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 66: 

OF THE PORTER OF THE MONASTERY

April 24,

Let there be placed at the gate of the monastery a wise brother of mature age who is able to understand and reply in all matters, and whose grave habits will not permit him to wander about.  This porter is to have his cell near the gate, that they who come may always find someone at hand to make a response.  As soon as anyone shall knock, or a poor person shall beg for charity, he shall answer, "Thanks be to God," or, "God bless you"; and then, with all the gentleness of the fear of God, let him quickly respond in the fervour of charity.  If the porter stands in need of assistance, let him have with him one of the younger brethren.

The monastery, if it is possible, ought to be so constructed that all things necessary - such as, water, a mill, a garden, a bakery, and the various workshops - may be contained within it, so that there may be no need for the monks to go abroad, for this is not at all healthful for their souls.

Moreover, we wish this Rule to be read frequently in the community, that none of the brethren may excuse himself on the plea of ignorance.

St Benedict insists that everything necessary for his monks should be within the monastery walls.  Enclosure is a primitive, constant and universal element in the monastic life of both monks and nuns.   Its practice long pre-dates any legislation.  Enclosure—with the material and physical separation implied the limited contacts with the exterior—corresponds to a general idea of the monastic life shared by both men and women, as a life of separation from the world. Some sayings of the Desert Fathers support the view of voluntary exile, wandering.  Yet on the whole, the tradition shows that great discernment is required in the matter of changing one’s abode. The literature more frequently extols the importance of staying in one place, remaining in the cell—the privileged place for one who would learn the ways of the desert—and combating the restlessness that could endanger the monastic life and ruin interior recollection.  “Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water,” Antony used to say, “so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace.”  A Desert “Mother” Amma Syncletica said:

“If you find yourself in a monastery do not go to another place, for that will harm you a great deal.  Just as the bird who abandons the eggs she was sitting on prevents them from hatching, so the monk or the nun grows cold and their faith dies, when they go from one place to another.”

April 23,

If, however, the circumstances of the place require it, or the community asks for it reasonably and with humility, and the Abbot judges it expedient, let the Abbot himself choose whomsoever he will, with the counsel of the brethren who fear God, and himself appoint a Prior.

Let the Prior, however, reverently execute what is commanded him by his Abbot, and do nothing contrary to his will or ordinance; for the more he is raised above others so much the more should he be solicitous in observing the precepts of the Rule.

If the Prior is found to be vicious or deceived by the loftiness of pride, or be proved to be contemptuous of the Holy Rule, let him be reprimanded by word of mouth until the fourth time; if he does not amend, let the correction of regular discipline be used in his regard.  And if even then he does not improve, let him be deposed from the office of prior and another who is worthy be appointed in his place.  If afterwards he is not peaceful and obedient in the community, let him even be expelled from the monastery. Nevertheless, let the Abbot bear in mind that he is to give an account to God of all his judgements, lest perhaps the fire of envy or jealousy be burning in his soul.

The prior or prioress in a Benedictine monastery is the first assistant to the Abbot or Abbess.  In most monasteries to this day he or she is appointed by the abbot or abbess as St Benedict recommends. This chapter so full of failings and problems is nevertheless shot through with a spiritual atmosphere.  The reasonable and humble request of the community recalls chapter 31 on the cellarer and chapter 61 on pilgrim monks and the spirit in which we should make all our requests or suggestions.  St Benedict speaks of God-fearing brethren, that is, those who are ever mindful of the presence of God.  That expression denotes a religious climate, the sense of the divine presence, from which flows the life of the individuals and the community as a whole.  Finally there is the reference to the Holy Rule.  The Rule itself is part of the sacred sphere which should envelop the monastery.