First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 139:1-12
Gospel: John 6:53, 60-71
Good morning and Happy Feast of St. Benedict! At Morning Praise this morning we heard the story of Benedict’s correction of one of his monks, a magistrate’s son, who was serving Benedict by holding a lamp for the evening meal, but with less than graciousness in his heart. Key to that story is Benedict’s gift of cardiognosis, a gift of prophecy that allowed him to read the thoughts of the heart of that monk. No doubt Benedict could also read his face, since murmuring, even a silent kind, leaves tell-tale signs on the visage.
All our readings this morning speak of the divine capacity to read the thoughts of our hearts. While the gospel of John reveals, “Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him” [John 6:64] In the Latin text of this Gospel the word is sciebat, meaning Jesus had a keen perception of what others were thinking. It is clear to Jesus who his betrayer would be. This gift of cardiognosis, or clairvoyance, as it is known in the spiritual tradition, bespeaks an intimacy with God, who knows the thoughts written on human hearts.
Just so Benedict knew what was in the heart of his monk, for he clearly reprimanded him with the words, “Make the sign of the cross over your heart.” Benedict detected that the monk’s thoughts were not of God and that the remedy for them would be to call on the divine name in the sign of the cross. Furthermore, the monk was to be removed from his service and made to sit by himself, presumably to reflect over his thoughts. The brothers, like senpectae, asked him “what he had in his heart,” the details of which showed clearly the pride that precipitated “his thoughts against the man of God,” from whom nothing could be hidden. Of the logismoi, or eight principal evil thoughts that destroy our relationship with God and others, the worst is pride for it masks the illusion that one is like unto God, the serpent’s temptation to Adam and Eve. Benedict clearly teaches that harmful thoughts are to be cast on the rock of Christ and disclosed to one’s spiritual senior [RB 4.50], which the monk did by making the sign of the cross of his heart and then revealing his thoughts of prideful murmuring to the brothers of his community. In our first reading, the sinner is invited by Isaiah to forsake one’s thoughts and turn to the Lord to find mercy. In the story of the murmuring monk and Benedict, Benedict rebukes the thoughts of the monk, but then says no more. It is hoped, in the silence the monk is told to embrace, that the full impact of his murmuring will be felt and then he can welcome the mercy shown him by the members of the community, who discern the seriousness of his harmful thoughts.
There is a story from the desert tradition that speaks to the kind of stillness that allows for transformation:
“It was said that there were three friends who were not afraid of hard work. The first chose to reconcile those who were fighting each other, as it is said, “Blessed are the peace-makers” (Matt. 5). The second chose to visit the sick. The third went to live in prayer and stillness in the desert. Now in spite of all his labours, the first could not make peace in all men’s quarrels; and in his sorrow he went to him who was serving the sick, and he found him also disheartened, for he could not fulfil that commandment either. So they went together to see him who was living in the stillness of prayer. They told him their difficulties and begged him to tell them what to do. After a short silence, he poured some water into a bowl and said to them, “Look at the water,” and it was disturbed. After a little while he said to them again, they saw their own faces reflected in it as in a mirror. Then he said to them, “It is the same for those who live among men; disturbances prevent them from seeing their faults. But when a man is still, especially in the desert, then he sees his failings.”
Benedict’s remedy for the monk’s disturbance of his heart was to tell him to sit down quietly by himself. In the stillness, his thoughts of pride could be seen for what they were, a form of disturbance that interfered with his relationship with his superior and with his God. Then he was able to reveal the thoughts of destruction to the seniors of his community, who could help him see the fault and failings and be led to peace.
In the gospel story, Judas is judged as a devil for his betrayal of Jesus, despite the fact that he was one of the original twelve disciples. In contrast, we see Simon Peter confessing that Jesus alone has the words of everlasting life and is “the Holy One of God” [Jn 6:69]. So, even with his failings Peter remains with Jesus and does not choose the path of the disciples, who “no longer accompanied” Jesus; Peter is able to embrace the grace granted by the one Jesus calls “father” and comes with Jesus [Jn 6:66, 65]. We might say that Judas was unable to sit in stillness and learn the depth of his sin against his friend, whereas Peter, as we know from the Gospel of John, did repent of his denial and, in the face of Jesus’ love for him, was forgiven.
Finally, Benedict’s capacity to read the thoughts of the monk’s heart echoes his teaching in the rule, where he states:
The Prophet indicates [your actions are everywhere…in God’s sight] when he shows that our thoughts are always present to God, saying: God searches hearts and minds; again he says: The Lord knows the thoughts of humans; likewise, From afar you know my thoughts [Psalm, 139:3]…Take care to avoid sinful thoughts. [RB 7.14-18].
God’s omnipresent way of being with us, as reflected in Psalm 139, teaches us that while we might mistakenly believe our thoughts are our own and can be hidden from God, the psalmist clearly has experienced God’s probing gaze on him, even to the extent of his thoughts, which are understood, that is, perceived from afar. In Hebrew when the psalmist speaks of my thoughts are understood by God, this expression “does not refer to intellectual and philosophical reflections but means ‘my desire’ and ‘my intention’” God knows. Thus nothing is hidden from God and nothing is hidden from God’s servant, if God so chooses to reveal the thoughts of another for the salvation of the other’s soul.
May we all welcome the stillness that allows us to see ourselves as God does and to drink in the mercy and kindness of God.