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 52:

OF THE ORATORY OF THE MONASTERY

 

 August 3, 

Let the oratory be what it is called; and let nothing else be done there or kept there.

When the work of God is finished, let all leave with the most profound silence, and let reverence be shown to God; so that a brother who may wish to pray alone may not be hindered by the ill conduct of another.  But if another should wish to pray in private, let him simply go in and pray not in a loud voice, but with tears and fervour of heart.  Whoever is not disposed to pray in this manner should not be permitted to remain in the oratory after the Work of God is finished, lest, as has been said, another should be hindered.

 

St Benedict here gives us some precious teaching on prayer.  He speaks of fervour or attention of heart (intentio cordis).  Now we all know our prayer can be very inattentive. Thoughts move restlessly through the mind, like the buzzing of flies or the leaping of monkeys or the “fool in the house” (St. Teresa of Avila). This lack of concentration, this inability to be here and now with the whole of our being is one of the consequences of the Fall. Although we cannot make the never-idle intelligence desist altogether from restlessness, what we can do is to simplify and unify its activity by repeating a short formula or prayer. The flow of images and thoughts will persist, but we shall be enabled gradually to detach ourselves from it. The repeated invocation of a Scripture text or the Jesus prayer will help us to ‘let go’ of the thought presented to us by our conscious or subconscious self.

 

We should not think that our sinful, or simply distracting thoughts, disqualify us from praying: the very act of prayer will purify them. In all this we make a double act of faith: an act of faith in God and also an act of faith in ourselves that there is a part of us which believes and loves and worships even if that part is not apparent to us. As the cry of someone who believes, prayer is always a powerful act of faith and generosity. This should enable us to keep a sense of perspective about distraction and other trials in prayer. Distractions don’t matter in the end; they need not undermine the real intention. Prayer is not where the mind is but where the heart is. What is most essential in prayer  is the will or heart lovingly and freely given to God.

 

If you insist on not praying until you are freed from distraction, you will never pray; for distracting thoughts decline and disappear when we persist in prayer itself. He who seeks perfection before action and labour will achieve nothing ... God does not demand of man not to have thoughts at all passing through his mind while praying. Rather he demands that man pays no attention to them or relish them.

 (Isaac the Syrian)