Rule of Saint Benedict: May 2013 Archives


Christ Pantocrator painted by Fr. Andreas Göser in 1911 in the apse of the abbatial church of Maria Laach, Andernach, Germany.

CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

29 Jan. 30 May. 29 Sept.
Let us be on our guard, then, against evil desires, since death hath its seat close to the entrance of delight; wherefore the Scripture commandeth us, saying: ""Go not after thy concupiscences." Since, therefore, "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 who hath understanding or is seeking God, and since the works of our hands are reported to Him day and night by the angels appointed to watch over us; we must be always on the watch, brethren, lest, as the prophet saith in the psalm, God should see us at any time declining to evil and become unprofitable; and lest, though He spare us now, because He is merciful and expecteth our conversion, He should say to us hereafter: "These things thou didst and I held my peace."

God in Search of Man

There is a sentence in this portion of Chapter VII that I find particularly consoling: "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 who hath understanding or is seeking God." The Father is, at every moment, searching the face of the earth to see who hath understanding or is seeking God. The Father seeks those who seek Him. So passionate is the Father's search for souls who search for Him that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to reveal to them His Face and His Heart. So tender is the Father's search for souls who search for Him that He sends his angels to watch over them and guide them in the way.

My Eyes Will Be Upon You

This sentence of Chapter VII can be related to what we read in the Prologue: "And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." Men seek God because God has first sought them. A man who discovers the gaze of God fixed upon him -- a gaze of infinite love -- searches for God even more. He never tires of saying: "It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy Face from me. Thou hast sought me that I might seek Thee. Thou hast found Me that I might find Thee."

Truly Seeking God

The monk is simply a man who has understood that, apart from God, nothing makes sense; he forsakes all else to become a seeker of God. In Chapter LVIII Saint Benedict makes a true seeking after God the first of the criteria by which one discerns a monastic vocation: "Let a senior, one who is skilled in gaining souls, be appointed over him to watch him with the utmost care, and to see whether he is truly seeking God, and is fervent in the Work of God, in obedience and in humiliations."

The Tabernacle

Not only does the Lord look out from heaven in search of one who seeks Him; He looks out also from the tabernacle of every Church where, though hidden and silent, He is present in the Sacrament of His Love. The monk's search for God -- or that of any Christian -- need not engage him in pilgrimages to far-off places and in wearying journeys across the desert. He need only approach the tabernacle, the tent of the Divine Humility pitched in the midst of men. In the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, God has made Himself close and, not only close, but utterly humble, totally available, and ready at every moment to draw us into His divine friendship. "Neither is there any other nation so great, that hath gods so nigh them, as our God is present to all our petitions" (Deuteronomy 4:7).

San Benito Abad.jpg

21 Jan. 22 May. 21 Sept.

62. Daily to fulfil by one's deeds the commandments of God.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one's enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God's mercy.

Behold, these are the tools of the spiritual craft, which, if they be constantly employed day and night, and duly given back on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself hath promised - "which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him." And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.

Chastity: A Good Thing

In the Holy Rule there is but one single phrase by which Saint Benedict treats of chastity: Castitatem amare, "To love chastity." It is wholly positive. Chastity is worthy of a monk's love because it is a virtue of beauty, of goodness, and of truth. Chastity is life-giving; it produces joy in the heart, causes peace to flourish in the cloister, and makes men happy in this life and in the next. With Saint Benedict there are no grim warnings, no dire prohibitions, no morose preoccupations with unchastity. Instead, he presents chastity as something desirable, precisely because it is something beautiful, true, and good.

Our Constitutions have a concise and helpful entry on chastity under the heading of Chapter IV of the Holy Rule:

49. The safeguards of chastity are: (1) the friendship of Jesus Christ sought, encountered, and contemplated in lectio divina and in adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar; (2) the bonds of an abiding intimacy with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God; (3) active engagement in works of service and self-sacrificing labour; (4) the chaste affection of the brethren; and (5) the tranquillitas ordinis of the monastery reflected in the harmony, beauty, and conservation of the spaces and land within the monastic enclosure.


To hate another is to hate the image of God and to hate oneself in whose image and likeness one was created. Hatred is a pernicious vice, growing like a toxic mould in the dark places of the heart. The only way to prevent even the smallest spores of hatred from beginning to multiply is by opening one's heart daily to the purifying light of the love of God and to the sweeping breath of the Holy Ghost. Hatred begins in the unchecked antipathy, in jealousy, envy, and in the clinging to offenses real or imagined, while withholding forgiveness. A monastery in which hatreds are allowed to grow will become an infernal place, full of wicked intrigues and petty acts of vengeance.

Jealousy, Envy, Strife

Jealousy, envy, and strife are the seedground of hatred, and are also hatred's perverse offspring. There is nothing more unworthy of a child of God than jealousy and envy; these vices are an insult to Divine Providence.

Alas, there are in all walks of life people who love strife. They thrive on discord and like nothing more than contentiousness and argument. Such people are the bane of community life. Their only contentment is discontent, and they are discontented wherever contentment holds sway. Incapable of keeping their misery to themselves, they seek out, from among those around them, the most vulnerable and impressionable types, and enroll them in their bitter causes. A lover of strife has no place in a cloister, and should such a man present himself, he must, as soon as his propensity is discovered, be sent away lest he inflict severe damage on the household of God.

Give to every man who asks, and if a man takes what is thine, do not ask him to restore it. As you would have men treat you, you are to treat them; no otherwise. Why, what credit is it to you, if you love those who love you? Even sinners love those who love them. What credit is it to you, if you do good to those who do good to you? Even sinners do as much. What credit is it to you, if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much in exchange. No, it is your enemies you must love, and do them good, and lend to them, without any hope of return; then your reward will be a rich one, and you will be true sons of the most High, generous like him towards the thankless and unjust. Be merciful, then, as your Father is merciful. Judge nobody, and you will not be judged; condemn nobody, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be yours; good measure, pressed down and shaken up and running over, will be poured into your lap; the measure you award to others is the measure that will be awarded to you. (Luke 6:30-38)

Speaking and Not Speaking

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Ad Altare Dei

Saint Benedict's Instruments of Good Works prepare us, hour by hour, and day by day, to approach the Holy Mysteries. All of life is thus ordered to the Most Holy Eucharist, and all of life flows from It. This photo was taken during Conventual Mass at the moment of the Ecce Agnus Dei before Holy Communion. In the foreground is the column surmounted by a candle at which one of us makes the Act of Reparation each day after Holy Mass. The monk making reparation places the cord about his neck as a sign of communion with the Lamb of God led to immolation, and as an expression of solidarity with all poor sinners, with unbelievers, with those alienated from the Church, and with those who will never linger in the presence of Our Lord's Eucharistic Face to adore Him, and to say "Yes" to His love.


CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
20 Jan. 21 May. 20 Sept.

Saint Benedict groups together four instruments pertaining to speech:

52. To keep one's mouth from evil and wicked words.
53. Not to love much speaking.
54. Not to speak vain words or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or excessive laughter.

Learning to Hold One's Tongue

The man who knows how to control his tongue will also be able to control a multitude of other unruly impulses. The man who has an unruly tongue will be hard-pressed to rein in his other impulses. Saint Benedict took to heart the teaching of Saint James the Apostle:

A man who is not betrayed into faults of the tongue must be a man perfect at every point, who knows how to curb his whole body. Just so we can make horses obey us, and turn their whole bodies this way and that, by putting a curb in their mouths. Or look at ships; how huge they are, how boisterous are the winds that drive them along! And yet a tiny rudder will turn them this way and that, as the captain's purpose will have it. Just so, the tongue is a tiny part of our body, and yet what power it can boast! How small a spark it takes to set fire to a vast forest! And that is what the tongue is, a fire. Among the organs of our nature, the tongue has its place as the proper element in which all that is harmful lives. It infects the whole body, and sets fire to this mortal sphere of ours, catching fire itself from hell. Mankind can tame, and has long since learned to tame, every kind of beast and bird, of creeping things and all else; but no human being has ever found out how to tame the tongue; a pest that is never allayed, all deadly poison. We use it to bless God who is our Father; we use it to curse our fellow men, that were made in God's image; blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brethren, there is no reason in this. Does the fountain gush out fresh and salt water from the same outlet? (James 3:2-11)

Benedictine Gravitas

Let it be said, once and for all, that Saint Benedict, being a wise man of great humanity, is not opposed to a wholesome mirth nor to gladness of heart. He does, however, proscribe noisy agitation and the giddy silliness of the immature man who never takes life seriously. The man who makes a joke of everything, the "hail fellow well met" who goes about slapping others on the back and laughing in loud guffaws will be either an entirely political creature content with a superficial popularity or a buffoon incapable of winning a considered respect. There is a certain Benedictine gravitas that should characterize a monk, without in any way making him gloomy or unsociable; it is a demeanour that is gentlemanly and simple, without artifice and serene.

The Workman and His Tools

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Painting: Saint Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1642.

CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
18 Jan. 19 May. 18 Sept.

In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one's heart, all one's soul, and all one's strength.
2. Then one's neighbour as oneself.
3. Then not to kill.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To honour all men.
9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself, in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to seek after delicate living.
13. To love fasting.
14. To relieve the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help in affliction.
19. To console the sorrowing.
20. To keep aloof from worldly actions.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

The Right Tools

Saint Benedict's instruments (or tools) of good works hearken back to the Prologue of the Holy Rule in which the Lord recruits His own workmen in the marketplace. The workman needs his tools. With the right tools one can do almost any task. Saint Benedict recognizes the importance of equipping his monk -- the workman of Christ -- with a vast array of tools, adapted to the work of acquiring virtue and renouncing vice.

Monks Who Are Practicing Christians

Chapter IV has nothing specifically monastic about it. Saint Benedict's 72 instruments belong to all Christians, and to those living in the world as much as to those within the enclosure of the monastery. Before anything else, Saint Benedict wants his monks to be practicing Christians. This first section of the instruments of good works thus begins with the commandments and goes on to enumerate the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Herein one finds the very rudiments of Christian living.

Love of God and Neighbour

The first 21 instruments begin with love and end with love. The first and second instruments are: "In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one's heart, all one's soul, and all one's strength. Then one's neighbour as oneself." The twenty-first instrument is: "To prefer nothing to the love of Christ." The instruments that fall in between are the demonstration of the love of God and of one's neighbour, and the sign that one has, effectively, resolved to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

The Love of Christ

I was first drawn to the Rule of Saint Benedict by his compelling emphasis on the love of Christ. The adorable person of Our Lord Jesus Christ illumines the entire Rule. Saint Benedict presents Him as the one who first loved us; the one in whose blessed Passion we share by patience; the one for whose love we are resolved to forsake all else; and the one whose love we prefer to all other things. Benedictine life is, above all else, the love of Jesus Christ, the very love that in the Most Holy Eucharist makes Him our priest, our victim, our food, our drink, and our companion.

19 Jan. 20 May. 19 Sept.

22. Not to give way to anger.
23. Not to harbour a desire of revenge.
24. Not to foster guile in one's heart.
25. Not to make a feigned peace.
26. Not to forsake charity.
27. Not to swear, lest perchance one forswear oneself.
28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.
29. Not to render evil for evil.
30. To do no wrong to anyone yea, to bear patiently wrong done to oneself.
31. To love one's enemies.
32. Not to render cursing for cursing, but rather blessing.
33. To bear persecution for justice's sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not given to wine.
36. Not a glutton.
37. Not drowsy.
38. Not slothful.
39. Not a murmurer.
40. Not a detractor.
41. To put one's hope in God.
42. To attribute any good that one sees in oneself to God, and not to oneself.
43. But to recognise and always impute to oneself the evil that one doth.

Living Together

Instruments 23 through 43 are a development of the Christian moral life. They may well serve as an examination of conscience in preparation for confession. Instruments 23 to 33 are indispensable to one living in community; without the constant use of these instruments community life in the monastery (as in the family, or in the parish) would quickly degenerate into bitterness and factions.

Hope in God

Instrument 41, "To put one's hope in God," makes the use of all the other instruments possible. Thus do we sing at the end of the Te Deum that prepares us for the hearing of the Holy Gospel at Matins: In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum; "O Lord, in Thee I have hoped; let me never be put to shame." Nothing, it seems to me, is more useful to a monk than frequent acts of hope.

20 Jan. 21 May. 20 Sept.

44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire with a special longing everlasting life.
47. To keep death daily before one's eyes.
48. To keep guard at all times over the actions of one's life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. To dash down on the (Rock) Christ one's evil thoughts, the instant that they come into the heart.
51. And to lay them open to one's spiritual father.
52. To keep one's mouth from evil and wicked words.
53. Not to love much speaking.
54. Not to speak vain words or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or excessive laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To apply oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily to confess one's past sins with tears and sighs to God, and to amend them for the time to come.
59. Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh: to hate one's own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise: being mindful of that precept of the Lord: "What they say, do ye; but what they do, do ye not."
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is so: but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

The Last Things

Instruments 44 through 47 address the last things: judgment, hell, heaven, and death. Saint Benedict does not want death to take his monk by surprise. Saint Benedict's own death, as described by Saint Gregory in the Second Book of The Dialogues, wholly illumined by the adorable mysteries of Our Lord's Body and Blood, is the shining image of what every Christian's death can be.

Presence of God

Instruments 48 through 51 have to do with temptation and evil thoughts. Saint Benedict would have his monk be vigilant, and aware of the presence of God in all places, even as the psalmist was.

Lord, I lie open to thy scrutiny; thou knowest me, knowest when sit down and when I rise up again, canst read my thoughts from far away. Walk I or sleep I, thou canst tell; no movement of mine but thou art watching it. Before ever the words are framed on my lips, all my thought is known to thee; rearguard and vanguard, thou dost compass me about, thy hand still laid upon me. Such wisdom as thine is far beyond my reach, no thought of mine can attain it.
Where can I go, then, to take refuge from thy spirit, to hide from thy view? If I should climb up to heaven, thou art there; if I sink down to the world beneath, thou art present still. If I could wing my way eastwards, or find a dwelling beyond the western sea, still would I find thee beckoning to me, thy right hand upholding me. Or perhaps I would think to bury myself in darkness; night should surround me, friendlier than day; but no, darkness is no hiding-place from thee, with thee the night shines clear as day itself; light and dark are one.

Unmasking the Enemy

As for evil thoughts -- for the monk's battleground of spiritual combat lies in his thoughts -- they are to be dashed against the rock that is Christ, and revealed to one's spiritual father. Unmasked, the devil has no hold over a soul. Transparency with one's spiritual father, a fundamental expression of humility, is indispensable to one who aspires to the love that casts out fear.


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.


CHAPTER III. Of calling the Brethren to Council
16 Jan. 17 May. 16 Sept.
As often as any important matters have to be transacted in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community, and himself declare what is the question to be settled. And, having heard the counsel of the brethren, let him consider within himself, and then do what he shall judge most expedient. We have said that all should be called to council, because it is often to the younger that the Lord revealeth what is best. But let the brethren give their advice with all subjection and humility, and not presume stubbornly to defend their own opinion; but rather let the matter rest with the Abbot's discretion, that all may submit to whatever he shall judge to be best. Yet, even as it becometh disciples to obey their master, so doth it behove him to order all things prudently and with justice.

Assemble, Listen, Act

This is a masterpiece of governmental procedure, applicable not only to monasteries, but to parishes and families as well. It can be broken down into components.

1. The Abbot assembles the whole community, that is, the monks having made their profession. Novices, according to Chapter LVIII, live in a separate place where they meditate, study, take their meals, and sleep. Only after monastic profession is a novice counted among those belonging to the community.

2. The Abbot sets forth the question to be settled.

3. The brethren offer their advice with all subjection and humility, not stubbornly defending their own opinion, but leaving the decision to the Abbot.

3. The Abbot listens to the counsel of the brethren, including the youngest.

4. The Abbot judges what is best.

5. All submit to the Abbot's decision.

Saint Benedict addresses a wonderfully balanced caveat to the Abbot: "Even as it becometh disciples to obey their master, so doth it behove him to order all things prudently and with justice." The Abbot is not a despot. Saint Benedict would have him be, in all circumstances, a pater pius (devoted father) operating under the influence of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.


Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
15 Jan. 16 May. 15 Sept.
Above all let him not, overlooking or under-valuing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him, be too solicitous for fleeting, earthly, and perishable things; but let him ever bear in mind that he hath undertaken the government of souls, of which he shall have to give an account. And that he may not complain for want of worldly substance, let him remember what is written: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." And again: "Nothing is wanting to them that fear Him."
And let him know that he who hath undertaken the government of souls, must prepare himself to render an account of them. And whatever may be the number of the brethren under his care, let him be certainly assured that on the Day of Judgment he will have to give an account to the Lord of all these souls, as well as of his own. And thus, being ever fearful of the coming inquiry which the Shepherd will make into the state of the flock committed to him, while he is careful on other men's account, he will be solicitous also on his own. And so, while correcting others by his admonitions, he will be himself cured of his own defects.

A Perennial Temptation

Given the circumstances of our little monastery, this particular portion of Chapter II goes straight to my heart. How often have I been tempted to to "complain for want of worldly substance" or to fret over finances! Saint Benedict admits that the Abbot be solicitous for the material well-being of his monastery; he does not want the Abbot to be too solicitous or it. This is a good example of Benedictine discretion and realism. The Abbot must not be careless when it comes to the administration of his monastery's material goods and finances; he must be solicitous for such things, but not to the point of being obsessed by them, and driven to worry. The Abbot (like a parish priest or the family of a family) must order his priorities wisely: souls first, then other things.

The Lilies of the Field

Saint Benedict would have the Abbot reflect on two passages from Sacred Scripture. The first is taken from the Sermon on the Mount:

Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature by one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. (Matthew 6:25-34)

The second passage is from Psalm 36. We pray Psalm 36 at Matins on Monday. I look forward to its weekly recurrence:

Art thou impatient, friend, when the wicked thrive; dost thou envy the lot of evil-doers? They will soon fade like the grass, like the green leaf wither away. Be content to trust in the Lord and do good; live on thy land, and take thy ease, all thy longing fixed in the Lord; so he will give thee what thy heart desires. Commit thy life to the Lord, and trust in him; he will prosper thee, making thy honesty clear as the day, the justice of thy cause bright as the sun at noon. (Psalm 36: 1-6, R. Knox translation)

A task difficult and arduous

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Shepherd and flock.jpg

Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
14 Jan. 15 May. 14 Sept.
The Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called, and to know that to whom more is committed, from him more is required; and he must consider how difficult and arduous a task he hath undertaken, of ruling souls and adapting himself to many dispositions. Let him so accommodate and suit himself to the character and intelligence of each, winning some by kindness, others by reproof, others by persuasion, that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to him, but may even rejoice in their virtuous increase.

