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


May 28, 

The first degree of humility, then, is that a monk, always keeping the fear of God before his eyes, should avoid with the utmost care all forgetfulness, and be ever mindful of all that God has commanded.  Let him ever reflect in his heart upon the fire of hell, which shall consume for their sins those who despise God, as well as upon the everlasting life which has been prepared for those who fear Him.  And keeping himself at all times not only from sins and vices - whether of the thoughts, the tongue, the eyes, the hands, the feet, or his own self-will - but also from carnal desires, let him always consider that at all times he is being watched from heaven by God, and that his actions are everywhere seen by the eye of the Divine Majesty, and are every moment reported to Him by His Angels.  Of this the Prophet informs us when he shows how God is ever present to our thoughts, saying: "The searcher of hearts and reins is God."  And again: "The Lord knows the thoughts of men, that they are vain."  And he also says: "Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off."  And: "The thought of man shall confess to thee."  In order, therefore, that he may be on his guard against evil thoughts, let the humble brother say ever in his heart: "Then shall I be blameless before Him, if I shall have kept myself from guilt."

 

St Benedict in fact does not begin with an abstract definition of humility. It is not a question of a definition and then a judgment about whether one conforms or not. Indeed his understanding of humility is very wide: it begins in this first step with the perception, the understanding and acceptance of the dependence of a finite being before divine transcendence, of the creature before its Creator, of a sinner who turns towards love.  This means that for St Benedict one can begin the spiritual journey proper, the journey towards  the love of God and love of the brethren, only on condition of accepting this liberating dependence, that without him we can do nothing. This awareness of the presence of God makes the monk more aware of his faults, bad tendencies, one’s self-assertiveness (2nd degree).  The humble monk will be obedient to his superiors out of love (3rd) Then humility branches out in every direction to include patience and perseverance (4th), the loving acceptance of the inevitable in a spirit of faith; humility is about opening one’s heart  which establishes us in simplicity and loyalty, and creates a profound unity  in our life (5th).  Another sign of humility is being content (6th), in accepting all the conditions of the monastic life and not being particular; another sign is the sense of our unworthiness before God (7th).  In the 8th degree, it is also shown to be a community virtue.  It is through the actions of the common life that humility is engendered, thrives, grows, bears fruit.  In the 9-11 degrees, it involves recollection, silence, speech, self-control; the 12 degree shows humility fully flowering in the monk to include body and soul.  The monk lives continually under God's gaze, love casts out all fear, humility invades the monk's entire being.  The conscious awareness in the depths of one's heart and in bodily expression of the true relationship  of the human being (humus) to his Creator.  At the root of humility is not self-humiliation but the more or less  unexpressed assertion: by myself  I am nothing and can do nothing, except insofar as I am helped by him  who is everything and all-powerful.