A School for the Lord’s Service

We re-read the final sentences of the Prologue to the Rule today. If you read them in Latin, you will get a sense of the weight and shape of them no translation can really convey. They are full of alliteration (Benedict was no classicist, but he wrote good Late Latin) and phrases which have become popular, even among those who do not live in monasteries. Just occasionally, I find myself asking whether that isn’t becoming a little bit of a problem. It seems anyone and everyone can call himself ‘monastic’ these days. I certainly agree that that there is much in the monastic tradition which can be shared and is of relevance to those who have no call to the cloister; but, unpopular though it may be to say so, I also believe that the monastic tradition unfolds its riches only slowly and that the commitment of community and vows are an integral part of its disclosure. Like any craft or other skill, it is practice which makes perfect.

When Benedict talks about our ‘persevering in his teaching in the monastery until death’, he means exactly what he says. Monasticism isn’t something we can take up or lay down for an hour or two a day or fit into a week-end or occasional retreat. It is a ‘whole life project’. Every minute of every day is to be lived as a monk/nun. That is why comparatively few make trial of it, and why even fewer of us who are monks and nuns can be said to have made the grade.  The scola domininci servitii, the school for the Lord’s service, can be a daunting prospect. Over time, I think we do internalise the precepts of the Rule. Just as we learn the words by heart, so the meaning slowly sinks in and we become what we are meant to be. Perhaps that is why so many monks and nuns seem to live to an advanced age. We are slow learners, but like the tortoise, we get there in the end, D.V.

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9 thoughts on “A School for the Lord’s Service”

  1. How Benedict would have liked that word, ‘craft’.

    And your phrase ‘make trial of it’ triggers a memory of Tate & Brady’s verses :

    O make but trial of His love.
    Experience will decide
    how blest are they, and only they,
    who in His truth confide.

    Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then
    have nothing else to fear;
    make you His service your delight;
    your wants shall be His care.

  2. I have been looking at this recently and I have been trying to follow the Rule since the late seventies, latterly more formally as an Oblate.
    It is indeed a life’s work, but as many, (including Thomas Merton) have said is that we remain beginners all our lives…but also with regard to converastio morum because we have to start again afresh every day to choose to engage with this process/quest for God. When we fail – especially when we fail, we have to have the humility to get up and start again. It can be very difficult to do.
    However depressing the circumstances of our falls and failures , the great thing is that we can start again from today…. I find that a profoundly hopeful prospect and it gives me some of the grace and strength I need to carry on despite my failures because ‘His Grace is sufficient’ for us.

    • Thomas Merton was quoting Smaragdus and the Desert Fathers. Falling down and getting up again is what monastic life consists in, and has been from the beginning, I suspect. I quite agree about the importance of hope. After all, we all hope to be saved in the end, don’t we? 🙂

  3. It must be a little disconcerting to see the word monastic used to describe anything spiritual (in order to sell something?) but I must stick up for the genuine desire to learn from those whose experience is so different to most Christians. There are some great books with genuine insight.

    An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order by Nancy Maguire.

    Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps For A Fulfilling Life by Abbot Christoher Jameson.
    There is also a real gem, Work and Prayer: The Rule of St Benedict for lay people by OSB Columba Cary-Elwes and Catherine Wybourne…
    Those of us with a different vocation can never hope to experience the rich depths but can get support and encouragement by reading about the lives and methods of very dedicated people.

    • I wasn’t knocking the desire to learn from the monastic experience (how could I, when I have been a supporter of lay following of the Rule since before I penned that translation you graciously allude to?) but mentioning in passing something that I do think is becoming a bit of a problem although I didn’t want to spend my post on it as such: some quite unmonastic propositions being tagged as ‘monastic’ by people who have had no first-hand experience of monastic living and are very picky about which elements of the Rule they light on. This is particularly a problem when someone assumes guru status and ends up creating what is, to all intents and purposes, a cult rather than a community. I have had some tangential experience of a couple of these ‘experiments in monastic living’ and, frankly, find them disturbing.

      • I totally agree. Sorry if my post suggested you were knocking the desire to learn. The choice of resource and guide makes a big difference. I know that, as a lay person, it is hard to get guidance. Who/where from? I liked Abbot Jameson’s opener that his book was not a self help guide. I also like Sister Wendy’s warning that reading about prayer should not replace praying. There is a New Age/Guru bandwagon for every taste – “monastic” can be a sales gimic rather than genuine guidance/insight.
        The genuine nature of your output is what draws me (and many others) to it.

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