Prefer Nothing Whatever to Christ
In reading the Rule of Benedict, when I encounter the word “monk” I like to mentally substitute a person’s name or a group of people that is closer to home for me. I use my own name, or “family,” or “parishioners” or “friends” or even “co-workers.” Somehow this personalizing makes it easier to bring Benedict’s wisdom into my own life. Here’s an example. In chapter 72 of his Rule, Benedict sums up how his monks, aka family, friends, church, etc., are to treat one another. The hallmark is to have “fervent love” for one another (RB 72.3). “Try to be the first to show respect to the other,” Benedict admonishes (RB 72. 4 & Romans 12:10). Be patient with another’s weaknesses and pursue what seems best for the other person and not what’s best for you (RB 72.5,7). Fear (have awe of) God (RB 72.9) and so forth. He closes the chapter with these words that bring it all together and make all that he suggests possible: “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ” (72.11,12).
Benedict’s instructions to prefer nothing whatever to Christ comes from the writings of Cyprian, third century bishop in North Africa, who followed the statement with these words: “for he has preferred nothing to us.” What a stunning truth—that Jesus has preferred nothing, that’s nothing, to each of us, unworthy though we are. Jesus revealed this in his Farewell Discourse when he said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16a). Perhaps preferring Christ above all else is the only way that you and I can begin to fulfill the Gospel directive to love one another. In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us that those who love him will keep his word, and he and his Father will come and make a home with each of us (John 14:23). When we are a part of such a household we can turn outward and walk on the path of healing and reconciliation as did Jesus.
We can say that we prefer Christ but what does this actually look like in daily life? How does it impact who we are and what we do?
What we prefer influences what we choose in a big way. If I prefer chocolate, which I do, I certainly would not choose fruit for dessert! If you prefer being with your family on weekends you will most definitely choose to make the time to do this. So, when we prefer Christ, first I believe that we adopt a willingness to consider his point of view in molding who we are and in choosing how we conduct ourselves within our relationships. We also consider his teaching, his actions, his love for us in how we choose to spend our time. Second, we try to follow his example in all we do, especially when we are faced with difficult situations or when compassion is needed. When we prefer nothing whatever to Christ we choose him as our touchstone and guide. Third, we take the time each day to nurture our relationship with Jesus Christ for preferring Christ above all has a deep spiritual component that calls for constant communication.
When we prefer Christ we do anti-world things like loving one another for Christ’s sake. We “cut some slack” with one another, being patient and forgiving, recognizing that we also have growing edges. We ease up on being judgmental, we accept our sisters and brothers in the faith and beyond our faith, acknowledging our oneness in creation. We try to choose his way and not the way that may burn within us. As Joan Chittister says, “Benedictine spirituality is about caring for the people you live with and loving the people you don’t and loving God more than yourself.”
When we prefer Christ, bottom line we choose him over another—his way over other ways, his self-giving love over a love meted out on merit or convenience, his expansive and compassionate priorities over our often limited ones. These choices, over time, mold us more and more into his likeness. Perhaps preferring nothing but Christ is just being Christ in our daily lives. We strive to do this as best as we can each day, responding as much like him as we can to the in all the many places and situations before us. A worthy goal for us all. Let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ.