April 5, 2020
Blessed Palm Sunday to you all! I’ve heard it said that “this is the Lentiest Lent that I’ve ever Lented”! How true! No one planned for this! As we begin Holy Week 2020, I’d like to share a short reflection on how we might respond to the coronavirus pandemic from a Benedictine perspective.
St. Benedict calls us to live a balance of prayer and work, Ora et Labora. What many of us took for granted: the ability to pray with others in the same room, chapel or church, is now not only unfeasible but not an option for an undetermined time. We can continue praying at home, with or without words. In Romans 8:26, we are told that “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. “ Even simply sitting still and feeling the emotions as they come and not restricting them is a prayer, and we lift these concerns up to God. For Benedict, the Psalms were a vital part of the monk’s daily prayer. Perhaps we can find a Psalm that expresses just what we are feeling this day, and read it over and over, letting the words soak into our souls. This is Lectio Divina, and a pandemic may be the best time to revisit this ancient practice; through it, we invite God to show us a response to our challenges.
For many, the work or “Labora” part has also changed greatly. Reacting to ever-changing circumstances can leave us tired, confused and overwhelmed. And yet we have adapted! We are called to be open to new opportunities to help each other in new ways besides employment: perhaps by running errands for the elderly or sewing masks for patients and health care workers, sending cards and letters, and talking by phone with those we love. Let us not forget that humans are hard-wired for connection, and intentionally checking in with each other has significantly more meaning than before, as we do not regularly see each other like we used to.
For many, the uncertainty of how to find balance in our lives is ongoing. We are still adjusting to new but healthy restrictions, and it’s important for us to be gentle with ourselves as we navigate this new way of living. This time is so new, scary, and it has made each of us stop our usual ways of living; let us keep each other in prayer as we move forward in this time.
Within our assigned reading from “The Road to Eternal Life”, Michael Casey shares some helpful insights. In chapter 45, Casey reminds us that the word discipline means “to learn”, and is a sign of willingness to enter into a process of learning. In this pandemic, we are certainly learning many new and important concepts to integrate into our daily lives. Casey says that “one who follows the way of St Benedict is one who is prepared to be a disciple, a learner in the school of Christ.” He says that Christ is the main teacher, but in the world, there are other teachers—our leaders in all levels who make difficult decisions after weighing options for the health of all; our businesses and neighbors who are creatively responding as well. Benedict says that the monastery is “the school where we are trained in the service of Christ”. We are to take our part, to serve one another in humility, to learn to live in love. Right now, the best way to serve others is to be physically apart from one another. Humans are social; we are hard-wired to connect with others, especially through eye contact and physical touch. St Benedict knew human nature! Casey comments in Chapter 46: “and so we go through life learning to be stretched by the situations in which we find ourselves. We never become spectacularly proficient in any virtue, but gradually, by using all the various tools of good work, we are changed and grace more often has its way with us. St Benedict, the patron saint of moderation, wishes to prescribe nothing harsh or heavy because he knows that it is by small increments of fidelity in the everyday virtues that we make the most progress along the road that leads to eternal life.” If you recall, Chapter 4 in the Rule is the chapter on the tools for good works. I invite each of you this Holy Week to take time for quiet, without distractions, and reflect on how you might support the various communities you are a part of, including this Oblate community and the sisters at Sacred Heart. How can you make the burden less for others?
Thank you, and may you have a Blessed Easter!
Lead Dean of the Benedictine Oblates of Nebraska, Carol Olson