In the School of the Lord's Service

May 18, 2020
In the School of the Lord's Service

Chapter talk – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020, cycle-A

“Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him” (Jn14:21). Christ is made visible when we ‘receive and keep’ the commandments that he has given. And at the heart of Jesus’ commandments is love. He tells us this is the greatest commandment: to love God with the whole of our lives and the ‘second’ which is not separate from the first, ‘to love our neighbor as our self’. To love Christ is to keep his commandments and in keeping his commandments we will know more deeply God’s love and with this Christ will be revealed, meaning he will be more known to us…more known to us in an incarnate way.

To repeat: In loving, in showing mercy and compassion, the Divine face is revealed. Pope Francis comments on this gospel and speaks about the process of loving. He says: “Even for a Christian, knowing how to love is never a thing acquired once and for all. We must begin anew every day. We must practice it so that our love for the brothers and sisters we encounter may become mature and purified from those limitations or sins that render it incomplete, egotistical, sterile, and unfaithful. We have to learn the art of loving every day. Listen to this: every day we must learn the art of loving; every day we must patiently follow the school of Christ. Every day we must forgive and look to Jesus and do this with the help of this “Advocate”, of this Counsellor whom Jesus has sent to us that is the Holy Spirit” (Regina Coeli, May 21, 2017).

As monastics, in the Rule of St. Benedict, we are learners in the ‘school of the Lord’s service’. Pope Francis uses the expression the ‘school of Christ’; Bernard of Clairvaux calls it the ‘school of love, ‘schola caritatis’. In this school, ‘the art of loving’ is what we are called to learn, in mind and heart, day by day. What it means practically, is that this learning will surely ask for our conversion. Conversion will mean that our heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh in specific situations of conflict and hurt, in situations where we do not lead with mercy but with critical judgements. It means, even if we feel ‘right’ or ‘justified’ in a situation of conflict, we still are to step back and look at our heart: what is circulating around my heart? Mercy? Self-righteousness? In this school of Christ, in this school of love, mercy is to lead and is to have the last word.

In many ways the words of Pope Francis go straight to the heart of monastic life. On Tuesday we will begin reading from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4 on the “Tools of Good Works”. And what is the first tool that begins Chapter 4? It is the ‘double commandment’: “First of all, love God, the Lord, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength; then love your neighbor as yourself” (Tools of Good Works to the Heart of Humility, p.4). Here is Sr. Aquinata Bockmann’s commentary on this first tool: “This tool is quite radical; there are three repetitions, as in the Bible: ‘with all your’ (totus). Since God loves us radically and infinitely, we cannot but answer radically and completely. Partial love is not commensurate with God’s love. This is an impossible commandment if we focus only on our ourselves. Yet God loves us with boundless love first and thus prompts a radical response” (p.7). There it is: the path is laid out for us: no ‘partial’ loving…our love is to be total, mirroring the love God has for us, that God gives to us unconditionally. We are given the means to do this. We are not left orphans in loving. Jesus in this gospel account leaves us the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:16). This, our Advocate, reveals God’s love for us…a love we are to receive, a love we are to ‘walk in’…a walk that is not ‘partial’ in loving…a love that is total…and it will only be ‘total’ if we first receive….receive fully the love of God that is always hovering upon the shores of our lives.

From the second letter of John, verse 3, it is written: “In our life of truth and love, we shall have grace, mercy and peace from God…” And these words, also from the Jerusalem Bible translation, verse 6: “To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have received from the beginning, to live a life of love”. From the New Revised Standard translation of this same verse 6: “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.” These excerpts from Scripture are practical and they bring us right back into the ‘monastic school’ where we are learning the ‘art of love’.

This monastic school centers on orthopraxy….practice…daily living the commandment to love…to walk in it…to be imbued with it, to not forget that we have the Spirit, this Advocate of Truth, which is the revelation of Christ and through Christ, the revelation of God’s love.

I conclude with these words from Pope Francis: “So, love introduces us to the knowledge of Jesus, thanks to the action of this “Advocate” that Jesus sent, that is, the Holy Spirit” (Regina Coeli, May 21, 2017).

Sr.  Kathy DeVico, Abbess

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