Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 6: On the Spirit of Silence, May 25, 2017

January 24, May 25, September 24
Chapter 6: On the Spirit of Silence

Let us do what the Prophet says:
“I said, ‘I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue.
I have set a guard to my mouth.’
I was mute and was humbled,
and kept silence even from good things” (Ps. 38:2-3).
Here the Prophet shows
that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times
to refrain even from good speech,
so much the more ought the punishment for sin
make us avoid evil words.

Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important,
permission to speak should rarely be granted
even to perfect disciples,
even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation;
for it is written,
“In much speaking you will not escape sin” (Prov. 10:19),
and in another place,
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).

For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress;
the disciple’s part is to be silent and to listen.
And for that reason
if anything has to be asked of the Superior,
it should be asked
with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence.

But as for coarse jests and idle words
or words that move to laughter,
these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban,
and for such conversation
we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.

Some thoughts

Just the other day, a friend and I were talking about noise that appears to be unavoidable, the noise of every day life. Benedict doesn’t seem to me to be talking about that sort, does he? Rather he means opening our mouths and talking. Here is another place where he challenges our modern thinking about our “right” to express our opinions even if “it be for good, holy edifying conversation”. What do you make of this? What would happen if we refrained from saying even the good stuff? What would that be like?

What immediately leapt off the page today were the words “the spirit of silence is so important”.

We live in such a noisy world – it’s really difficult to find silence.  Even on a remote wooded hilltop ‘far from the madding crowd’, there might still be an aircraft passing overhead – unwelcome noise – or even the song of birds, the crackle of twigs, the wind in the leaves – welcome sounds, but also perhaps distractions.

It’s worse in our crowded towns – traffic noise, radio noise, voices everywhere speaking or shouting, music spilling out of every shop, dogs barking, building work going on with very noisy machinery…

Silence is so elusive.

And yet when we find the perfect spot, where all seems externally still, we find it just as hard to find inner silence – at least, I do.  There’s a cacophony of voices rising up inside, finally getting a chance to state their case – one lists things I mustn’t forget to do; one rakes up old worries; another reminds  me of current anxieties; yet another insists I must make a thorough confession, complete with sack- cloth and ashes if possible, before I can come  into a contemplative silence with God…

‘Be still and know that I am God’

‘Peace, be still…’ (and the wind and the waves obeyed!) 

Are the elements more obedient to Christ than we are able to be when it comes to being still?

‘Martha, you are fretting and fussing about many things…’

Martha is a great source of comfort to me…  She was a fretter and fusser; she wanted things to be just right; she seemed not to have ‘chosen the better part’ like Mary, to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him. And yet her faith was enormous – she understood all along what he’d been teaching.  She was the  one who trusted him when Lazarus had fallen ill;   she was the one who recognised Jesus as the Messiah and proclaimed as much.

Silence is important; both outer and inner.  But what is this **spirit** of silence that the RB refers to?  Is it maybe the ‘peace that passes all understanding’ that rests in our hearts despite ourselves?  Even when we forget it’s there? Even when we get ourselves into a frantic state of panic or despair or rage?

Jesus continually says, ‘Peace be with you.’ He said it twice in the upper room… perhaps the first time wasn’t enough for his bewildered, emotionally-drenched and drowned disciples. So he said it again, ‘Peace be with you.’ That’s the voice and the words I must try to listen for at the heart of the noise – yes, at the heart, not at the periphery.  Whether external or internal, the noise can be stilled by Jesus who blesses us with a ‘SPIRIT of silence’.

Oh Lord, please remind me of this next time my boat is sinking under the storms of noise, exasperation and inner rioting thoughts!

The Lord is my Salvation and my Song – and also my Source of Silence.

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 5: On Obedience, May 24, 2017

January 23, May 24, September 23
Chapter 5: On Obedience

But this very obedience
will be acceptable to God and pleasing to all
only if what is commanded is done
without hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, or objection.
For the obedience given to Superiors is given to God,
since He Himself has said,
“He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16).
And the disciples should offer their obedience with a good will,
for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
For if the disciple obeys with an ill will
and murmurs,
not necessarily with his lips but simply in his heart,
then even though he fulfill the command
yet his work will not be acceptable to God,
who sees that his heart is murmuring.
And, far from gaining a reward for such work as this,
he will incur the punishment due to murmurers,
unless he amend and make satisfaction.

Some Thoughts

A Franciscan Solitary in Scotland and I are discussion the Principles of the First Order Franciscans. Yesterday’s principle read:

“The First Order Principles, Day 23. Works (Cont’d.)

