On the monk’s obedience
He who is baptised, lives in community with Jesus Christ and is called to shape his life according to the words of the Lord. This is not simple, it takes effort. All the efforts that are necessary to walk the way of Jesus Christ can be called “Christian asceticism.” Renouncing and abstaining are part of it, but they are not everything, they help us to reach the goal of God’s presence.
The fact of reflecting on how ascetic practice should be constituted in current monasticism is justified. It is about the salvation of man, but his living conditions and abilities change and therefore the changes must be adapted to the concepts about the concrete configuration of life. One of the characteristics of the Rule of Saint Benedict is that it represents this principle in relation to the monastic tradition.
This purpose cannot be fully discussed within the framework of a conference. Here we want to show an example, on how you can reflect on elements of the formation of life.
When you talk about asceticism, you enter a complex area. Well, the behaviour of the practice and, together with it, that of renunciation occurs in very different contexts. An attempt should be made to obtain greater clarity in the sense that an order is made with respect to different realisations of life.
In this way one can speak of an “asceticism of the way.” This refers to what must be practiced, in order to be able to walk on the path of maturity. Here adverse circumstances must be overcome and obstacles overcome, and the fulfilment of desires and needs must also be renounced.
From this an “asceticism of consecration” must be distinguished. For renunciation also has its place in the different forms of expression of love. And in the history of humanity it has gained great importance in relation to the worship of God. The resignation can be a personal demonstration of consecration, that is, a sign of the community and the constancy of a personal relationship or a sign that the action of the other is expected or that one is open for it.
A great additional difficulty lies in the language. Well, in the oldest monastic tradition individual concepts are used to determine modes of behaviour in different areas of life. This is confusing and makes it difficult to talk about monastic ascetic issues. Therefore, I wish to recommend that when dealing with traditional ascetic concepts, each different field of application be considered individually and not too fast an association based on a single concept.
Here the following must be kept in mind: In monastic asceticism, it is not enough to carry out many different forms of behaviour that have been communicated to us as Important. Before that was maybe so based on certain conditions, everything formed as if only a mosaic of a life full of meaning. But today, the important thing is to recognize and bring to reality a broad conception of life, marked by the hope that a perfect action will lead us to the Lord. It is not a question here of partial renunciations, but of a life project in accordance with the Gospel.
This should be well taken into account when speaking of monastic asceticism, taking obedience as an example. Precisely at this point it is extremely necessary to treat each of the forms of behaviour individually. Being obedient means adapting our actions and actions to the instructions of another. This is found in very different contexts. The conversation about the obedience of the monk is very difficult, when the difference of the areas of life is not taken into account. I wish to differentiate three areas, although they are linked to each other in multiple ways: the monk in the community, his life path and his relationship with Jesus Christ. I refrain from indicating to you the text of the Rule, it will not be difficult for you to establish relationships.
I. Obedience as community formation
Let’s start with that, which is closer to our reality with the community. For his path and his existence, the Abbot has been placed in his functions by the Lord.
- The community as a sphere of life
It is necessary to take seriously, first of all, the circumstances of human nature. The existence of man has a dialogic structure. He needs the relationship with others and not with just one, but with several. This means: he needs the community so that his existence and his personality can develop. But the community can only exist if people agree on their project goals and if such unity becomes the norm for the behaviour of the members. Those who want community can only live if the established agreements are respected and maintained.
As the living world and man himself, the external circumstances of life and the possibilities of formation change, new decisions must constantly be made about the norms of behaviour in force in the community. The formation of a leadership, that is, the education of authority, belongs to the community. It does not matter exactly how the decision processes develop, but it must be a primary condition that the members are in a position to obey, after the decision is made. A community lives from the fact that its members can postpone their impulses to behave for the benefit of the whole.
According to this, obedience means more than just executing simple instructions. It is the will of the existence of the community, the disposition for unity, that is, to agree and abide by the decisions. It is therefore of great practical importance with what encouragement obedience is carried out. A good tempered disposition gives joy is an expression of high encouragement for the community and gives all the members an increase in their feeling and appreciation. In such a way that aa can say that obedience belongs to the most important formation centers of a community. Obedience provides a sufficiently stable life environment, which gives its members the protection they need. The intelligence of even members is necessary so that this stability does not turn into numbness. For this it is necessary that obedience is not the only thing. It should be added to the conversation about pending decisions, which will be carried out in an atmosphere of trust and without fear. Here the meaning of receptivity should be discussed in detail. In a community in which everyone shares responsibility for the whole, the authority of leadership is contingent on the willingness to accept instructions from the members. Therefore receptivity is needed. The individual member influences change in the community, not only by participating in individual decisions, but also by accepting or rejecting receptivity. In this process, which can only be reversed in a limited way, the maturity of the personality of the members of a community is demonstrated.
