The Prologue of the Rule of Benedict contains some of the most lryical, lush and arresting prose ever written. These words from the 5th century summon, urge and admonish with utmost delicacy. The school of Benedict: my school.
L I S T E N carefully, my child,
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.
And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among 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 has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
Prologue-The Rule of Benedict
Even though it’s been over twenty years, I can clearly visualize that small red booklet,
The Rule of Benedict. Having decided to become a Christian Catholic at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Still Water, Massachusetts, I’d grabbed the red booklet from the Abbey gift shop to purchase and adopt as my own. Along with the two tomes I’d been assigned by Brother Andrew, the monk who was assigned the task of teaching me the rudiments of our faith, I was ready to work. I wanted it all: Now.
In those initial years, I bought at least five of those small booklets, each time, hoping that the words would make sense, that it wouldn’t feel like reading gibberish.
But they never did.
Of course not! I could barely spell Catholic. So easily I forget that I can’t do it alone, that the timing is not mine.
It would be another six years before the Rule became my school. Yes, school:
…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…
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 (Ps. 118:32).
Thus, never departing from His school,
During my years as a Benedictine Oblate, I’ve read the little rule over fifty times, for we read through the entire Rule three times each year. And yet each time we begin, I look forward eagerly to the Prologue. We began anew last Thursday, September 1st with the Prologue.
Always, it feels new. The school of Benedict: my school.
When it happened, my initial conversion to Christian Catholicism felt sudden. Even impetuous and precipitous-as if I’d jumped off a cliff. Think Harrison Ford:
That is until pondering all that came before and accepting that the real precipice had been the one of unbelief.
It’s odd, isn’t it, how clearly we can see when looking through the rearview window?
My favorite phrases in the Prologue?
“…by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience…my words addressed to you who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Jesus Christ, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience…
Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace for anything which our nature finds hardly possible. And if we want
to escape the pains of hell and attain life everlasting, then, while there is still time, while we are still in the body and are able to fulfill all these things by the light of this life, we must hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.”
That word’s a lightning rod and has been for almost as long as I remember. But is there a more critical virtue?
It’s why He came, right? We understand and accept that only those who obey can believe.
He came to show us that the only path back to God the Father is obedience.
Maybe it’s easier for converts like me to grasp the need for ongoing conversion: Conversion as in repentance-rethinking. Especially so for those of us whose faith did not just become lukewarm, but we who decided that it was all a myth: the Bible, faith, God. And believed ourselves to be atheist.
I remember, as a brand new Benedictine Oblate, now almost eighteen years ago, being fascinated by the word stability. Axiomatic of Benedictine spirituality- a promise we make when we make our oblation, the word connotes stasis…an inner permanence despite external turbulence. We vow to stay put, regardless of what is happening in our marriage, our body, or our family.
To many in this change-loving culture of ours, this concept of permanence, of a changeless inner core, evokes constraint, regulation-lack of freedom, even that word we see everywhere: slavery. But I’ve learned that it is when I am most uncomfortable, even frightened, that if I stick there, accept the anxiety of all of it…that the view from the other side is breath-taking.
Only if, I look through His Spirit…desiring only His Will.
Renouncing my own will to do battle under the Lord Jesus Christ and taking up the strong bright weapons of obedience.
The rule of Benedict: My school
Do please take ten minutes to immerse your soul into the glory of O Magnum Mysterium, Morten Lauridson’s splendid chorale tribute to the miracle and mystery of the Incarnation of Our Lord.
.The school of Benedict: my school.
Used with permission from Lin Wilder.