“The brothers and sisters must be glad at all times to relieve those who come to them for help or counsel. They must never give the impression that they have no time for such ministry. Rather must they be ready to lay aside all other work, including even the work of prayer, where such service is immediately required, confident that such a negligence will surely be well-pleasing to the Servant of all.”

I like the word “glad” here. Use of “glad” might cause one to ask why one is not glad and what one must do about it. To my mind, a different take on “”God loves a cheerful giver” which we have all heard so often, particularly at the Offertory.

Seems to me God not only wants our obedience but also for us to be happy in obeying, by obeying, as a result of obeying. Does it seem that way to you?

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 5: On Obedience, May 23, 2017

January 22, May 23, September 22

Chapter 5: On Obedience

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay.

This is the virtue of those

who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ;

who, because of the holy service they have professed,

and the fear of hell,

and the glory of life everlasting,

as soon as anything has been ordered by the Superior,

receive it as a divine command

and cannot suffer any delay in executing it.

Of these the Lord says,

“As soon as he heard, he obeyed Me” (Ps. 17[18]:45).

And again to teachers He says,

“He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16).

Such as these, therefore,

immediately leaving their own affairs

and forsaking their own will,

dropping the work they were engaged on

and leaving it unfinished,

with the ready step of obedience

follow up with their deeds the voice of him who commands.

And so as it were at the same moment

the master’s command is given

and the disciple’s work is completed,

the two things being speedily accomplished together

in the swiftness of the fear of God

by those who are moved

with the desire of attaining life everlasting.

That desire is their motive for choosing the narrow way,

of which the Lord says,

“Narrow is the way that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14),

so that,

not living according to their own choice

nor obeying their own desires and pleasures

but walking by another’s judgment and command,

they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them.

Assuredly such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord

in which He says,

“I have come not to do My own will,

but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).

Some thoughts

What gets you back on the track of preferring nothing to Jesus? In his community, Benedict believes obedience will recall the monastic to this desire. How do we out in the world manage this?

Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works, May 21, 2017

January 20, May 21, September 20
Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works

44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.
48. To keep constant guard over the actions of one’s life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them
against Christ immediately.
51. And to manifest them to one’s spiritual mother.
52. To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech.
53. Not to love much talking.
54. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily in one’s prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess
one’s past sins to God, and to amend them for the future.
59. Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh; to hate one’s own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbess, even
though she herself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of
the Lord’s precept, “Do what they say, but not what they do.”
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first
to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

Some thoughts
As I read this just now I thought to myself, what does he mean about fearing the Day of Judgement? To be in dread of hell? If we take our Christian faith seriously, seek to daily give it flesh by thought, word, and deed, what do we have to fear or dread? We’re headed for Heaven. right?
To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit. Does anyone else find this a challenge living in the midst of a consumerist society where we are daily bombarded with messages of being “less than” because we don’t have this or that or do such and such? Or how about those ads which tell a woman the only way she can know she is loved is if she is given diamonds? Despite the inhumane way diamonds are mined.
To keep death daily before one’s eyes. I had a parish priest once who used to be a Benedictine monk. He said it was the custom to meditate 5 minutes a day on the fact of one’s death. What would that be like? As my mother gets iller, it’s not my death I think about.
To keep constant guard over the actions of one’s life. Constant? Who has time for “constant” these days? Sometimes I feel so much is going on that I have time to react and to hope I have sufficiently nurtured my spirit with prayer, Lectio, Eucharist etc so that my reactions are from God. That’s my hope, at any rate.
To know for certain that God sees one everywhere. Sometimes I find this thought enormously comforting. At others more of an “Oh Oh what have I done now?” What about you?
When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them against Christ immediately. Not if, I see, but when. What a realist Benedict was. Now, if only this was my first thought when evil thoughts cross my mind.
To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech There is so much i could say about this but Jesus and James said it better and with fewer words than I ever could.
Not to love much talking. Yeah, well, got me there, St. Benedict
Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter. Not to love much or boisterous laughter. At first glance, one could hardly be blamed for a “You’ve got to be kidding” reaction. However, I am the proud possessor of Kardong’s Commentary on the RB and in the “Index of Key Words and Themes” I learn that Benedict used 2 words for laughter: risus and scurrilitas. And thanks to the amazing internet, one can google Latin and learn that “risus” means a casual sort of laughter while “scurrilitas” refers to lies, slanders, and obscenities. So clearly, not a restriction against the laughter that arises from joy.
To listen willingly to holy reading. Few of us, I think, have someone who reads to us. But we can choose to read that which enriches the mind and spirit. What are you reading?
To devote oneself frequently to prayer. Daily in one’s prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one’s past sins to God, and to amend them for the future. Ah, prayer! Perhaps the first thing I sacrifice in the face of all the other demands on my time. How about you?
Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first, to be holy, that one may be truly so called. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be, May 13, 2017

January 12, May 13, September 12

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Let her make no distinction of persons in the monastery.

