Dear Friends in Christ,
At the heart of the teaching of our Holy Father Saint Benedict is attention to ordinary things. The mundane matters of daily life for a monk, such as resting, rising, working, praying, reading, greeting guests, are all potential material for an encounter with the living God. There cannot be a more exalted activity than meeting God, yet in Saint Benedict’s mind, this encounter takes place in the daily events, the ordinary tasks that make up the “monastic day.”
One time a postulant, no longer here, said to me that he longed to “rub shoulders” with ordinary people again, and I thought, “Aren’t we ordinary enough?” Few of us, if I may be so bold to say, are “extraordinary.” Rather, we are probably fairly “normal,” “ordinary” people, striving to do right, to become saints, but still very much “on the way.”
In the mind of Saint Benedict, our attention to ordinary things with ordinary people is a pathway to heaven, and so Saint Benedict provides what he calls a “little rule,” a “modest guide,” that is capable of bringing us to the heights of contemplation and ultimately to behold the glory of God.
Benedict, though, is first of all I believe, an “apostle of the ordinary,” of finding God where we are, in this monastery, not an imaginary one, of finding God in one another, in the guests, in superiors, in Sacred Scripture, in the Sacraments, in the place we live. That doesn’t mean we should despise or diminish the sublimity of prayer, liturgy, music, art, etc., but that first and foremost, if we don’t find God in the midst of our ordinary occupations, what are the chances of finding God in ecstasy or mystical prayer?
We are not being called to be extraordinarily perfect, but “perfectly ordinary.” That is the way of humility, acknowledging that we are not the center of the universe, but striving to be the person God intended us to be.
The Trappist monk and prolific author, Father Louis (Thomas) Merton wrote that the Desert Fathers and Mothers insisted on remaining human and ordinary, for to fly to the desert to be “above others” is only to carry the world into the desert. That doesn’t mean we don’t strive to overcome our tendencies toward laziness, pride, greed, lust, etc., but that we are not the ones to determine how much or how little “progress” we’ve made, leaving that in God’s hands, and pray with the psalmist “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory” (Psalm 115:1).
Ordinary believers are called by Saint Benedict to extraordinary goals: God’s Kingdom and life eternal. Like Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and patron of the Universal Church, Saint Benedict is another model of “dying well,” of commending one’s life into God’s hands without fear, regret, anger, or anxiety. We should, as Saint Benedict did at the end of his life, stretch out our hands and say: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit (see: Luke 23:46). My past, my present, my future is yours, Lord.” We shouldn’t reserve that prayer just until our final hours, but say it every day.
May Saint Benedict help us to live well, here and now, not preoccupied with our final hours, yet never letting go of the fact that we must die. We are called to integrate the tension between living many more years, and acknowledging that we may die today. May the example and prayers of Saint Benedict assist us to live well and to die well also!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB