Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sinners All

For the Bible and for Saint Benedict, we are all afflicted with a common shame that needs to be dealt with before we can talk about and experience the fullness of the grace of salvation. In fact talking about it and dealing with it is the doorway into the experience of being saved. For the Bible the name of this shame is sin, and the issue goes all the way to back to the Garden of Eden. 

Benedict confronts everyone who wishes to enter the monastery in the following words: “Listen, O my son, to the teaching of your master and turn to them with the ear of your heart. Willingly accept the advice of a devoted father and put it into action. Thus you will return by the labor of obedience to the one from whom you drifted through the inertia of disobedience. Now then I address my words to you: whoever is willing to renounce self-will, and take up the powerful and shining weapons of obedience to fight for the Lord Christ, the true king.”

This is one of the most famous texts in the entire corpus of monastic literature. It is not demanding that people confess their special cause of shame openly before they can be admitted to monastic community. Rather, they are bluntly told that they are disobedient, that is, sinners; and they are also told that the only cure for that condition is obedience.We are all in a state of alienation- alienated from our own goodness, which is a reflection of God’s goodness. We have lost touch with how good and lovable we are and so spend our lives running. 

What could be less politically correct then to demand that the first thing newcomers must do is to admit they are sinners? Isn’t this an almost insurmountable obstacle for the sensitive modern person? And yet, we should notice one thing in particular: this same challenge is offered to every single newcomer, and because it is universal, it can be a comfort as well as a challenge. We are not alone in this condition!

Statue of Saint Benedict by the Abbey Cottage. Reflections by Father Abbot Damian from a recent Chapter talk.