Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Cenobitic Life, A Work in Progress

St. Benedict 
The Rule of St. Benedict 
PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition. (2011-04-30).

Among the things I wanted to do on this first day of the New Year was read again the Rule of St. Benedict. I found all my favorite passages in this short little book, but two struck me exceptionally today: first, the admonition to the abbot not to hesitate in administering corporal punishment.

The well-disposed and those of good understanding, let him correct at the first and second admonition only with words; but let him chastise the wicked and the hard of heart, and the proud and disobedient at the very first offense with stripes and other bodily punishments, knowing that it is written: “The fool is not corrected with words.” And again : “Strike thy son with the rod, and thou shalt deliver his soul from death.” (Kindle Locations 201-204). 

The other is the chapter "Of Humility", which describes the twelve degrees on the ladder of/to humility.

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God, which being perfect, casteth out fear. In virtue of this love all things which at first he observed not without fear, he will now begin to keep without any effort, and as it were, naturally by force of habit, no longer from the fear of hell, but from the love of Christ, from the very habit of good and the pleasure in virtue. May the Lord be pleased to manifest all this by His Holy Spirit in His laborer now cleansed from vice and sin. (Kindle Locations 361-365). 

I wonder when and where was the last time that a stupid or foolishly stubborn monk was brought around to obedience and reason by corporal punishment. My guess is that corporal punishment disappeared with genuine humility and confidence in superiors. I think our society is actually more violent perhaps today than was St. Benedict's. We hold everyone at arm's length and then lose it when they misbehave. It is not a real world ours; alienation prevails and nobody engages others. I'm not condoning domestic violence, but I am wondering where the immediacy and practicality of St. Benedict's counsels and rule have gone.

In this New Year, I am sure I will not resolve to hit anybody for his own good, but I will recognize how far I myself am from the top rung of the ladder of humility. In our home corporal punishment was almost nonexistent. I guess we must have been docile enough to our parents' decrees. Anyway, maybe I'll spend more time this year with the twelve degrees of humility, in hopes of rooting out vice and drawing closer to my Lord.

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