It is not a question here of citing all the elements of community life but rather of drawing attention to the importance of obedience in relation to the legitimacy of human coexistence. In it lies a force of affirmation incapable of being replaced. She really turns the community into a place of life.
The abbot has the responsibility of leadership in the community; His task is to demand and enable obedience, since the community needs sufficient certainty so that the measures taken are also fulfilled. For this the abbot must act; he prevents unwarranted rejections from undermining community trust. But on the other hand, the individual also needs protection, so that he is not crushed by the weight of the implementation of norms by the community. So the abbot must pay special attention, not to over-stress the individual or not to pigeonhole him without reason; he is responsible for receptivity to enable responsible action and development.
2. The community as Koinonia
In the community of monks there are people in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This gives it a character of its own. The circle of the apostles is a model for the formation of life; the Gospel is a model of the norm of behaviour. And the work of Jesus is decisive for the goal of the community. With this, obedience becomes a relationship with such a community, a way of accepting the Gospel, that is, in the obedience of faith.
This has not yet sufficiently described the special character of the monastic community. The salvation of mankind, which has been gifted to us through the message of God in Jesus Christ, is of primary importance. This is in continuity with God’s action in Israel. It is the community of God’s people. Every community that is founded on the Word of God and is the Lord’s sacrament has a share in it. But that ultimately means that the action of the Holy Spirit is consummated in her.
The community is lived here as the Koinonia donated by God, which is participation of the Spirit of God and at the same time it is capacity for sharing, reconciliation with God and capacity for reconciliation.
With this, the ability of man to form community begins to be an event of salvation. Obedience in the ordering structure of the community acquires a profound meaning: it is not only the possibility of community, but it is also a contribution to the experience of God’s action in the world. Concordance and approval appear in the historical salvation movement produced by the Spirit of God.
Based on the character of the community, the abbot is administrator of the Gospel. He must represent the wishes of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose wish is that the community be guided by the Gospel and also that the individual being not be lost. The authority of the abbot is therefore provided with a clear orientation. Due to the fact that the Spirit of God acts in all its members and guides the community of God for the formation with all of them, the receptivity to the abbot’s indications thus receives its total importance.
2. Obedience as a metric of maturity
In the maturity process of the human person, it is not enough for the Individual to elaborate only his own experience. He needs to receive the experience of other people. This happens in the tradition of wisdom carried by the communities. Although in the normal case this happens through the book, as a concrete challenge, wisdom is found in human contact with another person.
In two aspects the individual needs the word of the Instruction:
- He needs an order for the execution of life and also in the field of carrying out the instructions given by Jesus. For this he must make the experiences of others his own. This can only be done by accepting, in the course of a learning process, the offer of a concrete order in life, that is, simply, obedience within this field.
- Development on the road to maturity inevitably goes hand in hand with crisis. Fear can lead the human being to retain what has already been lived and not let go of what has already been concluded. In this situation there must be the clear Instruction of the other, whose authority is recognized. Obedience here means the possibility of development.
This is especially true when it comes to questions about the recognition and overcoming of guilt. The limitless capacity of the human being to deceive himself requires confrontation with another specific person. A lawyer for the Gospel is needed in the liberating and guiding sense of God’s word.
According to our tradition the abbot has here his task as an assistant. He is called to be the mediator of the wisdom tradition. In the multiplicity of the daily requirements of a monastery, it will be difficult for the abbot to carry out this task by himself, but in him lies the responsibility of the directives. In order to safeguard this task, he should not hesitate to accept knowledge about the maturity of people that is not supplied by humanistic scientists. The example he gives, when he dedicates you as a helper in the individual case of a brother in a particular situation, is a far-reaching effect. This should not be underestimated.