Let her not love one more than another,

unless it be one whom she finds better

in good works or in obedience.

Let her not advance one of noble birth

ahead of one who was formerly a slave,

unless there be some other reasonable ground for it.

But if the Abbess for just reason think fit to do so,

let her advance one of any rank whatever.

Otherwise let them keep their due places;

because, whether slaves or free, we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28)

and bear in equal burden of service

in the army of the same Lord.

For with God there is no respect of persons (Rom. 2:11).

Only for one reason are we preferred in His sight:

if we be found better than others in good works and humility.

Therefore let the Abbess show equal love to all

and impose the same discipline on all

according to their deserts.

Some thoughts
     Today’s reading provokes some questions. Is it true that God prefers those who are found better in good works and humility? This seems like a contradiction of God being impartial.
     So the lines “Let her not love one more than another unless it be one whom she finds better in good works or in obedience” puzzle me for the same reason. Bible teaching seems to make clear that it’s not our good works that win us ‘Brownie points’, and that God loves us totally and unconditionally regardless of how hard we do or don’t work.
     When Peter denied Jesus and they met after the resurrection on the shores of Lake Galilee, Jesus did not put the emphasis on whether He still loved Peter – that much was obvious. Instead, He wanted to find out and wanted Peter to be sure, whether Peter loved Him. Hence the same question three times over.
     Jesus looked at the rich young ruler and loved him – even when that young ruler turned aside rather than give away all his wealth – and He didn’t love him because of the good deeds that young ruler had done; He loved him just for himself.
     I’ve always understood that we can’t ‘win’ God’s love by doing good deeds – we already have God’s love. And if we love God in return, then we will do good works as a natural consequence of that love, because it’s our way of responding to it, a way of showing that we love God and want to delight him, not because we want to earn special favor…
     So what exactly did St Benedict mean by these passages? His Rule is so scriptural that I feel I must be misreading or misunderstanding something here!

Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be, May 10, 2017

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Jan. 9 – May 10 – Sept. 9

An Abbess who is worthy to be over a monastery

should always remember what she is called,

and live up to the name of Superior.

For she is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery,

being called by a name of His,

which is taken from the words of the Apostle:

“You have received a Spirit of adoption …,

by virtue of which we cry, ‘Abba — Father'” (Rom. 8:15)!

Therefore the Abbess ought not to teach or ordain or command

anything which is against the Lord’s precepts;

on the contrary,

her commands and her teaching

should be a leaven of divine justice

kneaded into the minds of her disciples.

Some thoughts
I really love that image ‘leaven of divine justice kneaded into the minds of her disciples.’ It calls to mind making bread… flour and water, a little salt, a little butter, and yeast; the yeast
(leaven) being the most important element if we want the bread to rise.
So the sisters, perhaps, can be represented as the flour, into which the Abbess stirs the other necessary ingredients reading, labour, the work of God – and the ‘leaven of divine justice’. These are then kneaded together.
Once kneaded together, the ingredients can never again separate out into their component parts. This is impossible. The flour is leavened for all time; it’s a permanent feature of the new dough. Divine justice, along with the scriptures, the Rule, prayer, labour,community, have become so much a part of each individual sister, under the Abbess’s experienced kneading, that they can never go back to being ‘just flour’.
Has anyone in the group any story to tell about how they’ve felt themself changed to leavened dough? Has there been someone whose ‘kneading’ influence has brought you to a closer relationship with God? Does the Rule itself knead the dough of our faith and obedience?

Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue cont’d, May 8, 2017

Prologue cont’d

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

until death,

we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13)

and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.

Some thoughts
I think it’s very easy to ‘be at once dismayed’ at things that seem too hard or harsh for us, and then give up, or try something different that might be easier.
But giving up or looking for something that’s easier or more convenient might lead us away from ‘the way of salvation’. That’s a sobering thought.
The Bible has many texts about ‘enduring’ and ‘endurance’. Many blessings come if we endure. I particularly like Romans 5:1-5. The RB also expects monastics – especially beginners – to endure, to stick it out through the strictness, and thus grow closer to God.
Does anyone have any ideas or patterns for ‘clinging on’ to commitments when the going gets tough or painful?
I like it that St Benedict tells people right from the start that there will be strictness and he also mentions sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This is not an introduction that says ‘Join the monastery and be happy forever more.’ Like Jesus, St Benedict asks would-be brothers/sisters to count the cost before they begin the journey, so as not, later on, when they enter the real struggle, to ‘fly from the way of salvation’.