Monte Cassino Abbey (Credit: Ludmiła Pilecka, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Stability is not only a gift to us as individuals. It is a gift to others.
Benedict’s monks and nuns take vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life. Obedience helps to break a person’s selfish will and makes us open to respond with alacrity to the will of God. Stability is the second of three vows, which operate in a together like the three strands of a braided rope.
The Benedictine writer, Esther DeWall, has said, “Stability means God is not elsewhere.” The Benedictine monk or nun promises to stability to one particular monastic community for life. This is why monks and nuns do not travel and do apostolic work. Their commitment is to find God right where they are in that place with that community of people. The vow of stability means they cannot go running after the latest spiritual gimmick or fad. They can’t run after an exciting spiritual teacher or an intriguing new spiritual idea or theory. They are rooted in the Benedictine tradition which is lived out in their particular community.
If our fast-paced, increasingly mobile and modern world can use any of the three Benedictine vows, it is the vow of stability. How often in everyday Catholic life do we find people flitting about from one idea to the next? How often do we find Catholics who go “parish shopping”—attending Mass at this parish or that parish, going one parish for the school and another parish for the youth group and another parish because the Mass times suit their busy weekend schedule? Treating your local parish like a Catholic franchise operation is spiritually deadening. Instead we need to put down roots in one parish and contribute our time, talent and attention to that particular community.
Stability means we do not run away. It means our commitment to our family, to our parish and to our Church is long term. If problems arise we don’t flee. We stay to solve the problems with patience, intelligence and concern for others. Speaking as a parish priest, one of the biggest problems is parishioners who cannot be relied on. They don’t turn up when they say they will. They run away when problems arise. They take off to another parish when things don’t go their way. They think they will be happier elsewhere and think they will find God elsewhere.
I was once in conversation with a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and he said one of their members had “done a geographical.” I asked what that meant. He laughed and said, “She moved to Colorado, convincing herself that the mountain air would cure her alcoholism. She did a geographical. She thought a change of scenery would solve her problems.”
Usually when we pack our bags to set out for greener pastures we find that we have packed our problems in the bottom of the luggage and they are there when we unpack. The vow of stability stops the temptation to do a geographical in it tracks. Stability makes us face up to the fact that we need to grow up and solve our problems by God’s grace. God is not elsewhere, and if you can’t find him here where you are you won’t be able to find him anywhere.
Stability is not only a gift to us as individuals. It is a gift to others. For a marriage to thrive, stability is vital. For children to grow and learn and prosper, stability is vital. For a business, a school, a parish or a community to do well we need to put down roots, settle down and work hard in one place with one group of people for the long run.
Finally, stability is vital for personal growth in our relationships. If we are always moving on we can continue to have relationships that are superficial and artificial. Both words are rooted in the Latin for “face”. An artificial relationship is a “made-up face” and a superficial relationship is “top face.” Stability means masks don’t work anymore. If you are in a relationship with others for the long term you have to become real and let down your guard.
Therefore the vow of stability does not allow us to play games with God and with other people in our family or community. It forces us to get real and therefore to be true.
During Lent, therefore, we would do well to settle down for the long run with God. This means rolling up our sleeves, facing ourselves, facing our relationships and facing the God who loves us just as we are, but who also loves us too much to leave us that way.