April 26, August 26, December 26
A monk may be assigned a burdensome task or something they cannot do. If so, they should, with complete gentleness and obedience, accept the order given them. Should they see, however, that the weight of the burden is all together too much for their strength, then they should choose the appropriate moment and explain patiently to their superior the reasons why they cannot perform the task. This they ought to do without pride, obstinacy or refusal. If after the explanation the superior is still determined to hold to their original order, then the junior must recognise that this is best for them. Trusting in God’s help, they must in love obey.
When is a limit a healthy boundary and when is it something that is blocking our growth? Often the only way to know the difference is to, with support, experience the limit. In saying yes to a task that seems impossible, and experiencing its weight, we have the chance to listen to the affect it is having on us. We come to a limit and learn to savour our reaction and response. Is the weight of the task causing new possibilities of grow in us? Do we sense, perhaps amid nervousness and fear, the stirrings of energy, expectation, and anticipation? Or has our life (at least for now) come upon its limit?
To become a human face of love we must experience our limits. In knowing our limits we come to understand and accept the context within which we can love, our own unique particular in which we can practice love. Our limits are the boundary within which we love and grow. Limitation itself is gift. Within our limits love grows without limit. All we need do is be faithful as we can be to the task at hand.
Spiritual and wise leadership holds reality and possibility in a gentle balance. The things we are asked to do can often have in them the grace that helps us move beyond ourselves. Whether we succeed or fail at a task is often not as important as learning about ourselves as we do it. New possibilities and identity can emerge. We can become and express more of who we truly are. In this we also experience something of who God is.
Moving beyond ourselves, our fears, and old ways is a daily affair. Seemingly impossible tasks can be the stuff of life. New parents, stressed and tired, learning how to love the new life given them; the new job that we never really know about until we start; a new relationship that might prove too challenging, or not; the promotion that might ask of us more than we think we have; the death of a loved one. Sometimes the events of life are bigger than our fears and resistances. In this ‘bigger than’ we can discover resources in us we that we did not know were there.
Benedict wants to see these good fruits of character and task growing in our lives. He knows the importance of them being practiced. He asks that any insights we may discover in the attempt to perform a task be conveyed gently and patiently “without pride, obstinacy, or refusal” and at a time that respects the position of both the learner and the teacher. Explaining the experience of limitation in this way can be psychologically and physically challenging, sometimes too much so. The challenge, however, assists in the growth of self-control (a gift of the Spirit).
When the exploration of ourselves and relationship is done gently and with careful consideration, Divine Love has the space to act and be experienced. There is every chance then of us being open to new possibility, growth, and suggestion. Inner life can be transformed.
What if anger is the dominant reaction to the abbot being “determined to hold to their original order”? Psychology tells us that under anger there is often significant sadness, pain, and loss. Within us there can be a deep and repressed sense of injustice, stretching back into childhood and adolescence, fuelled by anger, covering painful memories and woundedness. All of our lives, to some extent, have in them loss, rejection, and alienation.
This anger can erupt when the belief is that treatment has been unreasonable; when expectations have not or cannot be met. In this circumstance, our hidden grief, pain, and alienation can surface and be experienced. In the experience, what was hidden can be understood and named. This is the process of integration and healing. Energy is freed from the task of repression. We grow in simply being ourselves.
Growing obedience for a task can be an outward sign that the inner person is being healed and integrated. The task itself may seem meaningless. What is important is the fruit that grows.
As meditators we know that to just ‘say your word’ is an impossible task. We also know that, as we persevere, what becomes important is not that we meditate successfully. What is important is that we practice it as an act of faith, not as a performance. In time then, we discover what this chapter is about: faithfulness, perseverance and the fruits that grow from practice.
So now that we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; it is through him, by faith, that we have received access to the favour of God in which we are living, and we exult in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we exult in our hardships, knowing that hardship develops perseverance, perseverance develops character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, since the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. (Romans 5:1-5, RNJB)
 A story from the Desert Fathers and Mothers: It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it, and said to him, ‘Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.’ Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, ‘Take and eat the fruit of obedience.’