Benedict has a chapter in his Rule about the life of a monk being a continual Lent, but implicit in the Rule is the reality that the life of a monk should also be a continual Advent. Advent is a season of readiness, becoming prepared, alert and awake. Advent says “get ready,” “be on your toes,” “watch out.” Something amazing, earth shattering and unexpected is going to happen.
The sense of this Sunday’s Gospel is apocalyptic. The coming of God will not be nice, easy or expected. The coming of God will happen suddenly and turn our world upside down. The reading implies that the coming of God is a cataclysmic event that will happen suddenly. This is not a standing invitation, it happens quickly, unexpectedly. No one knows when it will come but everyone will look back and remember the signs, the invitations like those of Noah that were ignored until too late.
To be a monastic, in the monastery or the world, is to be girded and ready for the day of the Lord, for the sudden coming of God in our life. Benedict expects that being a monk means all aspects of life are about being awake and ready. The monastic day is designed and structured to be about constant interruption. Secular work is not the primary aim or purpose of monastic life, the real work is the Opus Dei, the Work of God. For the monk the coming of the Lord happens several times a day, in the midst of a busy schedule and the unending, hurried demands of life. Right then and there, in the midst of important demands the bell will ring. It is time for God, time for prayer, time to drop what had seemed so important just a minute ago. Communal prayer is our daily Advent, our daily readiness for the unexpected moment when God comes and our lives are forever changed.
Benedict’s monks are even to sleep in their clothes so as to be ready in the middle of the night when the bell for prayer rings. The Prologue of the Rule has multiple, urgent images of God calling out, imploring, inviting, coaxing and calling. Wake up! Listen! Respond! Come! Today is the day the Lord is calling you, right now, not next week, next month, next year, when the children are grown or after retirement or when life is less hectic. In Advent and in Benedict the time is always now. The opportunity to respond to God’s invitation is always fleeting and always present.
But in today’s first reading from the lectionary we see the purpose, the reward of our vigilance, our willingness to be awake at the times when we would rather sleep. The passage from Isaiah is a vision of people flocking to Zion, the Lord’s mountain where a new reign of peace will be ushered in. Here on the Lord’s mountain a new day will dawn, the old order has gone and a new day has dawned.
So too we as Benedictines strive to create a new reality, we invite others to become a light of a new way of life in our broken, disordered world just as we too have responded to the invitation. Together as we live the monastic life and monastic values, in our monasteries, in our homes, in our families and monastic communities. Together we become the light that shows a new way, the promise of the Lord’s coming. However we live out the Rule we are witnesses to an Advent way of life. In our lives we seek to manifest the continual invitation of Advent, the urgent summons that today is the day of God’s coming. Today is the day of inviting God deeper into our lives that we in turn may be the presence of Christ in our world. Benedict creates the structure, the values that create a new way of being in the world. Together we model what it means to be a community that is awake, ready, alert and listening. When we live as monastics, both in the world and in the monastery we support one another to be awake, ready for the coming of the day of the Lord. We encourage and support one another, knowing our weaknesses, since as Benedict says “…the sleepy like to make excuses.” (RB 22:8)
During this time of Advent may we be awake, ready to respond to the invitation of God’s coming in our life, the invitation to be light in the darkness, the invitation to the hard and life-giving work of transformation.