Monday, August 31, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Gerontius of Petra


Abba Gerontius of Petra said that many, tempted by the pleasures of the body, commit fornication, not in their body but in their spirit, and while preserving their bodily virginity, commit prostitution in their soul. 'Thus it is good, my well-beloved, to do that which is written and for each one to guard his own heart with all possible care.' (Prov. 4.23)

Some thoughts:

It doesn't seem right to me to fail to mention that Petra is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Not very germane to the reading, of course, but I love history.

Something I was taught in seminary is that to the ancient mind there was little distinction between thinking a thought and doing the actual deed. So to be tempted was the same as committing whatever one was tempted to. Abba Gerontius tells us the way to avoid temptation in the 1st place is to guard one's heart.

How do we do that? I often comment that we are bombarded with ads, commercials, billboards, etc all telling us that we are less than because we don't own whatever the bombardment is trying to sell us. One of the repercussions of living in the Information Age. TMI or Too Much Information.

In lieu of actually plucking out our offending eyes or cutting of our hands, people living under religious vows developed what they called "custody of the senses". It's not a term I've seen discussed in many years now so I guess it is considered old-fashioned. Maybe it went the way of mandatory religious habits as in the Roman Catholic Church.

Custody of the senses was a way of living among people but minding one's own business. When walking down a corridor, for instance, and passing the open door to a room, one did not sneak a peek into the room to see what was going on there. Custody of the senses meant protecting the senses from that which would disturb one's thoughts and heart.

That is one way of guarding our hearts. What are some other ways we could do that?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 31, 2009

May 1, August 31, December 31

Chapter 73: On the Fact That the Full Observance of Justice Is Not Established in This Rule

Now we have written this Rule
in order that by its observance in monasteries
we may show that we have attained some degree of virtue
and the rudiments of the religious life.

But for those who would hasten to the perfection of that life
there are the teaching of the holy Fathers,
the observance of which leads to the height of perfection.
For what page or what utterance
of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testaments
is not a most unerring rule for human life?
Or what book of the holy Catholic Fathers
does not loudly proclaim
how we may come by a straight course to our Creator?
Then the Conferences and the Institutes
and the Lives of the Fathers,
as also the Rule of our holy Father Basil --
what else are they but tools of virtue
for right-living and obedient monks?
But for us who are lazy and ill-living and negligent
they are a source of shame and confusion.

Whoever you are, therefore,
who are hastening to the heavenly homeland,
fulfill with the help of Christ
this minimum Rule which we have written for beginners;
and then at length under God's protection
you will attain to the loftier heights of doctrine and virtue
which we have mentioned above.

Some thoughts:

With today's reading, we complete another cycle of the Rule of St.
Benedict. One might think that after the hard work of grappling with
the issues raised in the RB and our own responses revealing both our
short comings and our gifts, that the good Saint would give us a
breather. But nope. Benedict regards his Rule as the bare beginnings
of the religious life, by no means comprehensive. There is so much
more for us to read and incorporate into our hearts, minds, souls,
bodies, sinews, bone marrow, blood vessels.

What are these resources which he commends to us? The Fathers of the
Church: those Christian writes of the Patristic period; the Bible;
again the Fathers of the Church; Cassian's conferences and Institutes,
St. Basil's Rule. There is a lifetime of material to incarnate within
one's being were any of us to choose this path. Clearly it is Father
Benedict's hope that we will want to go beyond the Rule to study and
embrace, contemplate and meditate, to absorb all that the Lord offers
us that we might love Him beyond any other loves.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Evagrius


Abba Evagrius said, "Take away temptations and no one will be saved."

It strikes me as strange that in the alphabetical collection, only 1 Saying by Abba Evagrius is preserved. OTOH, he wrote and his work was preserved.

How often have I heard people long to "get away from it all" and everything would be right with them. I've daydreamed about it often enough myself. Abba Evagrius tells me that it is a worthless daydream. It's a bit of a paradox, isn't it? He sees temptations not only as the way to damnation but also to salvation.

Of course the Desert Christians valued works as a way to salvation and we emphasize grace. Maybe we go to far with that just as the Desert Christians went too far with earning salvation.

But I think we may need to recover the concept of temptation. We are bombarded with so much temptation that maybe it doesn't even seem like it any more. A friend of mine in Chicago was telling me that there are supermarkets which have TVs playing ads in the aisles.

Perhaps we belong to email lists which appeal to our own personal interests. How many times do these lists get carried away over the Next New Thing and one feels like one has to have it to belong.

What does withstanding temptation do for us? It creates discomfort, that's fershure. Anxiety, guilt. We make the mistake, perhaps, of thinking we have to be strong, self-sufficient, independent. When temptation comes as it inexorably will, we must remember to call on the Lord and the army of angels encamped around about us. We are not alone when temptations come. We have the whole host of heaven on our side.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 30, 2009

April 30, August 30, December 30

Chapter 72: On the Good Zeal Which They Ought to Have

Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness
which separates from God and leads to hell,
so there is a good zeal
which separates from vices and leads to God
and to life everlasting.
This zeal, therefore, the sisters should practice
with the most fervent love.
Thus they should anticipate one another in honor (Rom. 12:10);
most patiently endure one another's infirmities,
whether of body or of character;
vie in paying obedience one to another --
no one following what she considers useful for herself,
but rather what benefits another;
tender the charity of sisterhood chastely;
fear God in love;
love their Abbess with a sincere and humble charity;
prefer nothing whatever to Christ.
And may He bring us all together to life everlasting!

Some thoughts

This chapter is one of my favorites. I
mentioned yesterday that Two Ways was a genre of literature in the
ancient world and here we see it again reflected in today's passage.
The choices Benedict sets out are the zeal of bitterness and good
zeal. One can readily understand why Benedict would warn against the
evil zeal of bitterness. How many times have we seen the harm
bitterness leads to? Or the way people hold onto it?

In contrast, Benedict tells about good zeal which actively practiced
means we turn away from bad things. How hard this is to do in a world
which condones so much sin as normative and expected. How easy it is
to begin to think that as long as no one else finds out about it, it's
ok. How easy it is to slip into the sort of thinking that says as
long as I see no one coming it's ok to run the stop signs or the red
lights, for instance. Unfortunately for people who think this way, God
sees everything, not only our deeds, but our motivations and intents.

What I read today in Benedict's rule are the people I want to know and
whose lives I want to be a part of, people who have let go of ego and
sought to have love of God and love of neighbor be the central things
in their lives.

"Prefer nothing whatever to Christ." If I ever thought I'd have a
gravestone or any other marker that says I was here on earth for a
brief time, I would want it to say "She preferred nothing to Christ."
But I fear that it would be untrue because I see every day the many
things that I prefer to Christ. There are millions of examples, all
those mundane petty details of living in 21st century America. I have
to hope that it is true for me, as was with the cads and
scroundrels of the Hebrew Scriptures, that what is really important is that
I love God.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 29, 2009

April 29, August 29, December 29

Chapter 71: That the Brethren Be Obedient to One Another

Not only is the boon of obedience
to be shown by all to the Abbot,
but the brethren are also to obey one another,
knowing that by this road of obedience they are going to God.
Giving priority, therefore, to the commands of the Abbot
and of the Superior appointed by him
(to which we allow no private orders to be preferred),
for the rest
let all the juniors obey their seniors
with all charity and solicitude.
But if anyone is found contentious,
let him be corrected.

And if any brother,
for however small a cause,
is corrected in any way by the Abbot or by any of his Superiors,
or if he faintly perceives
that the mind of any Superior is angered or moved against him,
however little,
let him at once, without delay,
prostrate himself on the ground at his feet
and lie there making satisfaction
until that emotion is quieted with a blessing.
But if anyone should disdain to do this,
let him undergo corporal punishment
or, if he is stubborn, let him be expelled from the monastery.

Some thoughts

In ch 5 which dealt with obedience we saw Benedict' intent to further
spiritual growth of the individual monastic by reducing ego, in Ch 71
the emphasis seems to be the purpose of mutual obedience is to bind
the community together in Christian love. It may seem startling as the
concept of mutual obedience has not been mentioned before. OTOH,
mutuality and equality have come up before.

"Road to obedience" reminds me of what are called Two Ways documents,
which was a literary genre wll-known in the ancient world. Psalm One
is a 2 ways document. So is the Didache for those familiar with it.
Seems to me Benedict always has the Two Ways in the back of his mind.
So often he starts out with the ideal and follows it with the
consequences of choosing otherwise.

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Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Epiphanius 2


"O monk, take thou the greatest possible care that thou sin not, lest thou disgrace God Who dwelleth in thee, and thou drive Him out of thy soul."

