Doing the Impossible

Doing the impossible comes naturally to Benedictines: we have a whole chapter of the Rule devoted to it, RB 68. Anyone able to fulfil its requirements is undoubtedly guilty of heroic virtue. First, the impossible command must be accepted with perfect gentleness and obedience, not easy when one sees its impossibility (RB 68.1). Only if absolutely clear about the inability to comply can one raise an objection, and even then, one can’t just blurt out the objection, one has to choose an appropriate moment to explain everything calmly and politely to one’s superior (RB 68.3). Any form of argumentativeness is ruled out, and if the superior declines to accept the validity of the objection, tough. We must obey, ‘and, trusting in God’s help, out of love obey.’ (RB 68.5)

I think this short chapter of the Rule which we read today gives the lie to those who think that there is anything ‘moderate’ about RB. We are asked to transcend our normal way of acting, to strive for an obedience which truly reflects the obedience of Christ. Heroic virtue, as I indicated, is never popular. It can be uncomfortable to others, challenging their attitudes and expectations, but note the characteristic note of  humility and love with which Benedict concludes his chapter. That is the key to understanding what it is all about: allowing Christ to act in and through us.

Doing the impossible is not an ascetic feat, an attempt to be superhuman, it is rather an acknowledgement that God can do so much more than we could ever think or dream, and au fond, all that we do is done in love or it is worthless. I think I’d like to be guilty of that, wouldn’t you?


11 thoughts on “Doing the Impossible”

  1. Thank you for this. It is my first visitt to your blog.

    I have much enjoyed reading Christopher Jamison’s Finding Sanctuary and Finding Happiness, and shall find your reflections useful in understanding how Benedictines apply the rule of Benedict.

    Digitally I inhabit areas of controversy: an area of reflective discipline will be valuable.

      • Yes, welcome Martin. This is indeed a place for reflection and courteous exchange.
        However it can also be quite taxing. I’ve had brain ache thinking about a recent post on Saint Anselm and the role of theology and the church. It has also taken me days to hunt out a quotation of his that I thought I had by heart! Because it’s been such a struggle , and because I like it, I’ll share it here…

        Let me seek You by desiring You,
        and desire You by seeking You;
        let me find You by loving You,
        and love You in finding You.

        • Ah.. theology – that blog post was a thought provoker, to be certain.. I view theology as the “science of the Divine” or the “philosophy of the Sacred”, that place where faith and intellect come together to form a more prefect truth.

        • Patricia, we are indebted to your diligence in searching out this quote, and sharing it. “Let me seek you by desiring you…”. How moving. I have already a towering stack of books to read to which I add St Anselm. Gratitude to S. Catherine also for a goodly number of additions to the reading stack. Now, a prayer, if you will, all, that I may live to be a hundred, or more, that I have time enough…!

  2. Your first phrase stopped me in my tracks. Does “doing the impossible” really come naturally to Benedictines? Or does it only come naturally after a lot of practice? I find I can acknowledge with my head that God can do so much more than we can imagine, but actually living that out when faced with an impossibility is where I fall short so often.

    • Surely, Nancy, you are used to my ironical humour by now? Of course doing the impossible is not any more ‘natural’ to Benedictines, although being asked to do the impossible is a frequent occurrence!

  3. Boy this one hit home with me. To do all we do with love or it is worrhless…..this is the very thing I am working on. I want to be able to serve with a cheerful, and loving spirit. It is hard when others are miserable or just down right mean. Please keep the prayers coming Sister and thank you. Could you tell me the name of the book for the rules of St.Benedict?

  4. Melissa, there are lots of translations of the Rule of St Benedict. Mine is out of print. I suggest you do a search on Amazon. Ideally, if you can get one which has some explanations attached, you would probably find that more helpful. Don’t forget, it was written in the sixth century and some things have changed.

  5. Melissa, I struggle with doing all with love lest it be worthless, also. I can’t give what I don’t have. I’m human, too, react to other people’s nastiness, bad moods, peculiar attitudes. Those moments can be an opportunity to empty myself, offer it all up to God, ask Him to fill me with a little of His love, help me to see what He loves in that other person/persons. Offering it up, letting go, trusting He will be there to catch us – not easy, but we’re told that with faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains.

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