Rule of St. Benedict: Freedom

This is a copy of a short talk I gave to our student body two years ago.  Definitely needs some more work to tie it into the Rule but it was a fun one:

Benedictine Hallmark: Freedom

The Gospel is the greatest force of liberation in the world. The whole point of it is to make us free—free in a very specific sense. And the Rule of St. Benedict is a program for living out that gospel. Even though it doesn’t have a chapter specifically devoted to freedom, or even directly mention the word much, the Rule is a project of freedom.

But again, freedom in a very specific sense. Living the Rule doesn’t free me from paying my taxes or cleaning my gutters. It doesn’t free you from doing your homework, listening to your parents, or having to get a job. Barring an exceptional miracle, living the gospel won’t liberate any of us from the prison of a tyrant. It’s not that those freedoms are bad. They are just not our most pressing problem.

The ultimate slave master is myself, wounded by sin. The things I want are stopping me from wanting the things I want to want. Wounded by sin, I want bad things. I make myself the most important thing in the universe. It’s natural for me to love God more than myself, and it’s natural for me to love my neighbor as myself—but I don’t. I resist it because it feels like the inside of a cage. I can’t love my wife or my children as much as I should, can’t do my job with complete joy and confidence, can’t love and serve God with a whole and undivided heart. I know those things will make me happy and I can’t do them—I can’t even bring myself to WANT them properly. The effect of sin is to make me hate the things that will make me happy. It turns me into my own slave master, and into the worst kind of slave—the slave who doesn’t want to be free. The inside of the cage feels like the outside.

This is what Jesus Christ frees us from. This is why the Rule lays down 70+ chapters of rules on how to be free. Everything about the Rule is aimed at our freedom to serve God with an undivided heart:

  • Pray, often, ALWAYS.
  • Receive the sacraments. Only by supernatural might can we do this thing.
  • Live for others in obedience and humility.
  • Serve others, even when you don’t want to, especially when you don’t want to.

All the hallmarks, obedience, hospitality, love, all the rest, free us. As we are transformed, slowly, almost monotonously, we get better. We stop feeling good things as bad things, or at least we oppose them a little less. The result is one of my favorite antiphons:

“Lightly I run in the way you have shown; for you have opened my heart to receive your law.”

All the runners in here, I hope, have had this experience of “running lightly.” It’s when you stop feeling the weight of your shoes, the drag of your clothes, the ground under your feet, even the resistance of your own body. You are just moving, as if a pure intelligence willing something to be so. Pure movement. It’s an incredible feeling. That’s what the life of grace—the life of the Gospel, of the Rule—is supposed to be like.

“Lightly I run in the way you have shown; for you have opened my heart to receive your law.”

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