Some thoughts:

Here's something I've thought for a long time. Ideally, we Christians are in a relationship of love with God. When we examine relationships based on love it is very clear that some stuff diminishes or even destroys the love while other stuff enriches, nourishes and causes love to grow,

To me, that which diminishes the love God and I share is sin. I need to turn all such over to God, so that love we share can flourish and bloom and invite others into their relationships of love with God.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Epiphanius 1

(Abba Epiphanius) added, 'A man who receives something from another because of his poverty or his need has therein his reward, and because he is ashamed, when he repays it he does so in secret. But it is the opposite for the Lord God; he receives in secret, but he repays in the presence of the angels, the archangels and the righteous.'

Some thoughts

I am really not at all sure what to make of this Saying. "Reward?" It is not the giver who is rewarded, but the receiver. Is it the reward of humility? The humility of knowing a dependendence on another? Ashamed of needing another? What does the Lord God receive in secret? Our prayers? Our worship? Our service to each other?

Have to say, "the presence of the angels, the archangels and the righteous" sounds wonderful. Very inviting.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 28, 2009

April 28, August 28, December 28

Chapter 70: That No One Venture to Punish at Random

Every occasion of presumption
shall be avoided in the monastery,
and we decree that no one be allowed
to excommunicate or to strike any of her sisters
unless the Abbess has given her the authority.
Those who offend in this matter
shall be rebuked in the presence of all,
that the rest may have fear.

But children up to 15 years of age
shall be carefully controlled and watched by all,
yet this too with all moderation and discretion.
All, therefore, who presume
without the Abbess' instructions
to punish those above that age
or who lose their temper with them,
shall undergo the discipline of the Rule;
for it is written,
"Do not to another what you would not want done to yourself" (Tobias 4:16).

Some thoughts

"Every occasion of presumption shall be avoided in the monastery." I
am certain this is true, but presumption is to be avoided outside the
monastery also. How many times have we been guilty to presume to
know better than another? How many times have we been guilty of
correcting that person?

And what is the effect of our presumption? I can assure you it is not
what we wanted. We will not have set the record straight or corrected
the error. All we will have done is provided a cause for resentment
and rejection.

I can speak form personal experience. Maybe it is a result of my life
long struggle to control my depression, but I have deep desire to have
things right. I have this idea that if I do every thing right, if
everything goes right, if everyone else does right, then my depression
will not be triggered. Of course, if we did not live in a fallen,
sinful world, this would be true. But this consideration has not
stopped me from attempting to control my environment and often other
people in order to spare myself a depressive episode.

It never works. And I daresay that for all of us who are caught up in
any sort of self-righteousness, perfectionism, legalism, rigorism,
over-scrupulosity that it doesn't work for us either. And here's the
thing... Jesus doesn't call us to it and Benedict, following our
Lord's example, does not either. I am greatly comforted that Jesus
chose to hang out with the ordinary people, the morally compromised so
to speak. Who did God especially love in the Hebrew Scriptures but
the cads and scroundrels, adulterers and the like?

I have no idea how to develop the theology and I surely hope someone
has already done it, but I grow ever more convinced that what is
valuable to God is our weaknesses, not our strengths, where we fail,
not where we succeed.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 27, 2009

April 27, August 27, December 27

Chapter 69: That the Monks Presume Not to Defend One Another

Care must be taken that no monk presume on any ground
to defend another monk in the monastery,
or as it were to take him under his protection,
even though they be united by some tie of blood-relationship.
Let not the monks dare to do this in any way whatsoever,
because it may give rise to most serious scandals.
But if anyone breaks this rule,
let him be severely punished.

Some thoughts:

I suppose my reaction to this section of the RB when I first read it
umpty years ago was "not fair!" And that was my reaction for quite a
long time. But since my basic presupposition is that Benedict wrote
what he did for good and important reasons, it was up to me to get out
of the trap of only reading with modern eyes. I say "only" because
certainly we do have to read with our modern eyes. But when we read
only with them, I think we miss out on the intention of the first
author. I have tried as best I could to introduce members of this
list to the historical situation when Benedict wrote the Rule.

Back in the 80s and early 90s I was doing a lot of what was called
recovery work. Along with so many others, I explored the results of
growing up in a family so dysfunctional, it was usually quite toxic.
Some thing I learned about in that recovery work was "triangulation"
and I think it was that dynamic that opened the way for me to get past
my "not fair"!" reaction to today's passage. Triangulation, to over
simplify, is when 2 people talk to each other about a 3rd person,
usually because one or both of them have a problem with the third
person and then have this expectation that the third person will then
live up to whatever it is the 2 people decided. None of whom have
spoken to the third person. Now, I am positive that Benedict is not
talking about triangulation as the concept would have been unknown in
his day and to impose it upon the RB would be an anachronism. We
can't read historical documents and hold them accountable to the
standards of our day.

But the concept opened my eyes to a dynamic that had been going on
around me. How many times in the workplace might we have seen that
person A has a problem with person B and person C takes B's side and
then the smooth functioning of the workplace is damaged by the
alliances that form. The community is broken. The right to do would
have been for A and B to discuss things with the person who has the
authority to do something and that's the boss. Or in Benedict's case,
the Abbot.

Another example is email lists and their flame wars. Person D says
something to which person E takes offense, person F leaps in to defend
person D while person G leaps in to defend person E and before you
know, insults, rants, tirades, judgmentalism rule the day and the list
owner has to take a heavy hand to restore courtesy. F and G wanted to
help instead of minding their own business and allow D and E to work
it out themselves.

Maybe these are lousy examples. But the point I am trying to make is
the point that I think Benedict made and that is the need to mind
one's own business. Now, I don't think Benedict means by this that we
are to be silent in the face of some huge injustice such as the
violation of children or the violence that is poverty. Many
Benedictines have taken stands against injustice. Let us remember
that the RB is the ideal for life in an enclosed community. He is
talking about relationships within the monastery. We can see that
cliques and factions would only disrupt that life and interfere with
listening to God.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Review By Mark Pattison


By Fray Angelico Chavez

Museum of New Mexico Press, $24.95

Seventy-seven years after Fray Angelico Chavez’s serialized novel, Guitars and Adobes, appeared in the pages of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, it is now out in book form.

It has been described as a kind of Hispanic answer to Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, her classic novel based on the real French archbishop charged by the pope with leading the church’s fledgling vicariate in the Southwest.
Fray Angelico, a Franciscan priest, was still in the seminary when he wrote his novel -- in five distinct parts. St. Anthony Messenger couldn’t devote that much space in five issues to the novel, so it serialized it in monthly installments in 1931 and ‘32.

The only Hispanic among a group of Midwestern lads studying for the priesthood in Cincinnati, young Manuel Chavez strove to reinforce his Hispanic identity both before and after his ordination to the priesthood in 1937. He ultimately served as the archivist for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and gained a reputation for being one of New Mexico’s foremost writers and intellectuals -- a reputation that has endured in the 13 years since his passing.

As archdiocesan archivist, he undertook the cataloging and translating of Spanish archives that allowed for a re-evaluation of the history of New Mexico and the region. Fray Angelico was also a member of the Santa Fe Writers Group that included such figures as D.H. Lawrence, Thornton Wilder, Alice Corbin, Witter Bynner and the aforementioned Cather.

Guitars and Adobes also contains 20 unpublished short stories by Fray Angelico. The book, published by the Museum of New Mexico Press, retails for $24.95 and can be ordered through online booksellers.

Section: I. Book Reviews
Copyright © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Elias 1


Abba Elias, the minister, said, 'What can sin do where there is penitence? And of what use is love where there is pride?'

Some thoughts:

What on earth could I possibly write to unpack this Saying? Other than that, these are questions I think we all need to ask ourselves.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 25, 2009

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:

Have any of us tried confessing "any faults that may have surprised
them on the road, through the seeing or hearing of something evil, or
through idle talk."??????

Do we confess the thoughts or words that come out of our mouths when
some other drive cuts us off, turns without using a directional
signal, rolls through the stop sign seconds before we are in the
intersection? Or when the young woman bends over us with the
communion chalice and we can see down to her navel? Or any of the idle
talk we are bound to hear as people shout into their cell phones?

Do we confess those as sins or do we justify our reaction because
it's the fault of the other person? Do we fail to take responsibility
for our own reactions or responses?

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Dioscorus 2


If we wear our heavenly robe, we shall not be found naked, but if we are found not wearing this garment, what shall we do, brethren? We, even we also, shall hear the voice that says, "Cast them into outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (Matt. 22:13) And, brethren, there will be great shame in store for us, if, after having worn this habit for so long, we are found in the hour of need not having put on the wedding garment. Oh what compunction will seize us! What darkness will fall upon us, in the presence of our fathers and our brethren, who will see us being tortured by the angels of punishment!

