By Sr. Phyllis McMurray, OSB
A story is told in the Life of Benedict attributed to Gregory the Great about Benedict’s own spiritual transformation. It is said that Benedict, close to the time of his death, went to a tower cell late at night to pray, when the rest of his community was thought to be at rest. As he gazed out into the darkness, he saw an amazing light break through the black of the night. Afterwards, Gregory recounts, it was as though “the whole world, contracted as it were together, was represented to his eyes in one ray of light.”
Benedict’s daily experience of paying attention and listening with the ear of his heart had formed his contemplative heart and prepared him for the gift of mystical vision, for seeing the world as if with the eyes of God.
I wonder if, in Benedict’s vision of the divine presence as light enfolding the world, he saw how small everything really is, compared to what seemed large before. Did he see the universe as we saw it in the film on the New Universe story or did he see the earth as Edgar Mitchell described it on his way back from his walk on the moon?
Did Benedict grieve over his world, his beloved but collapsing Rome, as Jesus had lamented over what was going on in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44)? The 7th century Life of Benedict tells us nothing about these matters. Yet Benedict does advise us that we ought never lose hope in God’s mercy (RB4:73). That hopefulness in the heart of Benedict sustains our Benedictine monastic community when we find so much to lament in our own troubled times, from the affliction of immigrants and the torments of those who are trafficked, to the anguish of the people of Libya and the distress of the people in Japan.
As monastic women, we are being called to stretch beyond preoccupation with our own troubles and to enter with hope and compassion into the pain and grief of all those who suffer. When I have hope and compassion, the energy I am putting into the atmosphere is that of hopefulness and care. If I come preaching the gospel of Christian love but am myself rigid and judgmental, I am putting into the atmosphere rigidity and judgment. What does that mean for us?
The faith and the wisdom exhibited by our own elders through the years encourages us to move forward in time of crisis from fearfulness to compassion. In the homily this morning we were urged to share our light, the love of God, with others. Do we believe in our own dazzling light and are we willing to share it?
We have gained experience and insight through our prayer and our living monastic tradition. That experience can give us and others courage to live today with direction and purpose. We do not always see the light of Christ as our own dazzling light, yet we know that God can call us beyond ourselves.
In the account of Benedict’s vision, he looked upon the whole world as God’s one great act of love. Placing God at the center of our vision places all of life in true perspective.
We are Benedictine women living in difficult times. By the graciousness of God, we are also being transformed by the Holy Spirit to see the essential oneness of God’s world. We are able to glimpse ourselves – however briefly – dwelling within that single unifying ray of light that radiates God’s loving embrace of the world. Let us reflect on ways we can be beacons for all who fear they have lost their way, “so that in all things God may be glorified.” (RB 57:9)