Follow the Rule in All Things (III:2)

Saint_Benoit_recevant_le_viatique-1.jpgCHAPTER 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 over 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 Declarations of Silverstream Priory express the reverence in which we hold the Rule of Saint Benedict and are resolved to keep it:

Given that Saint Benedict was, as Pope Saint Gregory tells us in his Dialogues, filled with the Spirit of all the Just, there can be no doubt that his Rule contains all that is most perfectly suited to a life of perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, making of those who profess it hosts and sacrificial offerings with the Son of God in the divine Eucharist. The brethren will, therefore, fulfil by the help of Christ this «least of rules written for beginners», so that they may one day receive the happy reward promised to those who, having confessed and adored «the Lord Christ, our true King» in this life, will praise Him for all the immensity of His glorious eternity, saying with all the Saints: Praised and forever adored be the Son of God Who, hidden beneath the Eucharistic veil, «hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us» in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.

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