Let Things Be What They Are Called

Saint Benedict would have both persons and things be in truth what they are called. Thus does he say, concerning the Oratory of the monastery, "Let the Oratory be what it is called, a place of prayer: and let nothing else be done, or kept there" (Chapter LII), and concerning the Abbot, "The Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called" (Chapter II). Persons and things are not named casually in Benedictine life; the name by which someone or something is called is a bearer of meaning and a summons to live the meaning signified. What some would perceive as a certain Benedictine formalism is, in fact, a radically sacramental approach to all of life.

Responsibility Before God

The Abbot (or Conventual Prior) is a father; he bears responsibility before God for each of his sons and for the monastic family as a whole. "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48).

All Things to All Men

Saint Benedict would have the Abbot close whatever gap there may be between himself and one of his sons in need. "To the weak I became weak," says the Apostle, "that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all" (1 Corinthians 9:22). And in another place, "Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).

Caring for the Flock

The Abbot must preserve the flock entrusted to him by Christ, by keeping all his sheep within the fold; even more, he must do all in his power to foster the steady regeneration of the flock. This he will do gladly, spending himself in love to protect and nurture new life within the monastic family. "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking care of it, not by constraint, but willingly, according to God" (1 Peter 5:2).

Reprove, entreat, rebuke

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
13 Jan. 14 May. 13 Sept.
For the Abbot in his doctrine ought always to observe the bidding of the Apostle, wherein he says: "Reprove, entreat, rebuke"; mingling, as occasions may require, gentleness with severity; shewing now the rigour of a master, now the loving affection of a father, so as sternly to rebuke the undisciplined and restless, and to exhort the obedient, mild, and patient to advance in virtue. And such as are negligent and haughty we charge him to reprove and correct. Let him not shut his eyes to the faults of offenders; but as soon as they appear, let him strive with all his might to root them out, remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo. Those of good disposition and understanding let him, for the first or second time, correct only with words; but such as are froward and hard of heart, and proud, or disobedient, let him chastise with bodily stripes at the very first offence, knowing that it is written: "The fool is not corrected with words." And again "Strike thy son with the rod, and thou shalt deliver his soul from death."

In All Patience and Doctrine

Having established that the Abbot teaches, first of all, by the example of his own life, Saint Benedict applies to him Saint Paul's admonition to Timothy. The Abbot must not, under the pretext that mere example is enough, forsake preaching.

Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. Be sober. (2 Timothy 4:2)

Daily Chapter

The Abbot preaches, first of all, at the daily Chapter.* My own experience is that the daily Chapter can have a transforming and revitalizing effect on a community. Nothing can replace the immediate, personal, living word of the father to his family. The daily Chapter need not be long; a five minute commentary on the text of the Rule is sufficient. What matters is that the Abbot speak from the heart. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good" (Luke 6:45). It is not enough to cite what others have said, and not enough to review what one has read in excellent books; the Abbot must freely impart to his sons what, freely, has been given him by the Holy Spirit in the humble school of experience.

Different Types

Today's section of the Holy Rule is fascinating in that Saint Benedict presents us with a cast of character types from his own monasteries. What were Saint Benedict's monks like? He refers to:
-- the undisciplined and restless;
-- the obedient, mild, and patient;
-- the negligent and haughty;
-- those of good disposition and understanding;
-- the froward and hard of heart;
-- and the proud, or disobedient.

In order to engage with such men profitably, the Abbot will act at certain times with the bracing sternness of a master, and at other times with the tender affection of a father. One approach is not suitable for all. What will bring forth wholesome fruits of repentance in one, will embitter and harden another. What will pacify one, will enrage another. The Abbot must know his monks (as a father must know his children, a bishop his priests, and a parish priest his flock) and, knowing them, must adapt himself to each one.

Hophni and Phinehas

Saint Benedict refers to the tragic story of Eli, the priest of Shiloh, and his wayward sons, Hophni and Phinehas in the First Book of Samuel. Hophni and Phinehas, serving under their father at the sanctuary in Shiloh, were sacrilegious and corrupt. They took for themselves the choicest meats offered to the Lord in sacrifice and fornicated with women come to worship at the sanctuary. Eli was aware of his sons' corrupt behaviour, but could not bring himself to intervene decisively. His correction was weak and half-hearted, like that of the father who excuses his sons' irresponsible behaviour by saying, "boys will be boys." In the end, Eli brought a curse upon himself, his sons, and his descendents. The reticence to correct is not always an expression of patience; it may also be a sign of cowardice or of capitulation in the face of evil.

The Rod

Saint Benedict used corporal punishment when needed. Some of Saint Benedict's monks would have come from a hard background, like the rough, untutored Goth who appears in the Second Book of the Dialogues. Not only would such a man have understood corporal chastisement; he would have expected it, and found it normal. Today, in most of Western culture, there is an altogether different sensibility. Saint Benedict's fundamental intuition is, however, sound: a chastisement that addresses only the reason and the will is not effectual for everyone. There are some who will need to experience the salutary sting of correction in their body and senses. For one this may take the form of an hour of weeding in the garden; for another it may mean cleaning a stream or part of the monastery's woodland. In the end, the work imposed as a penance may prove to be therapeutic, and even a source of joy.

* The Chapter is a daily meeting of the monastic family, generally held after the Hour of Prime, at which a designated chapter or portion of the Holy Rule is read. The room in which the community assembles is designated the Chapter Room. The entire Rule of Saint Benedict is read three times yearly in this way. Following the reading of the Holy Rule, the Abbot offers a living commentary on the text. This practice is one of the most effective ways of encouraging a community to "run in the way of God's commandments", preferring nothing to the love of Christ, putting nothing before the Work of God, and never despairing of His mercy. The daily Chapter meeting imparts freshness to the monastic tradition; it prevents a community from falling into mere routine, and obliges the Abbot to exercise the charism he has received for the building up of his monastic family.

Ut Unum Sint

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
12 Jan. 13 May. 12 Sept.
Let him make no distinction of persons in the monastery. Let not one be loved more than another, unless he be found to excel in good works or in obedience. Let not one of noble birth be put before him that was formerly a slave, unless some other reasonable cause exist for it. But if upon just consideration it should so seem good to the Abbot, let him arrange as he please concerning the place of any one whomsoever; but, otherwise, let them keep their own places; because, whether bond or free, we are all one in Christ, and bear an equal rank in the service of one Lord, "For with God there is no respecting of persons." Only for one reason are we preferred in His sight, if we be found to surpass others in good works and in humility. Let the Abbot, then, shew equal love to all, and let the same discipline be imposed upon all according to their deserts.

Not As the World Judges

The Abbot is not to introduce worldly criteria of distinction into the monastery. Should the man of prestigious background and impressive academic credentials be preferred to the man of humble background and the simplest education? Should the man of robust health and unflagging physical strength be preferred to the man of frail constitution? Should the man who entered the monastery with a large bank account be preferred to the man who entered nearly penniless? Should the handsome man exuding charm be preferred to the man of quite ordinary appearance and retiring demeanour? The Abbot will recall what the Lord said to Samuel: "Look not on his countenance, nor on the height of his stature: because I have rejected him, nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Again, the Lord says, "But to whom shall I have respect, but to him that is poor and little, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?" (Isaias 66:2).


The Abbot will love his sons with a fatherly love, seeing in each one the natural gifts and weaknesses waiting to be transformed by grace. If he is to have any preference at all, it must be for the least lovable of the community, for the man who alienates others and reacts like a threatened porcupine when approached.


The obsession with rank and privilege that one sometimes encounters in monastic communities is a mark of the insecure man who suffers from the fear of being overlooked, discounted, or diminished. Such monks need constant reassurance because constantly they feel threatened.

That They All May Be One

Saint Benedict uses this compelling phrase: "We are all one in Christ." The holy patriarch is quoting the Apostle, who says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). At an even deeper level, Saint Benedict is, in effect, inviting the Abbot to lead his monks into the depths of Our Lord's priestly prayer in the Cenacle: "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me" (John 17:21-23).

Little Souls

Who, then, is preferred in the sight of God? The little soul who bears fruit while remaining humble. "So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do" (Luke 17:10).

One Discipline and One Mercy

While the same discipline must be imposed upon all, so too must all be treated with the same mercy, the same kindness in the face of weakness, and the same compassion in the hour of suffering.

The Example of Deeds

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
11 Jan. 12 May. 11 Sept.
Therefore, when anyone receiveth the name of Abbot, he ought to govern his disciples by a two-fold teaching: that is, he should shew forth all goodness and holiness by his deeds rather than his words: declaring to the intelligent among his disciples the commandments of the Lord by words: but to the hard-hearted and the simple minded setting forth the divine precepts by the example of his deeds. And let him shew by his own actions that those things ought not to be done which he has taught his disciples to be against the law of God; lest, while preaching to others, he should himself become a castaway, and God should say to him in his sin: "Why dost thou declare My justice, and take My covenant in thy mouth? Thou hast hated discipline, and hast cast My words behind thee." And again: "Thou who sawest the mote in thy brother's eye, didst thou not see the beam in thine own?"

