“Do not judge people, never express surprise at anything, realize your own weakness and sinfulness, one’s own need of mercy, and above all, ‘keep your mouth shut’ unless you see some positive good to be done by talking.”
These rather blunt words were shared by a charming Cistercian monk, Dom Eugene Boylan, OSCO. He said this to a group of aspiring monks studying for the priesthood many years ago. (He died as a result of a car accident in 1964. This gives us a sense of the era in which he lived.)
I came upon this quote in a wonderful spiritual book of his called Partnership with Christ: A Cistercian Retreat. The whole book is filled with these very helpful and practical bits of spiritual wisdom that can guide a person who is trying to live a faith-filled life and is struggling with the many distractions and temptations of our modern world.
Realizing our own weakness and our need for God’s mercy is most important. And I think that’s one of the messages from the passage we just heard from St. Matthew and the Parable of the landowner and the laborers.
In our human weakness we like to compare ourselves to others in a never-ending quest for what we call “fairness.” But sometimes that quest is really each of us giving in to our pride and finding ways to make us feel good about ourselves. We get lost in seeking out the things we deserve. Jesus is saying that it’s better to “be the ‘latecomer’, grateful therefore for God’s goodness” to us and to our companions, as well.
And when we see around us things that generally annoy us, remember what Dom Boylan says: “And above all, keep your mouth shut unless you see some positive good to be done by talking.” Now, that’s really a hard rule to follow, isn’t it?
We have a lot to say, but does something positive come from what we are saying? Not always, I would think. Remembering our own weaknesses and our need for mercy—that perhaps realizing that we are the “latecomer,” like in the parable, undeserving of God’s generosity and mercy—can help us control our anger and perhaps misplaced sense of what we think we deserve.
But as we come to grips with our own weaknesses—our sinfulness—and experience that sense of humility, don’t take that too far, either.
Rather than be discouraged, remember this (and this is another heart-felt quotation from a conference of Dom Boylan):
“Hold on, don’t quit. You will fall down, but it doesn’t matter how many times you fail in humility. It doesn’t matter how often you fall into sin. It doesn’t matter how often you are tempted to throw in the towel. Do not quit. Instead, turn back to God. As long as you keep getting up you cannot be beat. It is not a matter of your own strength and will power. It is a matter of faith and confidence in God. You have to keep saying to yourself, ‘God knows what He’s doing.’”