From Sunday to Monday: Perseverance in Goodness

Here is a little prediction for you. Everyone who goes to Mass this morning will listen to the Parable of the Good Samaritan and resolve to be a better neighbour to others — more kindly, more compassionate, more generous. But come Monday morning, with its prospect of another day at the office or a mound of dirty laundry to be washed or even (whisper it not) a complicated and lengthy office of Vigils to celebrate St Benedict, and the milk of human kindness will quickly turn to yoghurt in our veins. We want to be good; we want to be all the things the gospel asks of us; but wishing and wanting don’t make things happen. We may have an impulse of kindness and generosity now and then, but to make them habitual requires hard work and many failures. That tends to put people off, rather like trying a new diet and slipping back into old habits once the initial enthusiasm has worn off. Why bother trying? Why not just accept that we can’t?

Perseverance is a very unshowy quality, but also very important in monastic life and indeed the Christian life in general. It means getting up again as soon as one has fallen, plodding on when one cannot run, trying one’s best even though one is doubtful of the outcome. It is a grace and, as such, one we can pray for, must pray for if we are to follow the teaching of Christ. Most of us are not Good Samaritans most of the time. We are not even priests or levites passing by. We are, though we may be reluctant to admit it, lying bruised and bloodied by the wayside, needing the Good Samaritan’s help. Learning to accept graciously is as important as learning to give graciously, but in many ways we find it harder because, of course, it takes us from being centre stage, from active to passive. If our resolve to be kinder, more compassionate, more generous doesn’t last into Monday, maybe our readiness  to accept the kindness, compassion and generopsity of others can. Sometimes it is only experiencing the goodness of others that can lead us to become good in our turn.

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Sunshine

It did not rain last night, for the first time since we came here. What a difference sunshine makes to the day in prospect! Even the thought of a number of tiresome jobs cannot put down the little bubble of enthusiasm that rises to the surface when the sun is shining. It is ironic that this change in the weather, short-lived though it may prove to be, should have co-incided with the feast of St John the Baptist and the turn of the year, when the days begin to grow shorter. It is as if God is reminding us that his light is always there and will shine for us when he chooses. We grumble about the weather or make jokes about the drought, but I like to think that this morning there is a huge smile on the face of God. He has surprised us yet again.

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Loss of Enthusiasm

Whether we call it loss of enthusiasm or End of the World Syndrome, we all know what it is: the moment when feelings go flat and the world turns monochrome. We no longer believe, no longer hope, all is is blank and bleak. When this moment comes in the novitiate, then the real work of conversion can begin. We no longer try for perfection by our own efforts but settle for the rather messier, less obvious work of the Holy Spirit in us. (cf RB 7.70) So, too, with life in general. Enthusiasm is a great quality, especially when the inspiration comes from God; but it is not meant to be a permanent state. If, today, you are feeling knee-high to a grasshopper, lacking energy and bored stiff by everything, do not assume that something dreadful has happened to you. You are simply discovering anew what it means to be human. Like it or not, we have to be human to be redeemed; and isn’t that a rather wonderful and inspiring thought?

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