Deeds More than Words

Saint Benedict would have the Abbot radiate goodness and holiness, not by much speaking, but by the way he lives in the humble circumstances of ordinary daily life. Deeds are more easily understood than discourses. By a consistent goodness of life, an Abbot can break through the crusty resistance of men not easily impressed by fine words, or even hardened by them. Too great a reliance on preaching and teaching to communicate the flame of monastic life can have the opposite effect. It can induce a certain weariness of words, and cause monks to become passive, or disheartened, or simply fed up.

If an Abbot would have his monks be punctual to the choir and refectory, he must consistently demonstrate that such punctuality is, in fact, an expression of charity, of gratitude, and of respect for others. If he would have his monks do cheerfully their share of the humble household tasks, he must show by his deeds that such tasks are an important and valued contribution to life together. If an Abbot would have his monks become lovers of silence and of the enclosure, he must be the first to observe silence and enclosure. If an Abbot would have his monks be quick to forgive and slow to anger, he must model ready forgiveness and patience at every opportunity. If an Abbot would have his monks be assiduous in lectio divina and generous in pure, unprogrammed times of prayer, he must set the example by his personal discipline and willingness to "lose time" in prayer. It has often been observed that a community takes on, over time, the demeanour and distinctive traits of its Abbot.


Lest an Abbot be blinded by the beam in his eye, he must wash out his eyes frequently with tears of sorrow for his past sins, and treasure the incomparable grace of compunction. So long as a man lives, even with the grace of monastic consecration, he remains capable of spiritual blindness. Nothing so restores the clarity of one's inward sight as do tears of compunction, and these cannot be forced or otherwise produced. They are a gift of God.

Take my yoke upon you

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
10 Jan. 11 May. 10 Sept.
Let the Abbot be ever mindful that at the dreadful judgment of God an account will have to be given both of his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. And let him know that to the fault of the shepherd shall be imputed any lack of profit which the father of the household may find in his sheep. Only then shall he be acquitted, if he shall have bestowed all pastoral diligence on his unquiet and disobedient flock, and employed all his care to amend their corrupt manner of life: then shall he be absolved in the judgment of the Lord, and may say to the Lord with the Prophet: "I have not hidden Thy justice in my heart, I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation, but they contemned and despised me." And then at length the punishment of death shall be inflicted on the disobedient sheep.

Wisdom Not Only for Abbots

This is one of the chapters of the Holy Rule that is most helpful to bishops and priests who, like the Father of a monastery, are charged with the care of souls. Parish priests who are Benedictine Oblates will find in this chapter a synthesis of incomparable pastoral wisdom, and matter for an excellent examination of conscience.

The Abbot knows that when he appears before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be as the father of a family, charged with responsibility for the souls of his sons. He will be held accountable for all that he has taught, not only by word, but also by the example of his life, for an Abbot teaches in every word he says, and in his every action.

The Obedience of the Disciple

Saint Benedict says that the Abbot will held accountable not only for his own teaching, but also for the obedience -- or disobedience -- of his disciples. There are some superiors who make obedience sweet and easy; and there are other superiors who make obedience burdensome and difficult. The difference lies in the Abbot's personal response to Our Lord's words: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Yoked to Christ

An Abbot who, in his labours and burdens, allows Christ to refresh him, will know the secret of offering refreshment to his sons in the labours and burdens of their obedience. An Abbot who is yoked to Christ will go forward, not in frenzy and stress, but, rather, in meekness and humility; thus will he find rest and refreshment for his soul. An Abbot refreshed by his personal union Christ, and who, at every moment, rests in His Heart, will have the gift of making life restful and refreshing for others. An agitated man, on the other hand, will generate agitation and stress around himself.

Of One Mind

A monk is yoked to his Abbot by the vow of obedience, even as the Abbot is yoked in obedience to Christ. Just as the Abbot finds rest for his soul by abiding in union with the Heart of Jesus, so will a monk find rest for his soul by seeking, at all times, to remain of one mind with his Abbot. This is the constant teaching of the Apostle: "Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5); "For the rest, brethren, rejoice, be perfect, take exhortation, be of one mind, have peace; and the God of peace and of love shall be with you." (2 Corinthians 13:11); "Fulfill ye my joy, that you may be of one mind, having the same charity, being of one accord, agreeing in sentiment" (Philippians 2:2). And Saint Peter says likewise: "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble" (1 Peter 3:8).

Saint Benedict requires the Abbot to bestow all pastoral diligence on his flock, especially when the flock is unquiet and disobedient. There will always be the temptation or an Abbot to indulge in self-pity, or even to seek escape, if not geographically, then mentally and emotionally. The Abbot who runs away from his flock because it contains unruly sheep is like the hireling who "flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep" (John 10:13).

Called by His Name

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
9 Jan. 10 May. 9 Sept.
An Abbot who is worthy to rule over the monastery ought always to remember what he is called, and correspond to his name of superior by his deeds. For he is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, since he is called by His name, as the Apostle saith: "Ye have received the spirit of the adoption of children, in which we cry Abba, Father." And, therefore, the Abbot ought not (God forbid) to teach, or ordain, or command anything contrary to the law of the Lord; but let his bidding and his doctrine be infused into the minds of his disciples like the leaven of divine justice.


The name Abbot. meaning "the father", is derived, through the Latin and the Greek, from the Aramaic abba, a title of affectionate reverence given to wise old men, and to respected teachers and rabbis. It would have been associated in Saint Benedict's mind with the pius pater of ancient Roman society: the affectionate father, always merciful, severe when necessary, and utterly devoted to his sons. Even more, however, quoting Galatians 4:6, Saint Benedict associates it with the very name given to God the Father: "And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father."

The Fatherhood of Christ

Saint Benedict does not hesitate to attribute the title Abba to Christ Himself; Jesus was, in the midst of His apostles, the most devoted of fathers, loved and revered by the men whom He called to be with Him and to receive His teaching. Our Lord's Divine Person had about it a paternal quality that did not escape His disciples, even if they were slow to recognize Him as the perfect revelation and living icon of the Father.

Philip saith to him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. How sayest thou, shew us the Father? Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works. Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? (John 14:8-11).

The Fatherhood of the Abbot

Just as Christ held the place of His Father in the midst of the Apostolic College -- He that seeth me seeth the Father also -- so too does the Abbot hold the place of Christ in the monastery. The Abbot is not Christ, but he is a kind of sacrament of His presence. He is this, not by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, as would be a bishop, priest, or deacon, but by virtue of a charism recognized by the community that chose him, and confirmed by the Church in a solemn rite of blessing or consecration. The charism of spiritual fatherhood is among the best and perfect gifts that are "from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).

Listening to Christ

The Abbot must teach, set in order, and command in whatsoever things concern the life of his monastery and the welfare of his monks, who are to him as sons. In so doing, he must remain faithful and true to the law of Christ and to the teachings of the Church. Just as Christ listened at every moment to His Father, so must the Abbot listen at every moment to Christ. "My doctrine," says Jesus, "is not mine, but his that sent me" (John 7:16). This, of course, obliges the Abbot to abide close to the Heart of Christ, in ceaseless prayer, and in humble adherence to all His designs and desires.

The Pure Bread of Christ

Saint Benedict compares the work of the Abbot to that of a baker kneading leaven into his loaves. The leaven is divine justice, that is to say, the very principle of holiness that is the Word of God, "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). "The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened" (Matthew 13:33). Doing this, the Abbot will learn to make his own the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, "I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." Unless the Abbot himself becomes the wheat of God, ground in weakness, humiliations and sufferings to become the pure bread of Christ, leavened by divine justice, his community will remain flat and all his kneading will be in vain, for nemo dat quod non habet, no one gives what he does not have.


Chapter I. Of the Several Kinds of Monks and Their Way of Life
8 Jan. 9 May. 8 Sept.
It is well known that there are four kinds of monks. The first are the cenobites: that is those in monasteries, who live under a rule or an Abbot.


The word monk (Latin: monachus; Greek: μοναχός) is, in itself, a whole program of life. The word means a solitary or one who, seeking God, lives alone or apart. By extension, it can refer to a man whose heart belongs to the one imperishable treasure revealed in Christ. "Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also" (Matthew 6:21). The monk is that man of the Gospel (Matthew 13:44-45) who, having found a treasure hidden in the field, went, full of joy, and, having sold all that he had, bought the field. Again, he is like the merchant seeking good pearls, who when he found one pearl of great price, went his way, sold all that he had, and bought it.

Saint Benedict's monk has one focus in life: the Unum Necessarium (one thing necessary) that Our Lord revealed to Saint Martha at Bethany when He said, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).

The word cenobite is derived from two Greek words: κοινός, meaning common, and βίος meaning life. Some commentators would say that the first cenobites were the Christians of the primitive Apostolic community, insofar as they lived together, under authority, following the teaching of the Apostles.

And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; praising God, and having favour with all the people. (Acts 2:44-46).

A cenobite, or cenobitic monk, according to Saint Benedict's description, lives in community with other monks, under a rule and an Abbot. Today, the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict is, more often than not, interpreted by a complementary text called Constitutions or Declarations. In a small monastery, such as ours, the Father of the community is called a prior, rather than an abbot. His responsibilities, however, are the same as those of an abbot.

There are, then, three components of cenobitic monasticism: 1) life together in a single monastery; 2) corporate submission to a rule; 3) under the authority and care of an abbot.


