Stay Put

Tomorrow is the Feast of Christ the  King, which I will celebrate in my home parish.

Part of my research at Maryvale Institute involved reading about the Benedictine vow of stability--what that means and how it has been interpreted over the years.  What good could be gained by promising to stick close to one's community or location?  Or does it just mean perseverance in the pursuit of Christ?  My interest was to see how much stability can be interpreted as geographic stability--commitment to these people in this place.  This research afforded me some profound reading about the reasons one would stay put for the Kingdom of God.  Here are quotations from two of the best articles I've read, one from Michael Casey's "The Value of Stability," Cistercian Studies Quarterly 31 (1996), 287-301 and Augustin Roberts, “The Meaning of the Vow of Stability,” Cistercian Studies 7 (1972), 256-269.
The vow “discourages us from deferring love until we find a community worthy of it.  The barriers to love are within ourselves.  Until we dismantle them, no community will meet our standards.  Meanwhile progress ceases.  And because we fail to recognize how much we contribute to our own unhappiness, we project blame onto the community.  Stability is really a matter of learning to love.  And this process means staying around long enough" (Casey, “The Value of Stability,” 295).  This text, I think, is the same as that included in Casey's longer work An Unexciting Life.   

“It must be recognized that one of the principal reasons of the vow of stability is to guard against the temptation to seek a greater good in another place or community . . . Stability is directed against the possibility of an evil disguised as a spiritual good.  In itself, the vow makes it impossible for a monk to change his community; but the purpose of the vow is to make him realize that stability itself is an immense good, and that in the vast majority of cases it constitutes a much greater good than that which might be attained by a change to another community or Order.  If a monk maintains stability, he will be able to effect the great change which alone is important:  change within himself, transformation into Christ, full openness to the Holy Spirit.  If we seek satisfaction somewhere else, we are not going to work to attain the good which can be ours here and now. 

Monastic stability, of itself, means the renouncement of the thought to seek a greater good, even a greater spiritual good, in another community.  For this reason, at times of trial when the temptation comes to go to another place, or when those nostalgic and romantic thoughts about an ‘ideal setup’ appear, it is necessary to reject such ideas.  The trial must be faced here.  This is very important.  Benedictine stability places us in a situation where sooner or later we arrive at the heart of every human situation: the choice between despair and the total gift of self to God.  It is an identity crisis at the deepest level of our being.  Human nature tries by every means possible to escape this fundamental choice.  A change of place will furnish no solution.  ‘The Fathers used to say:  if a temptation arises where you are living in the desert, don’t leave it in the hour of temptation.  For if you go at that moment, you will encounter the same temptation awaiting you wherever you go.  Be patient until the temptation goes away so that your departure may not scandalize the brothers who live in the same place nor cause them anguish’ (St. Bernard).  In this text, we find another important aspect of stability.  It is not only a question of the good of the monk himself, but also of the good of others.  Scandal and bad example must be avoided.  When a monk or a nun embraces the monastic state, he engages himself in the presence of the entire community (the local Church) and of all men (the universal Church) to persevere in the practice of asceticism in a given place and with a specific community.  Such a promise cannot be broken without truly serious reasons.  One last saying of the Fathers of the Desert:  ‘Abbot Anthony used to say: Humility is the country to which the Lord wants us to go and offer our sacrifice.’  Perhaps this metaphor was Anthony’s answer to the question of a monk who wished to change his dwelling in order to be more pleasing to the Lord.  The wise man prefers humility and conversion to pilgrimage.  It is precisely this point of view that St. Benedict follows in his Rule.  The same detachment from created things which was symbolized and brought about by moving from one place to another in the desert, is achieved better, with more security and efficacy, by persevering in one place and accepting monastic observances, especially obedience.  For the monk of St. Benedict, obedience is the best way to make a pilgrimage, i.e. to go to God.  Stability and pilgrimage thus have the same ascetic purpose.” (Roberts, “The Meaning of the Vow of Stability,” 260-261).



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