Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Rule of St Benedict for families

The following post includes excerpts from Listen My Son - St Benedict for Fathers, by Dwight Longenecker.

On this feast day of St Benedict, it is good for us to reflect on his Rule.  The sixth-century Rule of St Benedict is a code written for the foundation and maintenance of a Christian monastery.  It has been in use for the last fifteen hundred years as the basis for every Benedictine monastery and convent and for many other religious orders.  Benedict’s Rule is full of practical wisdom and principles of human relationship which can be applied to almost any situation where people work together. 

Benedict calls us to make an act of the will – to make a decision to follow the path of God’s commandments.   Throughout the Rule, the three Benedictine vows of Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life provide a driving force.  Benedict sees spiritual maturity as something which is the product of a certain type of life.  It can be accomplished only through a lifetime of wholeness.  This wholeness consists of finding our proper place in the world and giving glory to God by finding our peace in His will.  Once of the ways to find this place of simplicity and wholeness is by pursuing stability of life.

The emphasis on stability is vital in our personal lives and in our Christian homes.  In a fast-changing world where mobility is taken for granted, it is all too easy to move house, church, or job simply because we are bored or restless and think things will be better somewhere else.    

Christian husbands and wives are forced into stability by their marriage vows and by the need to provide this stability for their family.  We can either rebel against these enforced enclosures or we can see them as the crucible of our own spiritual refinement.  The constraints of family life can either be the chains that bind us or the force of stability which gives us true freedom.  Stability reminds us that we may run away from others, but we cannot run away from ourselves.

Obedience is the second of the Benedictine vows.  If we take our marriage vows seriously, then we have the basis for a life of obedience.  Obedience is being in a constant attitude of self-sacrificial love towards our spouse and our children.  The family life demands a regular sacrifice of our will and our desire to the good of others.  Benedict never pretends that obedience is easy.  Of the three vows, this is perhaps the most difficult one to attain on our own. 

The last Benedictine vow is a vow of conversion of life.  One of the ways to prepare for and co-operate with this conversion is to develop a constant awareness of God’s presence.  Throughout the Rule, Benedict reminds the monks to be awake, to be alert, and watchful for the Lord’s presence.  This watchful awareness of God is a humble state of dependence on the heavenly Father.  To nurture this awareness of God is to nurture our humility because an awareness of God reveals our own frail condition.  We are called by our baptism to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.  We are called to cooperate with God’s grace and to prepare the ground for that work which he is pleased to do within us.  The demands of our marriage and family life are more than enough to lead us to that total conversion which God provides through Jesus Christ.

Today, on the feast of St Benedict, let us give thanks for this great saint and for his Rule.  And let us pray for stability, for obedience, and for conversion of life especially in our marriages and in our families.      

Monday, July 11, 2011

Homily from Jeff and Heather's wedding

Last Saturday, I presided at the wedding of Jeff LIndsey and Heather Sanders.  It was the first wedding for me as a deacon.  It was a scary but blessed time for me.  This was the homily that I gave at the wedding.
I find it very rewarding, as a fairly new deacon, is to be on the altar during mass.  As I look out into the congregation on a Sunday, I see so many couples, especially young couples, like Jeff and Heather.  Often, I know their stories, since I have been a member of this parish for many years.  I marvel that we at St Francis De Sales, have so many good young families.  It may create a lot of noise at the 11 o’clock mass on Sunday, but this noise is very joyful.  I am very happy to have been part of Jeff and Heather’s life.  I look forward to looking seeing them at 11 o’clock mass on Sunday for many, many years.  Also, I am excited to be baptizing Dimitri at 12:30 tomorrow.

A few months ago, I met with them to select the readings for today.  After they selected the first reading, which is from the book of Tobit, I told them the story of Tobiah and Sarah prior to their wedding night.  In this reading, we hear the prayer that Sarah and Tobiah said on their wedding night which is a fitting prayer to read during a marriage.  But, it can have much more meaning for us, if we understand the circumstances under which Sarah and Tobiah were praying that night.  So, I will briefly summarize the events which led up to this prayer. 

