Solemnity of St. Benedict
In literary studies, once a text is written and completed, it is said to have a life of its own. It is no longer under the ownership or jurisdiction of the author. People can interpret it or use it as they will. The author’s role is finished. Once we have Moby Dick, we are no longer concerned with what Herman Melville thinks or does. We don’t care if he is a Methodist or a heavy drinker. But there are some texts that become valuable to us because of their author. A letter from a close friend or a child’s poem is significant because of the one who composed it. What and who are then intimately connected.
We are constantly being addressed by texts and messages of all varieties. Life itself is a text needing to be read and understood. We are addressed at the level of our belief, of our take on and construal of reality, of what is plausible to us. This can be fixed or fluid, but it is a sacred forum where our very core is at stake. At its primary level, we are asking: can you be trusted? To live is to be constantly doing lectio divina, reading the reality before us and ingesting its meaning and being changed in the process.
To recognize and acknowledge a saint is to see them as someone we can trust. We trust that the vision which has radically altered and transformed their lives is a revelation of that hidden holiness that suddenly calls out to us as a possibility for our lives. Their lives have now become a service of that vision, a text where we are addressed. I am among you as one who serves. Their lives are a translation and personal reading of a meaning which now directs, illumines, and unifies their experience. They witness to a reality which now speaks through them. The vision is what they see and the light by which they see. Holiness is a capacity to trust and be trusted, to exceed the restraints with which self-care interprets the world. It is a trusting which yields to the incessant call of conversatio morum. Maybe the text is not completed, does not have a life of its own.
What we know of St. Benedict has its sources in the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great and the Rule. This latter is more than just an ancient text. St. Gregory wrote of Benedict that he only taught what he lived. He lived what he taught. His teaching, his Rule, express his life. We know who he is through what he wrote.
It is often noted that the Rule has little theology and much practicality. Benedict‘s theology is the way he lived. And he believed that this theology and way of life could be communicated through shared experience. It is not private or esoteric, but thrives in the common sharing of the most common human experiences. He regulates the experiences of eating, working, sleeping, praying, learning, joining, listening. The ordinary become revelations of the holy. Michael Casey refers to his heuristic wisdom, his willingness to learn from experience and use that learning as an incentive to further growth. Experience has shown us. (Rule, chapter 59).
He only taught what he lived. We are only too conscious of the gap between what we believe and what we do. What we believe can even become simply a dead and arid text, distant from the actual experiences that are demanding our commitment and trust. Unfortunately, in this discomfort, the dynamics of what is called cognitive dissonance pull us to change our beliefs rather than change our actions. We lessen the tension by numbing the real implications of what belief could mean.
Benedict’s life and teaching keep reminding us to remain open to a live faith, one which feeds on the spirit of hope which can read signs of God’s presence in the immediacy of our experience. In the light of the Gospel, he calls us to be exegetes who can translate into action the word of his mystery. Through seeking, striving, and stretching we can bring to life the faith which reveals the true meaning of our lives together.