We are, therefore, about to found a school of the Lord’s service, in which we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But even if, to correct vices or to preserve charity, sound reason dictateth anything that turneth out somewhat stringent, do not at once fly in dismay from the way of salvation, the beginning of which cannot but be narrow. But as we advance in the religious life and faith, we shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love; so that never departing from His guidance and persevering in the monastery in His doctrine till death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and be found worthy to be coheirs with Him of His kingdom.
During our reading of the Holy Rule this past week, one verse in particular grabbed my attention:
[…] so that never departing from His guidance and persevering in the monastery in His doctrine till death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and be found worthy to be coheirs with Him of His kingdom.
Perhaps it was because we had recently been reading the Gospel of St. Luke, and just a week before an antiphon from the feast of St. Bartholomew, taken from Luke, had caught my attention as well: In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestra – In your patience you shall possess your souls. A somewhat cryptic verse. What does it mean? What’s this business of possessing one’s soul and what does patience have to do with it? In context, Jesus is speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem, as well as the end times and enduring until the end. Etymologically, “patience” is linked to “suffering”. The Fathers seem to be in agreement that this verse means that those who suffer, who endure until the end, will enter the Kingdom. Maybe we tend to understand “patience” linked to simply “waiting”, but in this context “endurance” drives the point home. The Scriptures exhort us time and time again about enduring. Endure what? Endure the straight and narrow.
Our Holy Father St. Benedict says that if we endure, if we remain faithful to the Lord’s commandments, to the Law written upon our hearts in the face of all that the flesh, the world, and the Devil throw at us, then we will be sharing in Christ’s suffering, by virtue of our baptism into Him. Our constancy in suffering will help us make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
For those of us married, I think we can paraphrase the verse above, with the persevering taking place, not in the monastery, but in the ecclesia domestica. Perhaps we might be inclined to say that religious, particularly monastics, are engaged in spiritual warfare proper; that those of us living in the world don’t have it as hard as them, and so our sufferings might not really count that much for our salvation. I would say that while consecrated life is objectively more perfect than married, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those individuals who have been called to that life are subjectively holier than those in the married life (I think the current abuse crisis has made this painfully evident). In the sayings of the Desert Fathers there are not a few stories of monks/hermits to whom God shows married laymen who are holier than they. In the homilies on Matrimony by St. John Chrysostom that we read recently, he expected the same degree of holiness of those in the married state as those in the monastic.
Doesn’t married life provide a limitless source of sufferings? Will God despise the sufferings of one who dies to oneself, struggling to salvage their marriage for the sake of their children? Will he not look upon the sacrifice of that parent who takes on another job to put bread on the table and a roof over their children’s head? What about the spouse who cares for the other in sickness? Will He ignore their fidelity to His doctrine while the World mocks them? Do not spouses need to wage war against their own wills, so that both may acquire the mind of Christ and peace reign in the household? I like to believe that there is a myriad of married saints in Heaven, unknown to us in this world because of their humble witness, their constancy and fidelity to their state in life.
In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestra is heard in the Liturgy in the context of the commemoration of martyrs. It is through patience that the faithful – both religious and lay – will give witness and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.