A Monastic Year in Retrospect: 2014

Winter at HTM

Today has dawned grey and silvery, bright with frost and the sharp tang of woodsmoke. While the rest of the world busies itself with New Year resolutions and a more or less dreary catalogue of what went wrong in 2014, here in the monastery we are thinking about the good zeal we ought to have (RB 72) and what we can do to make sure that 2014 ends on a positive note, with wrongs, insofar as in us lies, righted, forgiveness given and received, and hope and trust restored. You might think that was easy for us, but we live in the same world as you do, and have just as many quirks of character. Indeed, I sometimes think that the reason for Benedict’s insistence on our bearing charitably with one another is because monks and nuns are more quirky than most and make bigger demands on one another.

To put things right with another, we must first admit that something has gone wrong. That can be difficult, especially if we secretly think the other person responsible. Unfortunately, thinking like that tends to lead to another rehearsal of the original grievance; and we all know where that ends. I think we have to ask ourselves what we most desire: victory or harmony. That doesn’t mean we do violence to our sense of right and wrong or pretend to a fault we genuinely believe we haven’t committed, but it does mean humbly acknowledging that somewhere along the line, we haven’t been all we might have been. Aquinas wrote of that which, though not sin, had something of  the nature of sin about it; and we all know how easy it is to perform what used to be called an act of charity in such an uncharitable way that it is quite the opposite. The end of the year is a good time to reflect on these things and see what we can do about them.

Here in the monastery today and tomorrow will be days of mutual apology and reconciliation, of giving thanks, of thinking about the events of 2014 and our way of living through them, all with the firm purpose of trying to do better in 2015. 2014 was not an easy year for us, but it has been a year of blessing. Learning to give thanks in all circumstances doesn’t come naturally to most of us, any more than forgiveness does. Maybe that is why St Benedict ends his chapter on good zeal with a simple but heartfelt prayer: May they prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life. Amen.

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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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