Some thoughts:

Vigilance. The Desert Christians were big on vigilance. There is this sense that salvation is something that they could lose no matter how hard they worked to earn it. I am reminded of the icon "The Ladder of Divine Ascent" which I was privileged to see in the Getty Museum when the icons from the monastery of St Catherine of the Sinai were on exhibit.

In our day, we stress the free gift of God's grace and that at any given moment, we are acceptable to God just as we are and He will love us. Episcopalians with a more catholic theology do not worry about losing their salvation although I suppose the more Reformed among us might.

Although as you, Gentle Reader, may have guessed, this particular Episcopalian does think we could recover the concept of vigilance and it would do us good. I don't believe we can lose our salvation. At the same time, though, I don't want to take mine for granted.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 24, 2009

April 24, August 24, December 24

Chapter 66: On the Porters of the Monastery

At the gate of the monastery
let there be placed a wise old woman,
who knows how to receive and to give a message,
and whose maturity will prevent her from straying about.
This porter should have a room near the gate,
so that those who come may always find someone at hand
to attend to their business.
And as soon as anyone knocks or a poor person hails her,
let her answer "Thanks be to God" or "A blessing!"
Then let her attend to them promptly,
with all the meekness inspired by the fear of God
and with the warmth of charity.

Should the porter need help,
let her have one of the younger sisters.

If it can be done,
the monastery should be so established
that all the necessary things,
such as water, mill, garden and various workshops,
may be within the enclosure,
so that there is no necessity
for the sisters to go about outside of it,
since that is not at all profitable for their souls.

We desire that this Rule be read often in the community,
so that none of the sisters may excuse herself
on the ground of ignorance

Some thoughts

This is hospitality taken seriously. Something we all too often
forget is that hospitality is a sacred obligation. Here in San Diego,
most people I know regard hospitality as a nuisance. I cannot tell you
how many people I have invited to my home for a meal who have claimed
they are too busy to share a meal. I find it very strange and wonder
how I could reintroduce it as I really miss spending quiet times with guests.

Benedict obviously viewed the monastery as self-sufficient, an entity
unto itself with no need to go outside the community to meet any need.
I wish I could say this was the case today but it is not.

Is it coincidental, I wonder, that somewhere along the line this portion of the
Rule was assigned to be read on Christmas Eve?

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Dioscorus 1


A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, 'My thoughts trouble me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself with my brother's faults'. The old man told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus (the monk), 'In his cell he wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to see the old man he asked him, "Father, why are you weeping?" "I am weeping over my sins," the old man answered him. Then his disciple said, "You do not have any sins, Father." The old man replied, "Truly, my child, if I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them."

Some thoughts:

There is an emphasis upon personal sin in the Sayings that is perhaps unpleasant to us Episcopalians. It is very easy, I think, to read this Saying and think "extremism." And maybe it is too extreme for good mental health. OTOH, I can't remember the last time I heard a sermon that contrasted, for example, the hard sayings of Jesus with personal behavior. The sermons I've heard have been pretty general. I've heard a great deal of teaching about what Jesus says but not a lot upon our own personal failures to do as He said.

Seems to me there has to be balance point between Abba Dioscorus and our post-modern choice to ignore the idea of personal sin. These are 2 ends of continuum and the healthy middle is the place to be. It's that place where we confront ourselves, repent and turn around and choose to do and be different. Oh, it certainly doesn't happen overnight, nor, I think, in a lifetime. But we are all in this together and we can weep together and we can rejoice together.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 23, 2009

April 23, August 23, December 23

Chapter 65: On the Prior of the Monastery

To us, therefore, it seems expedient
for the preservation of peace and charity
that the Abbot have in his hands
the full administration of his monastery.
And if possible let all the affairs of the monastery,
as we have already arranged,
be administered by deans according to the Abbot's directions.
Thus, with the duties being shared by several,
no one person will become proud.

But if the circumstances of the place require it,
or if the community asks for it with reason and with humility,
and the Abbot judges it to be expedient,
let the Abbot himself constitute as his Prior
whomsoever he shall choose
with the counsel of God-fearing brethren.

That Prior, however, shall perform respectfully
the duties enjoined on him by his Abbot
and do nothing against the Abbot's will or direction;
for the more he is raised above the rest,
the more carefully should he observe the precepts of the Rule.

If it should be found that the Prior has serious faults,
or that he is deceived by his exaltation and yields to pride,
or if he should be proved to be a despiser of the Holy Rule,
let him be admonished verbally up to four times.
If he fails to amend,
let the correction of regular discipline be applied to him.
But if even then he does not reform,
let him be deposed from the office of Prior
and another be appointed in his place who is worthy of it.
And if afterwards he is not quiet and obedient in the community,
let him even be expelled from the monastery.
But the Abbot, for his part, should bear in mind
that he will have to render an account to God
for all his judgments,
lest the flame of envy or jealousy be kindled in his soul.

Some thoughts:

Again I find myself thinking of place. Where is it that God calls one
to be? Who is it that God calls one to be? How does call call us to
live? Seems to me if we can concentrate on these things without
comparing ourselves to others, we not fall into the traps Benedict
identifies. Whatever gifts, talents, skills, abilities, intellect,
strength we have, we have only because God gave it to us so it is no
great shakes we can claim for ourselves. It also seems to me we would
be much happier pursuing our vocations rather than those of another.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Cyrus of Alexandria


Abba Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of fornication, and he replied, 'If you do not think about it, you have no hope, for if you are not thinking about it, you are doing it. I mean, he who does not fight against the sin and resist it in his spirit will commit the sin physically. It is very true that he who is fornicating in fact is not worried about thinking about it.

Some thoughts:

I read this and I guffaw because it sounds so very modern. Abba Cyrus is described as 3rd century Copt and his words of the 200s CE ring so true today in 2009. The Abba sees 2 choices: struggle against sexual desire or give in to it. The so-called Sexual Revolution took place when I was in high school. For those counting on their fingers (LOL) I am 59 and I was in high school from 1964-68. Most of us gave into our sexual desires. I did to my very great regret. I did not at that time understand how very big a deal sex really is. I don't know that I could have understood it then. I had no concept back then that a very big, deep, relationship was needed to support a sexual relationship with another person.

I get it now, to a certain extent. I see now how much worth it is to struggle against doing what comes naturally to look deeper into a another person, to attempt to see past any sexual allure I might feel and to fix my gaze instead on that person's heart and mind, charism and grace.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 22, 2009

April 22, August 22, December 22

Chapter 65: On the Prior of the Monastery

It happens all too often that the constituting of a Prior
gives rise to grave scandals in monasteries.
For there are some who become inflated with the evil spirit of pride
and consider themselves second Abbots.
By usurping power
they foster scandals and cause dissensions in the community.
Especially does this happen
in those places where the Prior is constituted
by the same Bishop or the same Abbots
who constitute the Abbot himself.
What an absurd procedure this is
can easily be seen;
for it gives the Prior an occasion for becoming proud
from the very time of his constitution,
by putting the thought into his mind
that he is freed from the authority of his Abbot:
"For," he will say to himself, "you were constituted
by the same persons who constitute the Abbot."
From this source are stirred up envy, quarrels, detraction,
rivalry, dissensions and disorders.
For while the Abbot and the Prior are at variance,
their souls cannot but be endangered by this dissension;
and those who are under them,
currying favor with one side or the other,
go to ruin.
The guilt for this dangerous state of affairs
rests on the heads of those
whose action brought about such disorder.

Some thoughts

"Prior" is a word that has a complicated history with different
meanings at different points in the history of Benedictines. At the
time Benedict wrote the RB, the term meant the Abbot's assistant.
Later on in the Middle Ages, the role of the prior was that of a
temporal assistant. Perhaps a modern analogy would be the roles of
priest and rector in TEC. The priest or abbot deals with spiritual
matters while the rector or prior deals with the day to day life
maintenance stuff such as handling the money, seeing to repairs etc.

Evidently even in Benedict's lifetime, priors abused their authority.
Maybe the Bishop used a prior against an abbot. Maybe Benedict was
the abbot and it was his own prior that was involved. Who knows? But
it is clear that for Benedict, authority of and for the monastery
rests in the and no one else and chaos results when another usurps the

The first several times I read this chapter I was puzzled about how I
could apply it to my own life when I am not in a monastery. And then
I began to apply it to the workplace where I saw that without ever
experiencing corporate America, Benedict had summed up the company I
worked for where there was in fact a similar situation. I realized
that in a hierarchical structure such as corporate America or the
monastery, chaos results when we try to step outside of our place
within that structure.

