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


May 30, 

We must be on our guard, then, against bad desires, for death is close to the entrance of delight; whence the Scripture commands us, saying: "Go not after thy lusts."

Wherefore, since the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil, and "the Lord is ever looking down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there is one who understands and who seeks God"; and since the works of our hands are reported to Him, our Creator, day and night by the Angels appointed to watch over us, we must be always on the watch, brethren, lest, as the Prophet says in the Psalm, God should see us at any time declining to evil and become unprofitable; and lest He, though sparing us at the present time because He is merciful and awaits our conversion, should say to us hereafter: "These things hast thou done and I was silent."

 

This first step of humility concludes with a picture of fear of the Lord: a life lived beneath God’s gaze, a life which “understands and seeks God”.  The Latin for understanding is really “wise”.  Seeking God is true wisdom.  St Benedict gives the presence of God as the element in which the monastic life is lived.  It is humility that recognizes this presence, and it is awareness of this presence that deepens and strengthens humility. 

This paragraph is reminiscent of St Benedict’s own biography which speaks of interior vigilance under the gaze of God.  Fleeing from vain ambition and struggling with his desires, St Benedict embraces solitude where, St Gregory the Great tells us, he “dwelt under the gaze of God.”  But  this dwelling with himself becomes the root of dwelling with others, the very basis of the common life: we're told, "men began to leave the world and put themselves eagerly under his guidance" (ch.2).   "The holy man in that same hermitage of his had long been growing richer in virtue and miraculous power, and had gathered many disciples around him for the service of Almighty God.  So he was able with the all-powerful help of our Lord Jesus Christ, to build twelve monasteries there, in each of which he set an abbot and twelve monks" (3).  He leaves one monastery and founds twelve new ones. His virtues and miracles, the influx of disciples, the foundation of new monasteries--all this springs from attention to oneself and God, from living and acting under the eyes of God.  We are going to see this paradox enacted time and again in monastic tradition: the monk begins by making an act of separation, yet the effect of this flight is to join him more closely than ever before, to make him more deeply sensitive to the needs of others.  A St Antony or a Seraphim lived for whole decades in all but total silence and physical isolation.  Yet the ultimate effect of their isolation was to confer on them a clarity of vision and an exceptional compassion.

May 29,

We are indeed forbidden to do our own will by the Scripture when it says to us: "Turn away from thy own will."  And so, too, we beg of God in prayer that His will may be done in us.  Rightly, therefore, are we taught not to do our own will when we hearken to that which the Scripture says: "There are ways which seem to men right, but the ends thereof lead to the depths of hell."  Or again, when we pay heed to what is said of the careless: "They are corrupt and have become abominable in their pleasures."  As to the desires of the flesh, let us hold as certain that God is always present to us, as the prophet says to the Lord: "Lord, before Thee is all my desire."

“We beg of God in prayer that His will may be done in us”  Here St Benedict recalls the Lord’s prayer, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  We turn away from our own will in order to embrace God’s will.  Our will is given to us that it may be united in love to him from whom it came. Listen to St Teresa of Avila: We can promise easily enough to give up our will to someone else, but when it comes to the test we find it the most difficult thing in the world to do perfectly. But God knows what each of us is able to bear, and when he finds a valiant soul, he does not hesitate to accomplish his will in that person.

I want to make sure you know what you are giving him when you say, “Your will be done.” You are asking that God’s will may be done in you; it is this and nothing else you are praying for. You need not be afraid he will give you wealth or pleasures or great honours or any earthly good thing; his love for you is not so weak as that. He sets a far greater value on your gift and desires to reward you generously, giving you his kingdom even in this life. Would you like to see how he treats people who make this petition without reserve? Ask his glorious Son, who made it genuinely and resolutely in the garden. Was not God’s will accomplished in him through the trials, the sufferings, the insults, and the persecutions he sent him until at last his life was ended on the cross?

You see then what God gave to the one he loved best of all, and that shows you what his will is. These things are his gifts in this world, and he gives them in proportion to his love for us… Fervent love can suffer a great deal for his sake, while lukewarmness will endure very little. I myself believe that love is the gauge of the crosses, great or small, that we are able to bear. (Way of Perfection.)