If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds. 23 But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet: Who will dwell in your tent, O Lord; who will find rest upon your holy mountain? (Ps 14:1). 24 After this question, brothers, let us listen well to what the Lord says in reply, for he shows us the way to his tent. 25 One who walks without blemish, he says, and is just in all his dealings; 26 who speaks the truth from his heart and has not practiced deceit with his tongue; 27 who has not wronged a fellow man in any way, nor listened to slanders against his neighbor (Ps 14:2-3). 28 He has foiled the evil one, the devil, at every turn, flinging both him and his promptings far from the sight of his heart. While these temptations were still young, he caught hold of them and dashed them against Christ (Ps 14: 4; 136:9). 29 These people fear the Lord, and do not become elated over their good deeds; they judge it is the Lord’s power, not theirown, that brings about the good in them. 30 They praise (Ps 14:4) the Lord working in them, and say with the Prophet: Not to us, Lord, not to us give the glory, but to your name alone (Ps 113[115:1]:9). 31 In just this way Paul the Apostle refused to take credit for the power of his preaching. He declared: By God’s grace I am what I am (1 Cor 15:10). 32 And again he said: He who boasts should make his boast in the Lord (2 Cor 10:17). 33 That is why the Lord says in the Gospel: Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house upon rock; 34 the floods came and the winds blew and beat against the house, but it did not fall: it was founded on rock (Matt 7:24-5).
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, what kind of desires do we have? Do we really want to dwell in the kingdom of God, or do we just seek our own comfort and a situation where we can live without being bothered?
If we can really desire the kingdom of God more than anything else, then we can begin to have more and more energy to face the truly difficult task of doing good deeds and loving one another.
Saint Benedict speaks to us using the words of Psalm 14, helping us to be more deeply aware of our desires. We must never think that the kingdom of God is something that is just given to us without our having to respond to it. This is one of those great debates in the history of Christianity: the relationship between grace and good works, between grace and free will, between salvation as a gift freely given and salvation as something we must strive for.
We monks must be aware of this debate, because it always affects the way we live. Saint John Cassian was accused of semi-Pelagianism because of his emphasis on the need to work for salvation. Others have been accused of quietism because of the emphasis on God’s work in salvation. A classic statement of how these two aspects of salvation work together is this: we must pray as if everything depends on God and we must work as if everything depends on us.
Saint Benedict would describe such people as those who do not become elated over their good works because they recognize that it is the Lord’s power that brings about the good in them. They are also the people who build their house upon rock.
We must ask ourselves what the relationship is between psychology and this service of God. Quite often we encounter people who are unable to acknowledge that they are capable of any good and end up despairing of life itself. This is not the Gospel sense of God being responsible for all. Rather we are dealing with a need of psychological growth.
Today we would be more inclined to say that a person is in need of a healthy self-image and sense of self-worth before the person can really give himself or herself over to the service of God. There is a need to accept the necessity of some psychological wholeness without putting too much emphasis on this aspect. There is a danger of confusing psychological wholeness with holiness and they are not the same. Generally a person must be somewhat whole psychologically in order to live a good Christian life.
What is perhaps not recognized or emphasized much in our own time is that striving to live a good Christian life, when that is well understood, brings about a psychological wholeness. So also in the Monastery, if a brother is basically sound psychologically, then living the monastic life can bring about a deepening of psychological health and well-being. When the monastic life is well lived, it is therapeutic.
One of the recommendations that Saint Benedict gives us is to cast our evil thoughts upon Christ. This is good advice and will bring about a healthy well-being in the mind when it is well used. It is possible to encounter people who become obsessed with their evil thoughts. They are possessed by the thoughts rather than having the thoughts. We must come to understand that any thought can enter our mind and then we must deal with the thought.
Many of the desert monastics and other early monastic writers were convinced that the heart of the spiritual life lies in the understanding of thoughts and how to deal with them. Perhaps today it could be added that the understanding of both thoughts and feelings and the wisdom of knowing how to let thoughts and feelings lead us to Christ is the heart of the spiritual life.
The Greek philosophers often taught that self-knowledge was the most important element in living a wise and good life. Christian philosophers would add to that self-knowledge the ability to spend our energies for Christ.
Our challenge as monks today is to live the Gospel fully and totally in a manner that shows our love of Christ to all who encounter us. The tradition embodied in the Rule of Benedict guides us to fight with our thoughts and feelings until they are in accord with doing the will of God. At the heart of this fight with thoughts and feelings is the recognition that I am NOT my thoughts and feelings. Rather, thoughts and feelings are elements in my life over which I can have some influence. I can also offer them to the Lord Christ and ask him to transform them so that they reflect his goodness, love and mercy.
Monastic life calls for a real discipline on my part and the willingness to give myself over to learning that discipline. The discipline is for the sake of putting myself at the service of Christ.
May our lives give glory to God now and always. May we be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to live this life more deeply and with a deep desire for the kingdom of God.