Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dash Evil Thoughts Upon Christ, as Upon a Rock

As part of my morning prayers, I'm reading through Dwight Longenecker's insightful book Listen, My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers.  Fr. Longenecker (although he wasn't a priest when he wrote this book -- more on that later) takes the classic Rule of St. Benedict, written in the mid-sixth century to regulate monastic life, and breaks it into bite-sized pieces.  He organizes these selections into four months' worth of daily readings and appends his own reflections that make St. Benedict's words about monastic life applicable to family life.  As the title indicates, it's particularly aimed at fathers, who, in a sense, are the abbots of their homes. (having its etymological roots in the Aramaic term abba, meaning papa or daddy, an "abbot" is meant to be the father of the monks under his authority).

In yesterday's reading, St. Benedict employs amazing imagery to guide us in how to handle evil thoughts that enter our minds.  He writes:

". . . dash the evil thoughts that invade one's heart immediately upon Christ, as upon a rock, and . . . reveal them to one's spiritual father."

What powerful and effective imagery that is for me!  As sinful people, we are constantly buffeted by evil thoughts -- desires, ideas, temptations to oppose God's will.  In St. Benedict's metaphor, not only is Christ there to help me resist such thoughts or forgive me if I fail to resist them, but He is the very means by which I may shatter and utterly detroy such thoughts as soon as they enter my mind!  Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!

Fr. Longenecker elaborates:

"This is actually a very dynamic and positive way to deal with evil thoughts.  If we ignore them they keep nagging at us; if we try to suppress them they only get stronger.  Evil thoughts are a corruption of the imagination, so we should use the same faculty -- the imagination -- to visualize those idols being smashed on the rock of Christ." 

And let us not forget the second part of St. Benedict's admonition: "reveal them to one's spiritual father."  For Protestants, that would be someone in a relationship of accountability.  For Catholics like myself, that would be one's confessor.  If I may say so, in my short time as a Catholic, I have found the sacrament of Confession to be such a profound joy and help -- albeit a somewhat scary joy and help -- in my relationship with Christ that I hardly see how I ever got by without it.  And the absolution is nice, too.

Now, a bit about Fr. Dwight Longenecker.  He graduated from the ultra-fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, went on to study theology at Oxford University in England, was thereafter ordained as an Anglican priest, and served as a parson in the English countryside.  Along the way, he got married and had four children.  In the mid-nineties he and his entire family were received into the Catholic Church.  For the next ten years, he built a career as a popular free-lance writer until, in 2006, he was ordained a Catholic priest under the pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy.  In addition to his duties as a school chaplain, Fr. Longenecker now serves (with fellow convert Fr. Jay Scott Newman) as a priest at the the gorgeous St. Mary's in Greenville.  He also runs an outstanding blog, Standing on My Head.


  1. Quick correction:

    "Abba" does not mean "daddy" or "papa."

    If this were so, we might expect to see other words in the New Testament, such as "pappas" (Greek for "daddy") where instead we find "ho pater" ("father").

    Attested forms for "daddy" in Aramaic include, "papi," "baba" and "abbi" depending on dialect.

    More about this can be found here:

    About the Aramaic Language


  2. Thanks, Steve. I realize that, cultural differences being what they are, a precise translation is probably impossible. Is it not true, however, that "abba" was what children called their fathers -- and thus it would carry a sense of intimacy and respect that would roughly correspond to the modern English "papa"?

  3. Zach, I think your point (both in the post and in your comment) is well-taken, especially since abbot (and abbey and abbess, for that matter) are derived from "Abba," an intimate term of address for one's father.

    Sounds like an excellent book/meditation guide!

    Fr. Longenecker (somehow, his name makes me think of a cold bottle of beer) is a remarkable priest. And he has one of best (and surely one of the deepest) speaking voices I've ever heard. I bet this book would make a great audio, especially if he did the voice himself.

    P.S. Unrelated point, but what's up with your picture? Looks more like a Lee Harvey Oswald clone from the 50s!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Leon. Don't I always look like that?

    I don't think I've ever heard Fr. Longenecker speak, but I agree that he has a great last name. I went to high school with a couple of Longneckers, and I always wondered about the story behind the name.