This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week's archives. Here is the Sixth Step:
6. Not to covet (cf Rom 13:9).
St. Benedict attaches a scripture passage to this maxim which in many ways points to where he has obtained the previous four. In Romans 13:9 the Apostle wrote, “The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself, (Romans 13:9, NIV).”
The simple rendering not to covet is intriguing. We probably are used to the formulation that we should not covet our neighbor’s goods or our neighbor’s wife, but here there is just the simple injunction not to covet. There is nothing more difficult in the culture that we live in than to rid ourselves of desire.
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (enlightened one), based an entire religion on ridding ourselves of what he discovered was the source of all ill. In his four noble truths he stated, that all life is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, the way to rid the world of suffering is to extinguish desire, that experience is Nirvana.
I remember teaching basically the same truth to teen boys in high school, and receiving a predictable response—“if you rid yourself of desire you wouldn’t move—you would just lie on the couch.” They, mirroring the culture that we live in, saw desire or coveting as a good thing. It is the very fuel that propels one to have great goals and to achieve great success.
But is it?
Doesn’t our desire or coveting rather blind us to achieving our goals, creating a false sense of what is needed to make us happy? What if we were to live each day with a sense of purpose but instead of being concerned about our plan we primarily were focused on God’s will for us.
This may seem too idealistic and we might retort, “How can I know God’s will for me today?” The spiritual writer Jean-Pierre De Caussade in his great spiritual work Abandonment to Divine Providence gave a simple guide to answering the question. The will of God can best be discerned by a simple acceptance of whatever the day brings and to a focus on that.
My spiritual director Benedictine Father Lambert Reilley once mirrored this thought when I complained about all the distractions that I was suffering from. “People keep showing up and interupting the work that I am trying to get done.”
“Why look at them as distractions?” Father Lambert asked me. “Instead see them as people that God is sending to you.” What Father Lambert (who now is Archabbot Lambert) was saying to me was mirrored in the Rule of Saint Benedict’s injunction that the monks were to welcome the stranger as though Christ himself were arriving at the monastery.
So this notion of coveting, covers not only material things and the relationships that others have, it also covers are very time and the way we view it. Time is the biggest culprit in the whole business of ridding ourselves of coveting. We want and desire to have _______________(fiill in the blank) right now rather than waiting until it comes our way.
If it is our health, we want to feel better now, so we take drugs that in the long run ruin our immune system. If we are trying to lose weight, we want it now so we may injure our health seeking a quick solution. If we want material items why wait, put it on credit. All in all, coveting is a rejection of the world that we live in as it is, and the message of the Gospel is just the opposite, the world is not changed by wishing it to be otherwise, but rather by confronting the world as it is and dealing with it.
Why would we not sit around on the couch, if we rid ourselves of desiring? Because we would realize that we have work to do and it needs to be done now! The very act of coveting if we conceptualize it is that of a dreamer, not someone who is immersed in reality.
The opposite of coveting is acceptance.