A Homily for the Feast of St. Benedict

A homily by Abbot James Albers

I was talking with Prior Gabriel and Br. Leven this morning at our weekly staff meeting about writing a homily for this Mass.

We all decided that I should just reread the second reading we heard at Vigils by St. Peter Damian, because he said it better than probably any of us could say here today.
Stopping short of that, I want to pull one idea from his words for our consideration.
St. Peter Damian writes, referring to our gospel this evening, “See, Peter says, we have left everything.  That means not only worldly possessions but also our own heart’s desires.  Even if one keeps back only oneself one has not abandoned everything.  In fact, it is useless to relinquish other things if one does not relinquish oneself, for the self is our heaviest burden.  What tyrant is more cruel, what ruler more oppressive than a person’s own self-will?  Both possessions and self-will must be given up if we would follow him who had nowhere to lay his head, and who came not to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him.”

It is important to understand that denying self is not the same as self-denial. The ultimate purpose of self-denial is self-glorification; we work to improve ourselves in some way.

The ultimate purpose of denying self is to glorify God.

Jesus, in our gospel, and St. Benedict, in his Rule, are talking about denying ourselves in the essential battle of life. The scramble for the throne, the struggle over who is going to be God.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to enter into this battle, he has already won it. He occupies the throne and graciously offers to share it with us.  When we deny ourselves that which was never meant to be ours – the role of being God in our lives – it is then that we are at peace with God, with ourselves, and it is then that we become truly free.

In the same vein that Peter asks in our gospel this evening – “Lord, what will there be for us?” – so our holy father, St. Benedict, asks, “Who will dwell in your tent, Lord; who will find rest upon your holy mountain?  …One who walks without blemish, he says, and is just in all his dealings; who speaks the truth from his heart and has not practiced deceit with his tongue; who has not wronged a fellowman in any way, nor listened to slanders against his neighbor… While these temptations were still young, he caught hold of them and dashed them against Christ.  These people fear the Lord, and do not become elated over their good deeds; they judge it is the Lord’s power, not their own, that brings about the good in them.”

It is by the Lord’s power, by the grace of the Cross of Christ, that we are able to give up everything and anything, to give up even our own self will so that we are able to follow Christ.
It is for the sake of God’s name that we make this offering, and through this offering we are given the freedom to prefer nothing whatever to Christ, that he might “bring us all together to everlasting life.”