January 23, May 24, September 23
Chapter 5: On Obedience
But this very obedience
will be acceptable to God and pleasing to all
only if what is commanded is done
without hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, or objection.
For the obedience given to Superiors is given to God,
since He Himself has said,
"He who hears you, hears Me" (Luke 10:16).
And the disciples should offer their obedience with a good will,
for "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).
For if the disciple obeys with an ill will
not necessarily with his lips but simply in his heart,
then even though he fulfill the command
yet his work will not be acceptable to God,
who sees that his heart is murmuring.
And, far from gaining a reward for such work as this,
he will incur the punishment due to murmurers,
unless he amend and make satisfaction.
Trust me, folks, I am not second-guessing St. Benedict on this one, I
just think there is a chance that he is often misread and that
something not at all contrary to his precepts needs to be emphasized.
Few who share my cynical bent would fail to chafe at a reading of
this passage which implies that we must all be cheerful, Pollyanna
optimists, blithely smiling automatons. Yes, we are told not to
murmur, and to put the very best face on our obedience that we
possibly can. Often the real miracle of grace is that we can just
barely obey in silence, without any comment at all. No doubt that is
a tender mercy to those who live with us! We must not read St.
Benedict harshly, even less so God. We must keep the loving parent
image ever before our eyes in both instances.
I want to expand the image of the non-murmuring heart a bit. Some
days one's heart cannot murmur, because it is numb and paralyzed,
unable to do much of anything more explicit than ache. Some days
one's heart is Ground Zero, and everything coming at it seems to be
just one more horrible plane. Never, never think that St. Benedict is
telling us to put a happy face on this. A brave face or even a blank
expressionless one may be all one can muster. We are asked to try, to
do our best, to be as brave as we can.
How very great is the love of God for us at such times. A favorite
image I have used before is very apt here: the heart of God is like a
Mother's refrigerator door, plastered with children's bad, even
ghastly art. (OK, I KNOW it may be age-appropriate art, but bear with
me on this one....) God is bursting and beaming with pride at our
struggling efforts. He cares not a wit that we are not beaming with
false cheer ourselves. With all that mud on our faces, who could see
the forced smile anyhow?
There will never be a time, in this world or in the next, when God
loves us more than He does when we are fallen, crawling toward Him on
all fours and still barely hanging on. The effort, always the effort
is what God sees.
Love and prayers,