Today’s Bible reading
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. – 1 Timothy 4:1-10
More thoughts for meditation
Monasticism had been around for a long time before Benedict of Nursia chose it as an “option.” What Benedict formed was “monasticism for regular Joes and Janes.” Instead of a way of life for the strong and disciplined, he was making a way for the ordinary and weak to not only survive but thrive in uncertain and threatening times. The purpose of the Rule of Benedict was not to make rules but to free people from what ruled them. It was gentle, as in the famous line in the manual labor section: “Let all things be done with moderation, however, for the sake of the fainthearted.”
Rod Dreher highlights the main themes of the rule that are crucial for the restoration and survival of Christianity in the 21st century, especially in the rapidly deteriorating United States.
We must not be controlled by the passions and powers that direct “liquid modernity’s deep currents.” We have our own order as represented by our covenant, Map, our various plans and by the expectation that every cell agrees on what they will do together.
Everything is seen from a supernatural point of view, so we become a radiant reflection of God. If that is true about us, it is because we pray. This prayer guide represents that desire. We’re working on “praying without ceasing” and living “in Christ.”
Good trees bear good fruit. Prayer and work are two sides of one coin. Whatever we do in home, job or church, it is all the work of the One who is at work in us and we do it for God’s glory. We say “life in Christ is one whole cloth” so we don’t divide sacred and secular.
This word comes from the Greek word for “training.” A discipline everyone knows about is fasting. If you can start with your desire for food, you can graduate to anger, envy and pride. We can also fast from our resistance to taking on new things, like order and prayer. We need to learn how to suffer creatively, like Jesus.
We put down spiritual roots in a place long enough for them to grow deep. Rootlessness is an enemy of spiritual depth. Our pastors have shown this longevity in their love for us. It has made us deeper – and them, too.
Sharing life together limits individual freedom, so it is generally under attack in our day. People like to consume the experience of community, and Americans travel the world to experience culture, but if no one makes culture there is none to visit. In Benedict’s rule and in the Bible (as in today’s reading) the most stringent rules are about protecting the community. We probably have more proverbs about that then about other things, as well.
Exercising all these traits makes a community tight knit: close and cohesive. But it could also make them too separate from the world Jesus loves, for whom they exist. So Benedict builds hospitality and service into the rule. No one is to be turned away. Everyone is valued. Our sense of “embracing first” is an example of this hospitality. We do not have litmus tests for being acceptable among us.
Suggestions for action
The Benedict option warns us that “no matter what a Christian’s circumstances, he or she cannot live faithfully if God is only part of his or her life, bracketed away from the rest.” In like manner, Leon Bloy writes: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint.”
This week has a lot of self-assessment in it. If you were working through the ACTS formula for prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), you’d be on “C.” Today, consider how comfortable you are in Christ culture. Do you have “nothing to do” with some things, as our reading teaches, and do you “train” yourself for godliness?
Confession is not about getting justified, Jesus did that. It is about returning to joy and hope. Benedict did not write his rule so everyone would feel bad about not following rules right. He was calling together people who wanted to live, not be perpetually cajoled into living. The Holy Spirit of God calls Jesus followers into their mature humanity. We may start as children, but every day we take another step into eternity. How do you confess? Does it feel hopeful or horrible? Either way, pray over it.