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 6: Of silence

 

Sept 24

Let us act in conformity with that saying of the Prophet: "I said I will guard my ways lest I sin with my tongue; I have put a bridle on my mouth; I was dumb and was humbled and kept silence from good things."  Here the prophet shows that if we ought at times for the sake of silence to refrain even from good words, much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin.  Therefore, on account of the importance of silence, let permission to speak be rarely given even to the perfect disciples, even though their words be good and holy and conducive to edification, because it is written: "In the multitude of words there shall not want sin."  And elsewhere: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."  For to speak and to teach are the province of the master; whereas that of the disciple is to be silent and to listen.  Therefore, if anything is to be asked of the superior, let it be done with all humility and subjection of reverence, lest one seem to speak more than is expedient.  Buffoonery, however, or idle words or such as move to laughter we utterly condemn in every place, and forbid the disciple to open his mouth to any such discourse.

 

In the Bible, especially the Wisdom literature, the wise man is known by the fewness of his words.  They almost sensed that speech has a tendency to degenerate the moment it becomes at all frequent.  That is why they seek to limit it. They also had a much greater feel for the ambivalence of words, something we’ve almost lost sight of. On the one hand, speech is man’s greatest glory.  Think of Adam naming the animals, they can’t name themselves.  It is the means by which we relate to God and to each other. Speech itself can be a great good: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov 16:24). On the other hand, it can be highly destructive, degenerating into frivolous chatter, people talking for the sake of talking; we can be domineering and self-assertive through our speech instead of a help and support to others.  All this corrodes the life of the spirit, recollection, humble listening. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent” (Pro. 10:19) “In much speaking you cannot escape sin” (Prov 10:19) cited by St. Benedict.  “Have you heard a word? Let it die with you. Be brave!  It will not make you burst” (Sirach 19:10) these quotations are some of the countless in the Bible on the value and necessity of controlling one’s speech, especially in the wisdom literature.    Restraint in speaking is the mark of true wisdom.

 

In other books of the Bible, especially the prophetic books, silence before God is a recognition of his greatness, power and majesty: the reaction of Elijah to the still small voice, and of Ezekiel to his vision by the river Chebar.  Habbakkuk: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20).   Zechariah: “be silent all flesh before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (2:13). Isaiah: “listen to me in silence, O coastlands” (41:1).  Generally speaking, wisdom literature  tends to stress  the need for caution  in speaking to avoid sin; the prophetic books emphasize silence as a result of the knowledge of God’s presence and of listening to his word to man.