PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
1 Jan. 2 May. 1 Sept
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience. To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king. In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He hath given us, that not only may He never, as an angry father, disinherit his children, but may never, as a dreadful Lord, incensed by our sins, deliver us to everlasting punishment, as most wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
We read the Holy Rule in its entirety three times a year beginning on September 1st, January 1st, and May 2nd. These three periods of four months form a kind of natural division of the Benedictine year; marking the daily dispensation of three seasons of grace. Jeremias says:
The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed: because his commiserations have not failed. They are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)
Each new reading of the Holy Rule is a opportunity to begin afresh. The Benedictine monk, vowed to a life–long conversion, is the man of new beginnings, saying always with Saint Paul:
This at least I do; forgetting what I have left behind, intent on what lies before me, I press on with the goal in view, eager for the prize, God’s heavenly summons in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)
I have often said that the greatest single commentary on the beginning of the Prologue of the Holy Rule was written, not by a Benedictine, but by a Dominican, the incomparable Blessed Fra Angelico. One has only to contemplate Blessed Fra Angelico’s depictions of the Annunciation, in order to see what Saint Benedict means when, addressing, his son, he says:
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart.
Blessed Fra Angelico’s Virgin of the Annunciation is seated; her whole being strains forward in a movement of active receptivity, of eager openness to the Word of God, and of obedience. Looking, one seems to hear the words of the psalmist:
Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father’s house. And the king shall greatly desire thy beauty; for he is the Lord thy God, and him they shall adore. (Psalm 44:11–12)
Saint Benedict opens the monastic life to all comers with but three non–negotiable conditions:
To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king.
One who knocks at the door of the cloister must be resolved (1) to renounce his own will, (2) to take up the shining arms of obedience, and (3) to engage in spiritual combat for the love of the Lord Christ, our true king. I have never hid these things from the men who present themselves to become monks: a man comes to the cloister to die to himself through obedience and humiliations and, following Saint Antony of the Desert, Saint Benedict, and the holy monks of every age, to wage battle against the devil, the great deceiver, who seeks only to prevent man from returning by the labour of obedience to God and to the glory of the heavenly homeland from which he has become estranged through the sloth of disobedience.
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. (Ephesians 6:13–14)