Thinking that led me to consider just what is my place in my parish,
community etc. Who was God callign me to be? To what role did God
call me? It's as Aslan says to Lucy "I tell no one's story to
another" or words to that effect.

While all are welcome to comment here on this blog, should you desire to dialog about the reading I invite you to join the email list: Mere Benedictines

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 21, 2009

April 21, August 21, December 21

Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess

Once she has been constituted,
let the Abbess always bear in mind
what a burden she has undertaken
and to whom she will have to give an account of her stewardship,
and let her know that her duty is rather to profit her sisters
than to preside over them.
She must therefore be learned in the divine law,
that she may have a treasure of knowledge
from which to bring forth new things and old.
She must be chaste, sober and merciful.
Let her exalt mercy above judgment,
that she herself may obtain mercy.
She should hate vices;
she should love the sisterhood.

In administering correction
she should act prudently and not go to excess,
lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust
she break the vessel.
Let her keep her own frailty ever before her eyes
and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken.
By this we do not mean that she should allow vices to grow;
on the contrary, as we have already said,
she should eradicate them prudently and with charity,
in the way which may seem best in each case.
Let her study rather to be loved than to be feared.

Let her not be excitable and worried,
nor exacting and headstrong,
nor jealous and over-suspicious;
for then she is never at rest.

In her commands let her be prudent and considerate;
and whether the work which she enjoins
concerns God or the world,
let her be discreet and moderate,
bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said,
"If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,
they will all die in one day."
Taking this, then, and other examples of discretion,
the mother of virtues,
let her so temper all things
that the strong may have something to strive after,
and the weak may not fall back in dismay.

And especially let her keep this Rule in all its details,
so that after a good ministry
she may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard
who gave the fellow-servants wheat in due season:
"Indeed, I tell you, he will set that one over all his goods" (Matt. 24:27).

Some thoughts

So we read here that a good leader must be accountable, flexible,
loving, and willing to correct others. And would you look at the
emphasis Benedict places to avoid favoritism. He also zeros in against
rigorism. As an antidote to fanaticism, he insists on charity and
moderation in all things for the abbot. This theme runs from
beginning to end in this section of the RB. Discretion, the "mother of
virtues", is to guide the abbot. Though there is no abandonment of
the need for discipline, the emphasis is upon mercy.

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Sayings of the Desert Christians: Abba Cronius


If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it and it can conceive because it is free to do so.

Some thoughts

This is uncompromising language, I feel. "Withdraws from all distraction" implies that we have a choice about whether or not we are distracted. Hmm... Back in the day, there was no distinction between thought and action. An example is where Jesus says that to look at a woman lustfully is the same thing as having committed the deed. More than one modern day person has said to me that we can't help what we think, only what we choose to do about our thoughts. Being as much a product of modernity as the next guy, I tend to go with the latter notion. But at the same time, I remember that our own Lord taught something different. So I compromise. When I have thoughts that trouble me or are of a sinful nature, I pray about them asking God to show me where those thoughts come from so I can do something about their origins. It's the best I can do at this time

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 20, 2009

April 20, August 20, December 20

Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess

In the constituting of an Abbess
let this plan always be followed,
that the office be conferred on the one who is chosen
either by the whole community unanimously in the fear of God
or else by a part of the community, however small,
if its counsel is more wholesome.

Merit of life and wisdom of doctrine
should determine the choice of the one to be constituted,
even if she be the last of the order of the community.

But if (which God forbid)
the whole community should agree to choose a person
who will acquiesce in their vices,
and if those vices somehow become known to the Bishop
to whose diocese the place belongs,
or to the Abbots, Abbesses or the faithful of the vicinity,
let them prevent the success of this conspiracy of the wicked,
and set a worthy steward over the house of God.
They may be sure
that they will receive a good reward for this action
if they do it with a pure intention and out of zeal for God;
as, on the contrary, they will sin if they fail to do it.

Some thoughts

In Ch 2 we read about the duties of the monastic superior. Here at
the end of the Rule, we read about how one is selected. This passage
starts out ordinarily enough and then there is this surprising bit
about how a small part of the community could prevail over the
majority. How is that possible? What does that mean? Kardong
suggests that Benedict deliberately left it a little vague to avoid
any legalistic straightjacketing. He also says some modern Benedictine
communities have chosen a discernment process that avoids the choice
of monastic superior by majority vote in order to provide sufficient
room for the Holy Spirit to act freely.

The next set of verses remind me of Paul's letters to Timothy and
Titus on the subject of electing a bishop. Was Benedict modeling his
monastic superior on the leaders of the wider Church? Seems so to me.

Then we have the business of what happens if a bad choice is made. I
wonder if Benedict had in mind his first experience as an abbot. He
had been living in a cave as a hermit when the abbot of a nearby
community died. The monks decided to have Benedict as their new
abbot. They changed their minds because he would discipline them for
their rowdy, unmonklike behavior. The monks decided to poison
Benedict's wine. As he lifted the cup to drink, he detected the
poison, prayed and the liquid was changed into wholesome wine.

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Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Copres


Abba Copres said, 'blessed is he who bears affliction with thankfulness.'

Some thoughts:;

I don't believe I have ever, at the the time I experienced it, bore any affliction with thankfulness. As I watch my mother struggle with issues of the elderly, I wonder how I in my turn will manage. I've made no secret of the fact that I have Major Depressive Disorder and there have been moments when depression was the worst curse of my life, keeping me from being who I really wanted to be. And yet, there was also the glorious day when I realized that my struggles with depression had shaped me into what I most wanted: a contemplative. It has been easier to accept my illness, realizing God can use even mental illness to bring about His will in me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians; Abba Bessarion

Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, 'One day when we were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said to Abba Bessarion, "Father, I am very thirsty." He said a prayer and said to me, "Drink some of the sea water." The water proved sweet when I drank some. I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, "Forgive me, it is for fear of being thirsty later on." Then the old man said, "God is here, God is everywhere."

Some thoughts

Trust in God to provide for us. That's what I am thinking this Saying is about. Did Bessarion really turn salt water sweet? Who knows. Does it really matter? I don't think so.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 19, 2009

Chapter 63: On the Order of the Community

The juniors, therefore, should honor their seniors,
and the seniors love their juniors.

In the very manner of address,
let no one call another by the mere name;
but let the seniors call their juniors Brothers,
and the juniors call their seniors Fathers,
by which is conveyed the reverence due to a father.
But the Abbot,
since he is believed to represent Christ,
shall be called Lord and Abbot,
not for any pretensions of his own
but out of honor and love for Christ.
Let the Abbot himself reflect on this,
and show himself worthy of such an honor.

And wherever the brethren meet one another
the junior shall ask the senior for his blessing.
When a senior passes by,
a junior shall rise and give him a place to sit,
nor shall the junior presume to sit with him
unless his senior bid him,
that it may be as was written,
"In honor anticipating one another."

Boys, both small and adolescent,
shall keep strictly to their rank in oratory and at table.
But outside of that, wherever they may be,
let them be under supervision and discipline,
until they come to the age of discretion.

Some thoughts

Wouldn't you love to live in a world where the juniors honor their
seniors who in turn love the juniors? Well, maybe the latter happens
but it seems to me more and more that the USA, at least, forgets there
is a 4th commandment. I could go on and on about this due to the
difficulties and challenges of getting my elderly mother what she
needs. But I suppose that would be a digression.

Benedict makes it clear that love and respect go hand in hand, does he
not? How can we show love and respect to those both our seniors and
our elders?

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 17, 2009

April 17, August 17, December 17

Chapter 62: On the Priests of the Monastery

If an Abbot desire
to have a priest or a deacon ordained for his monastery,
let him choose one
who is worthy to exercise the priestly office.

But let the one who is ordained
beware of self-exaltation or pride;
and let him not presume to do anything
except what is commanded him by the Abbot,
knowing that he is so much the more subject
to the discipline of the Rule.
Nor should he by reason of his priesthood forget
the obedience and the discipline required by the Rule,
but make ever more and more progress towards God.

Let him always keep the place which he received
on entering the monastery,
except in his duties at the altar
or in case the choice of the community and the will of the Abbess
should promote him for the worthiness of his life.
Yet he must understand
that he is to observe the rules laid down by deans and Priors.

Should he presume to act otherwise,
let him be judged not as a priest but as a rebel.
And if he does not reform after repeated admonitions,
let even the Bishop be brought in as a witness.
If then he still fails to amend,
and his offenses are notorious,
let him be put out of the monastery,
but only if his contumacy is such
that he refuses to submit or to obey the Rule

Some thoughts:
Here we are back to priests in the monastery. Previously we read how
those who already are priests were to be greeted. Today the reading
is about the Abbot deciding that a priest is desirable. It's an
interesting bit... I recall reading in St Gregory's Dialogues, the
section on the life of St Benedict (which is in our files) that when
living in his cave Benedict did not even know when it was Easter
Sunday! Which indicates to me that by the time he wrote this chapter,
regular celebration of the sacraments may have been becoming more
important to the monks.

We also see here that Benedict continues in the tradition of the
distrust of the priest which started in with the Desert Christians and
continues in John Cassian and the Rule of the Master. As I have
mentioned in the past, these are the primary sources recognized to
have influenced Benedict. There may also be something else at work
here... a priest would also be under the authority of the local Bishop
and Benedict wishes to make it clear that the Abbot and the monastic
community have priority over the Bishop.

We also see here that the priest doesn't go up in rank but keeps the
one he had already. Rank in the Benedictine community was determined
by length of time in the monastery. We saw in the chapter about
visiting monks who choose to the enter the monastery or her again,
that the monastic superior is given in the Rule the authority to
re-assign rank, but that is predicated upon living the monastic life
and no other considerations. And, of course, as is familiar to us,
the priest-monk is subject to the same penalties as anyone else who
disrupts the communal life.

But what does all this mean to us today? I think it can speak to our
understanding of vocation, or, at least to mine, I should say. I look
at vocation this way: we all have one or more. Sometimes vocations
overlap. I am a daughter, nun, friend, list owner, have been a
student, a writer. All of these are things I believe God has called
me to and that makes them vocations. No person's vocation is more
important than another. No vocation makes anyone holier than another.
Vocations are merely our role in the Body of Christ which needs all
of us to be faithful to God's call to us. So just as the monk is
called to become a priest to meet a need in the community, so God
calls us into His service, an offering for the Body of Christ.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Arsenius 2


It was also said of him (Abba Arsenius) that on Saturday evenings, preparing for the glory of Sunday, he would turn his back on the sun and stretch out his hands in prayer towards the heavens, till once again the sun shone on his face. Then he would sit down.

Some thoughts:

As it happens, I write this on a Sunday morning. Do we feel we have to prepare for Sunday? When I was younger and raised as a Roman Catholic, preparing for Sunday meant confession on Saturday and nothing to eat or drink on Sunday until after Eucharist. Then came Vatican 2 and we could go to Mass on Sat and that was deemed just as good as going to church on Sunday.

Up until sometime in the 70s, stores in the USA were not open on Sunday. Oh, yes, the convenience store was, but that was about it. Then store owners successfully talked various governmental bodies to allow stores to be open on Sundays during Advent. (I always thought that a very strange Advent observance). After that, I guess the public wanted the stores open. At least so we were told.

What's the result? Here in the USA, generally speaking, Sunday is pretty much indistinguishable from any other day of the week. Some of us may go to church. Studies on church attendance tell us fewer and fewer Americans go to church.

Here in San Diego, church attendance has dropped due to Little League. Thanks to the climate, Little League is a 12 month a year thing. I am told that there are so many leagues that in order to accommodate them all, games have to be played on Sunday as well as Saturday. Sunday in San Diego is also the day chosen for the various charity events that tie up many of our city streets and the freeway.

The Desert Christians observed Sunday quite differently. Helen Waddell in her book, _The Desert Christians_, describes Sunday in the desert of Egypt as the day they came together. The other 6 days they were separate. The Sabbath in the desert began at sunset on Saturday when the monks would pray together through the night and the next day have the agape meal. This would be when the questions were asked and what now know as the Sayings were uttered. They spent the day together, praising God, teaching one another, learning from one another, singing hymns. At sunset on Sunday they went back to their cells.

Their Sabbath sure is different from ours. What could we do to reclaim some idea of "Sabbath rest" for ourselves and families?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 16, 2009

April 16, August 16, December 16

Chapter 61: How Pilgrim Monks Are To Be Received

But if as a guest she was found exacting or prone to vice,
not only should she be denied membership in the community,
but she should even be politely requested to leave,
lest others be corrupted by her evil life.

If, however, she has not proved to be the kind
who deserves to be put out,
she should not only on her own application be received
as a member of the community,
but she should even be persuaded to stay,
that the others may be instructed by her example,
and because in every place it is the same Lord who is served,
the same King for whom the battle is fought.

Moreover, if the Abbess perceives that she is worthy,
she may put her in a somewhat higher rank.
[And not only with regard to a nun
but also with regard to those in priestly or clerical orders
previously mentioned,]*
the Abbess may establish them in a higher rank
than would be theirs by date of entrance
if she perceives that their life is deserving.

Let the Abbess take care, however,
never to receive a nun from another known monastery
as a member of her community
without the consent of her Abbess or a letter of recommendation;
for it is written,
"Do not to another what you would not want done to yourself" (Tob. 4:16).

*[Applicable only to women of some contemporary monastic communities in the Anglican Communion.]

Right away we notice the parenthetical remark that indicates a way in
which the RB is modified as circumstances require. I would not want
anyone to think there is a slavish adherence to the Rule. Benedict
himself in several places makes provision for the Rule to be modified
in some ways to better serve the community.

It's important that we choose our companions wisely. No less so for a
monastic community. And I sure wish Christendom had, does now and
will in the future demonstrate "because in every place it is the same
Lord who is served, the same King for whom the battle is fought."
Wouldn't that be nice? Maybe there would be less of those endless
squabbles where the same people make the same points over and over
again as if repitition or talking louder and with more and more less
temperately chosen vocabulary will force an agreement.

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Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 15, 2009

Reading from the Rule of St Benedict

April 15, August 15, December 15
Chapter 61: How Pilgrim Monks Are To Be Received

If a pilgrim monastic coming from a distant region
wants to live as a guest of the monastery,
let her be received for as long a time as she desires,
provided she is content
with the customs of the place as she finds them
and does not disturb the monastery by superfluous demands,
but is simply content with what she finds.
If, however, she censures or points out anything reasonably
and with the humility of charity,
let the Abbess consider prudently
whether perhaps it was for that very purpose
that the Lord sent her.

If afterwards she should want to bind herself to stability,
her wish should not be denied her,
especially since there has been opportunity
during her stay as a guest
to discover her character.

Some thoughts by Sr Gloriamarie

Obviously we are in a section where Benedictine deals with
professional courtesies. Couple of different issues in this chapter,
it seems to me. On the one had we have chapter one which is none too
complimentary to wandering monks and OTOH, we have recently read in ch
53 how all guests are to be received as Christ. So I see an open but
wary stance toward the visiting monk here. Benedict is willing to
give them a chance to show that they can be good guests and conform to
the life of the monastery they visit. It is clear that they are not
teated as guests as in ch 53 but as fellow participants in the
monastic life.

The monastic visitor is supposed to conform to the monastery it is
true, but I am struck by the humility with which Benedict writes of
the way their reasonable criticism is to be received. Would that all
of us had such a humble response to constructive criticism. Benedict
charges the Abbot to actually consider the criticism because the
visitor monk may be an unlikely agent of God. I am reminded of a
section much earlier, ch 3 mayhap?, where Benedict writes that even
the youngest of monks may be one through whom the Lord chooses to
speak. And please remember that the only seniority Benedict
recognizes is that of length of time in the community.

The reference to binding to stability means that there is the option
for the guest monastic to become a permanent part of the community
being visited. If the monastic will give up wandering and vow
stability, they will be admitted, especially since they have have
gotten to know the guest already.

This chapter has so many applications to our lives, I am not sure I
can mention them all. How many times have we seen people come to any
sort of community... church, email list etc.. and want to change it to
suit themselves long before they ever take the time to get to know the
group they have joined? Or how about the reception of the criticism?
How many times do we reject criticism of ourselves out of hand without
considering if it has validity for no other reason but that it is
criticism? How many of us refuse to take the risk to put ourselves
forward because we are afraid that we will be ourselves critcized?

I am sure readers of this list can find other ways to apply this
chapter to our lives outside the monastery and i look forward to
reading them.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Apollo


There was in the Cells an old man called Apollo. If someone came to find him about doing a piece of work, he would set out joyfully, saying, 'I am going to work with Christ today, for the salvation of my soul, for that is the reward he gives.'

Some thoughts;

Occasionally when I read this Saying, I sometimes think of the 7 Dwarves, happily singing as they go off to work every day in that mine of theirs. Joy at going to work was not how I would describe my feelings when the alarm would go off at 5:30 AM so that I could catch the 6:35 AM to Boston. No, joy was not at all the word.

