This past spring, we celebrated the one hundred and fortieth anniversary of the founding of Belmont Abbey and Belmont Abbey College. We have come a long way since the days of one monk, two students, a log cabin and some wooden farm buildings. I often try to imagine how those early founders would react if they suddenly came back to the Abbey today. They would, I believe, be overwhelmed. They started with scanty resources against daunting odds to lay the foundation for what we have today. They did not have an easy time, and the archives have letters from the early monks begging to be brought back home to the abbey in Pennsylvania. It is good to remember how great a debt we owe to their determination and faith.
I suspect that one of the things that helped them persevere during the difficult times of those early days was the Benedictine vow of stability. St. Benedict stipulated that men wishing to live the monastic life according to his Rule were required to vow, among other things, their stability until death in the community of their profession. They vow to pray, live and work together in the same community for a lifetime, promising to contribute their talent and work to foster the monastic life of their community.
At its most superficial level, this stability is connected to the place which is the monastery. St. Benedict writes: “The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.” Monks thus become attached to their monastery. Instead of going out to engage others, we invite others to come into our space as guests to share with us in seeking God. We do not move readily from the place which is our home, and we work hard to make it a place of beauty and peace.
This steadfast – perhaps even stubborn – attachment to the place is indicative of the more profound values which the vow of stability seeks to safeguard. We come to the monastery to be changed ultimately from sinners into saints – a life-long process. But change is hard and we tend to resist it, even when we know it is good for us. The temptation is to give up, to run away from what we ought to do. Stability keeps us focused on the task. In particular, stability provides a support against a common temptation, namely, to blame our difficulties on others and to imagine that, if we could just go somewhere else with different people, all our problems would disappear. To give into this temptation is, of course, to pursue a mirage. Our resistance to change comes from within, from our attachment to the things we enjoy but which are not good for us. The change we need to undertake is an interior change of character and values, not an external change of place. If we merely change our place, we take our same weaknesses with us and the same problems reappear all over again. If we can change ourselves, we find we can live in peace with almost anyone in any place.
Stability wants to attach us to true and lasting values. It wishes to give us a center, a stable identity, a commitment to those goods which endure. It is this virtue which gave the early monks at Belmont Abbey the endurance to persevere through difficult times. It is a virtue which, I hope, is imparted to all the members of our Abbey family who benefit from an Abbey education.