In relation to this, I wish to add two observations. In the past, obedience was sometimes seen as a pedagogical means to overcome the egoism of the person. He wanted to simply break the self-centred stubbornness in order to make room for the stands. We know today that the reaction forms of the human soul were often misjudged. It happened then that this prevented or interrupted a maturation process. The result was in certain circumstances, a very obedient person who remained childish and immature. The goal for the lead to maturity should be that the individual can make important decisions in his life for himself, while freely orienting himself towards God. He must be able to bear the responsibility for his own actions.
The way to act with respect to stubbornness or selfishness and the Impulses coming Unconsciously from the depth of the human being, is a special chapter that will have to be treated separately.
One could have the opinion that obedience in the sense mentioned above is only current in a certain phase of life. This is correct to a certain extent. The importance of the helper and driver can vary greatly in the spiritual life. But it must be borne in mind that man remains on the road for life. It will be a great help to the individual to have the certainty that he will be noticed if he strays from the path of Jesus Christ. The abbot’s warning will then be a challenge to renew faith in the permanent leadership of Jesus Christ and to see the hopes of God as new in his own life. This role as guardian of the abbot is important to all ages and is never superfluous.
III. Obedience as a community with Christ
If we want to talk about the succession of Jesus Christ, we cannot limit ourselves to the maturity process in the life environment of a community. It should be expressly clarified that the central event of human existence is that one accepts, decisively, his life goal. In this way the obedience of faith finds its concrete form.
- Decision to serve
Cristum sequi, Following Christ means, in the context of a personal decision, God’s request —which encompasses the whole person— to accept the model of Jesus Christ, which means putting life at the service of brothers and sisters, at the service of the humanity.
Here I want to refer to the hymn that Paul gives us in the letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:6-11) in this regard. The full breadth of the mystery of Christ is expressed in this hymn, which was either written by Paul himself or perhaps taken from the Liturgy of another community. The mystery is celebrated in two of its major aspects: descent and return, which form a curve whose two ends meet. During his stay on earth, Jesus was deprived of the glory that belonged to him, so that he might receive it again from the Father as a reward for his supreme sacrifice. He descended into the ultimate depths of abasement; then the movement was reversed: the Father glorified him, made the universe subject to him, and gave him the supreme prerogative, the regal and Divine title of “Lord.”
In the background here, Paul was thinking of the pride shown by created beings who want to be equal to God (the desire of Adam); he contrasts with this the self-giving and self-denial of Christ. But the hymn reminds us even more clearly of the songs of the Servant of God (especially Isaiah 53), which echoed strongly in the preaching of Jesus and in the teaching and Liturgy of the very early Church. It is the whole mystery of the incarnate Son of God that Paul here chants with such clarity and depth: his preexistence, his abasement, and his exaltation. And the Apostle does so in order to exhort some Christians to live the demands of their Baptism!. The first chapter does not speak simply of the humiliation of Jesus, year of his service: taking the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7). Jesus many times pointed out to his apostles that he was among them as one who serves. (e.g., Luke 22:27).
Faith is fundamental to the perception and acceptance of a broad service with Christ and in Christ. For that disposition of life we have been given the promise of his presence and in this the sacraments strengthen us.
This is not about common processes that happen on a daily basis. These are occasions that occur rarely and in which the human being decides on the consecration of his life. It is usually related to a new task or a notable change in his living conditions. Nothing fundamental can be said about the details, because the multiplicity of what can be done for others is immense. It is characteristic that in this situation, the basic position of the monk is specified: he has to summarise, in a concrete decision, his position of faith and his believing disposition to serve.
With this theme we touch the core of the monk’s life: the monk carries out the consecration of his life by listening to and accepting God’s call for service in relation to the coming of the kingdom of God.
To consecrate his life in this sense means to let go and renounce much, it means concentration. But since it is an act of the person, the forces of personal dedication can be activated, and it does not lead to an impoverishment but to a development of the personality.
In relation to this, it is the abbot’s task to help each one to recognize his life task and to perceive the call of God. The function of the abbot cannot normally consist of making the Lord’s call known by command; this would be too simple and not adjusted to the reality that here it is the core of the monk’s person. Here it must represent the “with Christ”. The ace, the companion of the monk, is next to him, not facing him. In practice, this is based on a foundation of trust that grows through honest conversations and safe action.
