Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Renunciation and Obedience

Catechesis of Pope Benedict XVI
Piazza di San Pietro

General Audience of May 27, 2009

The saint that we find today, St. Theodore the Studite, brings us to a period that from the religious and political point of view was rather turbulent. St. Theodore was born in the year 759 to a noble and pious family. His mother, Teoctista, and an uncle, Plato, abbot of the monastery of Sakkudion in Bithynia, are venerated as saints. . . .

With his characteristic energy, he became the leader of the resistance to the iconoclasm of Leo V the Armenian, who opposed once again the existence of images and icons in the Church. The procession of icons, organized by the monks of Studios, brought about the reaction of the police. Between 815 and 821, Theodore was flogged, jailed and exiled in various parts of Asia Minor. In the end, he was able to return to Constantinople, but not to his monastery. Thus he established himself with his monks on the other side of the Bosphorus. . . .

The characteristic contribution of Theodore consists in his insistence on the necessity of order and submission on the part of the monks. During the persecutions, the monks had dispersed, accustoming themselves to living according to each one's personal judgment. When it was possible to reconstruct common life, it was necessary to deeply commit himself to again make of the monastery an authentic living community, an authentic family, or as he said, an authentic "Body of Christ." In a community like this, the reality of the Church as a whole is concretely fulfilled.

Another of Theodore's deep conviction is this: With respect to laypeople, monks take on the commitment of observing Christian duties with greater rigor and intensity. That's why they make a special profession, which belongs to the hagiasmata (consecrations), and which is almost a "new baptism," and is symbolized by the taking of the habit.

With respect to laypeople, the commitment of poverty, chastity and obedience is characteristic of monks. Addressing the monks, Theodore speaks in a concrete way, occasionally almost picturesque, of poverty, but in the following of Christ, this is from the beginning an essential element of monasticism and indicates as well a path for us.

Renunciation of private poverty, freedom from material things, as well as sobriety and simplicity, are only valid in their radical form for monks, but the spirit of this renunciation is the same for everyone. In fact, we should not depend on material property; we should learn detachment, simplicity, austerity and sobriety. In this way, a solidary society can grow and the great problem of poverty in this world can be overcome. Therefore, in this sense, the radical sign of the poor monks indicates essentially a path also for us.

When he illustrates the temptations against chastity, Theodore does not hide his personal experiences and shows the path of interior fight to find self-control and in this way, respect for one's own body and the body of others as a temple of God.

But the principal renunciations are for him those demanded by obedience, since each one of the monks has his way of living, and integration in the great community of 300 monks truly implies a new form of life, which he classifies as the "martyrdom of submission." Also in this, the monks give an example, since after original sin, the tendency for man is to do one's own will, the first principle is the life of the world, and everything else remains submitted to the personal will. But in this way, if each one only follows himself, the social fabric cannot work.

Only in learning to integrate oneself in common freedom, sharing and submitting to it, learning legality, that is, submission and obedience to the rules of the common good and the common life, can a society be healed, as well as the "I" of the pride of putting oneself in the center of the world
. In this way, St. Theodore helps his monks with keen introspection, and certainly us as well, to understand the true life, to resist the temptation of putting one's own will as the supreme rule of life and to conserve a true personal identity, which is always an identity together with others, as well as peace of heart.

For Theodore the Studite, an important virtue, together with obedience and humility, is philergia, that is, love for work, which he sees as a criterion to prove the quality of personal devotion. One who is fervent in material commitments, who works assiduously, he maintains, is the same in the spiritual realm. In this regard, he does not allow that with the pretext of prayer and contemplation, the monk dispenses with work, including manual work, which in reality is, according to him and to the monastic tradition, the means to encounter God.

Theodore is not afraid to speak of work as the "sacrifice of the monk," of his "liturgy," even of a type of Mass through which the monastic life converts into angelical life. And precisely in this way the world of work is humanized and man, through work, becomes more himself, closer to God. A consequence of this singular vision deserves to be considered: Precisely because it is the fruit of a form of "liturgy," the riches that come from common work should not serve the comfort of the monks, but should be destined for the help of the poor. In this, all of us can see the need for the fruit of work to be a good for everyone. . . .

Perhaps it is useful to take up at the end some of the principal elements of the spiritual doctrine of Theodore:

Love for the incarnated Lord and for His visibility in the liturgy and in icons. Fidelity to baptism and commitment to live in the communion of the Body of Christ, understood also as communion of Christians among themselves. Spirit of poverty, of sobriety, of renunciation; chastity, self-control, humility and obedience against the primacy of one's own will, which destroys the social fabric and the peace of souls. Love for material and spiritual work. Spiritual friendship born in the purification of one's conscience, of one's soul, of one's life. Let us try to follow these teachings that truly show us the path of the true life.

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