The second are the Anchorites or Hermits: that is those who, not in the first fervour of religious life, but after long probation in the monastery, have learned by the help and experience of many to fight against the devil; and going forth well armed from the ranks of their brethren to the single-handed combat of the desert, are able, without the support of others, to fight by the strength of their own arm, God helping them, against the vices of the flesh and their evil thoughts.

Saint Benedict presents anchorites or hermits as veterans of the cenobitic life. The experience of bearing patiently, day after day, and year after year, with other men marked by "infirmities of body or mind" (Chapter LXXVII) is precious and indispensable. It constitutes the best purification of the heart, the most fruitful ascetical exercise, and the highest school of charity.

Only after long years of manfully struggling, in the midst of his brethren, against the eight principal vices enumerated by Saint John Cassian -- gluttony, lust, greed, hubris, wrath, envy, listlessness, and boasting -- is a monk in any way prepared for a life of complete solitude. The monk who enters the solitude of the desert prematurely will find himself vomited out of it, for the desert is a severe and uncompromising host for the man who enters it tainted with self-absorption and not entirely resolved to die to the world and and to all things passing.

In the meantime, Benedictine life, such as we live it, offers hours and spaces of solitude that provide the cenobite with a prudently measured experience of the desert. Unlike the Cistercians, who often privilege the common life at all times and in all places, to the point of sleeping in a dormitory, and of reading and studying in a scriptorium, our observance would be marked by a certain affection for the solitude of the cell: the monk's ordinary place of lectio divina, study and, sometimes, work.


A third and most baneful kind of monks are the Sarabites, who have been tried by no rule nor by the experience of a master, as gold in the furnace; but being as soft as lead, and still serving the world in their works, are by their tonsure to lie to God. These in twos or threes, or even singly, without a shepherd, shut up, not in the Lord's sheepfolds, but in their own, make a law to themselves in the pleasure of their own desires: whatever they think fit or choose to do, that they call holy; and what they like not, that they consider unlawful.

The Sarabites have no reference outside themselves: no rule, no abbot, no received tradition. They are "cafeteria monks", choosing from among things monastic whatever strikes their fancy, and sneering at the rest. Lest one become too smug in one's judgment of the Sarabites, I must add that there is in every monk -- myself included -- at least at certain hours, a touch of the Sarabite. The devil can fill a cenobite with loathing for the rule, antipathy towards the abbot, and a biting criticism of tradition. The Sarabite syndrome can be summed up as: "I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, in the way I want to do it."


The fourth kind of monks are those called "Girovagi," who spend all their lives-long wandering about divers provinces, staying in different cells for three or four days at a time, ever roaming, with no stability, given up to their own pleasures and to the snares of gluttony, and worse in all things than the Sarabites. Of the most wretched life of these it is better to say nothing than to speak. Leaving them alone therefore, let us set to work, by the help of God, to lay down a rule for the Cenobites, that is, the strongest kind of monks.

The Gyrovagues described here by Saint Benedict are restless wanderers, never content with what they find in one place, ever itching for novelty. The temptation to seek out a change of scenery, of diet, of brethren, and even of liturgical praxis is a classic demonic ploy. The Gyrovague is a man incapable of submission or, if you will, a kind of monastic philanderer ever moving from cloister to cloister, the way some men move from one relationship to another without ever making a life-long commitment.

This being said, one must be careful not to judge one's brother (or sister) a Gyrovague, because one is never in full possession of all the facts. I think immediately of Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698), the "Teresa of Avila" of the Benedictine Order in the 17th century, a reformer and mystic of outstanding significance in the history of spirituality. Mectilde began her religious life as an Annonciade, in an Order of Franciscan obedience. Forced out of monastery by the vicissitudes of the Thirty Years War, she and her companions took refuge with a community of reformed Benedictines; there Mectilde discovered the Rule of Saint Benedict, asked to be received as a novice, and made profession as a Benedictine. Many years later, it took a decision of the Holy See to silence those who questioned the validity of her Benedictine profession.

Benedictine though she was, and this to the very core of her being, stability and enclosure were not to be the lot of Mother Mectilde de Bar. Diverse circumstances, in which it is permitted to see an action of Divine Providence, swept Mectilde from one place to another. At one point she was sorely tempted to drop out entirely, to disappear by running away to a mountainous desert place in the south of France. Once she accepted God's will that she should, even in the face of poverty, political intrigues, and virulent opposition, establish monasteries of Benedictine life marked by perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, her interior stability became immovable. Her stability was in the Sacred Host. Until the end of her life, like Saint Teresa of Avila, she traveled extensively, consumed with a burning desire to offer Our Lord victims of adoration and reparation who would, like so many grains of incense, consume themselves in the fire of His Eucharistic Love.

With effects no less devastating than those of the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, monastic life in the West, with very few exceptions, was struck by a kind of revolution. The year 1968 is often cited as marking the beginning of an age of "bare, ruined choirs." Many men of that time who, like myself, entered monastic life in search of the pax benedictina safeguarded and fostered by fidelity to tradition, were told, instead, that there were no absolutes and no certainties, and that everything, beginning with the sacred liturgy itself, had to be re-invented. Benedictine stability was, in many places, stripped of the very elements that made it possible and desirable. Some took to the road like Saint Benedict-Joseph Labre. Others sought out small communities where there appeared to be a glimmer of hope; most of these ended in delusion and heartbreak. Still others entered the few continental abbeys where the classic Benedictine life was alive and thriving in its most traditional expression.

The post-Conciliar years were profoundly destabilizing. The men and women whom critics were quick to label Gyrovagues may have been poor destabilised seekers of God, spiritually homeless, waiting for the return of the serenity without which a true discernment and an enduring commitment to stability are not possible. "Let us go forth therefore to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to his name. "(Hebrews 13:13-15)

Are there still Gyrovagues then? I leave that to the judgment of God and of Saint Benedict, giving the last word to the prophet Jeremias:

Blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and the Lord shall be his confidence. And he shall be as a tree that is planted by the waters, that spreadeth out its roots towards moisture: and it shall not fear when the heat cometh. And the leaf thereof shall be green, and in the time of drought it shall not be solicitous, neither shall it cease at any time to bring forth fruit. The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it? I am the Lord who search the heart and prove the reins: who give to every one according to his way, and according to the fruit of his devices. (Jeremiah 17:7-10).

Suscipe me

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
7 Jan. 8 May. 7 Sept.
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.

In God's Good Time

In the life of every monk humbled by failures, disappointments, and the experience of his own weakness, there comes an hour when God intervenes to do the things that, of himself and by himself, the monk was unable to do. Virtues formerly difficult, if not impossible to practice, become easy. Long-festering wounds are cauterized, becoming mere scars that attest to a miracle of healing. The troubles of a chronic restlessness give way to a deep and stable peace. Where, formerly, there was fear, there is childlike confidence. The heart, says Saint Benedict is dilated with an indescribable sweetness of love and, even as the body begins to slow down under the weight of the years, one begins to run, drawn on by Christ. "Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments" (Canticle 1:3).

When the Spirit of Truth Is Come

Increasingly, the monk lives under the guidance of God, becoming more docile to the inspirations and movements of the Holy Ghost. He realizes the truth of what, in earlier years, he struggled to integrate into his life, and has no plans apart from submission to the teachings of the Holy Ghost and perseverance in the monastery until death. "But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you" (John 16:13-14).

Into the Embrace of the Cross

Participation in the sufferings of Christ becomes, at this season of the monk's life, something very simple and hidden, realized not by any acts of ascetical prowess, but only by a humble patience. He longs for union with Love Crucified. He yearns to be one with the Lamb on the altar of His sacrifice, but knowing himself too weak to ascend to the Cross by his own efforts, he is content to be drawn upward into its embrace as God wills, when He wills, and as He wills.

In the end, the Suscipe of his monastic profession becomes a monk's final aspiration: "Receive me -- lift me up unto Thyself -- according to Thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation" (Psalm 118:116). He knows that, at the hour willed by the Father, he will, like a little child, be carried into the kingdom in the arms of Love.


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" (Hebrws 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)


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.

Adoration in Spirit and in Truth

In writing his Rule, Saint Benedict seeks only to establish a school of the Lord's service, that is to say, a school of adoration in spirit and in truth. A man enters the monastery to learn how to adore God as God seeks to be adored.

The hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

Men Who Have Their Gaze Directed to God

The Father seeks men who will adore Him in the Holy Spirit and in union with the Son. He seeks men who will adore Him as the Son adores Him, that is, perpetually. The school of the Lord's service is a school of perpetual adoration. Perpetual adoration does not imply that a monk be, at every moment, kneeling before the Sacred Host; it means, rather, that the compass of his heart is oriented steadily and unswervingly ad Patrem: towards the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It was to this that Pope Benedict XVI referred in his discourse at Subiaco, the cradle of Benedictine life, in April 2005, only days before his election: "We need men who have their gaze directed to God."

Come to the Father

In the school of the Lord's service a man learns, through obedience, silence, and humility, to surrender to the mysterious operations of the Holy Ghost by which his spirit enters the rhythm of a ceaseless return to the Father through the Son, in filial love and in sacerdotal offering. He begins, over time, to hear what Saint Ignatius of Antioch describes in his Epistle to the Romans: "There is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father."

