Enlarging the Heart

Daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict

By a Benedictine of Saint Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde

"... as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God's commandments."

(From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict)

St Benedict wrote his Rule for monks some fifteen centuries ago. Driven by his love of Christ, he wanted to establish his monastery as a "school of the Lord's service": a place where people who truly seek God could find him; places where "authentic Gospel values prevail"(1); where nothing whatever would be preferred to Christ. The Rule of St Benedict spread all over Europe, and had an enormous influence on the life and spirituality of the Latin Church. It continues to inspire monks, nuns, and countless lay people throughout the world today. Like many monasteries we divide the Rule into sections so that the whole Rule is covered over a period of three months. The commentaries will follow the sequence of the sections.

(1) Pope John Paul II, to Benedictine Abbots, 23 September 1996

Sept 19 22. Not to follow the promptings of anger. 23. Not to seek an occasion of revenge. 24. Not to foster deceit in one's heart. 25. Not to make a feigned peace. 26. Not to forsake charity. 27. Not to swear, lest perhaps one perjure oneself. 28. To utter the truth with heart and lips. 29. Not to render evil for evil. 30. To do no wrong to anyone, but to bear patiently any wrong done to oneself. 31. To love one's enemies. 32. Not to speak ill of those who speak ill of us, but rather to speak well of them. 33. To suffer persecution for justice's sake. 34. Not to be proud. 35. Not to be given to wine. 36. Not to be a glutton. 37. Not to be given to sleep. 38. Not to be slothful. 39. Not to be a murmurer. 40. Not to be a detractor. 41. To put one's trust in God. 42. To attribute any good one sees in oneself to God and not to oneself. 43. But always to acknowledge that the evil is one's own, and to attribute it to oneself.

Monastic spirituality is designed to develop a transparent personality, a pure heart: no deceit, no dissimulation, half-answers, vindictive attitudes, no false presentation of oneself. Holiness has a great deal to do with honesty, with being who we say we are, with giving ourselves to one another pure and clear, being what we seem to be. Here St Benedict insists a great deal on the sincerity of our relationships with others: not to foster guile in one's heart, to nurture truth in one's heart, to speak the truth from mouth and heart, no hollow greeting of peace. The tools given today also evoke Our Lord's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: bearing with injuries, love of enemies, words of blessing in reply to curses, patience in adversity and persecution. In short, we are invited to bear wrongs rather than cause them. Finally the series concludes by inviting us to fix our gaze on God, to put our trust in Him.

CHAPTER 4: The tools of good works Sept 18 1. First of all, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. 2. Then, to love thy neighbour as thyself. 3. Next, 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 luxuries. 13. To love fasting. 14. To refresh 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.

St Benedict likes to refer to the monk as a workman. The opening call in the Prologue presents the Lord seeking his workman in the crowd, a call to enter gainful employment in the service of Christ. The monastery is a workshop, where the monk toils faithfully at the spiritual craft with the tools or instruments of good works. All this implies effort, diligence. Sincerely living a spiritual life involves effort; it makes demands on our time and energy. We are not meant to be spectators of the work God accomplishes in us. We are summoned to active participation, the practical living out of our faith. This practical ethos permeates the Rule. Authentic faith gives birth to good works that are outward expression of inward faith. Here St Benedict gives a whole list of tools of good works. The basis of our Christian life is a workmanlike accomplishment of whatever good deeds a particular situation demands. Rowan Williams put it this way: "For St Benedict the monastery is a workshop, a place where we use specific tools which are lent to us by Christ, to be returned on the last day when we receive our wages. The holy life is one in which we learn to handle things, in a businesslike and unselfconscious way, to 'handle' controlling one's tongue, the habit of not passing on blame, getting up in the morning, not gossiping, etc. A monastic lifetime is one in which these habits are fitted to our hands. Simone Weil said that for the seasoned worker, the tool is an extension of the hand, not something alien. St Benedict suggests that holiness is like that, an extension of our bodies in our words and our acts. Tools worn smooth with long use, skilfully patched over time, taken from the shelf each morning and finally hung up when weariness or age arrives. Tools for growth and holiness." Tools for use in the service of God and others. We are all called to be workers, to give of our time and talents with generosity, labouring in the service of God and others. All this reminds us that the spiritual life is not some idyllic existence but something ordinary, part of daily life.

 

©SBVM 2013