Monday, July 11, 2016

St. Benedict & Difficult Stability

"If you awoke to find POPE FRANCIS at the foot of your 
bed with a GUN your first impulse would probably NOT be to see
what the Catechism of the Catholic Church had to say about that."

St. Benedict wrote in his Rule about the four kinds of monks. Cenobites, Anchorites, Sarabaites, and Gyrovagues, oh my!

Cenobites. They lived in community under the direction of an Abbot. This is the ideal of monastic life, and "the most formidable to the powers of Hell."

Anchorites. These had been long schooled in the monastery, and were ready to engage the devil in single combat, living on their own as hermits. Not for the young or untrained.

Sarabaites. Sometimes three or four bad monks would band together and live without a rule, or at least no rule besides "whatever we like." It was a group of these that asked St. Benedict to come and be their spiritual father, only to try to murder him when they didn't like what he told them to do.

Gyrovagues. A gyrovague wanders from monastery to monastery, staying a few days in each, enjoying the hospitality, never settling down and making a serious effort at becoming obedient and holy. They are more wicked even than the sarabaites, if possible.

An Unstuck Society

Benedictine monks take a vow of stability. Benedictine Oblates are supposed to try to apply the rule, and, in particular, the idea of stability, in their own lives, although they take no vows.

The Bear has expressed with typical mordant humor the virtue of stability in his advice: "Nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there." (The Bear is sure St. Benedict would have put "nail your foot to the floor of your choir stall and die there.")

We have become an unstuck society. The average American moves 11.7 times in his lifetime. Few people are born, grow up, make a reputation and die in their hometowns. Worse, half of all marriages end in divorce. One-third of Americans who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholics. Ten percent of all Americans are former Catholics, forming the second largest religious "denomination" in the country. If things seem messed up, St. Benedict would probably say, "Well, what do you expect, since you have no stability?"

Okies on the move.

It's like we're dust bowl okies, moving from place to place in a spiritual wasteland. We have become exactly what the masters of our materialistic society wants us to be: solitary and interchangeable economic units with no place to call our own. And we like to shop around until we find a parish that suits us. In St. Benedict's language, we are all gyrovagues.

The Virtue of Holy Stubbornness

What can we do? We can cultivate stability, or, as the Bear likes to call it, "the virtue of holy stubbornness." This is easier said than done, because the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. Worse, a lot of the time it really is greener. We have to get in the habit of snarling, "Maybe, but this is my grass." St. Umptyfrat's Mass may not tick all your boxes, but you can keep on going until you can say, "maybe, but it's my parish." Cultivate loyalty. Even a cranky sort of loyalty is better than no loyalty at all. (However, we must also recognize the limits of loyalty. There is a kind of loyalty that hurts you, and hurts others. These matters could hardly be more complicated.)

Sure, Sunday, we got lectured by the priest about the inequalities in society. Apparently it had something to do with the murder of policemen in Dallas. Then there were the intentions. It was the Bear's son's first time as a reader. He made it through them without vomiting. I was proud of him. Gag by gag.

The Bear cannot guarantee his answers to this current disaster are correct. What appears here are nothing more than the personal ideas of a Bear, ursus arctos arctos. He never claimed to have a degree in theology, or have visions, or be anywhere close to holy. Seriously, the Bear is very wicked, and not just in the for humility's sake I have to say I'm wicked wicked, but in the real, whoa, Bear, I had no idea wicked

What the Bear does do is look at things like a trial lawyer. Evidence, credibility, and theories with explanatory power. It's how we get to the truth of things we cannot observe or reproduce in a laboratory. Essentially, the Bear's approach is forensic. It starts with facts ("things as they are"), not with theology ("things as they should be").

If you awoke to find Pope Francis at the foot of your bed with a gun, your first impulse would probably not be to see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about that. Maybe there's theology on that somewhere, but you don't know it, and you are going to react as best you can.

The Challenge of Stability

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. We are not supposed to have a  pope who seems to either not understand, or to object to, sound Catholic doctrine. If you read the Bear's article about cognitive dissonance, this might mean something to you: we followed all the instructions, then waited, but the flying saucer did not come. Yes. It seems that big of a deal to the Bear. He has worked out for himself a way of living with it. And that's all it is. If you find something that is of value to you, wonderful. (If not, well, please keep coming for the other stuff.)

