A somewhat looser reflection on the Benedictine promise (we don’t call them vows) of stability.
In a previous post on St. Bernard I compared stability to commitment. Here’s a small follow-up.
Fr. Scalia tells a great story about vocations talks he gives. 20 years ago the boys were most concerned with the Girls Question. How could you live without them? That was the anxiety. But now he’s rarely asked that question, or at least it’s not Concern Number 1. Now the primary concern of his audience is, “What if you change your mind?”
I see something similar when I teach the permanence of marriage in the context of St. Thomas and Humanae Vitae. When I describe a lifelong commitment of monogamy they ask if I am trying to scare them off from ever being married. There is a great fear of committing to something.
And now a trivial example of the same. As a Knight of Columbus, I help out as an usher at mass on the weekends. I help with the collection and deposit it in the drop safe in the sacristy. And we have a heck of a time getting a third person to commit to helping us on a weekly basis. There are probably a dozen people on any given Sunday who would (and do) happily agree to help if you walk over and ask. They will go on saying yes every Sunday for as long as they attend mass at that parish. But they will not commit to doing it every Sunday.
I detect a What’s Wrong With the World social force here. The attitude toward commitment is seriously deranged, as if it were heroic. And I pair that thought with what St. Bernard describes in his ladder of humility and pride. As we become self-enclosed and self-absorbed, we lose both the desire and the ability to commit. It becomes an evil to us.
The Rule–which is really just The Gospel–calls us back to the good of commitment by calling us back to the good of living with and for others. Community is not just a buzzword (I hate it when a real good is also a buzzword). It is part of the fulfillment of the human person. The more we live in community, the more we take stability as a good.
If it were easy, monks wouldn’t bind themselves with promises (or married couples with vows).