Sunday, December 17, 2006

Benedict for Babies

My wife likes to tease me about the odd times and places in which I read Church Fathers: Polycarp by the pool (at Palm Springs during March Break one year), John of Damascus among Leibovitchers, or Eusebius while breast feeding. She suggested Origen for oil changes yesterday as I was looking for reading material for my wait at the Mr. Lube near our place (I actually took Eusebius there also). I suspect some satire in this last suggestion.

So, it probably doesn't come as a surprise that I brought a Church Father or two in my bag to the hospital (not, I hasten to add, into the operating room where my baby was delivered). Given the amount of waiting time we had with an attempted induction, lots of tests, a few false alarms and a postponed Caesarian, I was glad to have the reading material.

My choice of books was a little unusual on one level. I found myself gravitating towards monastic works such as Athanasius' Life of Antony and The Rule of St. Benedict. But, really, my book choices do make sense and not only in my mind. There is a small sub-culture out there of families who find inspiration from St. Benedict's Rule, for one, because cenobitic monasteries and families share very similar concerns.

So, when we see St. Benedict announcing that the point of his Rule is
to open a school for God's service, in which we hope nothing harsh or oppressive will be directed. For preserving charity or correcting faults, it may be necessary at times, by reason of justice, to be slightly more severe. Do not fear this and retreat, for the path to salvation is long and the entrance is narrow

As parents, we have to admit that, if we could do half as well, perhaps we will manage to rear our children in the Lord in a positive and attractive manner. The Benedictine monastery is, at the end of the day, interested in nurturing and guiding the members of that community in the faith and virtues necessary to a Christian life. There is a real focus on the formation of the individual monk in Christian virtues, but within a communal setting in which all the members of the community work (wittingly or not) to move everyone else along in virtue. It is, frequently, in communal life that we Christians grow. Amid the messiness, the annoyances and joys of living together, our rough edges can be hewn off and we can start seeing Christ in others.

It is this vision of Christian community which, I think, is what resonates with me. In a sense, what we hope to create as parents is a family in which we can nurture and encourage the development of our children in the faith that we firmly believe will lead to salvation. We hope to present our faith and encourage the growth of Christian in a way that is not oppressive or harsh. To do that, we have to find a manner of living together which we can offer Christian faith as the hope and the support it is.

O course, Benedict offers challenges. How do we balance work, family time and family prayer in our family? Everyone struggles with this, but Benedict doesn't let us off lightly. Our work grounds us in the here and now and is a gift to God. If we would realize that than both our impatience at having to work and our sense that work is more important than anything else can't stand (isn't the one given better than the gift?). Our family time allows us a chance to see Christ in each other, even when we're displeased with each other. Family prayer should bind this all together, but how do we manage that in the face of conflicting schedules and energies? There are no easy answers, but St. Benedict pushes us to finding the balance in our life that we need.

I can't answer any of those questions nor do I think that many Benedictines can in their own lives. Yet, St. Benedict makes an excellent guide for us as we embark on our new adventures as parents.


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