Greetings in our Lord Jesus from Mary Mother of the Church Benedictine Abbey in Richmond, Virginia. Writing to you from the banks of the historic James River, on which the first colony of our beloved nation was founded over four hundred years ago, The Blogging Monk brings you food for heart and soul based on the Rule of Saint Benedict, which has been meditated upon by monks and nuns for over 1,500 years since the time of Saint Benedict. This Rule provides great food for thought for all people as it details the ways by which we most effectively can follow in the footsteps of the way of Jesus Christ.
Saint Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy along with his fraternal twin sister, Saint Scolastica, around the year 480 A.D. As an older teenager, becoming frustrated at the corruption of the city of Rome and desiring to seek God through a monastic desert experience, he left Rome as a young man to dwell for three years in the cave of Subiaco, where he lived below the monk Saint Romanus and listened constantly for the voice of God to speak to his heart. It is commonly agreed by scholars that the Rule of Saint Benedict comes to us from the second third of the sixth century. It is held traditionally that Saint Benedict passed into eternal life on 21 March 547 A.D.
The Life and Miracles of Saint Gregory the Great, or Book Two of the Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great, detail in fascinating fashion the life of Saint Benedict and his relationship with his beloved sister from the beginnings of his monastic journey until his death. Saint Gregory’s purpose in writing the Dialogues was to edify and inspire, not to provide a biography of the Saint in the strict sense of the term as we understand it in modern times. Saint Gregory highlighted the great holiness of life of Saint Benedict, holding him up as an example for the people of his time – and for each one of us – to follow despite all of the political and religious storms churning chaotically throughout the history of mankind.
Our current Pope Benedict XVI in part chose to take the name Benedict due to Saint Benedict’s prominence in providing a deepening of Christian culture in medieval Europe, where for many centuries we can see Europe’s history meshing with that of the monastic centers of scholarship, learning, and the pursuit of holiness. Just as Saint Benedict’s life reflects the holiness of the saints and prophets from throughout the ages, Pope Benedict encourages us to meditate upon the faith and works of this saint and so many others throughout the history of the Church, in order to help us live out the challenge of a life of holiness that is the fundamental vocation of every Christian even now in the 21st century.
Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui
Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart
(Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue v.1)
The introductory words “listen carefully” frame the entire Rule of Saint Benedict in the form of wisdom literature found in the Old Testament and reflect what the Rule teaches monks throughout the pages of this great work, on the monastery as being a ”school of the Lord’s service”. Saint Benedict proposes that the monastic home is where each monk learns how to live the ways of God practically in his daily life. In the same manner, the Rule provides every one of us – monk or not – beautiful guidance that helps us make the right choices in our daily living that will lead us to authentic happiness in our homes.
But how can we go about “listening carefully”, especially when so much of our lives is full of noise, and even chaos? Certainly Saint Benedict’s Rome over 1,500 years ago had its noisy problems in politics and economics, being under the constant threat of barbarian invasions throughout many centuries! Nonetheless, Saint Benedict encourages and gives us the hope that Christ Jesus indeed provides us the solid, unchanging, and steadfast Rock upon Whom we can and should build our lives. Jesus Christ leads us to the tranquil love of which He is the Source, and for which we thirst in a world so rife with problems and temptations toward hopelessness.
To find peace, happiness, and the greatest fulfillment in this life, Saint Benedict calls us to “listen carefully” for the voice of God speaking in the silence of our hearts. We need to retreat in order to seek God in the silence, listening for Him “with the ear of our heart”. What a curious and fascinating image, that Saint Benedict says our hearts have ears! The Latin word inclina indicates that we are to lean, but towards what or whom? Towards Christ and His Commandment of Love! By making our hearts attentive in trust and hope toward the heart of Jesus, we become more and more capable of hearing God’s own heartbeat beating in love for us.
We come to hear the words of God’s Love, spoken by the One Who has created each one of us in Love, by Love, for Love. The commandments of God – that is, the “master’s instructions”, as articulated by the superior of the monastery who stands in his authority over the monks of his religious house as representative of Christ’s rule over us – always point us to the divine rule of God’s Love, which is summarized in the complete divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ as Son of God and Son of Man. It is in the rule of the commandments of God’s Love that we find peace, happiness, and the utmost fulfillment … that perfect Rule being Jesus Christ Himself!