ENLARGING THE HEART

UPDATE:             1ST January 2015   We now begin a new series of commentaries on the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict (Series 3). We hope this will continue to be a source of spiritual nourishment for you. 


Daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict

By a Benedictine of Saint Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde


"... as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts

   shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God's commandments." 

(From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict)



St Benedict wrote his Rule for monks some fifteen centuries ago.  Driven by his love of Christ, he wanted to establish his monastery as a "school of the Lord's service": a place where people who truly seek God could find him; places where "authentic Gospel values prevail"(1); where nothing whatever would be preferred to Christ. The Rule of St Benedict spread all over Europe, and had an enormous influence on the life and spirituality of the Latin Church.  It continues to inspire monks, nuns, and countless lay people throughout the world today.

Like many monasteries we divide the Rule into sections so that the whole Rule is covered over a period of three months. The commentaries will follow the sequence of the sections.

(1) Pope John Paul II, to Benedictine Abbots, 23 September 1996


CHAPTER 48: 

OF THE DAILY MANUAL WORK

March 28, 

Idleness is the enemy of the soul.  Therefore, the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labour, and at other fixed hours in holy reading.  We think, therefore, that the times for each may be disposed as follows: from Easter to the 14th of September, going forth in the morning, they are to labour at whatever is necessary from the first to about the fourth hour.  From the fourth until about the sixth hour let them apply themselves to reading.  After the sixth hour, on rising from table, let them rest on their beds in all silence; or if perhaps one should wish to read alone, let him so read as not to disturb anyone else.  Let None be said somewhat earlier - at the middle of the eighth hour; then let them again work at whatever is to be done until Vespers.  If, however, the needs of the place or their poverty should require that they occupy themselves in gathering in the harvest, let them not take it ill, because then they are truly monks if they live by the labour of their hands as did our Fathers and the Apostles.  Let all things, however, be done in moderation on account of the weak.

There is a rather curious story in the Cistercian Exordium Magnum (12th-13thc) about a novice master at Grandselve who had been a model, a champion of the spiritual life.  As such persons often did, he made a spectacular appearance shortly after his death. His bodily appearance resembled a clear crystal blazing with the purest light--except, alas, for a dark blotch on his foot.  Why the blotch?  The holy novice master, in spite of his merits, had had a single fault: he was a bit less fervent than he should have when he went out with the brethren to the daily common work.  The narrator adds the moral: “it is certain that every practice of the Order is holy and pleasing to God, and that not one can be neglected without serious danger to the soul.” (EM 2:24).

The monk is a man of unity, unity of being, unity of action.  This unity should develop when everything in him is ordered towards the one goal of purity of heart, love. And love expresses itself in action.  It tends with all its strength towards the Lord and uses all the means at its disposal. At times it will express this tending towards the Lord in prayer and quiet, at other times in activity.  But it is all one work.  Work and prayer are both an expression of our love, of our search for God.  Benedictines live together not for the sake of doing any particular work but in order to carry out as far as possible the full teaching of Christ.

St Benedict likes to refer to the monk as a workman.  The opening call in the Prologue presents the Lord seeking his workman in the crowd, a call to enter gainful employment in the service of Christ.  The monastery is a workshop where the monk toils faithfully at the spiritual craft. The monk is to consider himself a poor and unworthy workman, but his humility enables the Holy Spirit to use  him, to create a “workman now cleansed from sin and vice,” to lead him to the perfect love of God, good habit and delight in virtue.  Work has its part to play in all this: we are to find union with God not in spite of, but precisely in our daily occupations and tasks.

CHAPTER 47:

Of announcing the hour for the Work of God

March 27, 

It shall be the duty of the Abbot to announce the hour for the Work of God both by day and by night, either by giving the signal himself or by assigning this task to such a careful brother that all things may be done at their proper times.

Let those who have been commanded  intone the psalms and antiphons, each in his order, after the Abbot.  Let no one presume to sing or to read unless he can fulfil this office to the edification of the hearers.  And let it be done with humility, gravity, and reverence, and by him whom the Abbot has appointed.

St Benedict desires that our community acts should be so performed and organized that they “edify”, build up, are a help to the spiritual life of those who take part.  This idea is stated frequently in the Rule, and St Benedict clearly attaches importance to this.  Here reader and cantors are to be chosen so that they may perform the task in an edifying way.  He wants those acts to fulfil their task in building up the interior life.  The same idea lies behind the choice of spiritual reading; he wants something that will edify the hearers.  The superior alone may interrupt the reader at table to edify the hearer (ch 38). The divine law, the Word of God,    is to be read on receiving a guest so that he may be edified.