Reflections on The Rule of St. Benedict
As it could apply to Christians today
Religion does not consist of the many things we doubt or what we are trying to believe. Our religion consists of what we are willing to live and willing to work for, and what we willingly do for and share with others.
Pastoral Reflection: Prayer And Work
St. Benedict in his advice to his monks would often encapulate all of his teachings in the simple phrase, “Ores et Labores” pray and work…
What could that mean to us?
How to we learn to work prayerfully and to pray as if prayer was our life’s work? From a spiritually centered perspective, work is the expression of how we honor and respect the fact that we are co-creators of our world. Since we believe that God is present and can be available to us as we live and work daily, and if we believe that Spirit is omnipresent, then whatever efforts we put forth are accompanied by the spiritual dimension of life that is in us, with us, and around us.
Because we carry our awareness of God in our hearts and minds and bodies, God becomes an essential part of every activity we do, and cannot be divorced from our workday or our daily devotional practices. In the typtical work environment, there might be a rare possibility to take some time to sit in a nearby church or chapel, or more likely, to find a sunny window, or be able to get outside briefly and take a break from weary routines. Yet, even a few minutes of contemplation or prayer can “make or break” your day…
Which is proof that most approaches to prayer are attitudinal, and that prayer time acts as a gracious catalyst and as an effective form of protective assurance that allows us to accomplish our responsibilities, and still keep a sense of balance and peace in our minds and hearts. Everyone of us, to one extent or another prays…hopes, wishes, worries, and trusts their way through each day of our lives. Those many feelings act as our prayers- for they can decide our attitudes and frame our expectations.
Benedict taught about the sacred duty of daily life; to accept the responsibilities we have been given or elected to have, perform their roles simply and effectively, being mindful of the expectations we can place on ourselves to use our God given talents and gifts, along with our learned skills in service to humanity and our world. In this way, our prayers can offer us a path of self mastery and vocational guidance. Our prayers lead us whole heartedly towards insight and opportunity because our work in the world is also our gift to the world… It matters little to God if our highest mission that day is to make a meal, clean a room, rake a yard, go to school or start a business. In and through each job or task we are given, large or small, requires our prayers.
Prayer takes time and requires our intention- we prayer in many ways and styles, but each appraoch needs an attitude of mindfulness, inclusion, willingness, and openness. Work can easily become an excuse not to walk with God or not to take some time to pray or meditate. All too often when I was in parish life, instead of seeing myself in service to God and in relationship to the community, I fell into the ego centered trap that my success or my soltions and problem solving was mine alone to accomplish!
Only after a return to a prayful intention, to a sense of belong to a larger interdependent whole that my sense of the sacred returned to me,a nd I could return to my tasks and responsibilities with a clear intention and with more gratitude and joy. Over the days and years, I have tried to include daily times for prayer and devotional reading, while I still do and recommend. However, in all humility, some days the best prayers I can manage is just sitting still for a moment , close my eyes, and open my heart and listen for some guidance.
( In writing this, I flashed on one of my earliest teachers, The Marareshi, who would often look with dismay at our Western pace of life and exclaim: ” If you are too busy to meditate, then you are too busy!”)
The Benedictine rule as it has been explained and demonstrated for me by my brothers and sisters recommend this rule fopr our progress:
Remember… (there is no more essential practice in world spirituality than the act of remembering…) Remember that it is in the how we do what is being asked of us that is the measure of our spiritual understanding. Do we do it with compliant, with resistance or do we do it with patience and perserverance? In the asking ourselves about our attitude, or the How we can come to understand the deeper reasons Why nad for that purpose we live and work throughout our lives. (Compare to Viktor Frankel and Logotherapy…)
If at first, your cannot carry your prayers and your affrmations with you into each task during your day, then try to set aside some time to reflect on the events and experience you have had or that you expect to have…
The Benedictines call this time of reflection, the Examen- that is, the time dedicated to reflection on your motives and thoughts, your attitudes and outlooks in a compassionate and discerning way. This spiritual exercise
Encourages you to take those new insights and awareness into your next day and allow them to keep you company in all your actions…
The Examen should be considered to be a way of keeping an unwritten diary or journal. St. Paul’s first Epistle contains these words that support these monastic rules. He wrote to the Thessolonians, ” Test your motives, pray without ceasing”
Through our willingness to have our prayers accompany our actions we retain the sacred as being a source of inspiration throughout our day… I would ask you to try this… And see if your daily life and your approach towards your work changes or improves…
A teaching story attributed to St.Benedict:
Once there was an monk who was asked by a businessman for advice concerning his work:
“As the fish perishes on dry land, so do you perish when you get entangled in the world. The fish must return to the water, and you must return to the Spirit.
