Listen, my son, to the teachings of the master, and incline the ear of your heart.


     The first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict is also the most important.  For the monk, it represents the focus of the spiritual life: listening to God.  Everything a monk does—from the way he eats and sleeps to the way he works and prays—is designed to help him learn how to listen. 
 “Are you listening to me?”  “Can’t you hear what I’m trying to say?”  People use these expressions all the time when they are arguing.  Just think how many problems would be solved if they really did just listen to one another.  A wise old monk once told me that I should never answer a complaint without repeating it back to the person who made it.  Why?  Because it assures them that I am listening. You can’t force people to listen to you, but you’d be surprised how open they are once they’re convinced that you are listening to them.
The monk’s life, however, is not so much about listening to other people as it is about listening to God.  And that’s even more difficult.  Why?  Because God is a gentleman.  He speaks very, very quietly, and he rarely forces anyone to listen to Him.  So if we’re not vigilant, we can easily mistake some other voice—or even our own voice—for His.  This is why it’s so important to share your spiritual journey with someone older and wiser—a parent, or a priest, or a spiritual mentor who can help you to distinguish the true voice of God from the many imposters who want to take His place.
I’ll leave you with something else that same monk told me: when you meet a wise man, listen to him and you will learn wisdom; when you meet a foolish man, listen to him and you will learn patience; when you are alone, listen to God, and you’ll learn everything else.

      Cheerfully receive and faithfully put into practice the advice of your loving Father, that by the toil of obedience you may return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience you have wandered away.  To you, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up your own will, take up the strong and most excellent weapons of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.

      This might be one of those passages that we are tempted to skip over.  It sounds awfully medieval, doesn’t it?  All this talk of obedience and weapons and battle and kingship…
      These days, we have a tendency to prefer a “kinder, gentler” Jesus.  We like to think that we have put the whole idea of kingship more or less behind us.  What is a king, after all, if not a sort of romanticized dictator?  No, we’re more civilized than that.  We prefer to think of Jesus as someone…to hold in very high esteem.  And our Heavenly Father?  Well, we tend to think of Him more as a “heavenly grandfather”—a benevolent, but slightly senile old guy who doesn’t really care what we do so long as no one gets hurt. [1]  And even if we do hurt someone, he’s not likely to notice or even remember it later.

Pantocrator Mosaic of Hagia Sophia
     The stern Pantocrator you see painted on the ceilings of ancient Cathedrals—Jesus, the Judge of the Nations, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings enthroned over the earth…that’s a little passé.  We live in more civilized times, we prefer now to think of Jesus as more of a facilitator…a group therapist, perhaps.  But let’s not forget that this is the guy who is going to “judge the living and the dead.”  This is the guy who’s going to sit at the right hand of God the Father—who will “rule with an iron rod” and “tread out the wine of fury and the wrath of God almighty.”
      Now I’m not suggesting that it is good to be afraid of God—as though he were sitting up there in heaven just itching to hit the ‘smite’ button on his computer…but then again, as the Book of Proverbs tells us, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  For if God is truly good, then he must be truly just.  Moreover, if our actions in this world are to have any real meaning, they must have real consequences in the world to come.
      The Catechism says this: “The seventh of the Holy Spirit’s gifts, and yet first in the rising scale of value, is the Fear of the Lord, which contains the virtue of Hope and impels us to a profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help.”
      Notice that hope walks hand-in-hand with this holy fear.  Although we “dread offending the Lord,” we know that we have the strength, in Christ, to be holy in His sight.  We have the Eucharist.  We have the sacrament of Reconciliation.  We have the combined resources of the largest charitable organization in the world at our disposal.  We are the Church, the glorious bride of Christ, who reaches out her hands to the poor, extends her arms to the needy, whose value is far beyond pearls.  By virtue of our citizenship in this kingdom and by means of our obedience to this king, we have the courage to call ourselves soldiers in this, the greatest of all battles.

[1] C.S. Lewis wrote something similar in his book, “The Problem of Pain.”  Read it.  I promise it will be worth your time.