SEPTEMBER 5, 2005; LABOR DAY- GENESIS 2: 4-9,15; MATTHEW 6: 31-34
STRIVE FIRST FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND ALL THESE
THINGS WILL BE GIVEN YOU AS WELL. Matthew includes this saying of our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount in which he presents the spirit of the New Dispensation that Jesus brings. These chief characteristics of the children of the Kingdom are gentleness, sincerity, generosity, concern for others,
truthfulness; trust in the heavenly Father and reliance on his mercy and love. These can be summed up under the two commandments of love of God and neighbor, but spelling them out in detail makes the demands of love more concrete.
Today's text is another way of presenting the attitudes and character of those who belong to the kingdom Jesus inaugurates. St. Benedict, using somewhat different terms, echoes this teaching when he gives as a sign of a monastic vocation: truly seeking God. To strive first for the kingdom of
heaven entails subjecting all other pursuits to this one goal. It means a willingness to renounce other strivings in so far as they are not compatible with entry into the kingdom. This sounds easier on some days than on others! To carry out this program consistently is possible only to the one who takes
on the qualities that our Lord blesses in this sermon as Matthew presents it. And in particular, we must learn what Eckhart termed 'abgeschiedenheit" in English, "detachment"in order to be free from self-will so as to overcome the anxiety about material things that gets in the way, as Jesus points out.
The Greek fathers have a word for this freedom from anxious care that they gave much importance to: 'amerimnia'. This concept has very deep roots in monastic spirituality. St. Dorotheus, the Palestinian abbot who was an outstanding spiritual guide and teacher of the cenobitic life gave great importance to obedience precisely as a way of practicing this freedom from care. De Rance considered his chapter talks so useful that he translated them into French. One of the great advantages of cenobitic life is that the monastic need not expend any great amount of time or energy in providing for his material needs. Even the spiritual program is subject to the approval of a guide to whom obedience is yielded. Some years ago when four of us Trappists visited Mt Athos we met with the Higoumen of one of the largest
monasteries to discuss spiritual matters. The first thing he asked us was "Do you possess anything of your own?" We explained that, having solemn vows, we had no private possessions. 'That is an important blessing", he commented, 'for those who live as hermits and in idiorrhythmic communities
have too much concern for material things'.
What our Lord is chiefly interested in is that we learn to look in trust to the heavenly Father to provide for our needs and not look to our own resources or on other persons. To have this kind of enlightened trust we must first of all believe in God's loving care for us. It is much easier for us to make an act of faith in God as love in himself than to be convinced that he loves me personally, as I am. The strongest incentive to trust is the conviction that one is intimately known, in all my imperfection and proneness to sin and selfishness, and yet loved. Anyone who has truly loved another knows by experience that even the weaknesses and limits of the beloved can make that person seem more lovable, perhaps because more needy and receptive to love. Only deliberate, willful refusal of love or of love's demands sets a limit to love, for it is a refusal to trust fully. This, then, is the lesson our Lord inculcates in the final words of today's Gospel. "Do not worry about your life, what you eat or drink or wear"; rather, seek to please God, trust yourself to him and he will care for you. Even in time of temptation and suffering, be confident, without anxious care and trust in God's love. He is your Father and you belong to him. He has given his Son to you, give yourself to him. That is the meaning of this Eucharist.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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