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AHC G Section 6 Verses 22 and 28 - Hebrew Catholics

Association of

Hebrew Catholics

New Zealand Branch

Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict

Section 6 Verses 22 and 28

For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we must run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it. But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet, “Lord, who shall dwell in Your tent, or who shall rest upon Your holy mountain?”(Psalm 14 [15]: 1). After this question, brethren, let us listen to the Lord as He answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying, “He who walks without stain and practises justice; he who speaks truth from his heart; he who has not used his tongue for deceit; he who has done no evil to his neighbour; he who has given no place to slander against his neighbour,” (Psalm 14 [15]: 2 —3).

It is he, who, under any temptation from the malicious devil, has brought him to naught by casting him and his temptation from the sight of his heart; and who has laid hold of his thoughts while they were still young and dashed them against Christ.

For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we must run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it.

As mentioned earlier, we are often going to hear St. Benedict, (as well as other great teachers of the spiritual life) urging us to run towards our goal — our true home. This echoes a strong Biblical tradition which the Church has developed, based on both the Old and New Testaments. The Christian religion is, simply put, far too demanding for dawdlers and indecisive individuals who want to reserve time and energy for other favourite pursuits on the way. Pretty tough talking! But Biblical Christianity constantly warns us not to get distracted by the enticements of the atheistic culture around us.

Notice that while St. Benedict urges us frequently to run towards our goal, the whole tone is based on his emphasising that the Christian vocation is an invitation. Do you want to have life? Do you long to dwell in the Lord’s tent? Do you hear the Lord calling you today? He assumes, therefore, that if we have made a choice to follow His calling, then we should focus all our efforts into making a strong and total commitment.

  • In this context his use of the term “good deeds” does not just mean doing good to others. It includes any good response to God, as demonstrated in such actions as:

— expressing gratitude to God;

— giving time to morning and evening worship;

— prayerfully affirming our belief in God during the hurly-burly of everyday life and work;

— as well as all the other good choices and actions of our day-to-day life.

  • But having said that, St. Benedict also draws our attention to the fact that doing “good deeds” to one another should be a normal feature of healthy relationships we have with one another.
  • In fact he reminds us that all these things are necessary if we would hope to dwell “in the tent of that kingdom” referred to by St. Paul (1 Thess. 2: 12). Obviously we need to examine carefully this crucial idea of the “tent of that kingdom”.

But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet, “Lord, who shall dwell in Your tent, or who shall rest upon Your holy mountain?” (Psalm 14 [15]: 1).

  • A reader could well be puzzled by St. Benedict’s link between the Kingdom of God referred to by St. Paul (1 Thess. 2: 12) and God’s “tent” or “His holy mountain”. But he is taking us to the very core of Biblical understanding of what it means to live in God’s presence — in all its dimensions.
  • St. Benedict recalls for us how each one of us is part of the People of God whom He graciously leads attentively and assiduously (which means “sitting close by”) into His presence. The reference to “tent” (or “tabernacle”) is a strong Biblical symbol of God’s real presence among us. It depicts God establishing His dwelling among us as His people as well as drawing us into His presence. During Israel’s years of camping in the wilderness the Tabernacle of God’s Presence was always in the centre of the orderly rows of dwellings placed around His. He was at the centre of their day to day living. Mutual presence, ordered relationship and frequent interaction were critically important for the Israelites of that period. These features of mutual presence, relationship and interaction were governed by formal protocols, procedures and ceremonies. They were NEVER casual.

All of this is vital for us to understand. Traditional Christianity as practised in the Catholic Faith has continued to reflect the physical and spiritual reality of the tent of God’s presence in its buildings for worship as well as the ceremonies (20) performed within them. The same goes for the traditions and ceremonies carried out in Christian homes. They form an extension of worship performed in the local Church and help heighten our consciousness of Christ’s presence in us through the Holy Spirit, and our presence in Him and His Body, the Church.

  • The Church today may need to review the trends in its teaching and practices, of moving away from its strong Biblical model towards assimilating modern “pop” culture and its atheistic influences in our society. Much of modern Christianity is failing to pass on our Christian culture to the youth of today despite all efforts to make it “relevant” to them. This has become strongly reflected in the way people behave in Church as well as at home.

After this question, brethren, let us listen to the Lord as He answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying, “He who walks without stain and practises justice; he who speaks truth from his heart; he who has not used his tongue for deceit; he who has done no evil to his neighbour; he who has given no place to slander against his neighbour,” (Psalm 14 [15]: 2 —3).

  • Having boldly confronted us with the opening question of Psalm 14 [15], St. Benedict just as forthrightly proclaims the answer provided by the Psalmist! Reciting those first three verses of this powerful Psalm may help us through many a difficult moment. Readers may be used to different translations of these wonderful words of advice, and the impact may be therefore diluted a little. So let’s process the material a little more.
  • To walk “without stain” may seem at first more than a little unrealistic. The Psalmist does not just mean “marks”; he means permanent marks: stains! And the Christian has no excuse for bearing residual stains! There is a way provided by the Lord for them to be dealt with, and it must be used by His followers if they are to dwell in God’s Presence or rest upon His Holy Mountain. Our failings must be confessed and absolved according to the dictates of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church which He commissioned to continue His work.
  • To “practise justice” can mean different things to different people. In the Biblical context, however, it is very meaningful and necessary to understand. The Latin “iustitia’ , (from which our word “justice” comes) and the Hebrew word “sedek” (which “iustitia” translates) incorporate a wide range of meanings such as:

— Justice (in the modern sense); but also

— Observance of God’s Holy Word / Law, (or in Hebrew) Torah, especially, in due course, obeying Christ

— the Word made flesh, (John 1: 14);

— Holiness;

— God’s just ways or decrees.

