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Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Speak Good"

In my latter years I have come to appreciate etymology more. I find it fascinating to see the parts of words combined into a hidden meaning. The root bene means good. We see it in benefit. Spanish bueno and French bon are also related. The root dict found in dictation or dictionary has to do with speaking words. So benedict means to say good words, to speak good, to bless. It is Latin based and parallels another English word which is Greek based, eu-logize (once again good+words). To speak good is to bless. In a world with so many words it is easy to forget the power of words and the mystical power of cursing and blessing.

Benedict is a name. The recently retired pope took that name. The most famous Benedict is Benedict of Nursia. He is called the father of (western) monasticism and the patron of Europe. Living in the time just prior to the fall of Rome, Benedict was part of a larger group of disgruntled Christians who had difficulty living in the post-Constantine world of the church. Prior to the official acceptance of Christianity, for three centuries the followers of Jesus had not had an easy time of it. Their belief that God had become man, and in and through this man, Jesus, had reconciled the world to Himself, put them at odds with their pagan neighbors. Such a story was thought to be pretty far fetched. Christians engaged in practices which ran counter to the prevailing culture. Their treatment of the poor and needy was suspect. Their secretive gatherings (and the canibalistic talk of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking His blood) were a source of grave concern. The steadfast refusal to worship the Caesar and the Roman gods and pay sufficient honor to the state branded them as atheists and traitors. As is always the case, suspect people are usually marginalized and often brutalized. Throughout her early history the church knew difficulties and periodic persecutions. Martyrs (literally witnesses) were an infrequent for stunning reminder that following (the crucified) Jesus was a serious business.

With the social acceptance of Christianity, faith of a watered down variety became the norm. We still see it in our midst today. Baptism may be called "death into Christ" but for most of us it is a rite of passage which is no more dangerous than an evening shower. And, too often, not much more meaningful.

Benedict was part of an attempt to be free of the corrupted church in a corrupted society. In fleeing the "world" these men and women sought to construct more faithful Christian lives, modeled after the earliest church which followed Jesus. Benedict, borrowing liberally from the insights of John Cassian as well as other documents, wrote a rule to govern the communal life of these committed Christians. Creating small cadres of serious Jesus followers sharing a common life of prayer, the rule intended to provide a context for discipleship. It is the monastic movement which provided for the preservation of ancient texts and most of the successful missionary efforts into the middle ages. Monastics, committed to glorify God through their prayer and work, were the first scientists, the most frequent teachers and the disciplined cultivators which fed Europe spiritually, intellectually and physically. Were there problems and abuses? No doubt, what human enterprise is free of such things? Yet the stunning truth is that the men and women who adopted Benedict's rule and tried to live the Christian life in simplicity, faithfulness and loving community, are in fact the primary reason we know much of anything of the ancient world.

In my reading I have also come to a deeper insight into the centrality of Benedictine Spirituality at the heart and core of Anglicanism. Whatever her flaws, the Anglican church embodies much of the wisdom of Benedict and is, therefore, capable of doing great good. As we stand before a new age of religious decline and hostility to Christianity, I am convinced that the Jesus-followers of today would do well to be schooled in Benedict's insights into discipleship. I have long tried to fashion my own parish under the insights of Benedict (I was seminary trained at St. Meinrad monastary, so it comes naturally). A community which focuse on worship as it prays, studies and works is certainly a parish on the right track. I thank God for the "blessing" of Benedict. I hope speaking good of him will be a blessing for others seeking a trustworthy guide on the journey of faith!

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