Sunday, 3 June 2012

St Benedict's Tools of Good Work No 2: To love one's neighbour as oneself

Affile, where St Benedict performed his first miracle

 Last week I started a series for the Year of Grace on the wisdom sayings of St Benedict (Chapter Four of his Rule).

The second of the tools of good works listed out in Chapter 4 of St. Benedict's Rule is the second half of the great commandment, Deinde proximum tamquam seipsum (Then [to love] one's neighbour as oneself).

The Great Commandment

We see this Scriptural quote (St Mark 12:31) so frequently that we often lose a few important points about it.

The first is that in the summation of the Great Commandment, love of God comes first - love of neighbour and self is a consequence and way of working out of that first love, and must never become a substitute for it.

Healthy love of self

Secondly, we are also instructed to love ourselves. That's important and in a sense another corollary of love of God.

If we love God totally, we will want to be with him forever. So we have to care about our own salvation.

That requires us to respect the greatest gift of all that God has given us, namely that of our life, and seek to use it to do his will.

Scripture reminds us to seek the kingdom of heaven first, and then all other things will be added to us.

Our family, friends and Christian community come first

The third point is that while love of neighbour can and should embrace the whole world, the Latin literally suggests those next to us.

Indeed, the form of love of neighbour St. Benedict gives most time to in his Rule is actually concern for others within the small monastic community. That should be an important priority for us too, where our 'community' is our family, our parish community, workplace and friends.

St Benedict's first miracle

In fact, St. Benedict's first recorded miracle was generated by his love of his childhood servant, as St. Gregory relates in Chapter One of the Life:

"Benedict having now given over the school, with a resolute mind to lead his life in the wilderness: his nurse alone, who tenderly loved him, would not by any means give him over.

Coming, therefore, to a place called Enside and remaining there in the church of St. Peter, in the company of other virtuous men, which for charity lived in that place, it fell so out that his nurse borrowed of the neighbors a sieve to make clean wheat, which being left negligently on the table, by chance it was broken in two pieces, Whereupon she fell pitifully weeping, because she had borrowed it.

The devout and religious youth Benedict, seeing his nurse so lamenting, moved with compassion, took away with him both the pieces of the sieve, and with tears fell to his prayers; and after he had done, rising up he found it so whole, that the place could not be seen where before it was broken.

Coming straight to his nurse, and comforting her with good words, he delivered her the sieve safe and sound: which miracle was known to all the inhabitants thereabout, and so much admired, that the townsmen, for a perpetual memory, hanged it up at the church door, to the end that not only men then living, but also their posterity might understand, how greatly God's grace worked with him on his first renouncing of the world. The sieve continued there many years after, even to these very troubles of the Lombards, where it hung over the church door."

Salvation first

That moment of grace though had consequences.  Personally, I've always wondered whether his nurse might have preferred the sieve to have stayed broken given what happened next:

"But Benedict, desiring rather the miseries of the world than the praises of men: rather to be wearied with labor for God's sake, than to be exalted with transitory commendation: fled privately from his nurse, and went into a desert place called Subiaco..."

The saint's love of God and self, his fear for his own salvation, then, transcended his ties to others, at least for a time.

The ways of God are mysterious...

For the next part in this series, click here.

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