Upset and aghast, the businessman responded: ” Are you saying that I must give up my business and go into a monastary?”
The the monk replied: ” Definitely not! I am telling you to hold on to your business, and go into your heart.” There you will find all the answers you seek.”
Reflection on The Rules of St. Benedict
Adapted for a liberal and inclusive approach
No matter how much we dislike the idea personally, ther are certain rules that each of us follows daily. Some of the one we commonly follow are obeyed “religiously” that is, literally or consistently. Other rules are applied on an ocassional basis, or during certain situations or temptations.
Unfortunately, we moderns hear the word, rule, and we quickly confuse it with law, and we can easily confuse them and then feel oppressed by both rules and laws.
Today, I will use the word rule, as St. Benedict first taught it- as a positve guideline used for the enrichment of our souls and for the deeper development of your spiritual life. Benedict sought earnestly to provide his monks with guidelines and instructions for ways in which they could improve their prayer lives and cultivate their spiritual and ethical awareness. He wanted to offer his monks a set of flexible standards and workable goals during the 13th Century- you remember, it was a time of a fragile economy, unstable social life, and a crumbling political structure that was stalemated by those wishing to perserve the Roman Empire…
Laws and principles, like Commandments and vows, are different from rules… Laws are more powerful and less tolerant of ambiguity. They are made to be obeyed, and not easily dismissed. Once in place, a law might be ignored , but rarely is it erased. It just waits until someone is looking for a legal or religious precedent, a rationale or suitable premise, and then it gets rediscovered, reapplied, and reinforced!
Principles are constants. Theya re always in effect, and always operating whether its the principles of physics or medicine or the principles of consciousness- they cannot be denied or superceded.
Rules are gentler, more fluid and adaptible to various situations and conditions. Rules and guidelines are those recommendations that are given to us to assist us in our own decision-making. They are ethical compass points to help us to set our best direction, but if we decide not to heed them or forget them, nothing of great consequence will happen…
In our pursuit of greater religious understanding, rules point towards ethics and toward ways that encourage our growth,maintain our balance, and that foster our well being. These guidelines urge us to become more compassionate, more broadminded, humble, and accepting without throwing out our human need for limits and legal structures.
Rules are used as a part of the spiritual journey to keep us free from ego distortions and excesses. They are our guidelines for exploration, and provide us with a standard of comparison. Rules obviously can be broken but rebellion is rarely justified until a more complete understanding of what the rule covers is known, and the consequences understood. That is where the primacy of conscience comes in… Wher we proceed because we feel the rightness of it in our hearts, as we step beyond the standard rules to follow a new level of inner guidance…
It has been said that the task and the goal of the spiritual life consists of this: To move from the “questions we cannot answer, to the answers we cannot evade.” This movement requires both rules and faith.
Consider these rules: Whenever we can, we are to speak up for our sisters and brothers; To speak up for equality and justice for all living beings. Whenever we can, we are to substitute silence for censure, the mirror for the megaphone, the smile for the mask. (aggregate of rules and advice…)
Q: If you were to devise some rules for living, especially as they impact or influence your religious identity and ethical concerns, what would they be?
In one way or another, when we take a historical look at our Western approaches to spiritual formation and community ethics, we will find a connection to the Rules of St. Benedict. Compiled by one man in order to provide a flexible and adaptible set of guidelines for his followers who aspire to the religious life, he penned a set of 12 rules as a guide to simple and compassionate living. He offered them to his followers and they became a monastic template that almost all devotional groups can use.
He sought to restore a sense of personal and social balance, to affirm humanity’s rightful place of stewardship for the earth, while attesting to the value of any community sharing the work within a larger context of society.
While his formulation of these rules were original to him, his ideas can be traced and seen as having common threads in most Middle Eastern communities, such as the Rabbinical groups and the Sufis of Islam.
The Rule of St. Benedict
These are adapted and abridged from various Benedictine sources
Such as from Wisdom From The Well based on Benedict’s Rules by Sr. Joan Chisttler for consideration among Contemporary Catholics
1) Let God be God, and let yourself be an unfinished creature in process. Have compassion for yourself and for others, keeping in mind the everlasting respect we are to hold for God, and the consequences of disobedience to God’s holy laws. ( Ten Commandments, etc.)
2) Delight in service to your brothers and sisters. Choose servbice over self fulfillment or any willfulness. Try to discern the will of God for you in whatever situation you face, or in whatever circumstances you are given in life.
3) True obedience comes from respect, honor, and love, never from fear. Out of love for God and for the greater good, accept that here will always be people who will have power over you, and who can alter your outer life. Remember, that your life is not in your hands alone.
4) Bear your hardships without sever complaining. Be patient, even tempered, and persistent in your resolve. Seek balance, harmony, and offer no evil in return.
