In his Rule, St Benedict asks the monk who was taking vows to sing a verse from Psalm 119: Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed (V.116). This verse has the character of a prayer addressed to God. Asking for support seems to be very natural when taking vows. But there is one striking thing here: The new monk does not ask salvation, nor holiness but only “to live”. Was it necessary to enter a monastery only to live? Can you not live outside the monastery? Many people today would say: of course you can.
But the second request is even more surprising. The monk does not want to be confused in his hope. How come? What other hopes can have a person who has just given everything to God in the act of taking vows? His doubts should disappear. Possibly, some blessed hopes may be left. Here, following the text of the psalm, St Benedict puts in the mouth of this monk the words on “his hope”.
Can a monk have his own, private hopes?! That is, hopes that are not necessarily holy and right? In the Prologue to the Rule we can read: When the Lord looks for his worker in the crowd, he keeps asking: “Who is the man who wants life and is burning with desire to see happy days?” (Prol. 14.15). Here again appears one sole criterion: life and “desire to be happy”. And this is enough to be God’s worker, to devote to him one’s entire life?
If St Benedict’s perspective confuses us, perhaps we have not figured out yet completely what life is, what its purpose is and how it relates to the most important things in life itself. In fact, happiness results to be close, it is something that can be reached. Following this internal and personal desire for happiness is our way towards God.
All our desires are right then? Do not they need to be verified? Perhaps I should say “yes”, but only when there is an extremely sincere existential research. Then we cannot make mistakes? Once again the answer is “yes”. Hope is a dynamic and open reality. It can make us grow and become better, it can purify us. In the end, God himself will correct it. Even if we hope for something that is not right and good for us, the path of life will check it. God does not allow us to be satisfied with things that are unworthy of our destiny. Even if it would be enough for ourselves, in his eyes we are more precious than it might seem to us according to our own criteria.
We must hope. It is preferable to have expectations and desires. They are our way toward God. We just have to be faithful to them and not stop trying to be.
- Bernard Sawicki osb