You can take refuge from the cognitive dissonance in fatalism,  pietism, cynicism, traditionalism, sedevacantism, ecumenism, ultramontanism or whatever ism you want. They all have at least some explanatory power! It does not mean they are all right. Personally, the Bear thinks sedevacantism has enormous explanatory power, but he is not a sedevacantist. But, whatever gets you though the night. As long as you stick with Catholicism. Because this is so completely messed up we're making it up as we go. The Bear still hasn't found in Denzinger:

Break Glass When Church Teaches 24/7 In a Media Age Doctrines Contrary to Our Lord and Herself; the Pope Is Bad, and Wrong ("Bdong"); Most Bishops Could Not Get a Job at a Quickie-Lube; and Nine out of Ten Priests Would Tell You Nine Different Things About Hell, If They Didn't Immediately Redirect the Conversation to Gun Control.

Are you surprised? An ephemerist with doubts? Who is willing to admit he't not sure? Who doesn't lay down rules that must be followed by everyone? Who admits to not being the smartest kid in the room? True, the Bear can think of some, and he'll leave it at that. That doesn't mean he won't argue a point, but it means he never wants to give the idea that his is the only solution. Ultimately you must find your own safe space, and hope that God has mercy on all his confused sheep today, and in probably worse days to come. The Bear has lots of doubts, about a lot of things. He's a Bad Catholic, but, in fairness, they keep moving the property markers for Good Catholic territory.

Stability and Your Daily Routine

Stability is more important than ever these days.  When nothing seems certain, a routine keeps ups focused on God. Stability - or holy stubbornness - can be part of your day. This is, the Bear is confident, sound advice (because it isn't his). Benedictine Oblates say the Divine Office in the morning and evening (unless they are Bears, and sometimes don't, because they are lazy). Oblates also read the Rule of St. Benedict and do lectio divina, i.e. spend time with Holy Scripture. Even though this isn't all that much, it still isn't always easy. But holy stubbornness can see you through. Punctuating your day with Lauds and Vespers, and maybe Compline before bedtime sanctifies your day according to ancient principles. It is stability applied to time.

We are in strange and dangerous times, spiritually. It is a time of do-it-yourself Catholicism, since the Church no longer takes seriously the cure of souls, and our pastors too often neglect the sheep. In this respect, we are like sarabaites, too: leaderless bands, though unwilling. We're on our own except for what resources we can scavenge from the great shipwreck. Fortunately, we still have the Church, and God will provide for the persistent from her riches.

The Bear cannot believe God will not, in His mercy, take into account the confusion that seems to be a permanent feature of the Vatican. But that's just the Bear talking.

One of those riches is the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, and Benedictine spirituality. Whose foundation stability.


  1. Nice post. Wise words. God Keep You.

  2. The confusion being sown in the Church is indeed bdong. It doesn't just cause sturm und drang, it kills souls.

  3. "The Bear cannot believe God will not, in His mercy, take into account the confusion that seems to be a permanent feature of the Vatican."

    ...Amen to that my friend....I'm counting on it.

  4. Don't do FB, but asked my daughter to "like/subscribe" SCB. She did. Frequently send a link to your site to friends and foes...I mean family. You are a wise bear.
    Deo gratias.

  5. Thanks Bear. You bring us hope and a way to cope in these troubled times. You are an apostle of sorts, a making-do apostle, and that should be sufficient to get you through the pearly gates.

  6. Dear Shepherd,
    While you were being a "social justice warrior" from the ambo, your flock in the pews slowly wandered away. Does this describe anyone's congregation? I know is does mine!

    The Bear is right. When you feel most like running, don't. Sure, Father may prattle all kumbuya, but that's not why we are there.

    We are there for: Adoration, Thanksgiving, Petition and Atonement. Those are the four keys to making Mass work. They are what matters. So as Bear says, "nail your foot to the floor." It's your church, go to adore, not be amused or confused by the pondering of a mere man. You are in the presence of Christ Jesus.

  7. Althoughhh...there's something to be said for finding a safe harbor in a storm. Not to mention not funding insanity.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Enormous explanatory power indeed:

    1. Thanks Mr. Guy. I made a copy of your "Pastoral Council" document. Very succinct. If you wish to get into this more deeply read 'The Second Vatican Council (an unwritten story) by Roberto de Mattei. Reading about how the Catholic Church became the disaster it is today is a worthwhile study.


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