Christ in the Desert is a Benedictine monastery outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico. Calling its location remote is an understatement. After reaching Abiquiu, you still have another 13 miles of dirt road to navigate before you arrive at the monastery. Their website advises that the road can become impassable if there is rain, snow, ice, or thawing conditions. They also advise a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to make the trip, and warn that there is little cell service and no expectation of help should you get stranded.
Benedictines study the Rule of St. Benedict daily. The rule is divided in such a way that each day a portion of it is read, and over the course of the year the entire Rule is read three times. Recently we read from verses 45-50 of the Prologue. The very last sentence in the Prologue, verse 50, reads like this:
Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen.
After each section, Christ in the Desert Abbot Phillip Lawrence has written a commentary. Here is what he said about this passage that caught my stewardship eye:
We take back in little ways the fullness of life we have promised, and end up giving God what is left over. It is not that any of us chooses against God in big ways, only that we are on the way of perfection, not having reached it at this point. We ought to look into our personal lives and ask ourselves what are the things that we are not yet willing to give up. We need to offer them to God. Even though we cannot yet give them up, we can ask for the grace to give them up.
There is a lot packed into those five sentences. Even though most of us are not monks committed to a communal life that forbids private ownership of things, we can still gain much insight by asking ourselves two things that arise from Abbot Phillip’s writing:
- Do we only give God the leftovers?
- What are we not willing to give to God?
These are much harder to answer than we might think. Our first reaction might be to pooh-pooh the question altogether, as in “I only give God the good stuff.” But let’s take a little deeper look.
Have you ever been asked to help out at your parish, your kids’ school, or some other place that depends on volunteers for much of its labor? Is your answer “Sure!” Or is it “Well, I can give you 45 minutes every other month, as long as football, basketball, and baseball don’t conflict.”
Have you ever been asked to bring canned goods to give to a food drive? Do you send along the salmon, or the can of creamed corn from way in back of the pantry with a sketchy expiration date?
Ever have the basket come to you at Mass and you look in your wallet past the twenties for that $1 bill?
We take back in little ways the fullness of life we have promised.
We see this all the time, where we either say “yes” to something, only to claw it back when we realize that thing we were about to give away – our time, talent, and/or treasure – is “too” valuable to give up. Or else we only give the crumbs to begin with.
As stewards of God’s grace, Disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to give of our first fruits – the best we have – to God.
Why do we keep the best for ourselves and give the leftovers to God? God gives us everything. All things come FROM God, and all things belong TO God.
For all that God has done for us, and all he promises to do for us, don’t you think that God deserves our best?
As Abbot Phillip tells us, “Even though we cannot yet give them up, we can ask for the grace to give them up.”
St. Benedict, pray for us.