5) Confess your evil thoughts and secret sins to keep them from controlling you or taking over your life and heart. Confession and self disclosure gives us freedom.
6) Be content with simplicity. Seek to have or own only what is necessary to be happy. Use only what you need. Have enough, share the rest.
7) Choose to be humble and identify yourself with the rest of humanity, as spiritually poor, in need of change and growth. In truth, we are all equals- In God’s eyes, no one is better or worse.
8) Do nothing that contradicts the spiritual core of your life or the outcome of your community life. Listen and respect traditional wisdom.
Truth is timelss, real, a constant source. As it is said, ” Theories of astronomy and the heavens change, but the stars abide.”
9) Refrain from being boisterous oor meddlesome. Life is serious, not superficial. Resist the temptation to run anyone’s life for them.
10) Maintain silence over censure. Speak only when addressed or asked to speak.
11) When you do speak, speak gently, clearly, sparingly. Treat your listeners with respect.
12) Demonstrate your understanding of humility and self control by your outward conduct, your manners, and your appearance.
God is everywher that I am. And since everything could be said can speak to this supreme good, this God, maybe our greatest task and our best daily steps start when we listen… Asculta! (Latin word from Benedict… First listen… Listen with your hearts…)
Here is one of my favorites from the Desert Fathers:
“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.””
A short collection of the old stand-bys from St. Francis are also favorites of mine:
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”
“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible!
Divine love is the rule to live and die for.”
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man”.
Pray, pray to the Lord with me, because the whole world needs prayer. And every day, when your heart especially feels the loneliness of life, pray. Pray to the Lord, because even God needs our prayers.”
Blessed Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina Www.padrepiodevotions.org
“A great aid to going against your will is to bear in mind continually how all is vanity and how quickly everything comes to an end. This helps to remove our attachments to trivia and center it on what will never end. Even though this practice seems to be a weak means, it will strengthen the soul greatly and the soul will be most careful in very little things. When we begin to become attached to something, we should strive to turn our thoughts from it and bring them back to God- and His majesty helps.”
Saint Teresa of Avila:
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things.
He who has God Finds he lacks nothing; God alone suffices.
“Jesus is patient with us, for He doesn’t like pointing everything out at once to souls. He generally gives His light little by little.”
Saint Therese of Lisieux:
“At the beginning of my spiritual life when I was thirteen or fourteen, I used to ask myself what I would have to strive for later on because I believed it was quite impossible for me to understand perfection better. I learned very quickly since then that the more one advances, the more one sees the goal is still far off. And now I am simply resigned to see myself always imperfect and in this I find my joy.”
Saint Bernard of Cairvaux:
“When an offense is committed against you, a thing hard to avoid at times in communities like ours, do no immediately rush, as a worldly person may do, to retaliate dishonorably against your brother; nor, under the guise of administering correction, should you dare to pierce with sharp and searing words one for whom Christ was pleased to be crucified; nor make grunting, resentful noises at him, nor mutter and murmur complaints, nor adopt a sneering air, nor indulge the loud laugh of contempt, nor knit the brow in menacing anger. let your passion die within, where it was born; a carrier of death, it must be allowed no exit or it will cause destruction, and then you can say with the Prophet: “I was troubled and I spoke not.”
Conscience cannot come to us from the rulings of society; otherwise it would never reprove us when society approves us, nor console us when society condemns. When we listen to our conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.”
Archbishop Fulton Sheen
“The best way of praying is when you don’t know what you will say…”
I don’t remember the exact quote and I think it was St Anthony of the Desert that said the quote above. I ran across it years ago when for various reasons I had stopped praying, or at least imploring God to do X and Y.
I loved his quote and way of praying because it opened me to prayer not as something that asks for an external change (e.g., change something in the world this or that way) but prayer can be for unknowable possibilities that can occurs within us.
“We may not trust too much to ourselves; for grace and understanding are often wanting in us; there is but little light and this we may soon lose by negligence. Oftentimes we are quite unconscious how blind we are. We often do amiss, and do worse in excusing ourselves. Sometimes we are moved by excusing ourselves. Sometimes we are moved by passion, and think it zeal. We blame little things in others and overlook great things in ourselves. We are quick enough in perceiving and weighing what we bear from others; but we think little of what others have to bear with us. He that should well and justly weigh his own doings would find little cause to judge harshly of another.”
“We must remember God more often than we draw breath.”
Saint Gregory Nazianzus
“I was bound to the many vices of my past life and I would never have believed it possible to be freed from them….However, the help of the water that regenerates overcame me. The corruption of my preceding life was cancelled and from on high a light was effused into my soul making it pure and clean. I received from heaven the Holy Spirit and by means of a second birth I became a new man…..”