beautifully important chapter in my life it was and is.
Lord, help us all as You know and will.
God's will is best. All is mercy and grace. God is never absent, praise Him!
Thanks so much. JL
January 8, May 9, September 8
Chapter 1: On the Kinds of Monks
It is well known that there are four kinds of monks.
The first kind are the Cenobites:
those who live in monasteries
and serve under a rule and an Abbot.
The second kind are the Anchorites or Hermits:
no longer in the first fervor of their reformation,
but after long probation in a monastery,
having learned by the help of many brethren
how to fight against the devil,
go out well armed from the ranks of the community
to the solitary combat of the desert.
They are able now,
with no help save from God,
to fight single-handed against the vices of the flesh
and their own evil thoughts.
The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the Sarabaites.
These, not having been tested,
as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6),
by any rule or by the lessons of experience,
are as soft as lead.
In their works they still keep faith with the world,
so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God.
They live in twos or threes, or even singly,
without a shepherd,
in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord's.
Their law is the desire for self-gratification:
whatever enters their mind or appeals to them,
that they call holy;
what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.
The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.
These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province,
staying as guests in different monasteries
for three or four days at a time.
Always on the move, with no stability,
they indulge their own wills
and succumb to the allurements of gluttony,
and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites.
Of the miserable conduct of all such
it is better to be silent than to speak.
Passing these over, therefore,
let us proceed, with God's help,
to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks,the Cenobites.
What are the two major things that St. Benedict dislikes about the
bad types of monk? They have no stability and they follow their own
wills. Obedience is the essence of monastic struggle, and we will be
touching on it throughout the Holy Rule. Stability, while getting
lots of mention, deservedly takes a lesser role in the Rule, even
though it is taken as a vow by Benedictines, so it might pay to take
a closer look at stability right at the beginning of our reading of
The Desert Fathers said: "Stay in your cell and your cell will teach
you everything." Real cinch, right? Wrong! Don't picture staying in
one's cell like a personal day from work, when you sleep as late as
you like, get dressed at noon (if then!) and decide you can eat for
the day without leaving the house to go to the store or, for that
matter, without leaving the couch. That's not what this is about.
Monastics, whether in the world or in the cloister, could tell you
that the cell, the home can be paradise, but it can also be hell, a
furnace of nearly impossible heat. In fact, for many of us, it has
been both at one time or another, and maybe, just maybe, it isn't
done switching roles yet! Times of paradise are nice, they can swell
the heart with gratitude and love, but every spouse, parent, child
and religious knows that we cannot stay on the mountaintop forever,
like Peter, we may not pitch tents there.
The furnace, now there's a fetching little image! But it is
essential, too. Benedictine life seeks to lead us to God. For every
single one of us, that means cleaning out a lot of imperfection. We
may start out eagerly wanting to be like "gold tried in the furnace,
seven times refined," but it's a safe bet that early on, after a time
or two in that inferno, we'll be trying to bargain for less, maybe
four or five times refined at most! It's no debutante's ball in there!
Hate the furnace/gold imagery? Can't blame you there, especially if
you live in the North and furnaces are tricky and expensive worries!
Try a sauna. Still hard, still challenging, still sweats a LOT of
gunk out. However, make sure you jump in the ice cold water right after
the sauna, just so you don't think all this stuff is REALLY a spa!
The fact is, for Benedictines, stability, whether of cloister or
geography or of heart, is a major piece of the puzzle. It's the
ability to stick with it, stay in there, keep trying. It is the
fixedness, not just of place, but of heart and will. It is more than
just not moving around.
A consumerist society is fueled by desire, change and variety. Small
wonder that it encourages us to be always moving, always seeking the
novel, always distracted: it's profit base depends on that and,
whatever else may be said, consumerism is a greedy little devil.
Stability flies in the face of all these falsehoods. It tells us
that "rut" and routine are two very different things for us. The
routine, the mundane, the everyday and predictable are precisely the
arenas in which we must strive and win in the spiritual life.
The summer I left the seminary, I was 36. I lived in an idyllic place,
way out in the country, only a few miles from the West Virginia
border. Gorgeous! Geese and goats right next door, a small garden, a
tiny Byzantine Church on the property that I took care of and where I
That last summer, when I decided not to go back, I fell
in love. Not just a little, a LOT, way head over heels.
The idyllic surroundings became even lovelier,
they sang and all seemed right with the world. I was in Eden.
Or so I thought...
When the romance angle all blew up in my face, I was every bit as
inconsolable as I had recently been ecstatic. The same place looked
ugly and boring and hot, I couldn't care less about the geese and
goats I loved and I let the garden go to pieces. Why? Perception. It
was the same Eden, my eyes and heart had changed.
