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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Perseverance: A Necessary Optimism

How often do we feel tired? Yet we go on, do we not, getting up, going through the day’s routine, doing what we can and hoping, however vaguely, that tomorrow will be different, somehow better than today? That is what I call a necessary optimism. It is very closley linked to what monks and nuns mean by perseverance: the humble routine of life in the monastery faithfully followed day after day. To an outsider the monastic routine can look dull, even dispiriting; but it does its work. Little by little, both individual and community are transformed. Yet when we embrace that routine, when we are clothed in the habit or make profession of vows, the transformations wrought by grace are largely hidden from us. We make an act of faith in God and the community just as God and the community make an act of faith in us. Sometimes it is good to remember that God too is an optimist, always expecting the best of us and keeping faith in and with us even when — perhaps especially when — we have lost all faith in ourselves.

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Saints Made for Sinners

Yes, you read that right: saints made for sinners. The feast of All Benedictine Saints is a huge encouragement to those of us who are constantly sliding into sin and failure. We don’t want saints who seem to have led impossibly holy lives from their mother’s womb: the kind who never say an unkind word or do an ungenerous act, who have a natural attraction to prayer and penance and everything we have to struggle with. Nor do we want saints whose lives are incredibly dramatic, full of road-to-Damascus conversions and deeds of holy derring-do. We want saints who are ordinary; who battle with temptation much as we do; who become holy through lives of unspectacular fidelity and goodness. In short, we want saints made of the same material as we are, because we too want to become holy, and if the only model of holiness available to us were the extraordinary one sketched above, we would be spiritual no-hopers.

The fact that we aren’t spiritual no-hopers is largely attributable to all those obscure  saints whose names we’ll never know this side of eternity but who became people the Light shone through. Among them must be thousands of Benedictines — monks, nuns, sisters, oblates and confraters. They show us that we too can become holy, just by being what we are meant to be. There is nothing grand or heroic about being a Benedictine, nothing particularly inspiring. We are spiritual plodders, the ‘poor bloody infantry’ of the Church, serving together under the same banner, standing side by side in the fraterna acies of the community and gradually — oh, how gradually! — learning what it means to follow Christ the Lord. We fight the good fight with what St Benedict called the strong and glorious weapons of obedience and hope, one day, to share everlasting life with all who have loved and served God. Let us ask the prayers of the Benedictine saints we commemorate today, that we too may be granted the grace of perseverance and attain the goal for which we strive.

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The Importance of Sheer Doggedness by Bro Duncan PBGV

Just occasionally I have to remind Them of the importance of sheer doggedness. They tend to call it ‘perseverance’, but whatever. It’s the same idea, stolen from us dogs, of course, only we do it better. Sticking at something and not giving up is sometimes hard for humans. They want to find reasons for doing things (which usually means reasons for not doing things) and sometimes there aren’t any. The world is like that, I tell Them. We get up, we eat, we sleep, we praise God; and life goes on. The important thing is that we try. We often think we fail when in fact we don’t. That comes of our having our eyes on ourselves all the time, as though we were engaged in taking a perpetual selfie. Or because we have become impossibly perfectionist. I always say, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly — if that’s the best we can manage.

I’ll let you into a little secret. They are not really singers, but They plug away at the Divine Office day after day, singing the praises of God to the best of Their ability which, to be frank, isn’t great. I snooze along beside Them, so together we give glory to God. We don’t do anything exceptional, any of us, — we’re too ordinary for that — but we go on . . . relentlessly. I’m rather hoping we’ll all sneak into heaven that way.

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St Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism

St Benedict
St Benedict

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Transitus, or ‘birthday into heaven’ of St Benedict, father of Western monasticism, fittingly occurs during Lent. He insisted that monastic life should always have ‘a Lenten quality’ — a purity and intensity of focus we find hard to sustain but which should be very marked during this holy season. Those who have never attempted to live according to his Rule are apt to praise its moderation and restraint. Those who have ventured to live by it, and know the depth of their own failure, are in no doubt about the hugeness of his demands. We are asked to prefer nothing whatever to Christ. To do that for a single day, a single hour, would be a great triumph of grace over nature. Happily, Benedict knows our weakness. In the end, all is grace, all is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our business is simply to trust and to go on, neither growing weary nor giving up. Perseverance isn’t a showy virtue, but it is a very Benedictine one.

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The Importance of Fidelity

Fidelity— in monastic circles more often called perseverance — is one of those unspectacular qualities without which the world would be a much unhappier place. Doing the same things day after day, putting up with difficulty and sometimes even danger, is rarely heroic in the way we usually define heroism, but I think it has a grandeur and a beauty all its own. To persevere, to go on being faithful, is to assert that ultimately our lives have meaning; that what we do or don’t do matters; that we are moral beings. Sometimes, when we feel knee-high to a grasshopper, it is good to remember that.

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