Saturday, August 10, 2013



I’m presently enjoying teaching a course to sophomores and juniors entitled “The Wisdom of Saint
Benedict.” I decided to try to make it as relevant to the students’ lives as possible by challenging them to reflect on the various topics and apply them to their own lives.

I have them read a chapter from St. Benedict – Hero of the Hills by Mary Fabyan Windeatt (1958), and then comment on various passages using what is called a “double entry journal.” The journal, coupled with a few handouts, has drawn the students out on the topics of materialism, community and obedience and gotten many of them to deepen their self-understanding.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised and encouraged by their responses. Many of them show that they have a very sensitive inner moral compass that points to beliefs such as “It is better to be generous to others than selfish.” Given the culture in which these kids are immersed, I marvel at how they manage to hold on to any moral principles. But it makes me glad that I decided to teach the course this way.

Confucius (d. 479 B.C.)
Confucius is credited with saying: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Does this reflecting about wisdom translate into wise behavior? That question is at least as old as Socrates who pondered the teachability of virtue. But I hope that the kids are at least developing a framework for moral decisions, and a way of seeing the world that will guide them through whatever important decisions and troubled times may be ahead in their lives.

In my own experience, though, it’s not the momentous decisions that are the most morally challenging but the little everyday ones. In our search for happiness we receive from our hedonistic narcissistic culture hundreds of conflicting messages and competing claims that all promise happiness.

Studying the wisdom of St. Benedict gives us a chance to question those often unquestioned assumptions, to challenge those seldom challenged principles that drive our culture. Take the lesson in the gospel reading for August 10, the feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr:

The one who is prepared to let go...
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. (Jn 12:24-25)
In his commentary on this passage Francis Moloney, S.D.B. paraphrases this passage powerfully: “The one who is prepared to let go, to ‘hate his life,’ has eternal life: a totally satisfying life both here and hereafter.” (Sacra Pagina vol.4, p.353)  


The idea that struck me was “a totally satisfying life here.” It made me see that  although I have no problem believing that Jesus can and will give me a totally satisfying existence in heaven, I sometimes act as if I’m not so sure about His ability to give me “a totally satisfying life here.” I find myself
I bet  I'm missing one supplement.
sneaking an occasional “supplement” to make my earthly life more satisfying while on the way to eternal life. These supplements are well-known and readily available: possessions, power, prestige and pleasure.  

I read an article recently about a book in which a doctor questions the efficacy of just about every nutritional supplement on the market; he has tested them and found them wanting. This is what the gospel has done relative to those earthly supplements that promise “a totally satisfying life here on earth.”

Maybe what I should pray for for my students and myself is the courage to trust Jesus who says that the world’s supplements are not only hollow but harmful, and that if we simply let go of them and follow Him our lives will actually be totally satisfying right now.
Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies...


No comments:

Post a Comment