ENLARGING THE HEART

UPDATE:             1ST January 2015   We now begin a new series of commentaries on the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict (Series 3). We hope this will continue to be a source of spiritual nourishment for you. 


Daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict

By a Benedictine of Saint Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde


"... as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts

   shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God's commandments." 

(From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict)



St Benedict wrote his Rule for monks some fifteen centuries ago.  Driven by his love of Christ, he wanted to establish his monastery as a "school of the Lord's service": a place where people who truly seek God could find him; places where "authentic Gospel values prevail"(1); where nothing whatever would be preferred to Christ. The Rule of St Benedict spread all over Europe, and had an enormous influence on the life and spirituality of the Latin Church.  It continues to inspire monks, nuns, and countless lay people throughout the world today.

Like many monasteries we divide the Rule into sections so that the whole Rule is covered over a period of three months. The commentaries will follow the sequence of the sections.

(1) Pope John Paul II, to Benedictine Abbots, 23 September 1996


CHAPTER 38:

Of the reader for the week

July 17, 

There shall always be reading at table while the brethren are eating.  Yet he should not presume to read there who by mere chance shall have taken up the book; but let him who is to read throughout the week enter on his office on Sunday.

He who is entering on this service shall, after Mass and Communion, ask of all to pray for him that God may keep from him the spirit of pride.  And let this verse be thrice said in the oratory by all, he himself beginning it: "Dómine, lábia mea apéries, et os meum annuntiábit laudem tua " (“O God, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise”) (Ps 51:17).  Then, having received the blessing, let him enter on his duties as reader.

The most profound silence shall be kept at table so that the whispering or voice of no one save that of the reader alone be heard there.  The brethren will so help each other to what is necessary as regards food and drink  that no one may have need to ask for anything.  Should, however, something be required, let it be asked for by means of some sign rather than by words.  Let no one ask any question there concerning what is being read or anything else, lest occasion be given to the Evil One; unless perhaps the superior should wish to say something briefly for the edification of the brethren.  The brother who is reader for the week shall receive refreshment before he begins to read, because of the Holy Communion, and lest it be too hard for him to fast so long. After the meal he shall eat with the weekly cooks and servers.  The brethren are not to read or sing according to rank; but only those are to discharge these duties who can do so to the edification of the hearers.

 

St Benedict here returns to questions concerning the refectory.  He desires that the prayer for the reader takes place not in the refectory, but in the oratory, the place of prayer, after Mass and Holy Communion.  In this way, St Benedict brings out the interior connection between Holy Communion and the Word of God in the mouth of the reader. Both are the presence of Christ.  Both require humility and reverence and both build up community.  For St Benedict the reader is not to project himself, but to allow God to speak through him, so that God can truly work in the reader and in those who listen, so that all may be edified. That is why St Benedict exhorts the reader to ask all to pray for him.  To read in this way is a grace for which we must ask.


CHAPTER 37:

Of old men and children

 

July 16,

Although human nature itself is inclined to consideration as regards these ages, namely, that of old men and children, yet the authority of the Rule should also provide for them.  Let their weakness be always taken into account and let the full rigour of the Rule as regards food be in no way exacted in their regard; but let a kind consideration be had for them, and let them eat before the regular hours.

 

As we have seen, these two stages of life have much in common, and both have something to give. After dealing with sick brethren, he now turns to those whose weakness is not due to illness but simply to age. They are both stages of weakness and dependence.  Every child is entrusted, defenceless into another’s hands.  He has to let himself be clothed, fed, carried, looked after.  Similarly the elderly and those who are dying no longer have control over themselves; they must let others look after them.  The Son of God freely entered into this condition of dependence when He became incarnate.  And He continues to entrust Himself to His Church; He allows the Church to have control over Him and His sacrifice.  He entrusts to her administration not only the fruits of His life and his sacrifice, but His very self in the Eucharist.  Finally, he gives Himself into the hands of anyone who becomes a ‘mother’ to Him by doing the will of the Father.  This being ‘handed-over’ is the final fruit of His life of action and free obedience to His Father’s will.  We too have to learn