Abba Apollo (which strikes me as an odd name for a Christian) doesn't seem to care what the nature of the work might have been. He sees himself as working with Jesus, as if Jesus was right there alongside of Apollo.

Do we think of ourselves as working with Jesus? Certainly we may think of ourselves as working for God or to serve our fellow humans. But what about working with Jesus as if He were right next to us doing the same work?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 14, 2009

April 14, August 14, December 14

Chapter 60: On Priests Who May Wish to Live in the Monastery

If any ordained priest
should ask to be received into the monastery,
permission shall not be granted too readily.
But if he is quite persistent in his request,
let him know
that he will have to observe the whole discipline of the Rule
and that nothing will be relaxed in his favor,
that it may be as it is written:
"Friend, for what have you come (Matt. 26:50)?"

It shall be granted him, however, to stand next after the Abbot
and to give blessings and to celebrate Mass,
but only by order of the Abbot.
Without such order let him not make any exceptions for himself,
knowing that he is subject to the discipline of the Rule;
but rather let him give an example of humility to all.

If there happens to be question of an appointment
or of some business in the monastery,
let him expect the rank due him
according to the date of his entrance into the monastery,
and not the place granted him
out of reverence for the priesthood.

If any clerics, moved by the same desire,
should wish to join the monastery,
let them be placed in a middle rank.
But they too are to be admitted only if they promise
observance of the Rule and stability.

Some thoughts

The beginning of this section reminds me of some of the Sayings of the
Desert Christians and their distrust of priests. The Desert
Christians became the Desert Christian when Constantine proclaimed
Christianity to be the state religion of Rome. Hitherto, Christianity
and the world were at odds, the world was the realm of the devil and
Christians lived in it but did not participate in the things of the
world. A huge number of Christians were outraged that all of a sudden,
Christianity was identified with the world and in order to continue to
live holy lives, they fled civilization to live in the wild and
desolate places of Syria and Egypt. Priests, because of their
identification with the world, were suspect. By the time Benedict
wrote, priests were no longer considered identified as agents of the
sinful world. But I do see a reflection of the another concern of the
Desert Christians. So many priests were thought by the DC to be
prideful and ordination a sure road to one of the 7 deadly sins. If
you were wondering how they managed without priests to celebrate
Eucharist, the usual practice of the DC was the agape meal which did
not require a priest. And of course, those priests who lived the
discipline of the desert were allowed to celebrate.

Benedict's concern here is that the priest will submit to monastic
humility and discipline as evidenced by B's use of Mt 26:50. This is
the same question Jesus asked of Judas so the implication may be that
the priest who will not conform to the community will suffer Judas'
fate.Judas, after all, started with good intentions and ended
tragically. If this seems over the top, please not that in chap 62,
when we get there, Benedict calls a contentious pries a rebel.

So we see once again how egalitarian Benedict was. Whatever rank or
office one might hold outside the monastery, within the close one was
a monk, on equal footing with all the other monks.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Ammonas


Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?" (Mt. 7.14) He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." (Mt. 19.27)

Some Thoughts:

The concepts of ego and self-esteem were unknown in the ancient world. For that matter they were unknown until comparatively recently. The concept of self-will, however, has been with us since the get go. After all, God did create us with free will and so humanity has always struggled between one's own will and the will of another. Especially between one's own will and the will of God.

I dunno why the ancients and the Great Saints of Yore, write so gloomily of stripping down, leaving everything behind or, later on in Christian history, the purgative way. It's all rather dark, gloomy language or so I find it. I guess it worked for them. As for me, I am as much a part of my culture as the next person and I like it all a bit brighter.

Our society has set up what I believe to be a false dichotomy between self-fulfillment and giving it all up for God. It is presented to us as an either/or when it is really, as so often is the case with the things of God, a both/and. The reason I say this is based in my understanding of Christian vocation. Here goes.

There is only one Christian vocation. All Christians are called to the exact same thing: to know, love and enjoy God and to be known, loved an enjoyed by God. Each of us may be called to different expressions of that one vocation, Each and every vocation is as equally important and valid as the next and none of them rank higher than another, no matter what fancy titles. The fancy titles are only used because we humans like to slap labels.

The odd thing about responding to God's unique call to each of us is that we may think we have to give up, lose out, be deprived of this, that or the other. Mostly especially we may fear the loss of ourselves. But the thing is, as it so often is, God's wisdom seems like idiocy to us. The fact is we lose nothing. The fact is, we gain. What we discover, as we do the work of stripping off everything that is inconsistent with God's will for us, that we discover who we really are. We discover that person God created us to be. can we take the risk of giving up who we thought we were for the sake of the person God knows?

Here's what surprised me: the brighter bit has been there all along. It is one of the great paradoxes of the New Testament: "Those who lose their lives, gain it."

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 13, 2009

April 13, August 13, December 13

Chapter 59: On the Sons of Nobles and of the Poor Who Are Offered

If anyone of the nobility
offers his son to God in the monastery
and the boy is very young,
let his parents draw up the document which we mentioned above;
and at the oblation
let them wrap the document itself and the boy's hand in the altar cloth.
That is how they offer him.

As regards their property,
they shall promise in the same petition under oath
that they will never of themselves, or through an intermediary,
or in any way whatever,
give him anything
or provide him with the opportunity of owning anything.
Or else,
if they are unwilling to do this,
and if they want to offer something as an alms to the monastery
for their advantage,
let them make a donation
of the property they wish to give to the monastery,
reserving the income to themselves if they wish.
And in this way let everything be barred,
so that the boy may have no expectations
whereby (which God forbid) he might be deceived and ruined,
as we have learned by experience.

Let those who are less well-to-do make a similar offering.
But those who have nothing at all
shall simply draw up the document
and offer their son before witnesses at the oblation.

Some thoughts:

Some thoughts:

It's hard to think of anything to say about this passage. It seems so
archaic, so out of it's place in time. How can this possibly apply to us
living in the 21st century?

What it does remind of, though, is baptism. Those of us who were baptized
as infants had certain promises made for us. How often do we baptize a
baby? The godparents and parents pledge a whole bunch stuff on
Little Whosis behalf. It is up not only to the 4 of them but to everyone
who witnessed the vows, to help Little Whosis to grow up into the Baptismal Covenant.

So perhaps the modern day application of this passage is Christian formation
of our children and our neighbors' children. Which of course is only
possible if we ourselves have attended to our own Christian formation. What
are your thoughts, please?

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Health Insurance Reality Check

Dear Friend,

This is probably one of the longest emails I’ve ever sent, but it could be the most important.

Across the country we are seeing vigorous debate about health insurance reform. Unfortunately, some of the old tactics we know so well are back — even the viral emails that fly unchecked and under the radar, spreading all sorts of lies and distortions.

As President Obama said at the town hall in New Hampshire, “where we do disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed.”

So let’s start a chain email of our own. At the end of my email, you’ll find a lot of information about health insurance reform, distilled into 8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage, 8 common myths about reform and 8 reasons we need health insurance reform now.

Right now, someone you know probably has a question about reform that could be answered by what’s below. So what are you waiting for? Forward this email.


David Axelrod
Senior Adviser to the President

P.S. We launched this week to knock down the rumors and lies that are floating around the internet. You can find the information below, and much more, there. For example, we've just added a video of Nancy-Ann DeParle from our Health Reform Office tackling a viral email head on. Check it out:

8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage

Ends Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.
Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.

Ends Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.

Ends Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.

Ends Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.

Ends Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.
Extends Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.

Guarantees Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won't be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.
Learn more and get details:

8 common myths about health insurance reform

Reform will stop "rationing" - not increase it: It’s a myth that reform will mean a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing." To the contrary, reform will forbid many forms of rationing that are currently being used by insurance companies.

We can’t afford reform: It's the status quo we can't afford. It’s a myth that reform will bust the budget. To the contrary, the President has identified ways to pay for the vast majority of the up-front costs by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse within existing government health programs; ending big subsidies to insurance companies; and increasing efficiency with such steps as coordinating care and streamlining paperwork. In the long term, reform can help bring down costs that will otherwise lead to a fiscal crisis.

Reform would encourage "euthanasia": It does not. It’s a malicious myth that reform would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors. For seniors who want to consult with their family and physicians about end-of life decisions, reform will help to cover these voluntary, private consultations for those who want help with these personal and difficult family decisions.

Vets' health care is safe and sound: It’s a myth that health insurance reform will affect veterans' access to the care they get now. To the contrary, the President's budget significantly expands coverage under the VA, extending care to 500,000 more veterans who were previously excluded. The VA Healthcare system will continue to be available for all eligible veterans.

