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.