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Stability and obedience only work if you live them

Published: July 27, 2021   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

In the Gospel you just heard, Peter and the other disciples want to know what reward they will get for having left everything to follow Jesus.

Jesus answers that:

1. They will sit on 12 thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel,

2. They will be repaid a hundred times more for everything they have given up for the sake of Jesus’ name -- houses, brothers and sisters, mother and father, children and lands, and

Escaping from the world into a monastery doesn’t free us from continuing to have to struggle against sin — the same temptations follow us here.

3. They will inherit eternal life.

But of course, we will soon see that despite Peter’s words, they really haven’t given up everything yet -- and certainly haven’t spent 75 years in religious life. True, they are following Jesus, but not yet with their whole mind, heart and soul, and so haven’t yet given up fully the false gods of this world, that is the pursuit of power, pleasure, possessions and prestige. James and John want to sit in positions of power at Jesus’ right and left when he comes into his kingdom, Judas is stealing from the common purse, all the apostles except John will abandon Jesus and Peter will soon deny three times even knowing him.

One of the most fundamental elements of the Benedictine monasticism that Sister Marcella has lived for three-quarters of a century has always been the vows of stability, conversatio morum and obedience. Stability means you are attached to this monastery and don’t serve outside this monastery unless sent by your prioress to make a new foundation in Canyon, Texas. Conversatio morum refers to your ongoing conversion to the monastic way of life, which includes the evangelical counsels of poverty and chastity. And obedience, which is the most difficult and most important of the vows you make. Obedience is more than merely compliance with what you’re told to do. Obedience means listening and responding to God and those he has placed over you with your whole heart, mind and soul, and this requires humility, death to self.

St. Benedict writes in the fifth chapter of the rule: The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. This renunciation of one’s own will is based on the example of Christ himself -- chapter 4 of the rule -- and as a way of heeding the voice of God through the superior’s command. The superior’s orders represent a divine command because she holds the place of Christ in the monastery.

These vows of stability, conversatio morum and especially obedience are an effective antidote to the poisonous influence of the false gods of this world, the pursuit of power, possessions, pleasure and prestige -- against which St. Benedict fought and from which he sought to escape by withdrawing from the world, first at Subiaco almost exactly 1,500 years ago, where he was then joined by a few others and then later in a big way at Monte Casino, from which Benedictine monasticism spread throughout Europe and then throughout the world, eventually reaching the town of Fort Smith, Ark. And of course, escaping from the world into a monastery doesn’t free us from continuing to have to struggle against sin -- the same temptations follow us here. An antidote works only if you take it. Your vows of stability, conversatio morum and obedience only work if you truly live them.

Today we are gathered to celebrate our 101-year-old jubilarian Sister Marcella Schmalz who this year marks 75 years serving the Lord in religious life, 46 years of which was as a founding member of St. Scholastica’s daughter house, St. Benedict’s in Canyon, Texas. We thank the Lord for the gift that Sister Marcella has been for us and for the gifts that the Lord has given her over the course of so many years of service. I pray that her example may inspire all of the other sisters to imitate her good qualities and thereby grow in continual conversion to the monastic way of life … with all your heart, mind and soul, praying and working -- ora et labora --for the greater glory of God.

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily July 11 for Sister Marcella Schmalz’ 75th anniversary at St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith.

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