The Rule of St. Benedict has become my good friend during this COVID-19 pandemic. Benedict’s Rule contains 37 guidelines for how to live a full life. Benedict’s wisdom has helped calm my fears. I’d highly recommend John McQuiston’s “Always We Begin Again,” a small paperback with a beautiful translation of the 37 rules, along with some wonderful prayers Benedict prayed.
After Tuesday’s election, and spending way too much time glued Twitter, I called in additional troops, turning to St. Ignatius of Loyola and his “Spiritual Exercises.” I especially centered on his words of how to discern right or wrong.
Ignatius, like Benedict, understood that on the journey toward God, every faithful person will struggle, alternating between joy and fear, peace and anxiety, and hope and discouragement. In times when there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty, Ignatius says we must discern the spirits. We can learn to distinguish one spiritual reality from another by discerning the stirrings in our heart — joy, sadness, hope, anxiety — and how they affect our life of faith. Put simply, our head and our heart have to work together. The goal is to become aware of what we are feeling, reflect on what is of God and what is not, and then take action, acting on what we believe God shows us and rejecting what’s not from God.
As we move toward God, Ignatius names two realities we can count on:
First, when we move away from God, the enemy always tempts us to move even farther away from Him. The Spirit within us then counters by stinging our conscience to call us back from doing the wrong thing. While the enemy uses our imagination to stray from God, the Spirit within us uses our conscience, stinging us to return to God and asking us, “Why are you living this way?”
Second, when we move toward God, turning from behaviors we know to be wrong and committing ourselves to serving God with our whole heart, the enemy will be there, constantly troubling us and trying to discourage us while we are seeking to do the right thing. Ignatius says the enemy uses the “tactic of a biting that unsettles,” by causing us to experience sadness, anxiety and a lack of peace. But if we keep pressing in, moving toward God, he will strengthen us, console us, give us clarity, quiet our hearts to move forward and do good, take away our obstacles and give us peace.
Whatever we face, God never quits encouraging us with His love, hoping we will receive that love with humility and grace. Though discouragement is inevitable, we must trust that God will gives us sufficient grace to resist the enemy and put our strength in the Lord.
I so appreciate the wisdom of the old saints like St. Benedict and St. Ignatius as I navigate this world. I think they knew, as we surely know, that no president, prime minister or king ever brought in God’s kingdom. And none ever will.
That’s why the faithful never have pledged their ultimate allegiance to any flag other than that of the kingdom God. Writer Frank Viola gets it right when he says, “The outcomes of this world’s political elections neither mean the salvation nor the demise of the world. They are but specks on the grand radar of time. Our spiritual forefathers lived under rulers who fed them to lions, lit them on fire as human torches, and practiced other barbaric forms of oppression and slaughter.”
Saints like Benedict and Ignatius of Loyola can help us not to yield to the temptation to become so engrossed in partisan politics, forgetting who we are and to whom we belong. A friend recently asked me what kind of legacy I wanted to leave.
“Oh, I want my grandchildren to have really loved me,” I said.
“I mean a hundred years from
now,” he said. “Have you ever thought about that?”
It occurred to me that all presidents, prime ministers and kings, and I, will be but a footnote in the pages of history. The angel talking with the Virgin Mary got it right: “And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
It is understanding that kingdom — and fortifying it with the wisdom of friends like St. Benedict and St. Ignatius — that helps calm my fears during this unusual year.