…with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
– RB 4.1
become a stranger to how those who do not love God act
do not collude with evil
give up on your accomplishments
God is in charge
listen to holy readings
refuse to act on your bodily desires
do not desire holy status
Pray excuse me: I have a family, I own investments, I have business dealings.
– Luke 14:20
In forming a genuine community commitment is important. RB 1-3 has emphasized the manner in which that is structured in genuine Benedictine common life. But the actions by which we to do that – the concrete actions that bring that about in the life of real people in daily life – are found in RB 4. And headlining it all is one’s total, absolute, overwhelming, all consuming love for God, to the detriment of everything else.
Down through the ages there are plenty of people who profess to love God. The unfortunate history of the church, however shows that there are infinitely more people who are willing to talk about loving God, than who actually love God. Rationalist lip-service of faith is far more prominent and apparent, just as is the partial or momentary love that people may find or practise toward God. But all-consuming love – that engenders genuine love – is notably absent. Today it appears that Christians are more convinced than ever that they can live their own lives and love God too. But love as an add-on is not love.
Loving God is only proven by denying your self, which means that no vestige of what you want out of life is left. Loving God is recognizing that the ego with which the world uniformly works will compromise at best, and fully do in at worst your best efforts to be single-minded in following Christ. Loving God means refusing to collude with the willfulness that others use to confuse and destroy you, one another, the earth, and the church. Loving God means not considering your accomplishments to be of any real value to yourself. Loving God means acting on the fact that God is the ultimate actor in life. Loving God means that you will be held accountable to how you lived out this relationship to love some day. Loving God means a willfulness to become educated as to how others have done this in the past as well as an eagerness to live these words out liturgically today, both in formal worship and in the natural world. Loving God means to recognize and step away from and beyond the things that gratify your senses of pleasure. Loving God means to live in a fashion that does not call attention to your love for God.
But something is amiss. Throughout history people who profess to follow Christ: 1- assert themselves, 2 – align God’s will with their own will and not vice versa, 3 – collude with destruction, 4 – are infatuated with their accomplishments, 5 – are impatient to carry out their own plans, 6 – refuse to learn from the lives of Christians throughout the ages, 7 – are addicted to self-gratification, and 8 – are convinced that everyone else should be just like themselves.
[t]he workshop where we should work hard at all these things is the dedicated place of the common life.
– RB 4:78
It is in living a committed, common life (the cenobium) that those who love God fully become catechized, not otherwise, not elsewhere. This is what Benedict wrote the Rule for.
Jesus told a story about people who were compromised in their love for God. Their egos manifest themselves in their actions, in their desires for family and business and personal pleasure. They were each convinced that they loved God and that these ego-manifestations were actually gifts from God, but their actions showed up the fact that their actions were simply reflections of their self-love, rather than their God-love. The worst part of fooling ourselves in this fashion is that people never figure out how the actual love of God – their love for God and God’s love for them – is so superior to any of these other trinkets of self-love that they believe are so critical to their identity and sense of self-worth. Jesus’ parables of the lost coin and the treasure in the field go right to the heart of this tragedy.
In the first twenty years of our marriage we moved thirteen times, all because of our single-minded love for God. Throughout that time we served the church and only once (for two years) did we live above the poverty line. We do indeed love one another, my wife and I, and our children were born out of our love for one another. But our mutual love for God dwarfs our love for one another and makes it relative and even inconsequential. If we love and serve one another we do so out of our respective loves for God. Consequently, what we own means nothing to us; we have repeatedly sold everything we had, given the proceeds to the poor and moved on time and again. Now we live in a shed, talk the language of compassion, grow food for the hungry, and are the happiest that we have ever been…deeply and fully in love with God.
It is no oversimplification to state that the failure of the church in all times and places grows from the inability to be able to do one one thing and one thing alone which Benedict calls on those living in genuine Christian community to do, namely, to first of all love God single-mindedly and fully.