This weekend Br. Cassian asked me to give a talk on the working of the Holy Spirit in the world and evil. Since my world for almost 50 years has been living in a monastic world, that was the only world I could speak on. Below are some thoughts on the subject.
Monastic life and the Holy Spirit
(the struggle with evil)
The Good Zeal Of Monks (The Rule Of St. Benedict – Chapter 72)
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life
When thinking about evil in the world along with the influence of the Holy Spirit it can bring forth many of my own struggles that comes from living any sort of life with others. For any community can be considered the world in miniature with the same problems that seem to plague mankind.
The rule is there too, first of all, show that entering Monastic life is just the beginning of a life long journey with the struggle with self. If that struggle is not taken on with a certain level of fervor, then, for the most part, the desire for balance and peace will be spent in fighting everyone else, from the Abbot down to the youngest novice. It is not a very pleasant way to live, yet some do live that out in their lives in varying degrees. Left to ourselves, with only one’s resources, the central theme of life can be power and domination over others.
This can lead to false zeal, gossip, political intrigue, etc. It is contrary to what the Holy Spirit is seeking to teach us.
The flesh wants to be in control rather than to have to trust in God. Hence it sets up its own observance, under its own control. And when it has met its own demands it declares itself to be righteous. Because the flesh hates being told what to do, it takes God’s Law and makes it “manageable” based on its own terms. For example, if I’m supposed to love, I’ll limit it to my family or countrymen; I’m “allowed” to hate my enemy. Jesus says that we must love our enemy. The flesh recoils at this because unless the Law is manageable and within its own power to accomplish, the Law cannot be controlled. The flesh trusts only in its own power. The Pharisees were “self-righteous.” That is to say, they believed in a righteousness that they themselves brought about through the power of their own flesh. But the Law and flesh cannot save; only Jesus Christ can save. The flesh refuses this and wants to control the outcome based on its own power and terms. Msgr. Charles Pope
You could say that our past can drive us mercilessly, allowing no rest. To seek to control others is a battle that will never cease. This can be seen in the world, in the news that we read every day. People rebel against any kind of external control. Even if it is to the detriment of the overall culture.
Instead of the “Will to Power”, we are called to mutual obedience. Or to put in in the words of Jesus: “The greatest among you is the servant of all”. It goes contrary to how we normally operate.
The questions is: How do I live with others and not descend into bitterness, gossip, and the desire to control the world around me so that I can simply live my life in peace. How easy or difficult that is depends on one’s past, temperament, as well as the unique that we all received care and input when young. Deep conversion which is a long process is needed to break free of the chains that bind us from our past.
In the monastic life, what keeps the monks from living in harmony, loving one another, be obedient to one another, and serving one another? To the extent that this is not done, leads to the misery of the monk, as well as harm inflicted on the community if it gets serious enough. The rule states that this can be an ongoing issue in Monastic life, as well as I would imagine in community life everywhere.
In the fifth chapter of Galatians, it states:
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, a,nd the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
A realistic look at the human situation is not hard to acquire, as long as we bring ourselves into the equation as well. It is possible to get lost in self-righteous indignation, and in the process fail to see what is in our own lives that need conversion that also adds to the evil that is in the world.—Br.MD