In particular the word “justice” here means giving priority to God’s Torah, i.e. His Law, His Word, or His Presence. Sometimes the word “righteousness” is used similarly and this is always connected in some way with Torah dwelling in or among us (like the tent of God’s Presence pitched in our midst), and us dwelling in Torah: God’s Holy Word / Law.

Righteousness is all about mutual indwelling; not about being moralistic. St. Benedict reflects the traditional Christian view that true righteousness requires that we put our own house in order first before criticising the actions of others! St. Jerome had already spelt this out in one of his sermons. Talking about the self-righteous, St. Jerome applies the term ‘hypocrite’ to those who make it their business to focus on the faults of others as a devious way of parading their own virtue. He points out that such people are just as much “off the track” as those they criticise.

It seems to me that the term applies also to the one who says to his brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye.” For he appears to be doing this for the sake of publicity, to have the look of virtue. Hence our Lord says to him, “Hypocrite, first cast the beam out of your own eye.” It is not the manifestation of virtue, then, but its motivation that God rewards. And if you wander off the track a bit, it makes no difference whether you veer to the right or to the left: the important thing is that you are not on the right road. St. Jerome AD 347 — 426.

  • The Rule we are studying was drawn up to help keep us “on track” for our true home. So
    St. Benedict is reminding us emphatically that our way of life, our words and deeds must reflect flawlessly the real, mutual, indwelling of God in us and we in God. Our words must echo this state of affairs if God is to be “believable” at home as well as in our society around us. Our actions must also reflect the goodness, loving kindness and mercy of God if He is to be manifested as one who seeks to share His living Presence with us.
  • For traditional Christians this concept is loaded with imagery.

— Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God who came to dwell (pitch His tent of Presence) among us.

— Towards the end of His life He talked about His dwelling in us and we in Him.

— This reflects, He said, the way He dwells in the Father, and the Father in Him. (See John 14: 11 and 23; John 15: 4 and John 17: 23 among other passages.)

It is he, who, under any temptation from the malicious devil, has brought him to naught by casting him and his temptation from the sight of his heart; and who has laid hold of his thoughts while they were still young and dashed them against Christ.

  • In the first part of this section (6) St. Benedict challenges us to ask with the Prophet (meaning King David): Who is worthy to be in your presence? The Psalmist goes on to provide the answer. The reader is challenged to live up to standards which seem impossible. And so they are, if we rely on ourselves at a natural level.
  • St. Benedict gives the advice of the ancient Fathers of the Church. He is emphatic in declaring that no one has to listen to all the voices we hear within us giving conflicting advice and urging us to act contrary to how we know we ought. We are free he says, to take any temptation whatsoever, while it is in its infancy — before it takes hold within us — and dash it to pieces on a hard, sharp rock. He calls that rock Christ.

    This imagery comes from the early Christian way of interpreting Psalm 136 [137]: 9. Some moderns complain that this is mere spiritualising a horrible passage in the Psalm which originally called for Babylonian babies to be dashed on the rocks and destroyed. The trend today is to either omit the offensive passage from the Psalm, or translate the problem away. After all, claim these moderns, such thoughts are too inappropriate and obnoxious for Christian use. Quite apart from the fact that modern man can hardly claim to be more virtuous when it comes to dealing with anyone deemed to be an enemy, we can learn much from our Christian forbears who want us to penetrate the heart of Scripture and learn its real lessons. If we were to do this, there wouldn’t be the widespread maltreatment of the weak and defenceless, which is becoming rampant in our society.

The essence of St. Benedict’s writing on this point is: you can choose a course to follow, and don’t have to be dictated to by weird or evil alternatives which surface in your mind. Let Christ deal with everything which you judge to be wrong. But do it quickly. Involve Him at the earliest opportunity — especially at the moment you detect any doubt in your mind about resisting temptation. Don’t dally, nor allow yourself to be indecisive: Seejudge — and act!

Key Principles

18. At first reading we could easily surmise that St. Benedict is giving activity and good works precedence over prayer and worship. Not so! Our actions (including our good works) and our obedience spring from a belief in and a commitment to the loving God who is constantly calling us to Him. They are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in us. They are the measure of our faith in Him and His presence within us Prayer, adoration, worship and love of God must be firmly entrenched in our ordinary, daily life before we will have the stamina necessary for us to “run by good deeds” as St. Benedict prescribes.

19. If we consider ourselves to be Christian, we need to remember that this means being an active disciple of the Lord. Disciples are, among other aspects of membership, attentive worshippers and students of His teaching.

20. Christian homes should, to a degree, reflect in some visible, material way, the spiritual tone, appearance, and activity of the local Church. In this regard we encourage Christians to set aside some chosen space where the household can gather for worship in the home.

21. The Biblical concept of “justice” and putting it into practice demand first that those who require it, model it in their own behaviour. This applies to whole communities as well as individuals. If society doesn’t like what it sees developing among its youth, it needs to look at itself in a mirror to see what is wrong. The Gospels are Christ’s mirror for us to see where we are going wrong. In particular, His parables are intended (a) to help us identify our failings as well as (b) to provide a perfect model for putting them right.

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