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 4:   The tools of good works

Jan 18

 1. First of all, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all

            thy soul, and with all thy strength.

 2. Then, to love thy neighbour as thyself.

 3. Next, not to kill.

 4. Not to commit adultery.

 5. Not to steal.

 6. Not to covet.

 7. Not to bear false witness.

 8. To honour all men.

 9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.

10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.

11. To chastise the body.

12. Not to seek after luxuries.

13. To love fasting.

14. To refresh the poor.

15. To clothe the naked.

16. To visit the sick.

17. To bury the dead.

18. To help in affliction.

19. To console the sorrowing.

20. To keep aloof from worldly actions.

21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

 

St Benedict likes to refer to the monk as a workman.  The opening call in the Prologue presents the Lord seeking his workman in the crowd, a call to enter gainful employment in the service of Christ.  The monastery is a workshop, where the monk toils faithfully at the spiritual craft with the tools or instruments of good works. All this implies effort, diligence.  Sincerely living a spiritual life involves effort; it makes demands on our time and energy.  We are not meant to be spectators of the work God accomplishes in us.  We are summoned to active participation, the practical living out of our faith. This practical ethos permeates the Rule.  Authentic faith gives birth to good works that are outward expression of inward faith.

Here St Benedict gives a whole list of tools of good works.  The basis of our Christian life is a workmanlike accomplishment of whatever good deeds a particular situation demands.  Rowan Williams put it this way:  “For St Benedict the monastery is a workshop, a place where we use specific tools which are lent to us by Christ, to be returned on the last day when we receive our wages. The holy life is one  in which we learn to handle things, in a businesslike and unselfconscious way, to ‘handle’ controlling one’s tongue, the habit of not passing on blame, getting up in the morning, not gossiping, etc.  A monastic lifetime is one in which these habits are fitted  to our hands.  Simone Weil said that for the seasoned worker, the tool is an extension of the hand, not something alien.  St Benedict suggests that holiness is like that, an extension of our bodies in our words and our acts.  Tools worn smooth with long use, skilfully patched over time, taken from the shelf each morning and finally hung up when weariness or age arrives.  Tools for growth and holiness.”  Tools for use in the service of God and others.  We are all called to be workers, to give of our time and talents with generosity, labouring in the service of God and others.  All this reminds us that the spiritual life is not some idyllic existence but something ordinary, part of daily life.


Jan 17, 

Let all, therefore, follow this Rule as their guide, and let no one decline from it rashly. Let no one in the monastery follow his own will, neither should anyone presume insolently to contend with his Abbot either within or without the monastery. But if one should presume to do so, let him be subjected to the regular punishment. The Abbot, on the other hand, is to do all things with the fear of God and in the observance of the Rule, since he must know without doubt that he must render to God, the most just Judge, an account of all his decisions.

If matters of less importance concerning the good of the monastery are to be treated, let him take counsel with the seniors only, as it is written: "Do thou nothing without counsel and thou shalt not repent when thou hast done."

This chapter brings together the 3 pillars defining Benedictine community life that we saw earlier: we live in a community under a rule and an abbot.  This chapter shows their interaction: the abbot consults the community, the community obeys the abbot when, after hearing what the community has to say, he formulates a decision; and both are subject to the rule. St Benedict has many reasons for wanting the monk to put aside his own will, but here it is unanimity and unity which are at stake.  By renouncing our own will we embrace the common will.  Baldwin of Ford, a 13th century follower of the Rule who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote: “Since they have but one heart and one soul and all things in common, there is concord and unity throughout, and they always put the general profit and the common good before their own individual convenience.  They so far renounce themselves and what is theirs that none of them, if indeed he is truly one of them, whether in making decisions or giving advice, presumes to make a stubborn defence of his own opinion, nor strive hard after his own will and the desires of his own heart, nor to have the least thing that could be called his own.   Instead as servants of God they humble themselves for the sake of God under the hand of one of their fellow servants, and in him all authority is vested.  His judgment alone determines the decisions, regulates the will and governs the needs of all.” Baldwin goes on to say that in this way the Community is led by the Spirit of God “who is their love, their bond and their communion.”