Jan. 7 – May 8 – Sept. 7
And so we are going to establish
a school for the service of the Lord.
In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.
But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity
for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity,
do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation,
whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14).
For as we advance in the religious life and in faith,
our hearts expand
and we run the way of God’s commandments
with unspeakable sweetness of love.
Thus, never departing from His school,
but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching
we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13)
and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.
Today’s reading concludes the Prologue and in the first sentence, we learn Father Benedict’s purpose for writing the Rule: to establish a school for the service of the Lord. The remainder of today’s reading summarizes what the school will do and succinctly sums up the essence of the Christian life.
This school is a place to both learn and use what we learn. The spiritual life is always a combination of both learning and action. It is not enough to acquire knowledge, one must also put it into practice.
Note, too, where he says “nothing harsh or burdensome”. One of the things I most love about Benedict is the moderation, the balance. Would you agree with me that the world we live in could well use some moderation and balance?
As for a “certain strictness”, for some reason, I am reminded of those who can’t commit, who have to try everything new. Yes, in choosing to implement the RB in our lives, we are turning our backs on some things, narrowing our options, leaving other stuff behind. This can also be a source of freedom. Such a relief, really, to turn one’s back on all other options and know this is one’s correct path. One example of a liberating decision is choosing one’s spouse. When you know this person is the right person, one released from the dating scene. Another example might be that of a train. It could certainly try to run on the ground, but doesn’t it do much better on tracks?
The “certain strictness” is not only for the “amendment of vices”, but also for the “preservation of charity”, of love. Balance. Moderation. I love the warning against running away. How many people shun commitments. Benedict practically promises to stretch our comfort zones which can be dismaying. But what are the results of this stretching?
Something else that sounds like a promise to me is “For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.” Isn’t this saying that if we stick with it, even when it is uncomfortable, that we will grow and know the love of God better?
The one who guides and teaches us is the Lord, not Benedict. “His teaching” is the Scriptures, the Word of the Lord to whom we must listen, not primarily the Rule., although the Rule helps us listen to the Bible. I’ve read in more than one place that ninety-five percent of the content of the Rule is Bible verses.
In this selection of the RB, the monastery is named as the place where all this learning takes place. Most of us who read this reflection, I daresay, are not in a monastery or convent. What would be our equivalent? I believe that for each of us, there is a place in our hearts where we can make such a commitment and choose to give our obedience. If this has not taken place then, according to what I read in the New Testament and the RB, we have not truly enfleshed, incarnated our commitment to the Lord. Our homes can become our own personal monastic cells.
Something in our rational, mechanistic view of the world often makes this difficult because to choose to follow Jesus is to choose blindly. It means giving ourselves to something we could never fully understand. It is hard for us to accept without scientific proof, that the Lord’s is a much better way for us. Yet that is what Jesus and now Benedict ask of us every day: to believe that we will be transformed “for as we advance in the religious life and in faith,our hearts expand”. Reads like transformation to me.