Seeking his workman in a multitude of people, the Lord calls out to him and lifts his voice again: 15 Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days? (Ps 33:13). 16 If you hear this and your answer is “I do,” God then directs these words to you: 17 If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim (Ps 33:14-15). 18 Once you have done this, my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers; and even before you ask me, I will say to you: Here I am (Isa 58:9). 19 What, dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us? 20 See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life. 21 Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
It is God who calls us to be monks. The Lord looks for us. The Lord wants us to give our lives to Him fully and completely. We already know this, yet we remind ourselves that the work of monastic life is done by God. We are here to cooperate with God.
God wants us and wants us to give our lives to Him. God invites us with gentleness: Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days? God’s invitation is to live fully and to have good days here in this life. This does not mean that monastic life is easy. The difficult work of monastic life will bring us deep into another way of living and another way of perceiving life. We find in history that some people with the most freedom are those who give up freedom entirely and voluntarily.
This is the theory of obedience presented to us in our Christian tradition. It gives us personal freedom to become “slaves” of Jesus Christ. Freedom to do whatever I want to do is not the same as spiritual freedom. There is much confusion in our present age between these two different ways of freedom. Deep, inner spiritual growth is possible in any situation, even in situations where there is no personal freedom. This has been recognized by Christian writers, by pagan writers and by writers of other religious traditions.
Many people believe that inner spiritual freedom is only possible with personal freedom. Much energy is spent trying to achieve personal freedom. Little attention is given to developing inner spiritual freedom. As Benedictines, we must recognize that our Rule presupposes that we are willing to give up a great deal of personal freedom in order to grow in deep, inner spiritual freedom.
If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. This is the way of inner spiritual freedom. It sounds so simple and easy and takes all our life to practice.
Monastic tradition has two very important practices among others. One is the practice of silence and the other is the discernment of thoughts. Both of them are important in keeping our tongues free from vicious talk and our lips free from deceit. We will speak of both of these much more in another place.
It is not easy to acknowledge that we know very little about the spiritual life and that we do not live very spiritual lives. We come to the monastery as sinners and as persons who want to learn. We remain sinners all our lives and we are always just beginning the spiritual life. We learn some aspects of the spiritual life and we may be freed from certain sins. We shall still struggle all our lives to be faithful to the Lord and we can always learn more of the spiritual life. This is an attitude that we must root deeply in ourselves: we are always learning, we are always beginning.
Turn away from evil and do good. It sounds so simple. I want to do this. Yet each day I find myself still attached to evil and still struggling to be free so that I can serve the Lord. The important thing in the struggle is to continue to struggle. If we give up, we are lost. Our desert monastic ancestors would say that if we think we have triumphed, we are also in danger of delusion.
Let peace be your quest and aim. It is very difficult to achieve inner peace and quiet, yet it is one of the most important elements in a monastic life. We must work so that no matter what happens to us, we remain in peace. Part of formation is stating over and over and over: never act when you are upset! Always wait until you are at peace before making any major decisions in your lives!
One of the ways of achieving peace is in prayer. We must place ourselves in the presence of the Lord and not let any distractions have our attention. Notice that our tradition does not tell us that we must not have distractions, only that we must not let them become the center of our attention. This is a matter of voluntary mental and psychological discipline and takes some time to achieve. It is important for achieving inner peace. True inner peace only comes from Christ, but we must do what is necessary from our human nature so that we can be at peace.
Again and again in formation it must be said that each of us is responsible for his or her own peace and inner tranquillity. There are many situations which will pull us away from such peace and tranquillity, and we must strive against them. When we are irritated by someone else, when someone says bad things about us, when someone is mean to us, when someone ignores us, when we are ill treated in any way, when we are abandoned by those we had trusted–in each of these situations, we must learn to remain in peace and tranquility.