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. (Romans 8:26-27)

The Sacred Liturgy

Nowhere does the Holy Spirit help our infirmity more powerfully than in the sacred liturgy of the Church: "the foremost and indispensable font of the Christian spirit" (Saint Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini). Saint Benedict's school of the Lord's service gives absolute primacy to the Opus Dei (the Work of God, i.e. the Divine Office) because it is there that the Holy Spirit descends mightily and sweetly to succour our weakness, praying for us and in us with unspeakable groanings. Father Augustine Baker's disciple, the English Benedictine mystic, Dame Gertrude More wrote:

The Divine Office is such a heavenly thing that in it we find whatsoever we can desire: for sometimes in it we address ourselves to Thee for help and pardon for our sins; and sometimes Thou speakest to us, so that it pierceth and woundeth with desire of Thee the very bottom of our souls; and sometimes Thou teachest a soul to understand more in it of the knowledge of Thee and of herself than ever could have been by all the teaching in the world showed to a soul in five hundred years; for Thy words are works.

The Holy Spirit, labouring in us through the Divine Office, obtains all that the Father, in His wisdom and love, desires to bestow upon the saints, that is, upon the Body of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Thus does the monastery's stable rhythm of choral prayer refresh the Church with wave upon wave of divine life.

Always in the temple

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Paolo Uccelli's Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple illustrates a mystery that has long been interpreted as a paradigm of the monastic life. Little Mary hastens up the steps of the temple while her parents, Saints Joachim and Anna look on. The Child Mary will live hidden in the temple while the Holy Spirit prepares her to become the temple of the Word Incarnate.

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
6 Jan. 7 May. 6 Sept.
Since then, brethren, we have asked of the Lord who is to inhabit His temple, we have heard His commands to those who are to dwell there and if we fulfil those duties, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Our hearts, therefore, and our bodies must be made ready to fight under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God to supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us. And if we would arrive at eternal life, escaping the pains of hell, then - while there is yet time, while we are still in the flesh, and are able to fulfil all these things by the light which is given us - we must hasten to do now what will profit us for all eternity.

In the Temple of the Lord

The monk is a man who dwells in the temple of the Lord. "For better is one day in thy courts above thousands. I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners" (Psalm 83:11). The monk has made the temple of the Lord his permanent abode, echoing the Lord's own words in Psalm 131: "This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it" (Psalm 131:14). His unflagging prayer is that of the psalmist:

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord: they shall praise thee for ever and ever.

Saint Luke: Evangelist of the Temple

Saint Luke gives us two striking examples of permanence in the temple. The first is venerable old Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, which translates "face of God." Concerning Anna of the Face of God, a prototype of the monastic life, Saint Luke says that she, "departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day" (Luke 2:37). The second is the very last sentence of his Gospel: "And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:53).

To Abide in Christ

To abide in the temple is to abide in Christ, according to His own word in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me" (John 15:4). For Saint Benedict's monk, this abiding in the temple, translates concretely into a love for stability in the enclosure of the monastery; into a permanent proximity to the altar, the place of the Holy Sacrifice and of the abiding real presence of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. Saint Benedict himself chose to die in the oratory of his monastery at Monte Cassino, standing before the altar, in the presence of the adorable mysteries of Our Lord's Body and Blood. Death is not improvised. Saint Benedict's Eucharistic death was the seal placed on a wholly Eucharistic life.

The Constitutions of Silverstream Priory address this:

In the transitus [i.e. passing over] of Saint Benedict, who, as recounted by Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of the Dialogues, breathed forth his last before the altar, and entrusted the last beats of his heart to the Sacred Host, we recognize, as in a mysterious prophetic act, the generation, at the hour fixed by God, of sons of his Order, who would render to the Most Holy Sacrament adoration and reverence in the celebration of the Opus Dei, and in an uninterrupted vigil of love and reparation.

Moreover, in the decree by which His Lordship, the Bishop of Meath established our monastery, we read:

The real stability of a monk is both inward and ecclesial, insofar as it is fixed in the Sacred Host, that is, in Jesus Christ truly present as Priest and Victim upon the altars of the Church, whence He offers Himself to the Father as a pure oblation from the rising of the sun to its setting. Ubi Hostia, ibi Ecclesia.

The Passion of the Lamb

One who abides permanently in the temple of the Lord, in radical separation from the world, assumes certain obligations or, rather, responds to the grace of dwelling close to the altar of the Lamb, by imitating the Lamb in His silence, His sacrificial suffering, His humility, and His obedience unto death. With his heart and his body, the monk enters into the mystery of the Passion of the Lamb and into spiritual combat "not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Ephesians 6:12).


Perseverance in this life of separation from the world and spiritual combat exceeds mere human strength. A monk who is trying to live his vocation without compromise will discover rather sooner than later that it is completely beyond what he is capable of doing. Confronted with his weakness and instability, he comes to understand the word of the Lord to His Apostles: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). At the same time he takes to heart the word of the Lord to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Corinthians 12:9). God will, Saint Benedict assures us, "supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us."

The Last Things

Life is short. Eternity is forever. Hell is a real possibility. Heaven is our true home. Saint Benedict would have his monk invest wisely every moment of this passing life, by spending it, and by spending himself close to the altar, in the temple of the Lord.


Painting: The Prodigal Son by Edward John Poynter (1836-1919)

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
5 Jan. 6 May. 5 Sept.
Hence also the Lord saith in the Gospel: "He that heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them, is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock: the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, because it was founded upon a rock." And the Lord in fulfilment of these His words is waiting daily for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions. Therefore are the days of our life lengthened for the amendment of our evil ways, as saith the Apostle: "Knowest thou not that the patience of God is leading thee to repentance?" For the merciful Lord saith: "I will not the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live."

Firm Upon the Rock

A monk, in consequence of his Baptism and monastic consecration, builds his life upon the rock of the Word of God. He stands on the Word of God; he makes it his home, his shelter, and the unshakeable ground of his stability. Left to himself, a monk, like any other man, is infirm; that is to say that he is without firmitas; he has no solid ground upon which to plant his feet. Without the stability of the Word of God, all that the world offers is shifting and uncertain. When a man takes his position on the Word of God, he acquires firmitas, a strength against which every other force is shattered.

A God Who Waits

Saint Benedict says that the Lord is waiting daily for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions. The very notion of the Creator who waits for his creature; of the heavenly Father who waits for the least of His children; of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ waiting for one redeemed by His precious Blood is difficult to take in. It reveals the profound humility of God. God is exquisitely courteous in all His dealings with the creatures upon whom He has set His Heart.

God lengthens the days a man's life in order to give him time to repent; his days are, nonetheless numbered. The psalmist says:

Be converted, O ye sons of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are as yesterday, which is past. And as a watch in the night, things that are counted nothing, shall their years be. In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish and pass away: in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither. (Psalm 89:3-6)

And again, in the same psalm:

Our years shall be considered as fragile as a spider's spinning: The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years. But if in the strong they be fourscore years: and what is more of them is labour and sorrow. For mildness is come upon us: and we shall be corrected. (Psalm 89:9-10)

Never to Despair of the Mercy of God

God is patient and merciful. In Chapter IV of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict will enjoin his monk, "never to despair of the mercy of God." Already, in the Prologue, in order to impress upon us the goodness of the Father, he presents us with His patience and mercy. To the patience of God, the monk responds with a ready repentance; and to His mercy, the monk responds with confidence.


Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.

Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: "Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?" After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: "He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:" he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ. These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory." So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: "By the grace of God I am what I am." And again he saith: "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."

In the Tabernacle of the King

Saint Benedict makes it clear that a monk's deepest desire is not only to see Christ, but also to dwell in His royal tabernacle. "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple" (Psalm 26:40). It is the will of Christ, expressed in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle that those who belong to Him should be with Him where He is:

Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)


Saint Benedict is fond of using dynamic verbs, denoting swift action; thus, he would have his monk run to the royal tabernacle of the Lord by good deeds. Pious aspirations are not enough. One must demonstrate with concrete deeds one's desire to live in Christ and with Christ. These need not be huge deeds nor feats of ascetical prowess. On the contrary, the deeds by which one runs to the royal tabernacle of the Lord, and gains entrance therein, are very little deeds, deeds that are hidden in the ordinary course of one's day, beginning with the tasks that belong to one's state in life. This is the "little way" of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.

The Oeuf and the Boeuf

I have experienced many times that a very little deed done for Christ releases an entirely disproportionate deluge of graces. Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort quotes a homely French proverb that expresses this perfectly: Pour un oeuf, il donne un boeuf. The gist of the saying is this: give God an egg (something very little) and, in return, He will give you an ox (something very large). I knew a person who decided one day to be rid of the clutter accumulated in his closet, a collection of things to which he had become attached. Acting decisively against his own tendency to cling to things (out of insecurity, no doubt), he undertook to free himself of the possessions that had come to possess him. The result was a life-transforming flood of graces, entirely disproportionate to the things given away.

Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Little Steps

The point of Saint Benedict's teaching here is that we approach the tabernacle of the Lord not by sighs of devotion, but by actually doing something, however insignificant this little something may appear. Saint Thérèse's example of the toddler trying to climb the staircase by repeatedly lifting his little foot to the first step, is a perfect illustration of this. At length, the child's father, charmed by the child's persistence in doing something (however ineffectual) lifts the child into his strong arms and carries him in triumph to the top of the staircase.

