15 January 2010

some observations of an oblate

As oblates of St. Benedict, Banu and I try to live by the spirit of the Rule of Benedict. The monastery to which we make annual commitments, Mount St. Benedict in Erie, PA, has encouraged us to serve as companions to an oblate initiate. Part of that includes sharing our thoughts on various writings.

One of those is the lecture by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called “Saint for Europe and Our Age.” This was a 2006 reflection on St. Benedict and what his Rule could mean for Europe—spiritually, culturally, and politically. Though he was specifically addressing the European context, it also applies to America. He takes three aspects of the Rule (what it says about time, obedience, and participation) and directs them to us now.

I won’t try to summarize the article; it’s well worth the time it takes to read. Something that especially struck me is his comment, “A civilised life structured around the vision of the Rule is one in which economics is not allowed to set itself up as a set of activities whose goals and norms have no connection with anything other than production and exchange. We have to ask what it is that economics sustains—its own business or an environment of human development, intelligence and awareness?”

We often pretend that the laws of the market make no assumptions on what it means to be human. We have to beware coming under its spell. Jesus has a word for the 21st century when he says in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (in Greek, mammon).

Williams concludes with the observation, “Patron saints are not there to be benign mascots; they are given so that nations and groups and individuals may have identifiable friends in the company of heaven who will give a particular direction and sharpness to the challenges of the Gospel. We need to recover Benedict as that kind of patron for our presently confused continent; there is still much to do to spell out further the ways in which, both confronting and affirming, his Rule may open some windows in a rather airless political room and create a true workshop for the spirit (Chapter 4).”

Europe—and America, to be sure—needs to break free from the age-old temptation of ideology, which is nothing else but idolatry. When we replace the God of life with a rigid, stultifying straitjacket, death takes the throne. But Jesus Christ, who has “conquered the world” (John 16:33), always provides resurrection to the most lifeless of situations.

(The image comes from the original article.)

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