Stability teaches us that. Our fleeting hells have heaven within them
and our Edens can turn into Dead Seas overnight. Stability forces us
to stick with it, to weather those changes, to know EVERY side of
life and love and heart and place. No wonder St. Benedict loved it
so! It is the courage of which monastics are made!
I failed the test of that lovely rural stability 26 years ago,
but my heart still remembers the nights I sat on the porch and watched the
thousands of fireflies' swirling progress upward on the field beside
me, a nightly Theophany, a manifestation of God. They made me think
of souls, rising on the last day. Awesome! Sure I am that I did not
belong in the priesthood, but oh, how wrong I could be
when disenchanted with that place. My heart goes back there still and
I pray for that community every single day of my life.
Love and prayers,
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A blessed Easter to all! Christ is risen, truly He is risen!!
Prayers, please, for the spiritual and temproal welfare of the following, for all their loved ones and all who take care of them:
Luke, house sale - his house has been on the market for over a year and he really needs to sell it and downsize after the end of a long-term relationship.
Deo Gratias, V. has been offered and very limited place next year on the post-graduate course of his dreams...now he needs the money to pay for it.
Funding for D. to further his studies, or inspiration for something even better.
Continued prayers for baby Grace and her family. She is stable but still on oxygen in the house 24/7, and is waiting to see a specialist.
Jual, young mother of three battling breast cancer. Nodules found in her lung. Having surgery Sunday.
Prayers for safe journey, and back, for an extended family going on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land for almost 2 weeks, and prayers for a wonderful time.
Lord help us all
as You know and will. God's will is best. All is mercy and grace.
God is never absent, praise Him! Thanks so much. JL
April 8, August 8, December 8
Chapter 55: On the Clothes and Shoes of the Brethren
For bedding let this suffice:
a mattress, a blanket, a coverlet and a pillow.
The beds, moreover, are to be examined frequently by the Abbot,
to see if any private property be found in them.
If anyone should be found to have something
that he did not receive from the Abbot,
let him undergo the most severe discipline.
And in order that this vice of private ownership
may be cut out by the roots,
the Abbot should provide all the necessary articles:
cowl, tunic, stockings, shoes, belt,
knife, stylus, needle, handkerchief, writing tablets;
that all pretext of need may be taken away.
Yet the Abbot should always keep in mind
the sentence from the Acts of the Apostles
that "distribution was made to each according as anyone had need"
In this manner, therefore,
let the Abbot consider weaknesses of the needy
and not the ill-will of the envious.
But in all his decisions
let him think about the retribution of God.
There is a tendency, both within the cloister and without, to hunt
for dramatic ascetic practices, while ignoring the truly more
difficult matters that lack the fanfare. Lights! Camera! Action! We
must always be wary of the Nora Desmonds of our hearts, who are
always willing to say, a la Sunset Boulevard: "I'm ready for my close-
up now, Mr. DeMille." How we do love to star, even at self-
Well, there's two bad pieces of new for Ms. Desmond et al. First the
penances we choose are usually not the most effective ones. The
best ones are imposed by God or our situation of daily duty and they
become tremendous means of grace when we patiently embrace them.
Second, the ones we do choose can be terrible risks for pride, which
undoes our efforts so insidiously.
What on earth does this have to do with the current chapter? Easy-
and very, very hard, too! The great ascesis here is to aim at
limiting ourselves to "all the necessary articles." There is a
challenge here for everyone from Abbot Primate to newest Oblate
novice. It is a challenge we shall likely never meet fully in life,
so it is something we can always be profitably picking at!
Do you know anyone at all, in any vocation, who has absolutely
nothing beyond what they need? I have known a few; alas I cannot
say it of myself. I think this is an area where we can all look at a challenging
grace-filled ascetic struggle that is placed on us by the Holy Rule.
Down-sizing actually feels great, once one gets over the consumerist
terror of doing so! One will quickly find that, in this area, less
really *IS* more, (unlike poetry and art, architecture and liturgy,
alas...! Minimalism there gets old fast...) We become freer when we
let go of things which hold us more than we realize.
We can get buried in things we are saving to complete unfinalized
plans that will never come to fruition, and while we save them, we
are disheartened by our own failure to use them. Jettison, m'dears,
jettison. As the one Desert Father used to say to the brethren,"Flee,
brothers, flee!" so do I say: "Jettison!"
This has the further charm of fitting well into a depressive's sofa
paralysis, too. Recall how I told you about that resolution to make
three things, no matter how tiny, better each day? Works here, too!
And you will often find to your delight that the trip to dumpster or thrift
shop donation includes 7, 8, or more things!
Keep chipping away and the mountain of our false hearts' desires,
beloveds. And one day may all those chips be ground to sand and may
we stand together on level, smooth quartz
sand, confronted by nothing but the dazzling ocean of God's
unfathomable mercy and love!
Love and prayers,
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]