St Benedict: father of western monasticism

By a curious irony, while we are celebrating the Transitus or birthday into life of St Benedict, the patriarch of western monasticism, our Anglican brethren are commemorating Thomas Cranmer. Better Cranmer than Cromwell was my first thought. My second was more questioning: how do our conflicts look from the perspective of eternity? I do not presume to suggest an answer, any more than I think Benedict would have done. He was a modest man, though what he asks of his followers is anything but modest.

All those wonderful books which tell us how moderate Benedict’s demands are must have been written by people who have never tried to meet them. There is nothing ‘moderate’ about living a life centred on Christ; an obedience requiring constant listening for the voice of God in any and every situation; a daily conversion; a genuine love of the brethren, no matter how uncongenial one may find them (or they us).

Many people overlook a phrase Benedict uses near the beginning of the Rule, where he says that monastic life must be lived ‘following the guidance of the gospel’. There are no half-measures in the gospel, any more than there are in the Rule. Today, as we give thanks for Benedict and ask his prayers for all Benedictines, those of us who have taken the yoke of his Rule on our shoulders might ask ourselves the question, how do I measure up to his demands? How well or otherwise have I met the challenge nihil amori Christi praeponere, to prefer nothing to the love of Christ? That is a question others may want to ask themselves as well.

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21 thoughts on “St Benedict: father of western monasticism”

  1. I’ve looked at the rule of St Benedict and i-church seeks to live in accordance with Benedictine principles, not the whole rule.

    It’s not easy to just live by principles, let alone the rule. I’ve had to realise that very much of what you say, if you don’t put God at the centre of everything, you will

    Perhaps God chooses quite carefully those for different vocations, mine seems to be Ordained Ministry, but the journey towards that is only partially discerned. Much could happen between and surrender to God’s will for this particular vocation is the only way to survive the process of discernment. It free’s you to the joy of the journey, of the process of learning and formation and ultimately, to know that whatever the outcome is, you’ve been obedient to God’s will during it. How often in our lives can we say that. Not many in mine I know.

    I hope that your community is able to celebrate the Feast of St Benedict in peace and joy.

  2. May you and your community have a blessed day. 62 years ago I took the habit as a novice (not Benedictine) but religious life was not what God wanted for me. I am so grateful for my time as a religious but can see quite clearly now tht the long, winding and rocky road to now was necessary for me to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

  3. I too find Benedictine Spirituality inspiring but to live it in Community, day in and day out, centred on Christ and obedient to the Rule is truly humbling for those of us who find its demands rigorous.

    Thankfully, I have been called to a happy married life but would like to think that there are aspects of a Benedictine life which can apply to us too.

    With the Passing of St Benedict I pray for all our Benedictine brothers and sisters, that they may remain faithful to their vocation and a witness to the world.

  4. Having recently visited a religious book shop, I’d love to have Digitalnun’s ‘take’ on the burgeoning Benedictine in the world publishing industry. It seems there is now a Benedictine way of doing business, leadership, living a lay life, living a secluded life and the rest. Why Benedict? Why now?

    Happy feast day to all readers and writers of this blog.

  5. The last post interested me because I found the Rule a very helpful guide to management and used it as such for many years. I think it is because Saint Benedict is very wise on the subject of people living together with integrity and respect. His counsel works well for any community and the workplace is a community, whatever some may think. So today I will thank Benedict and pray for all Benedictines. I will also admit I failed and fail the test often: mea culpa. Pax everyone.

  6. It is an important question on which to reflect. Of course one falls far short. But to draw a line, to choose to cross it into a more serious, committed practice, as Lent beckons us, to choose to ‘bear the yoke’ of Benedict’s rule in a lay context, to learn it and attempt to live it… I agree it is not a ‘moderate’ undertaking.

    I’ve been reading in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus Christ, with #BigBible12/twitter (Dr. Bex Lewis/Tom Wright) and am taken by the greats numbers of people who amazed gather and crowd around Jesus, how he feels compassion for them, and teaches them, and after with his disciples retreats to a quiet place, and there teaches more deeply to them.

    I ask myself is it not presumptuous to consider oneself one of that inner circle and not one of the multitude? I mean to have a ‘personal relationship’, in prayer, with Jesus suggests a self importance that is perhaps not warranted. How can one presume that Jesus listens to one personally? Is it not the disciples, the elected who are truly called to follow Jesus’ way? After all Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me”, and not to the multitude.

    My question then is how does one know if one is called to carry the yoke of a rule such as Benedict’s?

    • One might consider the descent from Moab into the Jordan Valley of the people of Israel, to cross the river Jordan into the promised land, who bore the yoke of the mosaic covenant, the entire people, the whole nation.

    • To think on it, my question can only be answered by me, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And asking the question is in itself an answer of a sort…

  7. Margaret, EVERYONE is called to follow Jesus. How will depend on God’s particular dream for each one. St Paul says God has no favourites. None of us deserves to be called. It is a free gift from God’s inexhaustible love. The voice which prevents me from having a personal relationship with Jesus because I’m not worthy is not from God. Gox wants an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. Does a loving parent want the love of some of her/his children but consider the others unworthy? Why would God?

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Maria. It is the degree of relationship and commitment that I am grappling with, and an apparently deep sense of uncertainty. I am searching the rock of knowledge of the gospel to stand on. I live the gospel by half measure, if that, and truly have not, am only beginning to learn what it teaches on how to live. I feel that I want to give much more of myself to God and feel unequal to the task.

  8. Margaret, when I feel inadequate to the task – which is all the time! – I try to remind myself that God makes up for what I can’t do. I spent my early life thinking I had to do it all and it got me nowhere (or that was how it felt). In my older years I have realised that it is only in taking my weakness to God and handing over to him that I can be fruitful. It may not apply to you, but I had to face the fact that I didn’t like admitting I am inadequate because my pride wants me to be in control and self sufficient. It was very freeing to embrace the fact that only God is adequate and that God is in control, not me.

  9. Thank you for all your insights. (We spent part of the day at Douai, celebrating St Benedict with our brethren so I didn’t see your comments until this morning.) There is a lot here and I should like to take up one or two points in a subsequent blog post, if I may. However, I would like to emphasize that God shows no partiality among persons, as St Benedict himself says. We are are called to the closest possible union with Christ.

  10. Thank you, sister. Take up whatever points you like as far as I am concerned. I so agree with your last sentence. I had to be led away from religious life to discover the love of God and intimacy with God.

  11. Thank you Maria and Margaret for your heartfelt, candid exchanges. I feel I know you both and have, at different times, been in your shoes. I am sure that God is in your questions, your exchanges, your reflections and I add my prayers that he will continue to guide you both.

  12. Thank you for your kind words and prayers, Patricia. I believe that in our essence we all have more in common than ways in which we differ. Learning about this is one of the many blessings of sharing.

  13. Thank you, S. Catherine. I hope your time at Douai yesterday was restful and refreshing for you all. I love what your wrote: We are all called to the closest possible union with Christ. I’ll comment no further today. Time for reflection.

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