Below is a video of our Eucharistic Service this morning. The text from Fr. Joel’s homily follows the video.
It is an unusual choice of readings at Mass to find one from the wisdom literature in which the speaker is an elder, a wise person, a teacher speaking to a disciple. Even more unusual is it when the elder speaking of wisdom is understood to be an image or witness of a saint. Today’s choice from the book of Proverbs helps us to remember Benedict as the elder, the master of life in the Spirit. But the master who wants to teach and pass on that way of life.
But for us in the Benedictine family such a reading is not so unusual. We first meet Benedict in a similar fashion in the prologue to the Rule. He speaks to us in words that are so familiar to us: “Listen, my son, my child, to the master’s instruction, and attend to them with the ear of your heart” (RB Pro 1). In listening to a passage from Proverbs, we are reminded that the man we are gathered to remember and honor today is a man who stands solidly in the wisdom tradition. He is the elder who has observed life, lived it, found a way that is true and wants to draw us into it. Benedict is the wise person who has imbibed wisdom, wisdom about God and wisdom about being human.
It is easy to hear Benedict speaking to new comers, inviting them to life, to take up a way that leads to peace. But Benedict is also inviting us to listen beyond himself and to hear the voice of the Lord himself speaking to us from the Gospel. It is the Gospel wisdom, the Gospel way that will come to be our true guide, our regula, to new life that leads to final glory. In a masterful way Benedict steps aside so that the newcomer finds that the voice of the elder speaking wisdom to him is really the divine voice, the voice of God and the voice of Christ himself.
It is not inappropriate to hear Benedict and to listen to the word of the Rule as a word about a human way of life. It is not out of place to listen to Benedict as that wise person, the elder, the man of experience in ways human and yet divine. Benedict has discovered wisdom. He has sought and found what works. Wisdom as portrayed in our Scriptures is the order and harmony that God has placed in the world and the human heart. Benedict has discovered something of that way, its rhythm, its movements and it peace.
Perhaps what has kept Benedict alive and well over 1500 years is that his reflections are deeply human, they are rooted in the wisdom that we humans need to live well, peacefully and securely. The human wisdom of Benedict may not be showy and dramatic but it is always about the heart as he says in his first sentence and as the author in Proverbs likewise says in his first sentence. His wisdom can be found in small things: in keeping a candle burning in the sleeping quarters during the night, in making sure that the clothing fits, that people have the basic necessities, that there is a choice of foods, that one does not strike a fellow member if one is angry, that one learn how to speak and use words wisely, that people don’t make fun of or laugh at one another, that when you go out your clothes can look a little better than ordinary, that one needs to work, pray together and follow a schedule. Moderation in all things, he says, extremes don’t make for full human growth. This is just a little of the daily wisdom Benedict has experienced and passes on.
Today we remember Benedict the elder, the wise man, the master of life. Today the abba Benedict is the man with a word for us on how to live. We remember him today as the man who showed us a human and consequently wise and loving way to live with one another. Because we are rooted in a deeply human, therefore, wise way of life, it should be attractive. In a society where the ‘nones’, those who seemingly have no commitment to God in their lives, are increasing, it may happen that Benedict’s wise way may prove to be a way that speaks. It will speak because it is rooted in wisdom, wisdom which is from God, is of God and ultimately is the face of God. To live such a wise life already speaks of God and of a world and a human community that can be charged with love, beauty and goodness.
As we remember Benedict, the man blessed by God, let us be grateful for any and every bit of wisdom we have gleaned from being in this way of life. And let us also remember that every wise way opens and expands the heart so that wisdom’s gift of joy and peace will have a home in that heart.
Prior Joel, OSB