1The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, 2which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. 3Because of the holy service they have professed, or because of dread of hell and for the glory of everlasting life, 4they carry out the superior’s order as promptly as if the command came from God himself.
5The Lord says of men like this: No sooner did he hear than he obeyed me (Ps 17:45); 6again, he tells teachers: Whoever listens to you, listens to me (Luke 10:16). 7 Such people as these immediately put aside their own concerns, abandon their own will, 8and lay down whatever they have in hand, leaving it unfinished. With the ready step of obedience, they follow the voice of authority in their actions.
9Almost at the same moment, then, as the master gives the instruction the disciple quickly puts it into practice in the fear of God; and both actions together are swiftly completed as one.
10It is love that impels them to pursue everlasting life; 11therefore, they are eager to take the narrow road of which the Lord says: Narrow is the road that leads to life (Matt 7:14).
12They no longer live by their own judgment, giving in to their whims and appetites; rather they walk according to another’s decisions and directions, choosing to live in monasteries and to have an abbot over them.
13Men of this resolve unquestionably conform to the saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38).
In this Chapter Saint Benedict tells us that the first step of humility is unhesitating obedience. In Chapter Seven of the Rule, Saint Benedict tells us that the first step of humility is fear of God. RB 1980 takes up this contradiction and used the commentary of Fr. Adalbert de Vögue to give some solution to it.
This intellectual understanding is necessary for us monks at time, even though the point of the present type of commentary is to try to understand the spiritual implications of the Rule of Benedict in our daily lives.
Obedience is not easy, but it is possible and is a traditional monastic way for the monk to purify his own will.
So often we think that our thoughts and our decisions are the center of the universe. Obedience soon helps the monk to realize that there are many ways of thinking. Sometimes when we are young, we think that obedience is really impossible.
As we grow older in the monastic life, we can find that obedience is a wonderful gift for us to deepen our interior life. Walking according to the decisions and directions of another person is meant to challenge us. We can live obedience in very bad ways—being completely obedient externally.
We can also live obedience in a wonderfully enriching way and begin to grow and mature in the spiritual life. Even while recognizing that no superior can ask of me what is immoral, we can come to trust our immediate superiors and give ourselves wholeheartedly to deep obedience.
This obedience demands of us that we tell our superiors if we are convinced that what we are being asked to do really won't accomplish what the superior wants.
Yet, along with Saint Benedict, we recognize that if the superior still tells us to do what was asked, then we do it—wholeheartedly and with all our strength.
This will not be easy for us, but as we begin to practice it, our monastic life changes. Again, if we are convinced it is not right, we speak to the superior. If the superior still asks us to do it, then we do it with all the energy of our being and God begins to change us. Let us ask for this deep grace of obedience today!
14This very obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliance with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness.
15 For the obedience shown to superiors is given to God, as he himself said: Whoever listens to you, listens to me (Luke 10:16). 16Furthermore, the disciples’ obedience must be given gladly, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7).
17If a disciple obeys grudgingly and grumbles, not only aloud but also in his heart, 18then, even though he carries out the order, his action will not be accepted with favor by God, who sees that he is grumbling in his heart. 19He will have no reward for service of this kind; on the contrary, he will incur punishment for grumbling, unless he changes for the better and makes amends.
Saint Benedict continues his teaching on obedience by reminding us that any obedience that is sluggish, half-hearted, grumbling or unwilling really is not obedience.
At times, perhaps most of us grumble about obedience, but here, in this Chapter of the Rule, we are invited to recognize that this grumbling really makes true obedience impossible.
When we grumble, we may do what has been asked of us, but without giving our whole energy to it. For real obedience, we must accept the word of the superior as God's word and respond whole-heartedly.
Saint Benedict is very, very strong against grumbling throughout the whole Rule. Grumbling destroys communities because the energies of the individual monk is no longer being given to the seeking of God.
Instead that energy becomes focused on one's own desires and hopes. Instead of being willing to accept what is difficult and to see the difficulty as God-given, the monk begins to spend his life looking for what is easy and for ways to avoid what is difficult.
This is easy to see in some situations. When a monk is asked to be bell-ringer, for instance, and can sense his own resentment and then begins to act on his own resentment, the use of his inner energies is diverted.
This same kind of response happens, however, when a monk loses his inner peace because the observance of others is not as good as it should be. Always when our inner energies turn away from looking for God, we lose the focus of our lives and live in a way that is not the way of the monk.
From this part of the Chapter on Obedience, may we learn to focus all of our energies on seeking the Lord and responding whole-heartedly to His holy will.
Once again we should recognize that each of us has a right to tell our superior that what is asked is difficult and perhaps even seems impossible. But if we are still asked to do it, we should do it with our whole heart and soul, with no resentment and no holding back!