Readings: Acts 4:32-35; Philippians 4:4-9; John 17:20-26
One of the corrective measures during the post-Vatican II period of Cistercian renewal was the moderation of some of the Order’s ascetic practices as well as the reevaluation of the attitudes and spiritual perspectives that motivated these practices. And in this the Order was seen as reclaiming some of the moderation and common sense that permeates Benedict’s entire Rule and his assertion that the establishment of the School of the Lord’s Service was going to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome, but only a little strictness in order to amend faults and safeguard love.
Now some might say that the Order’s recent moderating of ascetical practices has gone too far and that the necessary strictness that helps amend faults and safeguard love has been lost. However, from another perspective there is plenty of what one might call latent or potential asceticism in our daily lives that we are not always aware of. And these are integral aspects of our monastic and communal lives that Saint Benedict himself points out at various junctures in the course of his Rule.
For example, in concluding his Prologue, Saint Benedict speaks of faithfully observing the Lord’s teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share his kingdom. In other words, a simple but wholehearted and faithful living out of the monastic life necessarily and inescapably incorporates ascetic aspects that repeatedly thwart self-will and self-centeredness. But rather than simply passively submitting to this regular thwarting of our self-will, Benedict exhorts us to actively pursue it and thus the monks should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. Embracing naturally-occurring asceticism is also clearly suggested by Benedict’s observation that the monks must not become distressed if local conditions or their poverty should force them to do the harvesting themselves.
Unfortunately, we don’t always embrace this naturally-occurring asceticism but in our lack of awareness of its true spiritual potential we either rebel against it or simply allow it to upset and irritate us and make us miserable. And so some daily chore is grimly and half-heartedly undertaken; the heat and humidity of another summer’s day has us dragging our feet and challenges our patience and charity; interpersonal tensions and conflicts remain sources of aggravation rather than personal insight. In these few examples we see the potential for a healthy asceticism that is never realized. Accordingly, on this Feast of our Holy Father Benedict, let us ask his intercession that we may become ever more aware of the daily opportunities to embrace the many naturally-occurring forms of asceticism and then allow them to transform our wills and bring them into loving conformity with the divine will so that we may increasingly run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.