A new plane of obedience is reached when, to achieve the success of the goal of life, failures and defeats must be overcome. Then the words of Christ’s hymn are updated: he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Christum sequi, following Christ then requires all the strength of the person. It must be considered here that it is not about humiliation alone, but in relation to the goal of life.
In those moments the personal relationship with Jesus Christ should weigh; failure must be accepted with Christ. He has reversed the failure of his life, that is, the rejection of Israel, through his messianic word at the Last Supper, making it an event of salvation, that is, a sacrifice of atonement. He remained faithful to the goal of his message: to bring his salvation to the world through forgiveness. In the situation of failure, man can unite with Jesus Christ in faith and thereby adapt the event of defeat in his life to the dynamics of the event of salvation. If the apostle of Jesus endures obedience in failure, rejection or misfortune, he believes in God, the Father, who exalted Jesus. It is faith in the resurrection.
It is good to add a text from the Letter to the Galatians here “And because you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying out “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-7). The Spirit also takes care of us in the situation of failure, so that we can say “Abba.” It is not we ourselves who support, it is the Spirit who maintains our orientation towards the Father and who ensures that the fact that we are children does not escape our conscience.
The seriousness of this life situation especially limits talking about it. Otherwise, a special approach to the reality of Trinitarian life could be described here. But respect for the person who suffers requires reserve.
Events of this kind often bring with them the crisis of confidence in the Lord’s leading. Then the abbot should be next to the monk before the living God. In this sense there is no order of the abbot. The abbot must never take a position such that he expressly orders the way to failure. Here too it is a matter of making experienced the fact that there is “with Christ.” And even more.
When suffering is achieved in the realisation of the goal accepted in faith, the abbot is called to share that pain. He is in the place of the Lord who has revealed God’s mercy towards man. The abbot must not feel overworked by this. An important expression for this posture is common prayer, not just intercession. It has been given to us as a source of comfort. It belongs to the most profound thing that has been entrusted to the apostles of Jesus, the fact of being able to give each other the gift of comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:4). This is a gift of the Spirit of God.
To conclude, I wish to make it expressly clear that the preceding considerations on obedience must be completed with the description of concrete processes in monastic life. Otherwise one might think that here it is a general Christian thing that does not really concern the core of the monk’s life. It belongs to the nucleus of the life of the monks and at the same time is typical of all Christian life. In the way obedience is lived, the monks’ own decision can be shown.
We have considered three different areas in which obedience should be discussed. The first two are inalienable, but the core of the relationship with Christ is only reached in the third. This is not an evaluation but rather corresponds to the structure of human life that has been given to us. The history of humanity is effected by the fact that decisions are made from daily improvement, the goal of which is centred in the direction of the entire journey.
The function of the abbot diminishes only in appearance, and in reality it deepens. In the latter area, it is less threatened with exhaustion by external factors.
As we organise our considerations on the topic that will be discussed in these days, the relationship with Jesus Christ, we want to remember that our effort on the path of life is related to what Paul describes in these words:
Therefore, now that we have been justified by faith, we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom by faith we have been given access to this grace in which we now live, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we realise that suffering develops perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. Such hope will not be doomed to disappointment, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5).
Faith, the Riches of Life: Romans 5:1 Without faith human beings remain in the night of sin. When they have been justified through Christ and believe in the redemption he gives, they enter into a new life, that of salvation. Paul confronts the believer with a living reality. First, he speaks of peace and reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11); he must then show how Christ opens for us the way of deliverance from sin (Romans 5:12-21), from death (Romans 6:1-23), and from the Law (Romans 7:1-25); the song of Christian life is a song of the Spirit and of hope. But Paul cannot forget the lot of the Israel that rejects the Gospel; he enters upon a lengthy discussion and asserts again that the love of God is stronger than any human rejection (chs. 9–11). Romans 5:5 Such hope will not be doomed to disappointment: the hope of believers is more than just an earthly optimism. It is the assurance of our future destiny based on the love of God for us—revealed to us by the Holy Spirit and demonstrated for us by Christ’s Death.
After such a wonderful formation, it was convenient for John to retire, fleeing the tumult of the cities, the influx of the people, the vices of society, and go into the desert, there where the air is clearer, the sky is clearer, the more God becomes close, and that, because the time for preaching had not yet arrived, to surrender to prayer and live with the angels, to call the Lord and listen to how He responds: Here I am.Origen of Alexandria Homilia in Lucam 11,4.