Follow the Rule in All Things

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CHAPTER III. Of calling the Brethren to Council
17 Jan. 18 May. 17 Sept.
Let all therefore, follow the Rule in all things as their guide, and let no man rashly depart from it. Let no one in the monastery follow the will of his own heart: nor let any one presume insolently to contend with his Abbot, either within or without the monastery. But if he should so presume, let him be subjected to the discipline appointed by the Rule. The Abbot himself, however, must do everything with the fear of God and in observance of the Rule: knowing that he will have without doubt to render to God, the most just Judge, an account of all his judgments. If it happen that less important matters have to be transacted for the good of the monastery, let him take counsel with the Seniors only, as it is written: "Do all things with counsel, and thou shalt not afterwards repent it."

A Vessel of the Wisdom of Christ

The Holy Rule stabilises our monastic life; it provides us with a pattern of order, harmony, and peace. It protects us against the tyranny of subjectivism and the distortions of relativism. The Rule, being a distillation of the Holy Gospel for monks, is the objective standard by which all things are measured rightly. It is a privileged vessel of the wisdom of Christ, "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).

Keeping the Rule

An old monastic adage says, Serva ordinem, et ordo servabit te, Keep the order [of life] and the order [of life] will keep you. The significant word in this adage is the verb servare, which means to preserve, to cherish, to hold. A related verb describes the inward attitude of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Saint Luke's Gospel: Maria autem conservabat omnia verba haec, conferens in corde suo, "But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). It is in this sense that a monk is to keep the Rule; the Rule is to be pondered, held in the heart, and so interiorised that it begins to shape the outward man.

Growth into a New Man

To keep the Holy Rule is not the same as to abide by rules. A monk can keep all the rules outwardly without their affecting any real changes in the inner man. Love of the Holy Rule is not the same thing as the love of rules! Nothing renders monastic life more toxic than a narrow legalism. The text of the Holy Rule, received and cherished day after day, grows with a monk and causes him to grow into a new man. It gives him a distinctively Benedictine countenance, that is, a way of entering into relationships. It fashions in him a Benedictine soul: attentive, silent, obedient, humble, quick to praise God, and merciful.

A Light at Life's Crossroads

In relating his impressions of Dom Boniface Osländer (Abbot of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls from 1895-1904), Blessed Ildephonsus Schuster writes that Abbot Osländer, "when already advanced in years, said that he still discovered new truths in the Rule, new wellsprings of consolation that altogether inebriated the soul." Writing to a friend, Blessed Schuster said, "The Rule will illumine you at life's inevitable crossroads. When you read the Rule, or hear it read, do not consider it a book like any other. It was given you by God as the straightest way of life."

Filled with the Spirit of All the Just

I have been reading the Holy Rule and listening to it being read for some forty years. I never tire of it. Like the Sacred Scriptures woven into it on every page, the Rule conceals one layer of meaning under another, too many to be exhausted in a lifetime. The last page of the Constitutions of Silverstream Priory express the reverence in which we hold the Rule of Saint Benedict and are resolved to keep it:

Our holy legislator's humility seems to hide from his own eyes the wonderful laws of perfection comprised in his Rule, since he invites his disciples to seek them in that of Saint Basil and of the other Fathers. But, Saint Benedict, being filled with the Spirit of all the Just, as the author of his life tells us, we cannot doubt that his Rule contains all that is most perfect in the monastic state. For this reason, we were compelled to unite the observances belonging to the perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament so intimately thereto. And although this life of adoration encompasses what is most holy in Christianity, it never wearies of drawing beauty from the Holy Rule, in such wise that one can say that the sons of this great patriarch become, by this union, the hosts and sacrificial offerings of the Son of God in the divine Eucharist. This mystery was the wondrous pattern from which our glorious father drew so striking a resemblance to Jesus Christ by the consummation of his death at the foot of the altar. We shall share, in some way, in this grace, by endeavouring to become worthy of it by the faithful practice of the laws imposed upon us by the Holy Rule and by the present Constitutions. Thus will the mysterious life of death and sacrifice, to which we are vowed by profession, be wrought in us.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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