Today we remember St. Benedict. When people think of The Rule of St. Benedict, they think of a religious order. But the Rule should be read and followed in every Catholic household, for what Benedict intended, what Benedict accomplished, by his rule, is the founding of a school for the service of God. And the service of God is that for which each of us – young, old, married, celibate, clergy, lay – was made. To be clear that all can use the Rule, consider how Benedict titles his work; he calls it “this little Rule for beginners.”
Benedict, who was born in the mountains of Italy in 480, gave birth to the Rule out of his long experience with monastic life. The experience was not always happy. Two different times monks under his authority tried to poison him. Rather than despairing, Benedict learned. He learned how to be a wise father to his monks, a prudent leader for those in his care, and it is one of the glories of the church that we have his hard-won wisdom to guide us.
The Rule is brief, less than 9,000 words, and plain. Benedict means to lie out a rightly ordered life. Perhaps most importantly for our age, Benedict seeks to find a balance between work and prayer, rest and activity, speech and silence. We live in a time when there is no night, and so, no rest. There is always music, piped in elevators and coming out of grocery store ceilings, and so, never silence. We have constant access to emails and Internet and phones, so there is never respite from work. These problems are not the ones Benedict faced, but the value of his answer to the need for balance remains.
One of the ways to ensure a certain end, of course, is through force. But force does not teach anything except fear, and Benedict, like the God he serves, desires free obedience, freely given. The Rule is not to restrain prisoners. But, as the poet W. H. Auden writes, Benedict endeavors to,
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
How to “let the healing fountain start?’ Benedict advises the abbot to know each of his monks individually, and to consider each monk’s needs, talents, shortcomings and strengths. This is valuable advice for the head of any household, elected abbot or married father. Professor Russell Hittinger calls it “knowledge touched by the thing being known.”
Benedict advises his monks to “listen to the precepts of your master with the ear of your heart.” Listening with the ear of your heart is not taking notes; it is an attitude, an attitude of two who are in relationship. And it is the cultivation of that relationship — with Christ and with one another — that Benedict teaches.
In honor of this holy man, buy a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict and read it. Then put it to use in the little school of your beginning.
– Melissa Musick