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 49:

OF THE OBSERVANCE OF LENT

 

Nov 30

Although the life of a monk ought at all times have the aspect of Lenten observance, yet, since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all during these days of Lent to lead lives of the greatest purity, and to atone during this holy season for all the negligences of other times.  This we shall do in a worthy manner if we refrain ourselves from all sin and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart, and to abstinence.  Therefore during these days let us add something to our ordinary measure of service, such as private prayers or abstinence from food and drink, so that each one may offer up to God in the joy of the Holy Spirit something over and above the measure appointed to him: that is, let him deny his body in food, in drink, in sleep, in superfluous talking, in mirth, and   long for the holy feast of Easter with the joy of spiritual desire.

Let each one, however, make known to his Abbot what he offers up, and let it be done with the assistance of his prayers and with his permission; because that which is done without the permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presumption and vainglory, and will merit no reward.  All things, therefore, are to be done with the permission of the Abbot.

 

 

St Benedict’s asceticism is not one of ruthless mortification of the flesh, rivalry in endurance of pain, a record of performances.  Indeed he seems to see that those things could lead to vanity and nourish self-love when, for example, he directs monks to do nothing without the permission of the abbot, and when he points us towards a more faithful following of the Rule, towards “leading lives of greater purity.”  The first point to be made about the practice of asceticism is that it should be characterized by the elements and disciplines that make up our Rule and observance, (obedience, celibacy, vigils, fasting, prayer, communal life, work, discipline  in bearing, eating, sleeping ); by the three great renunciations entailed by the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, 3 sacrifices lying at the heart of the gospel teaching and inseparable from any religious life.  Thus the ascetical practices of religious life are the very ones of Christ himself. And in this Kingdom of the Spirit where one finds joy in sacrifice and desire, the monk also has a spiritual father who holds the place of Christ.