With this conclusion, the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings. 36 Therefore our life span has been lengthened by way of a truce, that we may amend ourmisdeeds. 37 As the Apostle says: Do you not know that the patience of God is leading you to repent (Rom 2:4)? 38 And indeed the Lord assures us in his love: I do not wish the death of a sinner, but that he turn back to me and live (Ezek 33:11).
39 Brothers, now that we have asked the Lord who will dwell in his tent, we have heard the instructions for dwelling in it, but only if we fulfill the obligations of those who dwell there. 40 We must, then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions. 41 What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace. 42 If we wish to reach eternal life, even as we avoid the torments of hell, 43 then–while there is still time, while we are in this body and have time to accomplish all these things by the light of life –44 we must run and do now what will profit us forever.
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
The teaching of this short section of the Holy Rule is about patience and obedience. God gives us time to repent of our sins and to change our way of living. God does not immediately reject us because we are sinners. Rather God constantly invites us to change our ways.
Perhaps one of the most important facets of our formation as monks is the process of acceptance that we are all sinners, that we are all imperfect. I must accept my brothers as they are, with their sinfulness and their imperfections and their faults–and my challenge is to love them just as they are. Also I must come to accept my imperfections and my faults and I love myself properly as I am. My challenge is to allow the Holy Spirit to change my life from within. I cannot change anyone else’s life, but I can ask the Spirit to change my life, to transform me. I can use my energies to fight against my own defects, faults and sins.
Think of the desert monks who were personally so convinced of their own sinfulness that they knew that they could never condemn anyone else. When a group of early monks was trying to throw out a monk from their group because he was a sinner, their “abba” came walking through with a bag of sand on his back, letting the sand fall out of the sack behind him. The brothers asked him if he knew that he was losing all of his sand. He replied that, of course, he knew it, and that their actions in trying to expel a sinner from their midst were the same. Their own sins were flowing out behind them and yet they were rushing to condemn one of their brothers who had sinned.
We must focus on our own sins and failures and work against them and we must seek to live with our brothers as they are, with their sins and failures, and not try to correct them. God is patient with us and so we must be patient with one another. This teaching comes up over and over again in the Gospel and in the monastic tradition, and yet how hard it is to live it! It is difficult to live it because it is much easier to fight against someone else than to have to fight against myself.
It is so much easier for me to spend my energies against my brothers or against some situation outside of myself than to spend my energies fighting myself. In our own lives, we must do this all the time. Generally we human beings dislike fighting ourselves. We are much more comfortable doing those things that bring us pleasure and happiness. We can even live a fairly good life without fighting ourselves.
On the other hand, to really develop a deep life of prayer and faithfulness to God, we must learn to discipline ourselves and to fight ourselves. We must fight against our laziness. We have to fight against sexual desires. We have to fight against likes and dislikes for this and that. We have to discipline our eating. We have to discipline our sleeping and our waking. We must discipline our talking and our silence. We have to discipline ourselves to the asceticism of the common prayer, the singing, the being present, the participation. All of these are necessary to a life of prayer.
We must, then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions. What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.
So often we choose not to fight ourselves. So often we find ourselves still living in sin. So often we find ourselves wanting to be faithful to God but not wanting to spend the time and energy that that faithfulness requires of us.
This is why Saint Benedict urges us to ask the Lord to supply by his grace that which is not possible by our nature. We must each day ask the Lord to change us. Each day we must recognize that we are loved and that God invites us over and over to come to live more fully in Him.
It is not enough simply to ask to be changed. We must know that God loves us even in our stubbornness and refusal to accept His graces. A daily meditation on the love of God is very helpful in giving the courage to continue to fight against ourselves and to ask God to change us.
Life in Christ flows from this awareness that we are loved. Whether we live in sin or in grace, we are loved. Whether we persevere and keep our vows or if we leave or break all of our vows, we are loved. The invitation is to persevere and to keep our vows and to live more and more deeply in the love and mercy of Christ. Christ’s love for us never fails, is always constant, is always creative and seeking to draw us deeper into His life.
May Christ’s love and mercy come to form us more and more in our daily lives. We shall constantly find ourselves as sinners, and we must entrust ourselves into the hands of a God who loves us and forgives us over and over.
We must strive to live that same way with our brothers: loving and forgiving over and over.
We can only do all of this, we can only be formed as Christians and as monks, if we have a regular life of prayer. We must work at having a regular conversation with God. We must ask God to strengthen our Christian and monastic life. We must ask God for the graces that we need. So we come always back to the challenge to live in Christ, to pray constantly, to plead with God for grace and conversion.