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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