Yesterday we had a discussion in class about the spiritual practices of the monks as found in the Rule of Benedict. I proposed the idea that many of us come to a monastery for somewhat selfish reasons; we seek to be exposed to practices or ways of life that will bring us peace, help us live in the moment, or be centered. But the goal of the spiritual practices of Benedictines is different -- it is to prepare one for eternal life. The monks may attain the side benefits we often seek now, but the real end is the beatific vision of God experienced in eternal life and what we do now to make spiritual progress, with God's assistance of course, will prepare us for eternal life.
After class someone asked me if preparing for eternal life wasn't just as selfishly motivated, with the benefits only postponed, as seeking spiritual practices for our benefit in the here and now. It was a fair and challenging question, but my response was that it is just as selfish if you assume that your life belongs to you. That is not, however, the assumption that Benedict was working under as I read him and the pattern of Benedictine life.
Instead, the shape of Benedictine spirituality operates under the assumption that our lives belong to God as the result of his gift. We do not exist apart from God and the gift of our lives is one that requires stewardship, as in the parable of the talents. Construed this way, the spiritual practices of monasticism are seen as the response to God's gift, where we engage in the practices as an act of stewardship, so we can prepare ourselves for the end for which we were created. Indeed, the practices themselves are seen by Benedict as gifts from God; he assumes that God knows best how humans should prepare themselves for their final end and that God has given us teachings that allow us to know how to proceed.
So the question we must ask ourselves in any of our spiritual practices is why we are doing them? Are we doing them for selfish and temporal reasons, or as a response to God's gift and for the end He has prepared for us? Who do you think your life belongs to?