A Homily for St. Benedict’s Day – July 14, 2013
The Gospel for St. Benedict’s Day tells us to count the cost. Jesus tells his disciples, Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost? … You cannot become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14:27f)
St. Benedict’s Rule tells members of the community to share everything. Benedict looked to the earliest Christians for his guide to community life: All things should be the common possession of all, so no one presumes to call anything his own; distribution was made to each one as he had need. (Acts 4:32f)
In her book, Life Abundant, theologian Sallie McFague tells us love without economics is empty rhetoric. She writes, We cannot love the world and everything in it unless we take economics with utter seriousness.
Americans have been taught to see themselves as individuals, each pursuing their own happiness. But what is happiness? (Is it having everything we want? Is it having everything we need? Is it living in peace and justice with our neighbors? Is it living in harmony with God?)
All the great religions say if we want our own happiness, we must also want the good life for others. In our own tradition, Jesus (and Benedict) say we must love God and love our neighbors. Sallie McFague echoes Jesus and St. Benedict when she says we’re not completely separate individuals, but individuals-in-community; that sin is whatever destroys relationships, and discipleship means working for the good of all beings. (Note that McFague doesn’t say anything that Jesus – or Benedict – hadn’t already said: the only thing she adds is that when caring for our neighbors, we must also care for the Earth itself.)
So the pursuit of happiness requires that we think about spirituality, as well as material things. Economics means the production, consumption, and exchange of the goods and services necessary for human life, not just my life. Shifting to Jesus’ economics (or to Benedict’s economics, or to Sallie McFague’s economics) will mean caring for our the whole earth, not just for ourselves.
Shifting to Jesus’ economics will not be easy. Like a man building a tower, we must count the practical costs: will there be enough bricks? Will we have the energy to finish the job? Like a monk joining a monastery, we must count the emotional costs: can I really share everything I have? Can I really put up with the whole community? Can I really live not as a private person, but as an individual-in-community?
Shifting to Jesus’ economics will also require that we expand our understanding of God. We will no longer be able to think of God as distant from the economic marketplace; we will need to think of a God who is close to us, a God who cares about the life of every creature on Earth. This is the God Jesus knew – a God who is as near as the breath, the joy, and the suffering of every creature on Earth.
But we won’t come near to Jesus’ God, the God who cares, unless we learn to care, too. If we decide to follow Jesus on his Way, to join with Benedict in a life of mutual caring, it will cost us time, and energy, and prayer, and money, and even our possessions. The Way of the Cross is not for the faint-hearted; the Way of St. Benedict is not for the self-centered. Our culture’s idea of the good life doesn’t include limitations on ourselves, but Jesus and Benedict call us to a new definition of the good life:
Love is at the heart of the Christian understanding
of God, of life, and even of the marketplace.
Will we decide that such love is worth the cost?