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Homily for Solemnity of St. Benedict

March 21, 2012

March 21, 2012
1 Kings 19:16, 19-21
1 John 5:1-5
Luke 9:57-62

As a kid growing up on a farm, I was 15 years old when my father took me out into the field and taught me how to plow for the first time. He sat in the driver's seat of the tractor, and I was next to him. The plow, of course, was hooked up behind the tractor. Without me noticing what he was doing, he lined the tractor up with a tree way on the other side of the field.

He stood up, and had me sit in the driver's seat. He then proceeded to point out the tree on the other side of the field. He said: "If you want to make a straight line in a field, you must first find an object on the other side of the field and drive straight at that object."

As any nervous 15-year-old, I slowly put the tractor in gear. I put the plow down into the ground and proceeded to move forward. Of course, I immediately turned around to see what was behind me and, in doing so, I turned the steering wheel of the tractor. My father grabbed the steering wheel and reminded me to keep my eyes on the tree so as to make a straight line.

I took my eyes off the tree in the field because I was worried about what was happening at that present moment, that is, what was happening behind me. The tree seemed so far off, and it seemed as though taking my eyes off the tree even for a second would not make that big of a difference.

It is so easy for us to become bored with our lives to the point that we become nonchalant as we cross the fields of our lives. We begin to watch the birds in the sky or what another farmer is doing in his own field. We forget about Christ. We forget that our journey in this life is to get to live with Him in the next.

The Gospel tells us that "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God." As in farming, we have landmarks in our own life toward which we focus to keep us in line. In life we are to follow Christ. We are to fix our gaze on Him who is the Tree of Life, and not turn our eyes away from him. 

The stained glass window in the northwest corner of the Abbey Church has the tree of life growing up into the cross upon which Jesus Christ hung. We, as Christians, find our life and our salvation through the Paschal Mystery. The problem is that we can so easily become distracted with the things of the world and take our eyes off Christ.

St. Benedict started his journey in life by going to study in Rome. He put his plow in the ground and found that he could not fix his gaze on Christ with all the distractions and sin around him. So he left the city of Rome and climbed a mountain just outside of Subiaco. He stayed in a cave for three years with his eyes fixed on Christ. 

With his eyes fixed on Christ, he was able to write a Rule for monks that would be a guide for them to fix their gaze on Christ. He says in the Prologue: "Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love" (Prol. 48-49).

St. Benedict knows that the outset of our spiritual journey will be narrow. He knows that we are going to be the young kid who is compelled to turn away from God. St. Benedict also knows that if we follow God's commands, we will be able to RUN, to run with inexpressible delight.

We may be asking ourselves how this can be done; it is done by an act of faith that we put the plow into the ground and move forward. Blessed Guerric of Igny says: "Brethren, if we push God behind our backs as if we had no faith, so that putting aside fear of him we fix our attention rather on empty things; in what way do we think he will look on us? He will look on us, but with what sort of gaze?" (Sermon 25:6). 

My brothers and sisters, as we till the soil of our own hearts, are we focused on Christ or are we focused on the things of the world? Have we cast God aside or have we fixed our gaze on Him? As we continue on our Lenten journey, may we fix our gaze on Christ, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate with great joy the holy season of Easter.