Saint Benedict asks the Lord who will be found worthy to dwell with Him in His royal tabernacle. In response, the Lord gives Psalm 14:

Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? or who shall rest in thy holy hill? He that walketh without blemish, and worketh justice: He that speaketh truth in his heart, who hath not used deceit in his tongue: Nor hath done evil to his neighbour: nor taken up a reproach against his neighbours. In his sight the malignant is brought to nothing: but he glorifieth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his neighbour, and deceiveth not; He that hath not put out his money to usury, nor taken bribes against the innocent: He that doth these things shall not be moved for ever.

Jesus gives the fulfillment of Psalm 14 in the Beatitudes:

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. The poor in spirit: That is, the humble; and they whose spirit is not set upon riches. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)


All of this being said, danger lies even in the doing of good deeds: the mortal danger of pride. Even as the monk advances towards the royal tabernacle of the Lord, he sings with every step, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory" (Psalm 113:9). Saint Benedict's monk has inclined the ear of his heart to the words once addressed by Christ to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Corinthians 12:9). With the Apostle, the monk will, over time, learn to say: "Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

To See Christ

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Why did I choose this painting of Saint Antony of Egypt and Saint Paul the Hermit to illustrate today's entry? Saint Antony's face reflects the pure light of Christ shining from the Gospel for Saint Paul, and Saint Paul's face reflects the same pure light of Christ shining from the Gospel for Saint Antony. When two saints meet, their encounter is incandescent with the light of Christ.

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.
Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: "Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?" After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: "He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:" he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ. These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory." So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: "By the grace of God I am what I am." And again he saith: "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."

Ready for Spiritual Combat

In today's portion of the Prologue, Saint Benedict enjoins us to gird our loins with faith and with the performance of good works. To have one's loins girt means to be kitted out with weapons and ready for action on the battlefield. Saint Benedict may have been thinking of the Apostle's exhortation:

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. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: in all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17)

Following the Guidance of the Gospel

In all things the monk is subject to the guidance of the Gospel. The Gospel is the primary and indispensable rule of monks; it is one's habitual reference in every season of life. When a monk hears the Holy Gospel chanted at Matins or at Holy Mass, he hears the very voice of Christ. Heart speaks to heart. He listens to the Holy Gospel with such attention that not a single word of it is lost, for the least syllable of the Gospel is "more to be desired than gold and many precious stones: and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb" (Psalm 18:11).

Saint Antony the Great

Saint Athanasius writes of of Saint Antony that, "he gave such heed to what was read [at the sacred liturgy] that none of the things that were written fell from him to the ground, but he remembered all, and afterwards his memory served him for books." Saint Antony's careful attention to the Word of God is the model of the attention of the heart by which a son of Saint Benedict will want to listen to the Holy Gospel.

The Radiant Face of the Word

Today's monk, having ample access to the text of the Holy Gospels, often in various languages and translations, will supplement the primary hearing of the liturgic Gospel at Matins and at Holy Mass with the reading and meditation of the Gospel in the secret of his cell. He will open the book of the Gospels as reverently as if we were opening the door of the tabernacle. He will read the sacred page in such a way as to peer through the text, as through a lattice work, in order to discover, shining through the letter of the text, the radiant Face of the Word.

Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. Behold my beloved speaketh to me: Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. (Canticle 2:9-10)

Saint Benedict's monk is animated by a single desire: he wants to see Him who has called us into His kingdom, Christ the Lord.

Christ Seeking His Workman

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Chiamata degli apostoli.jpg

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept.
And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: "Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, "I am he," God saith to thee: "If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

Seeking Workmen

This portion of the Prologue is best read, I think, against the parable of the labourers in the vineyard:

The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle. And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just. And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner. But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle? They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-7)

The Work of God

Christ descends into the marketplace of the world, a place of chaos, bargaining, trickery, and dreams of a better life. He stands in the midst of the multitude, in much the same way as He stood once on the last and greatest day of the festival, crying out, "If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink" (John 7:37). He is looking for workmen, that is for men who will share in His own divine work: "My Father worketh until now," He says, "and I work" (John 5:17). What is this pressing work of Our Lord and of His Father? "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).

The Gift of Faith

The gift of faith is the work of the Father operating secretly in the soul by the Holy Ghost to bring the soul to Christ. "No man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father" (John 6:66). The work of man is to receive the gift of faith freely offered, and to stake his life upon it and nothing else. This is what a monk does. He stakes his life -- his one and only life -- upon the fidelity of the Father, who has drawn him to the Son, by the Holy Ghost. This is the essential work of the monk: a participation in the very work of God.

Life and Happiness

What are the fundamental qualifications that Christ looks for in a workman? They are very simple: that the workman desire life and want to see good days. The work to which Our Lord calls men is not an end in itself; it is ordered to the abundant life that only He can give. "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Work in the vineyard of the Lord is likewise ordered to good days, that is, to happiness. Nothing makes a man happier -- in this life and in the next -- than becoming a co-worker with Christ in the Work of God.

Keep Thy Tongue from Evil

When a man, hearing Christ's invitation, answers, "I am he," God immediately engages him in a new way of being: true and everlasting life belongs to the man who keeps his tongue from evil and his lips from guile. Silence is an indispensable condition of this new way of being. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man" (James 3:2). Christ's workman is not quick to speak. He listens. He observes. He ponders. He looks upon others with eyes of mercy. When he speaks, his discourse is gracious and mild, soothing and modest.

Turn Away from Evil and Do Good

True and everlasting life belongs to the man who turns away from evil (i.e., avoids the occasions of sin) and does good (i.e, practices virtue); who seeks after peace and pursues it. It is not enough to turn away from what is evil; Christ's workman turns towards what is good. He is not negative and dismal, forever harping on what is wrong, and castigating corruption; rather, he turns away from the darkness resolutely and, facing the light, invests his best energies in doing good. It is especially important in one's conversation to eschew the dreary rehearsal of all that is wrong in others, in the Church, and in the world, so as to focus, instead, on the power of grace, the splendour of the truth, and the beauty of holiness.

Seek After Peace and Pursue It

Benedictine life is the pursuit of peace, not the fragile, negotiated, and transient peace that is the fruit of merely human endeavour, but the divine peace that descends from above, the gift of the Lamb of God, imparted to those who partake of His sacrifice. The coat-of-arms of the Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint-Maur in the 17th century bore the word "Pax" encircled by a crown of thorns: pax inter spinas. The legendary pax benedictina (benedictine peace) is won at the price of much suffering. It is the prize of those who enter with the Lamb into the thicket of His bitter passion and, with Him, become obedient unto death, even death on a cross. "As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Romans 8:36). Mother Mectilde de Bar was fond of describing the Benedictine way as "a life of death." She meant, by this, that all is fleeting and disappointing here below, save union with Christ in His passion and death.

The Promises

Today's portion of the Prologue ends with a series of glorious promises:

And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

There is nothing more consoling in the monastic life than the assurance that, if one lives as Christ's workman, one can be certain of meeting His gaze, of being heard in the hour of prayer, and of finding Christ waiting and desirous of one's company, even before one has begun to pray. "The Master is come," said Martha to Mary, "and calleth for thee" (John 11:28). At every hour of the day and night, Christ speaks from the tabernacles where He dwells as one poor and hidden, saying "Behold, I am here." There is nothing sweeter to the ear of Christ's worker than this invitation to abide close to Him who, out of love, abides close to the poorest and to the least of all.


Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
2 Jan. 3 May. 2 Sept.
Let us then at length arise, since the Scripture stirreth us up, saying: It is time now for us to rise from sleep." And our eyes being open to the deifying light, let us hear with wondering ears what the Divine Voice admonisheth us, daily crying out: "To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts." And again, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches." And what saith He? "Come, my children, hearken to Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize hold of you."

Broad Strokes and Bright Colours

Yesterday's passage from the Prologue of the Holy Rule contains elements of a baptismal catechesis. This should not surprise us, given that the monastic life, unlike later developments of consecrated life in the Church, was not established to address any special need or in response to a particular crisis as were, for example, the Dominicans (to combat heresy by contemplating and preaching truth), or the Jesuits (to be soldiers under obedience, ready at every moment to fight the Church's enemies and to carry the message of Christ the King to the remotest ends of the earth). Monastic life is, quite simply, the baptismal life writ with broad strokes and bright colours. It is an intensification of the Way lived by the Christians of the early Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. For this reason, monastic life is the original vita apostolica (the apostolic life) insofar as it seeks to reproduce in every age the pattern left by the Apostles. Although individual monks may, under obedience, be called to cultivate certain specialized skills or fields of knowledge, Benedictine life, as such, has no specialization

And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: many wonders also and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem, and there was great fear in all. And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; Praising God, and having favour with all the people. (Acts 2:42-47)

A Classic

I still put into the hands of every man who comes to the monastery to discern whether or not he may have a Benedictine vocation, the splendid old classic that was put into my hands so many years ago: The Ideal of the Monastic Life Found in the Apostolic Age by Dom Germain Morin, O.S.B. (1861-1946). Originally published in 1913, it has lost nothing of its value; it remains a clear and accessible exposition of Benedictine life in all its simplicity and grandeur.

