Since 1974, we Catholics begin the new year celebrating the Queen of Peace. New Year's Day is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Benedictine Oblates also begin a new read of the Rule of Benedict.
Each four months, we Benedictine Oblates read through the seventy- three chapter Rule of Benedict. Our daily commitment is to read, reflect and ponder the reading for the day, in other words, reading it as lectio divina. By far, my favorite is Benedict's Prologue. These words are some of the most lyrically beautiful and powerful counsel ever written. Benedict begins his rule for 'ordinary people' this way:
L I S T E N carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father's advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
The words vibrate with tenderness, abound with love and care. Although I have read them over and over again for the last fifteen years, they never fail to arrest the rapid pace of my thoughts with that beginning command, in caps: LISTEN.
Under the best of circumstances, listening is hard work. Search for listening online and you will find hundreds of hits with tips and methods to improve our ability to listen to another. And this is where we can see the other person, use all our senses to hear, watch, interpret and read the message the person is conveying.
Because we are so easily distracted. Our concentration and attention are limited by a variety of physical and psychological factors, consequently the need for determined effort.
Prayer requires even more from us.
Benedict knows of what he writes. Born in the fifth century, he witnessed the collapse of the Roman Empire and knows first- hand the consequences of lawlessness and anarchy. Exactly why he chose to leave the city and embrace the life of a hermit: Solitude and Silence.
For the last six days, I have been reading the daily sections of the Prologue but one phrase in the reading for Thursday, January 5th still echoes in my mind:
Having given us these assurances,
the Lord is waiting every day
for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions.
And the days of this life are lengthened
and a truce granted us for this very reason,
that we may amend our evil ways.
As the Apostle says,
"Do you not know that God's patience is inviting you to repent" (Rom. 2:4)?
For the merciful Lord tells us,
"I desire not the death of the sinner,
but that the sinner should be converted and live" (Ezech. 33:11).
Isn't it strange that material you think is familiar suddenly, without warning, seems as the words are shouting? Perhaps this is so for me because this strange year has finally ended. And the upcoming sequential feast days of Epiphany and The Baptism of the Lord are upon us. Or maybe it is merely a function of age. Regardless of the reason, I am startled by the precision of Benedict's language: A truce between me and God in which I am permitted to live long enough to learn that no other method works! I tried them all and have learned that I cannot trust myself. Only He is worthy of my trust. The mercy -the love- of our Lord is so much greater, more far-reaching than we can perceive.
Why then, do so many of us trivialize, ignore and deny him?
Father Alfred Delp offers one explanation a chapter he called The Wise Men in his book, Prison Writings, smuggled out after his murder by the Nazi's for refusing to recant his Catholic faith.
....Only men of the highest type could have undertaken such a journey for such a purpose...They brought all the longing of their people with them to the place of the encounter for its fulfillment. Through the desert by way of royal palaces, the libraries of the learned..-and they ended their journey at last at a manger in a poor stable.
The secret of these people is as plain as is the case of the shepherds. They are the men with clear eyes that probe things to their very depths. They have a real hunger and thirst for knowledge....And it is their message for us and their judgement of us. Why do so few ever see the star? Only because so few of us are looking for it....