Willing to be Stretched

A reflection on the Feast of St. Laurence by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

On the Feast of St. Laurence, we should take a good look at the liturgy and reflect how we are all called – especially in the life of a monk – to be prepared for martyrdom.  For some, martyrdom comes as a final blow while for others it is a lifetime of suffering.  Every monk is a white martyr, because the Rule itself requires a dying – a constant dying to oneself.

In the chapter of the Rule on humility, the steps of the martyrdom of a monk are apparent: how we are to die to ourselves.  It is in the great role of service to others, putting aside our own needs and wants, to accept the humanity of one another that we die to ourselves.  We are not angels!  We may try but we are still human.  We cannot help but to fail here and there; and others will fail us here and there.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t holiness.  The holiness comes in the response.  What is the response we have in those situations?

They say that when Christ was put onto the Cross He didn’t quite fit.  So they had to pull His arms and legs, dislocate his shoulders, to nail Him so that He would stay in place.  Sometimes we think that we don’t quite fit; that doesn’t mean we don’t have the vocation.  It means we have to be willing to be stretched.  We have to be willing to be conformed to Christ in His most beautiful moments: the Agony in the Garden, changing His family to His disciples.  It must have hurt Him to pull away from His Mother – it must have cost Him.  So, too, it will cost us.

St. Benedict says,

“Accordingly brothers and sisters, if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily the exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob, in a dream, saw angels descending and ascending.  Without doubt, this descent and ascent can only signify that we descend by exaltation and ascent by humility.”

What is most humbling in our own lives?  Sometimes it is simply to be the servant of others.  No matter where we stand in life, not counting our rank or position, but preferring to be the servant of others.  You want to be holy? Simply have a mind of being a servant.

The Cellarer, it says in the Rule, when goods are not available, is to offer a kind word because “a kind word is better than the best of gifts”.  Do you know how true this is?  Do you know what it costs not to give a word that hurts when you’ve been hurt?  Not to be snide but to be loving at all times?  To be encouraging when someone gets what you want?  That takes martyrdom.  It takes martyrdom to be a servant even when others think and treat you as such.  Be glad and rejoice that your reward may be great in heaven, for Christ did it before all of us and He lived it to the full. That is how we obtain holiness – the holiness that God has chosen for us.  It is in the life of Christ – Who died the servant of man.   He let Himself be stretched beyond what He could physically do.  We are not asked to do that, but we can come close if we simply become a servant to all, if we can keep silence when something hurts, if we can love those who don’t seem to love us.