Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rubrics And The Rule

Rubrics are important. It’s easy, though, to get side tracked and find ourselves performing rubrics as though performance is itself our goal and desired end. I think, in entering into a life governed by the Rule, or any other rule or discipline, that one needs to ask themselves what it is they are looking for, what it is that they desire. Not only so, one also needs to be especially concerned about what it is they are being called to, being led to. Is a course of life being charted both interiorly and through life’s circumstances?

Without this discernment process the effects of our performance will be minimal at best. Without it our best performance of rubrics of any kind will eventually leave us feeling spent and empty.

I realize the danger inherent in making statements like this and have experienced first hand the fruit of attempting to communicate to uninformed others the relevancy of life in the Rule. Merton tells us, “One of the worst things about an ill-timed effort to share the knowledge of contemplation with other people is that you assume that everybody else will want to see things from your own point of view when, as a matter of fact, they will not. They will raise objections to everything that you say, and you will find yourself in a theological controversy – or worse, a pseudo-scientific one – and nothing is more useless for a contemplative than controversy.”[1]

Merton goes on to say, “There is no point whatever in trying to make people with a different vocation get excited about the kind of interior life that means so much to you. And if they are called to contemplation, a long, involved argument full of technicalities and abstract principles is not the thing that will help them get there.”[2]

Contemplative union with God is a grace. It is a gift that we once discover and then rediscover again and again. This grace, this gift, is what we long for in the depths of our being. It is, above and beyond all else, ultimately the sign and seal of the Spirit of God who invites us and then leads us into the Presence of God. We move beyond rubrics, beyond theory and academics into the experiential reality of God’s being. Contemplation is, in fact, the heart of Benedictine spirituality. “Contemplation is the primary, essential and immediate end to which all our observances are subordinated. A glance at our Rules will show that our life is organized above all for prayer.”[3]

Dom Lehodey, quoting from an anonymous Cistercian writer of St. Bernard’s time, says, “Above everything else, you should endeavor to keep your soul constantly lifted up in contemplation and your spirit always raised to God and the things of God. Other practices may make more of an outward impression, like vigils, the mortification of the body, fasting, and other such exercises. But you should regard all that, necessary as it may be, as a matter of relatively minor importance, and only valuable in so far as it helps you to purify your heart. The reason so few people ever reach true perfection is that they spend their time and their energies on things that have relatively little value, and pay less attention to the things that really matter.”[4]

St. Benedict encourages me toward the humility that comes only through genuine obedience, even under difficult, unfavorable, and unjust conditions. He encourages me to be confident in my expectations of God.[5] He encourages me to listen to him as a master spiritual director and to those who have traveled this way before me, to those who have lived the rubrics of the Rule and discovered in them the stepping stones that build a contemplative pathway.

[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p.271
[2] ibid
[3] Dom Lehodey, Le Directoire Spirituel des Cisterciens Reformes, Briequebec, 1910, ch. 6, p. 34-37
[4] ibid
[5] RB 7: 35-43