Thoughts for Reflection from Benedictine & Monastic Authors

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2013 August 20 - Self-Will as the Enemy of Spiritual Growth

The choice of individual mortification can sometimes be spoiled by inappropriate motivation and self-will. Very often people will be attracted to practices that reinforce their vices rather than neutralize them. One who is overly taciturn will aim at becoming even more silent, and another who has anorexic tendencies may manifest a zest for fasting. Choosing exactly the wrong means is a proclivity well chronicled in Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule. This is why Benedict does not want his monks to burden themselves with extra practices during Lent unless they first check matters out with the spiritual father (49:8-10). To the incurable individualist, self-denial is no longer much fun if everybody is doing it. In addition, control of the exercise passes out of one’s own hands. My experience in some communities would lead me to conclude that it can be more penitential to eat the common meal than to abstain. Certainly this was often the case in twelfth-century Cistercian monasteries where miracles were sometimes necessary to make the food digestible. If the great enemy to spiritual growth is self-will, then the most effective means of progress is to curtail its exercise. Following the common norm in all things without murmuring or self-inflation is probably one of the best means of doing this. (pages 19-20)

Strangers to the City: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict
by Michael Casey, OSCO