Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chapter 4, Part 6: Tools, continued...

 The tools of good works are these

(48) To keep a careful watch over the actions of your life.
(49) To hold as certain that God sees everything.
(50) As soon as evil thoughts come into your heart, to dash them against Christ.
(51) And to reveal those thoughts to a spiritual father.

      Here Saint Benedict gives us tactical advice on how to fight evil.  Monks are spiritual warriors, and we have to be ever on the lookout for a surprise attack.  So we are constantly reevaluating our strategies, watching the movements of the Enemy and keeping a close eye on our own movements as well.  It isn’t easy and it is sometimes frightening, but we can advance with confidence, knowing that Jesus always has our back.  This, however, can also be a little disconcerting because unlike any other commanding officer, Jesus sees everything.  He is aware the moment I let my guard down.  He’s right there when I fall asleep on watch.  The good news is that He’s not so much out to catch me when I do wrong as to catch me when I’m falling.
      Benedict has a really interesting metaphor here for how Jesus helps us fight temptation:  He is the rock upon which we dash our evil thoughts.  This image actually comes from one of the more disturbing verses of the cursing psalms:  “Unhappy Daughter Babylon, you shall be destroyed.  Blessed shall be the one who pays you back for what you have done to us.  Blessed shall be the one who takes your children and smashes them against a rock.”  Literally, the psalmist is asking God to kill his enemy’s children.  Well, we all feel like that from time to time—or most of us do anyway—and it’s good that there’s a prayer for people who feel that way.  But Saint Benedict sees the “children” as temptations and “Babylon” as Satan’s kingdom.  He envisions us dashing these temptations against Christ himself, who stands just to our left on the spiritual battlefield, unflinching and rock-solid.
      Lastly, Benedict makes an appeal for frequent confession.  We have to name these sins out loud because otherwise, we tend to confuse ourselves with rationalizations or scruples.  I’m reminded of a story from a wonderful novel by Graham Greene called “Monsignor Quixote.”  The hero is an eccentric little Spanish priest, and at one point in the story, he discovers that he is being followed by a mysterious man, dressed in black.  Fr. Quixote is frightened.  He is far away from home—surrounded by strangers—and when he finds himself cornered in a restaurant lavatory by this shadowy stranger, he turns to him with all the courage he can muster and asks him what he wants.  “Bless me, Father,” says the man in the dark suit, “I have sinned against the seventh commandment.  I am an undertaker, and I sell brass handles with my coffins that I remove before the burial so I can reuse them.  I’ve suffered under the weight of this sin for many years, but didn’t have the courage to tell my pastor.”  Fr. Quixote turns to him with an exasperated sigh and says:  “The dead don’t care about those brass handles, and the living don’t know any better.  So what makes you think your parish priest will?  Your sin isn’t stealing.  Your sin is pride.  Now say you’re sorry and go home.”
      It’s funny—even “ha ha funny”—how easily and how often we misjudge our own thoughts.  That’s why we must reveal those thoughts to a spiritual father.