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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time and the Feast of St. Benedict

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time and the Feast of Benedict
July 11, 2021
Ana Cloughly, OSB, Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery, Colorado Springs, CO

The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time and happens to be the Feast of St. Benedict as well. So, I thought reflecting on both gospel readings might be interesting. The gospel for this Sunday is Mark 6:7-13. Jesus sends the twelve out by twos to preach repentance to towns and villages. He gives them power over unclean spirits and oil that aides in healing the sick. Jesus tells them not to take extra clothes or money and to depend on the hospitality of the towns people.

In the gospel for the Feast of St. Benedict is Matthew 19:27-29. Here, Peter asks Jesus what’s in it for those who gave up everything to follow him. Jesus answers Peter’s question by promising, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.

In both gospels, there is a common theme, Jesus' requiring that his followers give up the things that most of us spend our lives striving to gain: food, shelter, clothing, and the relationships that form the basic fabric of our lives, our parents, spouses, siblings and children. In first century Jewish culture giving up material things were hard enough. Giving up your family meant giving up your identity.

I remember when I first entered the monastery, I felt very lost. Up until that time, my identity mostly revolved around being the mother of my children. As soon as I knocked on the monastery door, my identity began its transition. Those first few years in the monastery, I was neither identified as a mother nor was I a sister. In retrospect, I can see how this was a necessary stage for me to go through to develop my primary identity as a follower of Christ. You see, living in a Benedictine community which follows the Rule of St. Benedict is really about following Christ. 

It sounds crazy in our modern world to say that we must leave everything and follow Jesus. I know my friends thought I had lost my mind. I look back and see, just as Jesus did with his disciples, I needed to be set apart from who I believed myself to be in order to gain the identity I needed to be able to proclaim the good news. By our presence in the larger world community, our life announces the good news that Christ is among us, the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

For many generations, Benedictine communities have set and example for the rest of the world as have many other monastic traditions. We follow the Rule of Benedict as a way to walk our journey following Christ. In the morning we sing God’s praise and in the evening, we sing songs of gratitude. Our life is changing now in unexpected and beautiful ways. The Rule is still the framework for living a life which finds its hope in the good news of God’s love and invitation to follow Christ. But today there is more. Many people who come to the monastery (physically or virtually) are desiring a way to focus their hearts on following Christ. What they give up is as individual as each person. Many monasteries have people who are associated with them by something called an oblation, or commitment to using the framework of the Rule of Benedict on their life journey with Christ. Their lives announce the good news to the world in ways a community set apart in a monastery cannot.

As Jesus promised, when we give up the things our respective cultures deem necessary, we clear the way to identify more closely with Christ. Changing our identity, our way of being and most of all our hearts, we can cast out unclean spirits (which take many forms) heal the spiritual ills and in some cases physical ills of the world. What do we get out of it? I cannot speak for others, only for myself. I did not exactly give up my children, they were adults. What I have gained is to recognize my ability to nurture many more people than just my children.  

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Sister Ana Cloughly is the Director of the Contemplative Vision Ministry at Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs, CO. She facilitates courses in contemplative prayer  practices and Christian mysticism, leads group retreats and is a Spiritual Director. She is a member of the planning committee for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Federation of St. Scholastica.