Saturday, April 30, 2016

Proclaim the Good News

During the night, Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the Good News to them.  Acts 16:9-10

“Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name because they do not know the one who sent me.”  John 15:20-21

Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10)." supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No monastics are to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else. Among themselves they show the pure love of sisters and brothers; to God, reverent love; to their prioress or abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life. (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72, The Good Zeal of Monastics)

Slavery.  Persecution.  Jesus liked to use analogies that were understood by his followers.  They were used to being treated like slaves to the belligerent Roman army and would understand the place of the slave in the context of today’s Good News.  This new way of life was not a walk in the park.  Jesus never promised us a rose garden. However, vision or not, all were called to proclaim the Good News as “apostolos” (Greek for messenger). 

Rejection of the messenger by the world is the central tenet Jesus lays out.  As much as he preaches love and healing, this is not recruiting campaign in a capitalist tradition.  There is no nice salary or perks.  There are no fringe benefits unless you consider nails and crucifixion such. The message is love but the response is rejection.  

How will we ever embrace the good zeal of the monastics in a pool of rejection?

People are so used to what makes them comfortable in life that it is hard to get them to come off their lily pad and into the rough waters of the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Virginia when faced with the promise of persecution and slavery.  Is it any wonder that surveys reveal the rapidly increasing percentage of Americans who say they don’t identify with any religion whatsoever?  How did they ever get to be called the “Nones,” a homonym not to be confused with our loveable Nuns?  Maybe the Nones see the hypocrisy.  Maybe they see the scandal.  Maybe they reject sacrifice.  Whatever the reason, it is getting easier to find a seat in the pews.

It was not like this 15 years ago.  When the planes started dropping out of the sky on September 11, 2001, people flocked to the comfort of the sanctuary.  We know that our God loves us like the Good Shepherd.  However, we seem to take that love for granted in a way that today is no different than it was 2,016 years ago as the church tried to break through the dry, cracked ground of the desert.    

The Church also has been here before.  The desert monastics rejected life in the cities in order to move to a place where they could live an authentic Christian life.  As radio host Krista Tippet explains, maybe the likes of St. Benedict were the Nones of their generation.[i] 

Another way to look at the trend today is through the lens provided by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB.  She writes that “[T]he spirituality which emerged is about caring for the people you live with and loving the people you don't and loving God more than yourself. Benedictine spirituality depends on listening for the voice of God everywhere in life, especially in one another and here.”

Today is the last day of the cycle when Benedictine brothers and sisters read the Rule passage by passage, from start to finish.  We always begin again at the prologue on January 1, May 1 and September 1.  Perhaps it is fitting that the Rule reminds us what we must do to proclaim the Good News like the first apostles.  Like the first word of the prologue, St. Benedict leaves us with the reminder:  We must learn to listen, listen.  Love, love. As Sr. Joan puts it in her book The Rule of St. Benedict:

We must learn to listen to what God is saying in our simple, sometimes insane and always uncertain daily lives. Bitter zeal is that kind of religious fanaticism that makes a god out of religious devotion itself. Bitter zeal walks over the poor on the way to the altar. Bitter zeal renders the useless invisible and makes devotion more sacred than community. Bitter zeal wraps us up in ourselves and makes us feel holy about it. Bitter zeal renders us blind to others, deaf to those around us, struck dumb in the face of the demands of “dailiness.” Good zeal, monastic zeal, commits us to the happiness of human community and immerses us in Christ and surrenders us to God, minute by minute, person by person, day after day after day. Good zeal provides the foundation for the spirituality of the long haul. It keeps us going when days are dull and holiness seems to be the stuff of more glamorous lives, of martyrdom and dramatic differences. But it is then, just then, when Benedict of Nursia reminds us from the dark of the sixth century that sanctity is the stuff of community in Christ and that any other zeal, no matter how dazzling it looks, is false. Completely false.

Listen, listen. Love, love.  Person-by-person. Day-by-day.

No comments: