Today we Benedictine will celebrate the summer feast of St. Benedict. I’ll pass on the Gospel from Luke on Jesus’ lesson of the Good Samaritan and his lesson on being a good neighbor. I’d like to share some thoughts on Benedict’s opening word LISTEN which seems like a first step to being a good neighbor. Now, those who follow the calendar of the saints may question did we not celebrated St. Benedict back in March. Yes, the very same one, the twin of St. Scholastica. You see that date usually falls during Lent when the church does not smile on a grandiose celebration with Alleluias and full festivity. In 1981, reaffirmed in 1989, the Council of Benedictine Abbots decreed that July 11th henceforth be celebrated as the Feast of Benedict, Patriarch of Western Monasticism.
Saint Benedict, in his Prologue to the Rule, addresses those who “long for life.” His advice is “Keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; let peace be your quest and aim.” The gift of speech is one of the most powerful gifts God has given us, but it probably evokes less gratitude than any other. We need to be aware that the habitual use of speech tends to make us unconscious of the many times our speech verges on being critical, or, to use the adjective in the psalm, “vicious” talk. Even a benign phrase of speech can turn vicious sound like anger brewing when spoke in a harsh tone of voice.
Not many of us are humble enough to make amends for wounding words spoken. We’d rather depend on time and the good will of the other to wipe out what has been said. However, the truth is that the wounds of hurtful words or a harsh tone can never be totally erased. Despite our best efforts to heal relationships, the scars remain. In the latest issue of LCWR Occasional Papers one of the authors refers to Armand Gamache, the detective featured in a Louise Penny’s series of novels. Gamache insists to his new detectives that there are four statements that are hard to admit, harder to say aloud. But they are the key to opening ourselves to the truth and the beginning of effective communication. What are they? “I was wrong.” “I’m sorry.” I don’t know.” “I need help.” But if our words do not come from a humble heart they will fall on deaf ears. Says Benedict: “be serious, be brief, be gentle, be reasonable.” A 20th century Russian Orthodox monk wrote: “When we listen to someone, we think we are silent because we are not speaking; but our minds continue to work, our emotions react, our will responds for or against what we are hearing.” Oblate Rev. Donald Richmond, in his paper “The Fool with Words” offers this thought: “Living without speaking is better than speaking without Listening.”
The real silence that we must aim for as a starting point is a complete repose of mind and heart and will. But then one wonders what happens to spontaneity if we engage in a chat without thinking? Jesus assures us that out of the contents of our heart our mouth will speak. If we guard our hearts from evil and our minds from negative thoughts, our words will arise spontaneously without guilt, reflecting the goodness we have stored away. God alone utters the perfect word, the speech without fault. By pondering the perfections of Jesus, we come to own the good word of which the Psalmist speaks: “My heart overflows with a good theme; my tongue is ready like the pen of a scribe.” (Ps 45:1)
Oprah Winfrey in What I Know For Sure offers a very “Benedictine flavored” thought to ponder. When you make loving others the story of your life, there’s never a final chapter, because the legacy continues. You lend your light to one person, she shines it on another and another and another. And … in the final analysis of our lives – when the to-do lists are no more, when the frenzy is finished, when our e-mail boxes are empty – the only thing that will have lasting value is whether we’ve loved.
~Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, PrioressContinue Reading