Hardships and Difficulties

Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB
Thursday, July 8, 2021

“The novice should be clearly told all the hardships and difficulties that will lead him to God.”

Rule of Saint Benedict 58:8

In his Rule, chapter 58, St. Benedict directs the monastic community’s attention to the reception of new members. The Abbot is to delegate a senior member “chosen for his skill at winning souls”, to look after the novices [new members] “with careful attention”, and to ensure that the novice is motivated by a genuine desire to seek God. “Seeking God” is an active thing – but perhaps not in the way you think. It might best be understood as a readiness to allow God’s grace to shepherd us from within, especially during challenging times and in difficult situations. Paradoxically, by seeking God we find our way to our truest self.

The “hardships and difficulties” that lead us to God are friction points, goads of a sort, which we often resist at first. Either they do not correspond with what we think is best, with our preferences for doing things in a certain way, or they seem to threaten our ego or self-esteem. The demands of charity and service in the community, the ceaseless need for understanding and generosity, for forgiveness and humility, hone our awareness of how God is mysteriously with us in all we experience, even “hardships and difficulties”.

The hardest “difficulty” is accepting others as they are. In my view, the reason any of us exists is to live fully, to love genuinely and thereby to experience happiness, which is the byproduct of authenticity. To live, to love, to be happy – this is what God wants for us. To live well we must allow others to be themselves by learning to appreciate differences, and to celebrate others as unique and unrepeatable expressions of God’s manifold love, for us and for the community.

If we remain open to God’s grace and committed to exploring our “interior landscapes” through prayer and times of reflection, we can make great discoveries about our deepest self. We will learn to distinguish what is authentic and true from the alienated, dis-integrated, reactionary self, a “false self” that fears conflict and resists the need to renounce old ways of divisive competition and rivalry. This grace is at work within us, our task is to consent to it.

The need to belong is primal and belonging involves community. We all want a “home,” a web of relationships with those who know, accept, and value us just as we are. Ideally, every Christian family ought to be a hub of shared life rooted in a common priority to “seek God” by loving and accepting ourselves and one another just as we are, as cherished children of God though sinful and flawed. This new way of being human is how we can contribute to the change and healing we all want for our deeply divided society. Be a saint by being yourself, a human being fully alive - it is the glory of God to be so! (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)