In the Face of Christ Jesus

The monk is a man roused from sleep and called to stand on his two feet, as one risen from the tomb, in order to meet the gaze of the Father with the Son. The Word of God shakes him out of the cozy slumber of mediocrity. "Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep" (Romans 13:11). The heavy drapes of isolation from the Divine Light are pulled back; the brightness of Christ comes streaming into the room; the monk is obliged to wipe the sleep from his eyes and fix his gaze on the splendour of the Holy Face of Christ. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The Sound of His Voice

Having opened his eyes to the light that streams from the Face of Christ, the monk must also open his ears to the sound of His voice. There is not a day, not an hour, when Christ, the Word, is not speaking to the human heart. "Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Apocalypse 3:20). How does Christ speak? How does He knock at the door of one's heart? He speaks through His creation. He knocks through the experience of all that is beautiful, of all that is good, and true. He speaks through Divine Revelation as received and transmitted by the Church. He knocks in every verse of the psalms that are chanted in choir by day and by night. "I sleep, and my heart watcheth; the voice of my beloved knocking: Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is full of dew, and my locks of the drops of the nights" (Canticle 5:2). He speaks through the most ordinary events and in all the circumstances of life, including failure, disappointment, loss, illness, and every manner of suffering. He even knocks by means of the experience of the sin that leaves one feeling alienated, bitter, and empty.

The Fear of the Lord

One who hearkens to the voice of Christ, one who opens the door upon hearing Him knock, will learn the fear of the Lord. What is this fear? It is not the cringing, crushing apprehension of punishment. It is, rather, the spirit of ceaseless adoration and the profound reverence that overtakes one awestruck by the closeness of the thrice-holy God. It is the spirit of the very prayer of Christ's own prayer to the Father, a spirit at once filial and sacerdotal. Christ, "in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence" (Hebrews 5:7).

Now Is the Acceptable Time

Saint Benedict has no time for lolly-gaggers and dawdlers. "Run," he says, "while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death overtake you." There is an urgency about the monastic vocation, because there is an urgency about being Christian. The temptation to put off one's response to the light and to the voice of Christ is perilous.

And we helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Giving no offence to any man, that our ministry be not blamed: but in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left. (2 Corinthians 6:1-7)

The Indwelling Word

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
2 Jan. 3 May. 2 Sept.
Let us then at length arise, since the Scripture stirreth us up, saying: It is time now for us to rise from sleep." And our eyes being open to the deifying light, let us hear with wondering ears what the Divine Voice admonisheth us, daily crying out: "Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts." And again, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches." And what saith He? "Come, my children, hearken to Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize hold of you."

Receive the Ingrafted Word

In this very brief passage of the Prologue, Saint Benedict weaves together five passages from Sacred Scripture. What does this tell us about the man? And what does this tell us about the monks he would have us be? It tells us that Saint Benedict was a man wholly indwelt by the living Word of God. The Word indwelling his heart sprang to his lips easily and spontaneously, becoming his own articulation of the inexhaustible mystery of Christ. It tells us that Saint Benedict would have us be men wholly indwelt by the Word; it tells us that in our lives, over time, the Word will begin to spring from our inmost hearts to our lips, becoming in each one of us a unique articulation of the same inexhaustible mystery of Christ. "With meekness," says the Apostle Saint James, "receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).

Maria Regula Monachorum

There is a profoundly Marian dimension of the Rule of Saint Benedict that is too often overlooked. Mary is regula monachorum, that is to say that she is the pattern and image of what the monk is called to be. If one would see the perfection of the monastic vocation, one has only to contemplate Mary, who said "Be it done to me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38), and who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). The Word received and held in Mary's Immaculate Heart becomes the doxological Word (i.e. the Word of praise), the eucharistic Word (i.e. the Word of thanksgiving) that springs to her lips in the Magnificat. The monk, like the Virgin Mary, is called to receive the impression of the Word in silence, and to give expression to the Word in song, and in all of life, by singing what he lives, and by living what he sings.

Ecclesial and Liturgical Context

Saint Benedict would not have known the kind of "Bible reading" practiced and popularised by Protestants: a private reading of the text without reference to the ecclesial and liturgical context that illumines and quickens it. For Saint Benedict, the Word of God was, first of all, a living message carried on the breath of God, striking the ear, illuminating the mind, and penetrating into the sanctuary of the heart where it becomes the sacrament of the Divine Indwelling. Saint Benedict would have known the Word of God by listening to it in the context of the Opus Dei (the Divine Office), and by chanting it seven times daily and once during the night, following the liturgical cycle of fasts and of feasts, within the virginal space of optimal resonance that is the Church Catholic.

Generative and Fruitful

Saint Benedict's apparent mastery of the Word of God is evidence that he was mastered by it. A Benedictine monastery is a school of the Lord's service, a school in which the Word is, at once, both the Master teaching and the matter taught. Humble submission to the Word of God -- perfectly imaged in the mystery of the Annunciation -- is the secret of Saint Benedict's prodigious generativity, and of the fecundity of his capital grace (or charism) down through the ages.

Libenter et efficaciter

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father 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.

Listening to the Rule Again

Benedictine monks listen to the reading of the Holy Rule three times a year beginning on January 1st, May 2nd, and September 1st. There is a particular grace attached to the beginning of each new reading of the Holy Rule. It is an invitation to begin afresh, to take heart, to leave behind all that is past and to set out, once again, for that promised land flowing with milk and honey, where life in abundance is guaranteed. It is a summons to abide with the Virgin of Nazareth in the mystery of the Annunciation: to hearken to the Word as she hearkened to it; to incline the ear of one's heart as she inclined the ear of her Immaculate Heart; to accept freely (libenter) the word that descends from above, and to engage effectively (efficaciter) in the Father's plan.

What Makes a Benedictine?

What makes a Benedictine? Is it mere profession according to the Rule of Saint Benedict? Is it a juridical state determined by aggregation or affiliation to a larger body? While being a Benedictine does not exclude these things, it is not determined by them. The Benedictine monk is a man who, having inclined the ear of his heart to the Rule of Saint Benedict, finds that it corresponds to his most intimate aspirations and desires. The Benedictine monk is a man who, having found a treasure hidden in the Rule of Saint Benedict, as in a field, forsakes all else to freely (libenter) and effectively (efficaciter) accept and carry out all that it proposes.

We are not Benedictines only, or principally, because we have professed the Rule of Saint Benedict but, essentially because the ensemble of aspirations and needs that grace has put in us finds its response and its fulfillment in the doctrine of Saint Benedict. There is a spiritual affinity between him and us. A single spirit has co-involved us in his life, and moves us along in his footsteps. We have not taken on a physiognomy that is foreign to us, but have found that which has unraveled the confused sentiments of our hearts, and offered to guide us into life. (M. Ildegarde Cabitza, O.S.B.)

A Learned and Mysterious Abridgment of All the Doctrine of the Gospel

Why has the Rule of Saint Benedict exercised such a powerful attraction over souls for centuries? What is it about the Rule of Saint Benedict that makes it perennially fresh, and new, and life-giving? Why is it that the wisdom distilled by the Rule of Saint Benedict is always relevant and so astonishingly suited to men of every age, background, and culture? Bossuet wrote: Cette règle [de Saint-Benoît], c'est un précis du christianisme, un docte et mystérieux abrégé de toute la doctrine de l'Évangile; "This rule (of Saint Benedict) is a digest of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of all the doctrine of the Gospel." The Rule of Saint Benedict sums up the Gospel and, because it sums up the Gospel, it contains a distillation of all that was given to the patriarchs, the prophets, and wise men of the Old Testament. The Rule of Saint Benedict has the same savour as the Word of God to the palate of the soul; it carries the unmistakable fragrance of the divinely inspired Scriptures; it reflects the luminosity of the Sacred Page, and this, because the man who wrote the Rule was immersed in the splendour of Divine Revelation.


Saint Benedict requires that the man proposing to embrace the Rule do so freely (libenter). He must be a free man acting freely, not a driven man acting under compulsion. This does not mean that the aspirant to monastic life be entirely free from the start; no one is entirely free. It does mean that his choice must be free insofar as his freedom goes at the moment of choosing. The Holy Ghost will, over time, and through purifying sufferings, untie and unravel the knots that constrain one's freedom so that, as one progresses in the monastic life one becomes more and more free. This is why, in Chapter VII of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict places interior liberty at the summit of the Twelve Degrees of Humility:

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

Getting On With It

Saint Benedict further requires that the man proposing to embrace the Rule do so effectively (efficaciter). He must carry out the Master's doctrine concretely, and not be content with pious reveries and idealistic visions of what might be, if only others were not such impediments to one's own perfection. It is not enough to say, "Yes, yes" with one's lips, if one's hands, and feet, and muscles, and breath are not quick to carry out what the ear has heard, and the intellect understood.


Obedience is, as Saint Benedict says, a labour. It involves spending oneself and super-spending oneself, as the Apostle says, Ego autem libentissime impendam, et super impendar -- "But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself" (2 Corinthians 12:15). The cloister is not a refuge for beautiful dreamers; it is a workshop and a school of doing. If it is true, according to the philosophers, that being precedes doing, it is also true that doing shapes being. Benedictine pedagogy (like the pedagogy of the liturgy) says, "Do this first, and later you will understand." Obedience is what allows a man to retrace his steps. By obedience a man goes back through the messy history of his own disobedience until, at length, he finds himself a child again, held fast in the arms of his Father.

On the Battlefield

A monastery faithful to the Holy Rule will necessarily be a battlefield, and its monks will be, not pious dilettantes, but warriors all bloodied and scarred fighting in the service of Christ, the true King. The "strong and glorious weapons of obedience" are, at times heavy and unwieldy. Skill in using them comes from practice. And if, wounded and weary, one needs time and space to recover from the humiliation of a momentary defeat on the battlefield, the Rule of Saint Benedict provides for that as well.

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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