Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Reading for Dec 25, 2007

April 25, August 25, December 25
Chapter 67: On Brethren Who Are Sent on a Journey

Let the brethren who are sent on a journey
commend themselves
to the prayers of all the brethren and of the Abbot;
and always at the last prayer of the Work of God
let a commemoration be made of all absent brethren.

When brethren return from a journey,
at the end of each canonical Hour of the Work of God
on the day they return,
let them lie prostrate on the floor of the oratory
and beg the prayers of all
on account of any faults
that may have surprised them on the road,
through the seeing or hearing of something evil,
or through idle talk.
And let no one presume to tell another
whatever he may have seen or heard outside of the monastery,
because this causes very great harm.
But if anyone presumes to do so,
let him undergo the punishment of the Rule.
And let him be punished likewise who would presume
to leave the enclosure of the monastery
and go anywhere or do anything, however small,
without an order from the Abbot.

Some Thoughts

"Custody of the senses" is a concept that has very much gone out of style. It dealt with protecting one's self from occasions of sin by keeping one's eyes lowered as one walk so one would not see evil, busying one's mind with repetitive prayer so one would not hear evil, tucking one's arms in one's sleeves so one would not touch evil. Basically, a very serious form of minding one's own business so that one would not notice those things which would distract one's self from the Lord.

I don't know about you, but I find custody of the senses almost impossible to practice. Do you feel as bombarded as I with all the temptations present? Do you, as do I, want to talk about it and unburden yourself of the outrage you feel? Ah, but Benedict says to keep our mouths shut. We must bear the burden alone with God.

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister:

The desert monastic, Samartus, had written in a culture that called material things evil and only spiritual things good: "If we do not flee from everything, we make sin inevitable." This fear of things outside the monastery was clearly still alive in the time of Benedict and well beyond. Monastics who traveled outside, then,--and they did, as we do, for reasons of business and personal need-- were reminded in this paragraph to call themselves consciously into the presence of God and the purpose of their lives before leaving their monasteries. Two things in particular make the paragraph valuable today. In the first place, however they saw the risks of the world in which they lived, they continued to confront them. They did not become less human in their search for the spiritual life. In the second place, however they counted their own commitment, they did not underestimate the lure of lesser things in life, even on them. They begged the prayers of the community while they were away, a practice which is continued to this day, and they kept as close as possible to the prayer schedule of the monastery while they were gone. Then, when the trip was over, they returned to their monasteries alert to the effects of the baubles and bangles of loose living. And they redoubled their efforts at monastic life. They started over again, prostrating themselves on the floor of the oratory as they had at the time of their profession praying to be reconcentrated on the real meaning of life.

The value of the chapter is clear even today: No one lives in a tax-free world. Life costs. The values and kitsch and superficiality of it takes its toll on all of us. No one walks through life unscathed. It calls to us for our hearts and our minds and our very souls. It calls to us to take life consciously, to put each trip, each turn of the motor, each trek to work in God's hands. Then, whatever happens there, we must remember to start over and start over and start over until, someday, we control life more than it controls us.

A Zen story tells of two monks walking down a muddy, rain-logged road on the way back to their monastery after a morning of begging who saw a beautiful young girl standing beside a large deep puddle unable to get across without ruining her clothes. The first monk, seeing the situation, offered to carry the girl to the other side, though monks had nothing whatsoever to do with women. The second monk was astonished by the act but said nothing about it for hours. Finally, at the end of the day, he said to his companion, "I want to talk to you about that girl." And the first monk said, "Dear brother, are you still carrying that girl. I put her down hours ago."

The things we ruminate on, the things we insist on carrying in our minds and heart, the things we refuse to put down, the Rule warns us, are really the things that poison us and erode our souls. We dull our senses with television and wonder why we cannot see the beauty that is around us. We hold on to things outside of us instead of concentrating on what is within that keeps us noisy and agitated. We run from experience to experience like children in a candy store and wonder how serenity has eluded us. It is walking through life with a relaxed grasp and a focused eye that gets us to where we're going. Dwelling on unessentials and, worse, filling the minds of others with them distracts from the great theme of our lives. We must learn to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

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