I sometimes wonder how other people manage to fit everything in. They look after their families, do their jobs, care for house and garden and STILL have time to read, write, watch videos and cultivate all kinds of hobbies, from extreme sports to needlepoint. By contrast I, who ought to have all the time in the world, am in a perpetual state of trying to keep up. Could it be that I exaggerate the ability of others to remain on top of things and underestimate my own ability to do the things that really matter?
Today’s section of the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict (Prol. 14–20) goes straight to the point. A Benedictine is, by definition, a worker for God (Prol. 14), motivated by a desire for life (Prol 15) — life which, in all its fullness, can only be obtained by the renunciation of evil and the pursuit of goodness. So, we are exhorted to turn away from evil speech, do good, and seek after peace (Prol. 17). That will prepare us to hear the Lord’s invitation to follow the way of life (Prol. 20). Simple, isn’t it? Only, most of us don’t find it easy but almost impossibly hard, which is why we have to try and try again, spending our whole lives listening for that invitation in the midst of all the other activity we undertake. However much we want to hear and heed the voice of the Lord, we still need a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food on our tables; importantly, we still need one another if we are to grow in holiness.
For the monk or nun, therefore, the challenge of fitting everything in remains. The only difference is motivation and approach — how and why we do things, rather than what we do. We ought not to be acting from selfish motives — what’s best for me, or even what’s best for my community — but from more altruistic ones — what’s best for everyone; and the way in which we do things ought to be less of a hectic scramble. I say ‘ought’ because we all fall short of the ideal. Perhaps that is a good thing. Those super-organized beings we admire from afar can be rather difficult to live with, making saints of everybody else rather than themselves!