Solemnity of Benedict and Scholastica – July 11, 2021 Lynne Smith, OSB
Proverbs 4:7-13 Acts 2:42-47 Matthew 23:8-12
The readings for today were selected especially for the Solemnity of Benedict and Scholastica. Each of them provides some background for monastic life. The Rule of Benedict, written by Benedict of Nursia, Italy, belongs to wisdom literature as does the book of Proverbs. Wisdom literature, found in many cultures, reflects on the nature of life and offers teaching and advice for living a good life. According to one commentator on Proverbs, “human wisdom is a love of reality, of the world” and how it is ordered. (NIB, 59) One gets wisdom by learning to see reality and living according to the way the world works. Wisdom comes with experience and is more than just knowledge. As Sister Joanne will tell you: “First you get the experience. Then you get wisdom.”
People entering Benedictine life, whether as professed members of a community or as oblates study Benedictine spirituality during their time of formation. But anyone with more than a few years of Benedictine life will tell you, the real living of Benedictine spirituality comes through rubbing elbows and egos with others in community. Benedict says in his Rule he is establishing a school for God’s service. What one soon learns is that the school is about more than gaining knowledge. Sometimes it might feel to the ego like a school of hard knocks.
After I had been professed a few years I made it my business to learn as much as I could about how things worked in the monastery. I learned how to run the copier, the folding machine, the dish washer and the John Deere tractor. I learned how to use the database to see who was in the retreat house and how to lead retreats. I knew how to reset the well when it stopped and how to reset the furnace in the retreat and guest house. I mowed the lawn and wacked weeds and sowed and picked prairie seeds and I had a master’s degree in monastic studies. I felt pretty good that I knew all these things and was contributing to the life of the monastery.
Then one day Joanne, Mary David and I were in the work room and the postal meter wasn’t working. I said, “Well, that’s ONE thing I don’t know how to fix.” Joanne turned to me and said, “That sounds like ego.” Ohhhh. Joanne was right. She was a voice of wisdom at that moment. I had knowledge about many things, but I did not yet have much wisdom or humility. As Jesus said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled.” Benedict’s chapter on humility is the longest in the Rule – for good reason. He writes his Rule for beginners – and as we gain wisdom, we come to realize we are always beginners.
Proverbs tells us the way to get wisdom is, well …to get wisdom. That doesn’t seem very helpful. In Benedict’s school for God’s service, the way to get wisdom is something like this. Make a beginning. Enter into your experience with your whole heart and soul, mind and body. Attend closely to the reality of what is around you; take time to reflect and learn from it. Listen to the teaching and experience of others. Spend time in prayer and reading. Be open to hear God’s voice in people and in creation around. Little by little you get wisdom.
This school for God’s service is a communal experiential school where we are meant to encourage, admonish and walk with one another. Our reading from Acts today lies behind Benedict’s thought. It was the ideal that early Christian communities sought to make real. This ideal centers not around a set of beliefs but around the person of Christ and the practices that help us learn from Christ through our own experience and the wisdom of others. Those practices include building community, breaking bread and praying together, holding all things in common, mutual service, helping those in need, praising God.
The Rule of Benedict is said to flow from Benedict’s lectio or prayerful reading of Scripture. As such, it lays out a way to follow Christ and live Gospel values in a communal life. For Benedict, as Jesus said, there is only one instructor: the Triune God, the Holy One in our midst. Benedict teaches us to look for Christ in the guest, in the sister or brother in community, in the sick, in the poor, in the stranger, and in ourselves. Guests bring a blessing, because it is Christ who comes to us in the other.
The sisters, coworkers, oblates, Sunday Assembly, Friends of Wisdom Prairie look forward to receiving the blessing of the oblate candidates and the clergy of the ECCSR among us. We hope this time of discernment for you who are oblate candidates and the time of spiritual renewal for you pastors will be a time of deepening wisdom. May it be an experience of entering deeply into the reality of your life. A time of reflecting with your colleagues, breaking bread and praying together, learning from the oblates, sisters and other members of Holy Wisdom Monastery. We pray it will be a time of blessing for all of us together.