Reform will benefit small business - not burden it: It’s a myth that health insurance reform will hurt small businesses. To the contrary, reform will ease the burdens on small businesses, provide tax credits to help them pay for employee coverage and help level the playing field with big firms who pay much less to cover their employees on average.

Your Medicare is safe, and stronger with reform: It’s myth that Health Insurance Reform would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits. To the contrary, reform will improve the long-term financial health of Medicare, ensure better coordination, eliminate waste and unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies, and help to close the Medicare "doughnut" hole to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors.
You can keep your own insurance: It’s myth that reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors. To the contrary, reform will expand your choices, not eliminate them.

No, government will not do anything with your bank account: It is an absurd myth that government will be in charge of your bank accounts. Health insurance reform will simplify administration, making it easier and more convenient for you to pay bills in a method that you choose. Just like paying a phone bill or a utility bill, you can pay by traditional check, or by a direct electronic payment. And forms will be standardized so they will be easier to understand. The choice is up to you – and the same rules of privacy will apply as they do for all other electronic payments that people make.

Learn more and get details:

8 Reasons We Need Health Insurance Reform Now

Coverage Denied to Millions: A recent national survey estimated that 12.6 million non-elderly adults – 36 percent of those who tried to purchase health insurance directly from an insurance company in the individual insurance market – were in fact discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the previous three years or dropped from coverage when they became seriously ill. Learn more:

Less Care for More Costs: With each passing year, Americans are paying more for health care coverage. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have nearly doubled since 2000, a rate three times faster than wages. In 2008, the average premium for a family plan purchased through an employer was $12,680, nearly the annual earnings of a full-time minimum wage job. Americans pay more than ever for health insurance, but get less coverage. Learn more:

Roadblocks to Care for Women: Women’s reproductive health requires more regular contact with health care providers, including yearly pap smears, mammograms, and obstetric care. Women are also more likely to report fair or poor health than men (9.5% versus 9.0%). While rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are similar to men, women are twice as likely to suffer from headaches and are more likely to experience joint, back or neck pain. These chronic conditions often require regular and frequent treatment and follow-up care. Learn more:

Hard Times in the Heartland: Throughout rural America, there are nearly 50 million people who face challenges in accessing health care. The past several decades have consistently shown higher rates of poverty, mortality, uninsurance, and limited access to a primary health care provider in rural areas. With the recent economic downturn, there is potential for an increase in many of the health disparities and access concerns that are already elevated in rural communities. Learn more:

Small Businesses Struggle to Provide Health Coverage: Nearly one-third of the uninsured – 13 million people – are employees of firms with less than 100 workers. From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. Much of this decline stems from small business. The percentage of small businesses offering coverage dropped from 68% to 59%, while large firms held stable at 99%. About a third of such workers in firms with fewer than 50 employees obtain insurance through a spouse. Learn more:

The Tragedies are Personal: Half of all personal bankruptcies are at least partly the result of medical expenses. The typical elderly couple may have to save nearly $300,000 to pay for health costs not covered by Medicare alone. Learn more:

Diminishing Access to Care: From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. An estimated 87 million people - one in every three Americans under the age of 65 - were uninsured at some point in 2007 and 2008. More than 80% of the uninsured are in working families. Learn more:

The Trends are Troubling: Without reform, health care costs will continue to skyrocket unabated, putting unbearable strain on families, businesses, and state and federal government budgets. Perhaps the most visible sign of the need for health care reform is the 46 million Americans currently without health insurance - projections suggest that this number will rise to about 72 million in 2040 in the absence of reform. Learn more:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Top Five Health Care Reform Lies—and How to Fight Back

Top Five Health Care Reform Lies—and How to Fight Back

Lie #1: President Obama wants to euthanize your grandma!!!

The truth: These accusations—of "death panels" and forced euthanasia—are, of course, flatly untrue. As an article from the Associated Press puts it: "No 'death panel' in health care bill."4 What's the real deal? Reform legislation includes a provision, supported by the AARP, to offer senior citizens access to a professional medical counselor who will provide them with information on preparing a living will and other issues facing older Americans.5

Lie #2: Democrats are going to outlaw private insurance and force you into a government plan!!!

The truth: With reform, choices will increase, not decrease. Obama's reform plans will create a health insurance exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace for affordable, high-quality insurance options.6 Included in the exchange is the public health insurance option—a nationwide plan with a broad network of providers—that will operate alongside private insurance companies, injecting competition into the market to drive quality up and costs down.7

If you're happy with your coverage and doctors, you can keep them.8 But the new public plan will expand choices to millions of businesses or individuals who choose to opt into it, including many who simply can't afford health care now.

Lie #3: President Obama wants to implement Soviet-style rationing!!!

The truth: Health care reform will expand access to high-quality health insurance, and give individuals, families, and businesses more choices for coverage. Right now, big corporations decide whether to give you coverage, what doctors you get to see, and whether a particular procedure or medicine is covered—that is rationed care. And a big part of reform is to stop that.

Health care reform will do away with some of the most nefarious aspects of this rationing: discrimination for pre-existing conditions, insurers that cancel coverage when you get sick, gender discrimination, and lifetime and yearly limits on coverage.9 And outside of that, as noted above, reform will increase insurance options, not force anyone into a rationed situation.

Lie #4: Obama is secretly plotting to cut senior citizens' Medicare benefits!!!

The truth: Health care reform plans will not reduce Medicare benefits.10 Reform includes savings from Medicare that are unrelated to patient care—in fact, the savings comes from cutting billions of dollars in overpayments to insurance companies and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.11

Lie #5: Obama's health care plan will bankrupt America!!!

The truth: We need health care reform now in order to prevent bankruptcy—to control spiraling costs that affect individuals, families, small businesses, and the American economy.

Right now, we spend more than $2 trillion dollars a year on health care.12 The average family premium is projected to rise to over $22,000 in the next decade13—and each year, nearly a million people face bankruptcy because of medical expenses.14 Reform, with an affordable, high-quality public option that can spur competition, is necessary to bring down skyrocketing costs. Also, President Obama's reform plans would be fully paid for over 10 years and not add a penny to the deficit.15
We're closer to real health care reform than we've ever been—and the next few weeks will decide whether it happens. We need to make sure the truth about health care reform is spread far and wide to combat right wing lies.

P.S. Want more? Check out this great new White House "Reality Check" website: or this excellent piece from Health Care for America Now on some of the most outrageous lies:

1. "More 'Town Halls Gone Wild': Angry Far Right Protesters Disrupt Events With 'Incomprehensible' Yelling," Think Progress, August 4, 2009.

2. "Fight the smears," Health Care for America NOW, accessed August 10, 2009.

3. "Palin Paints Picture of 'Obama Death Panel' Giving Thumbs Down to Trig," ABC News, August 7, 2009.

4. "No 'death panel' in health care bill," The Associated Press, August 10, 2009.

5. "Stop Distorting the Truth about End of Life Care," The Huffington Post, July 24, 2009.

6. "Reality Check FAQs,", accessed August 11, 2009.

7. "Why We Need a Public Health-Care Plan," The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2009.

8. "Obama: 'If You Like Your Doctor, You Can Keep Your Doctor,'" The Wall Street Journal, 15, 2009.

9. "Reality Check FAQs,", accessed August 10, 2009.

10. "Obama: No reduced Medicare benefits in health care reform," CNN, July 28, 2009.

11. "Reality Check FAQs,", accessed August 10, 2009.

12. "Reality Check FAQs,", accessed August 10, 2009.

13. "Premiums Run Amok," Center for American Progress, July 24, 2009.

14. "Medical bills prompt more than 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies," CNN, June 5, 2009.

15. "Reality Check FAQs,", accessed August 10, 2009.

Sources for the Five Lies:

#1: "A euthanasia mandate," The Washington Times, July 29, 2009.

#2: "It's Not An Option," Investor's Business Daily, July 15, 2009.

#3: "Rationing Health Care," The Washington Times, April 21, 2009.

#4: "60 Plus Ad Is Chock Full Of Misinformation," Media Matters for America, August 8, 2009.

#5: "Obama's 'Public' Health Plan Will Bankrupt the Nation," The National Review, May 13, 2009.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 11, 2009

April 11, August 11, December 11

Chapter 58: On the Manner of Receiving Sisters

When anyone is newly come for the reformation of her life,
let her not be granted an easy entrance;
but, as the Apostle says,
"Test the spirits to see whether they are from God."
If the newcomer, therefore, perseveres in her knocking,
and if it is seen after four or five days
that she bears patiently the harsh treatment offered her
and the difficulty of admission,
and that she persists in her petition,
then let entrance be granted her,
and let her stay in the guest house for a few days.

