Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
7 Jan. 8 May. 7 Sept.
We have, therefore, to establish a school of the Lord’s service, in the setting forth of which we hope to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous. But if anything be somewhat strictly laid down, according to the dictates of sound reason, for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not therefore fly in dismay from the way of salvation, whose beginning cannot but be strait and difficult. But as we go forward in our life and in faith, we shall with hearts enlarged and unspeakable sweetness of love run in the way of God’s commandments; so that never departing from His guidance, but persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers of His kingdom. Amen.
Hard and Rugged Paths
In contrast with some of the Desert Fathers and, in fact, with certain other schools of holiness, Saint Benedict resolves to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous. This does not mean that the Benedictine way is strewn with rose petals; in Chapter LVIII of the Rule, Saint Benedict says that the senior monk charged with caring for novices must set before then “all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God.” The Benedictine way, although characterized by mildness, moderation, and mercy, remains the via crucis (the way of the Cross), the narrow way, the way of immolation and of sacrifice, because for the Christian there can be no other way. “If we be dead with him, we shall live also with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12).
Harshness and rigour have no place in the pedagogy of the Rule; it is a pedagogy of moderation, flexibly adapted, and re-adapted, with gentleness and discretion, to the infirmities and weakness of those enrolled in the school of the Lord’s service. Both Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face would find in the pedagogy of the Rule a spiritual sensibility akin to their own.
Saint Benedict acknowledges that, at certain hours and seasons, it may be necessary to hold his monks to a certain strictness, according to the dictates of sound reason. The strict application of certain principles derives then, not from the subjective moods or personal inclinations of the superior, but from the necessity of amending vices (bad habits) or preserving charity.
Patience and Perseverance
Being a merciful father, full of sympathy for the fearful and fragile among his sons, Saint Benedict enjoins them not to retreat in dismay when the observance seems narrow and too difficult. “Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward. For patience is necessary for you; that, doing the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation. Humble thy heart, and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds. Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. (Ecclesiasticus 2:1-9)
A Calm and Quiet Soul
The first steps in one’s conversion of life are never easy. The primary classes in the school of the Lord’s service are daunting to those unaccustomed to the pedagogy of the Rule. It would be foolish to yield to a sudden panic and, breathless, bolt for the door. Rather one must quiet one’ soul in the presence of the Lord and wait upon Him to bestow the peace that allows one to see clearly and to judge rightly.
Delight in the Lord, and he will give thee the requests of thy heart. Commit thy way to the Lord, and trust in him, and he will do it. And he will bring forth thy justice as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Be subject to the Lord and pray to him. (Psalm 36:4-7)