Abbey 2013 March 21 – PASSING OF OUR HOLY FATHER BENEDICT
Genesis: 12: 1-4a
John 17: 20-26
At first hearing the Word we have just heard doesn’t seem to have much to do with death or a passage from this world to the next. But the Word can point us in a direction that our thoughts and feelings might take on this first day after the spring equinox as we follow Benedict as he moves from one season of his life to another.
Abraham. When we listen to his call, we think of our vocation. We reflect on the fact that none of us are living in our home town or even with our home people. We have all left the family and place we are familiar with. And following that call was not necessarily easy, just as it was not easy for Abraham. But Abraham’s call had a blessing attached to it. And it was not a blessing that he would live to see. God asks him to move but he also gives him his word and makes a promise. He will be blessed and he will become a blessing for others. The name Benedict translates as simply “One who is Blessed.”
Benedict passes from this world to the Father today. But he has left a blessing behind him. If we count the 1500 years of his way of life, then he is surely a happy man to have so many sons and daughters who have lived in the light of his blessing. We can pause to consider the significance of that. We here on this day, from many places on earth that Benedict did not even know about, have been touched by his way of life. Surely he is a happy man for that. But we might ask ourselves, just how have I been blessed in knowing this man and in knowing his way of following the Gospel. Can each of us begin to name the blessing Benedict has bequeathed to us through his life and through his Rule. Is it a way of prayer, a way of prayer founded in God’s word? Is it perhaps the gift of balance in our lives that comes about by following the rhythm of common prayer, work, reading day in and day out? Is it the virtue of patience that has grown in us as we learned to live next to someone of different temperament or style than me? Have I come to know peace in my life because I have been faithful to all that Benedict calls us to? Listening to the call of Abraham sends me back to my roots in this way of Benedict. It asks me to recognize, to appreciate the blessing, the life, the peace that have come to me by being a disciple in Benedict’s school of the Lord’s service.
Paul’s word to the Philippians and Benedict’s word to his followers. Paul wishes joy and peace for his community. Benedict’s invitation in this prologue is just to those people who are looking also for peace. Benedict has a word and a plan for those whose hearts are looking for wholeness and a rich life. He asks us to seek peace and pursue it. Run after this peace. Run after this blessing that God wishes to give us and does so in abundance at the resurrection of Christ.
Paul asks his community to imitate him, do what he taught, follow his example. As Benedict passes today from this world to the Father, he also encourages us to do all the things we have learned from him and were taught by him. [We know that what he taught and what we can learn is found in the Rule. The many miracle stories Gregory gives us of Benedict are edifying. They alert us to the fact that he is a holy man. But if we are to follow him, then we best do that by following the Rule. Of course we make a vow to follow the Rule. And we listen to it each day. But all this is to say that we are to be conscious daily of what Benedict is teaching us.] Benedict may pass into the glory of his Master. But Benedict lives to the degree that we find the way to God and a way of serving the Lord Jesus in the word of the Rule. Benedict passes to the Father but leaves a gift in his Rule. We hear what he taught in the Rule. And we are encouraged to do it, to make it our own. The Rule is part of the blessing that Benedict leaves behind. When we follow it, he says we too will become blessed.
As Paul grew in his mission, it became clearer to him, that he was the message of the Gospel. His life itself with its joys and struggles, with its conformity to Christ, his life was a living Gospel of the cross and resurrection. And we could say he had the nerve, the gall to tell people to imitate it. [But the way of Christ is enfleshed in other human beings and we do well to find such people and to imitate how they live in Christ.] But Paul goes on to say. If you do this, then you will find the God of Peace. Benedict says, if you take up this way of the Gospel as found in my Rule, then peace will be yours. In a world filled with many choices and much to imitate, it comes as a blessing to know there is a way that truly reflects the path of peace God reveals to us in Christ.
Lastly, we hearing Jesus praying. Perhaps Jesus words are similar to the words of prayer that St. Gregory tells us were on the lips of Benedict in his dying moments. Listening to Jesus we are invited to hear in them what St. Benedict prayed for his own community. What Benedict wishes for us is a place in the great communion that flows between Father and Son. It is a communion that now includes those who believe in the Son. The communion of love that flows between the father and the Son is expanded to all those for whom the Son lived and died.
What is at the center of St. Benedict’s Rule is Christ. And at the heart of the community is the living Christ. We come to the monastery to live in a community with Christ as the center. We come to accept what Jesus continues to offer, a relationship with him and the Father. At the heart of the community is the great blessing. It is the blessing that the Father loves Jesus and is faithful to him until the end. Jesus in his turn loves us and is faithful to us also. And we live in that love. And our living in that love becomes a blessing to the world around us. [The source of every blessing is the love of Father and Son. As a blessing it is shared with you and I.] To the degree that we live out of the blessing, to that degree do we experience peace. To that same degree do the followers of St. Benedict become a blessing wherever they may be found.
We give thanks today for God’s Blessing, St. Benedict, who has given us a way to life in the heart of love, the source of Blessing.