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


August 16, 

But, if, during that time, he was found to be one hard to please and viciously inclined, not only should he not be admitted into the community, but he should be told courteously to depart, lest others should be corrupted by his wickedness.  But if he is not such as to deserve to be cast forth, he should be received as a member of the community, not only in the event of his own asking, but even by persuading him to stay, that others may be taught by his example, and because, wherever we are, we serve the one Lord and fight under the one King.  Moreover, if the Abbot perceives him to be one who is deserving, he may place him in a somewhat higher rank.  The Abbot may promote not only a monk but also any of the aforesaid priests or clerics to a rank higher than that accorded them at their entrance, if he perceives their lives to be such as to merit this promotion. But let the Abbot take care never to receive into his community a monk from any known monastery without the consent of his Abbot and without letters of recommendation; because it is written: "See thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee by another."

 Wherever we are, we serve the one Lord and fight under the one King. The service of Christ, the life of following Him, is often described as military service in the Rule.  The text today implies both the reality of the struggle against whatever opposes the good, the struggle against evil and the evil one, and it implies a personal relationship to the King, the loyalty of a follower, the willingness to risk one’s life for the King.  In the early Church, militia (service or fighting) was used to describe the task of the Christian.  Martyrdom was a special form of the militia Christi.  Christ, not the Emperor, was represented as the true King.  After persecution, monastic life was viewed as a special way of entering Christ’s service.  The Christian soldier’s weapons are prayer, fasting, good works, obedience, spiritual combat, the struggle to acquire virtue and purity of heart, the battle against all that is opposed to Christ and His kingdom. 

CHAPTER 62:

Of the priests of the monastery

August 17,

If an abbot desires to have a priest or a deacon ordained for his community, let him choose from among his monks one who is worthy to perform the priestly office.

Let him who is ordained beware of arrogance and pride, and presume to do nothing that is not commanded him by his Abbot, knowing that he is now all the more subject to the regular discipline.  Let him not by occasion of his priesthood forget the obedience and discipline of the Rule, but let him progress ever more and more in the Lord.

Let him always keep the place due to him according to his entrance into the monastery except during the exercise of his priestly functions, or unless the election of the community and the will of the Abbot should decide to promote him  out of consideration for the merit of his life.  Nevertheless, he should know that he is to obey the commands given him by the deans and the Prior; should he presume to act otherwise, let him be treated not as a priest but as a rebel.  And if, after being frequently admonished, he does not correct himself, let even the bishop be brought in as a witness.  If after his faults have been repeatedly made known to him, he still does not amend, let him be cast forth from the monastery; but this shall be done only after his obstinacy has become such that he will not submit to or obey the Rule.

The monastic world is in the largest sense a sacramental world, the world in which the priest should feel at home.  Every element in the monk’s life is a sign of God’s presence.  The Rule portrays a life which is shaped by priestly purposes, attitudes and gestures.  For example, St Benedict sets out to foster in his monks an attitude towards daily life-people, work, time, material things-which is that of the priest: all these things are matter that has to be consecrated and offered to the Father in a spirit of thanksgiving and repentance.  According to Hebrews 3:1ff, 14  and  1 Corinthians 4:2 the chief quality of a priest is faithfulness; it is through perseverance and patience that the monk shares in the passion of Christ.  The monk’s sacrifice is united with that of Christ’s, and that union is especially expressed at profession as we have seen, when his whole life is offered on the altar along with the Eucharist.