Tobiah’s father Tobit was blinded and had cataracts on his eyes.  Tobit had deposited a great sum of money in Media and he asked his son Tobiah to travel to Media and collect this money.  Tobiah didn’t know the way there so he looked for someone who could travel with him.  He found Raphael to go with him.  Raphael was an angel but Tobiah wasn’t aware of this.

Along the way, Tobiah and Raphael made camp beside a river and a large fish leaped out of the water and tried to swallow Tobiah’s foot.  Raphael told Tobiah to take hold of the fish, to cut it up and take out the gall, heart, and liver since these were useful medicines.  Then, they broiled and ate the rest of the fish.

When they arrived at Media, Raphael told Tobiah that they must stay with Raguel, a relative.  Raguel had a daughter named Sarah who Tobiah was entitled to marry and who was sensible, courageous, and very beautiful.  But, Tobiah objected because he had heard that Sarah had been married seven times and that each time her husband had died on the wedding night in the bridal chambers.  Raphael told him to burn the fish’s liver and heart in the bridal chamber.  Then, the demon would smell the odor and leave.

So, Tobiah, went to Raguel’s house and claimed Sarah as his bride.  Sarah’s father Raguel and his wife  gave Sarah in marriage to Tobiah.  After eating and drinking, Tobiah and Sarah retired into the wedding chamber.  Once there, Tobiah burned the fish’s liver and heart as Raphael had instructed.  This repelled the demon.  Then, Tobiah and Sarah began to pray the wedding prayer in our first reading.  Clearly, they had reason to praise God as they prayed that God would allow them to live together to a happy old age.

During the night, Sarah’s father, summoned some servants to dig a grave for Tobiah.  He didn’t want to be subject to ridicule if Tobiah should die during the night.  In the morning, he sent one of the maids into the wedding chamber to see if Tobiah was alive or dead.  When she told him that Tobiah was alive, Raguel prayed: “Blessed are you who have made me glad, what I feared did not happen.”  Then he told the servants to fill in the grave.

What lessons can this story teach us about marriage?  First, it teaches us about the importance of prayer.  It is very important for all married couples to pray and especially to pray together as a couple.  Marriages and families today are under attack.  It is very difficult for couples to stay married and to live their marriage as God intended them to.   Almost all of the messages that married couples get from our society tend to divide them instead of encouraging and helping them as a couple.  Without God’s grace and without regular prayer, a successful, life-long marriage can seem almost impossible.

Secondly, this story tells us the importance of following God’s will and his Church’s direction for our lives and for our marriage, even when we don’t fully understand why we need to do what the Church is telling us.  As He told us in the Our Father, it’s all about building His Kingdom and doing His will.  If we try to follow our will, in the end, we will often be disappointed with the results.  Imagine if Tobiah had decided that the smell of the burning fish would be too much for the wedding chamber and decided to skip burning it.  Clearly, he would have been buried in the grave that Raguel had dug. 

Finally, this story tells us how important it is to bring God into our marriage.  Marriage is much more than a legal contract between two persons.  Marriage is a covenant between husband, wife, and God.  In a few minutes, Jeff and Heather will declare their love for each other before all of us and before God.  They will declare that their love will be forever, that it will be fruitful, that they will be faithful to each other, and that it will be total and exclusive.  This covenant mirrors the love that Jesus has for all of us.  And, through his grace and through the grace of his sacraments, he will help Jeff and Heather along the difficult but rewarding journey of married life.

In our marriages, God asks us to pray, to follow his will, to bring him into our life and even into our bedroom and to sacrifice.  When we do this, we become members of his kingdom on earth as we build this kingdom and join others who are also following his will.  This brings peace, joy and happiness to our marriages, to our families and to society. 

Earlier I mentioned about the many young families that I see each week at mass.  These mothers and fathers are an inspiration to me as I see the joy, peace and happiness in their families. Clearly, they are living God’s will and are building his kingdom on earth through the everyday struggles in their families.  Today, Jeff and Heather are a inspiration for all of us here.  By their love and their commitment to their marriage covenant, they renew our faith in marriage and in family. 

So today, let us give thanks for the gift of marriage and for Jeff and Heather.  And let us pray that they like Sara and Tobiah will follow God’s will and will be rewarded with a long and fruitful marriage.