Sunday, November 16, 2008

Self Development

The emphasis that St. Benedict places on continual conversion is something that affects our total being. Certain exterior conditions create an atmosphere that is conducive to an ongoing interior development. The order and structure of routine, spiritual reading and liturgical prayers, responsible work that benefits community, recollection and reflection, silence … all are directed to this end: to foster the possibility of continual conversion.

Putting on a habit, dressing ourselves academically in a new set of ideals, may indeed change our outward appearance, create visual points of identification, and provide a sense of attachment and belonging. I’m reminded, though, that there was a time when embracing monastic poverty as a lifestyle also meant the assurance of clothes to wear, a bed to sleep in, and food to eat – motivations in dire times, although not the purest ones, to enter monastic life.

Benedict turned none away although seekers of life in the monastery stood a long time knocking to get in. One, over time, proved their monastic vocation before they were fully and finally accepted. He had no preference for the affluent, something that is evident in the way the offered sons of the noble and poor were received. The character of transferring monks was carefully observed and determined before they were accepted. Priests of the monastery were expected to continue progressing toward God in all humility.[1]

Garb and position, obviously in Benedict’s mind, do not make a man. Who we are as created beings is not determined by what we do in the world. The inverse is a more accurate measurement of the individual. What we do in the world is determined by who we are.

We live, as pilgrims on a journey to a far distant destination, with an intense focus on deep interior self development. In this sense, in a sense that keeps eternal values in mind, we begin to see, can’t help but see, our greatest necessity - our need for continual conversion. This important self development is an ever present project that is never complete, always ongoing.

To live “as Christ” is not an easy proposition, especially when we consider that “the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings.”[2] We like to pick and choose, select only those portions that we can easily assimilate and set aside, or rationalize and explain away, those portions that dig at the roots of our human condition.

[1] RB 58 - 62
[2] Prologue 35