After that let her live in the novitiate,
where the novices study, eat and sleep.
A senior shall be assigned to them who is skilled in winning souls,
to watch over them with the utmost care.
Let her examine whether the novice is truly seeking God,
and whether she is zealous
for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials.
Let the novice be told all the hard and rugged ways
by which the journey to God is made.

If she promises stability and perseverance,
then at the end of two months
let this rule be read through to her,
and let her be addressed thus:
"Here is the law under which you wish to fight.
If you can observe it, enter;
if you cannot, you are free to depart."
If she still stands firm,
let her be taken to the above-mentioned novitiate
and again tested in all patience.
And after the lapse of six months let the Rule be read to her,
that she may know on what she is entering.
And if she still remains firm,
after four months let the same Rule be read to her again.

Then, having deliberated with herself,
if she promises to keep it in its entirety
and to observe everything that is commanded,
let her be received into the community.
But let her understand that,
according to the law of the Rule,
from that day forward she may not leave the monastery
nor withdraw her neck from under the yoke of the Rule
which she was free to refuse or to accept
during that prolonged deliberation.

Some thoughts:

Benedict certainly did not want people jumping in with both feet who did not know what they are getting into. That's pretty clear. He gives a full 12 months for people to absorb the Rule. During this year, they can leave whenever they want.

What happens during these 12 months? Discernment for one. Learning to give up one's own will for God's. Developing a desire for the Daily Offices. All while being guided by those more senior, more experienced.

Takes a certain amount of humility to be willing to be taught.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Agathon 3


Abba Agathon said, “I consider no other labor as difficult as prayer. When we are ready to pray, our spiritual enemies interfere. They understand it is only by making it difficult for us to pray that they can harm us. Other things will meet with success if we keep at it, but laboring at prayer is a war that will continue until we die.”

Some thoughts:

Cannot begin to tell you how important this Saying is to me. Or how true I find it. Cannot begin to tell you all the really good ideas that pop into my head just at the time I pick up my Prayerbook or breviary to pray an office. Or the scads of things that come to mind that I Simply Must Do This Very Instant during an office. For years now, I have gone to Prayerbook and Breviary accompanied by a piece of paper and a pencil to jot down the thought so I know it will be handled at a more appropriate moment.

As is an Episcopalian, I am no more comfortable with the ideas of demons etc. than is any other Episcopalian. But there surely is something that wants to keep me from prayer. Day in and day out. No wonder prayer is sometimes referred to as "spiritual combat."

Is your experience anything like mine?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 9, 2009

April 10, August 10, December 10

Chapter 57: On the Artisans of the Monastery

If there are artisans in the monastery,
let them practice their crafts with all humility,
provided the Abbot has given permission.
But if any one of them becomes conceited
over his skill in his craft,
because he seems to be conferring a benefit on the monastery,
let him be taken from his craft
and no longer exercise it unless,
after he has humbled himself,
the Abbot again gives him permission.

If any of the work of the craftsmen is to be sold,
those responsible for the sale
must not dare to practice any fraud.
Let them always remember Ananias and Saphira,
who incurred bodily death (Acts 5:1-11),
lest they and all who perpetrate fraud
in monastery affairs
suffer spiritual death.
And in the prices let not the sin of avarice creep in,
but let the goods always be sold a little cheaper
than they can be sold by people in the world,
"that in all things God may be glorified" (1 Peter 4:11).

Some thoughts:

This passage often makes me wonder what were the circumstances behind it. He says "let them practice their crafts with all humility" and goes on to talk about the ones who might think too highly of themselves as a result of their work. Certainly I have known artisans and artists like that. Would that they were in a Benedictine community where their egos would be given short shift and the would be taught that work does not proceed from themselves but from God.

But more often I have known those whose humility suffers in the other direction. They have shared with me that their struggles are to allow themselves the time to create, to believe that they deserve to take the time to practice their art.
Benedict doesn't speak of these people. Possibly because an astute Abbot would identify the skills within the community and would then assign them to work which uses those skills.

To badly paraphrases C S Lewis, true humility is not pretending to be less claiming to be better than one is, but accepting of exactly who one is.

Maybe the term 'artisan" needs clarification. In our day, we tend to use "artisan" for those who create works of art that are not among what we call "fine arts." So we use "artisan" to mean weavers, potters, those whom make very artistic black work etc. In Benedict's day, an artisan was anyone who was a skilled worker whether in the fine arts or not. So carpenter, painter, blacksmith, weaver, potter, mason, etc. were all lumped together. All of these skills would be important in a self-sufficient monastery.

This is getting a bit long so I will skip over some of it to this bit: "but let the goods always be sold a little cheaper
than they can be sold by people in the world." This might seem a bit strange to modern eyes. Especially if we are used to a capitalist form of economy where supply and demand determine the price. Not to mention selling cheaply undercuts the competition with often disastrous results, such as driving the competition out of business and the subsequent hardship they endure.

Although Benedict no where specifies a vow of poverty, such as we know it today, it is obvious from our studies of the RB that the principle of having enough but not too much obtained. That would be the motivation in pricing the goods a tad more cheaply.

The phrase "people in the world" seems to me to deserve some attention. Benedict is the spiritual descendant of the Desert Christians who fled the cities and towns when Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Jesus had said His followers were to be in the world but not of it. The Desert Christians wanted to be obedient to Jesus. Eventually their way of life moved beyond Egypt, Syria, Palestine etc and monasteries were established rather nearer to cities etc. But for Benedict's predecessors in cenobitic monasticism, the monasteries may have been in the world, but they were not of it. Benedict inherited this concept and wrote it into his Rule.

I've oversimplified, of course, but this post is already too long.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Abba Agathon 2


The old men said to Abba Agathon of Abba Elias, in Egypt, 'He is a good Abba.' The old man answered them, 'In comparison with his own generation, he is good.' They said to him, 'And what is he in comparison with the ancients?' He gave them this answer, 'I have said to you that in comparison with his generation he is good but as to that of the ancients, in Scetis I have seen a man who, like Joshua the son of Nun could make the sun stand still in the heavens.' At these words they were astounded and gave glory to God.

Some thoughts:

I have always wondered whom Abba Agathon means by the "ancients." Or if "ancients" is a word that has suffered in the translation. In the Sayings 'abba" is frequently translated as "old man" which might lead us to think of them to be in their nineties!!

As for this business of making the sun stand still in the heavens... Clearly they were impressed with this. Signs and wonders are impressive. I am reminded though of what Jesus said about people seeing signs and wonders and they still do not believe. Fortunately the mere report of a sign and wonder caused these monks to give glory. But sometimes I wonder if Abba Agathon meant this sarcastically. In a "Oh sure he is good, but I know this guy who..." Maybe the point is that we should not be busy comparing ourselves to others.

Medieval lives of the saints are full of staggering details such as levitation, flying about the Cathedral while so caught up in prayer. Before he wrote The Mountain of Silence about Mt Athos, Kyriacos C. Markides wrote an earlier book and I've forgotten the name of it. Kyriacos C. Markides was deeply into New Age stuff before he embraced Greek Orthodoxy. On his 1st visit to Mt Athos, all he could absorb were the signs and wonders. He saw them as evidence of mature spirituality. I am reminded of my own life when I first experienced the ecstasy of contemplative union and focused in on that and wanted that over and over again until my spiritual director pointed out to me that the Bridegroom had given me gifts as His bride but it was time to cease to seek the gifts and instead seek the Giver.

No doubt I am reading this Saying all wrong. But such is how it speaks to me.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Agathon 1


It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to find him having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him 'Aren't you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?' 'Yes, it is very true,' he answered. They resumed, 'Aren't you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?' 'I am." Again they said 'Aren't you Agathon the heretic?' But at that he replied 'I am not a heretic.' So they asked him, 'Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.' He replied 'The first accusations I take to myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.' At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

Some thoughts:

Interesting, isn't it, that there is some link between discernment and losing one's temper? The reason Agathon gives for not losing his temper over most of the accusations is that was good for his soul. How contrary this is to our own choices. I know my first impulse when someone says something like this to me to defend myself. I don't like the way I feel when someone says such things to me and so I want to change their minds about me. Agathon's example, though, is to allow the things to be said. Not only that, my guess is that he also stopped to consider if the accusations were true. So rather than get hung up on his feelings, he took it as an occasion to discern his own sinfulness.

Not so with the accusation of heresy. It is hard for us in the western world, perhaps, to understand that at one time heresy was a matter of life and death. We tend to think that is an over-reaction. We are all entitled to our own opinion, we believe. We live in an age of tremendous religious syncretism. Agathon reminds us, however, that there is a consideration more important than a right to a personal opinion. Which is: what is the result of one's personal opinion? Where might that personal opinion lead?