Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Scripture Uncategorized

A call to listening obedience.

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My eighth #Benedictine word is obedience. Obedience is an important part of Benedictine life. Along with stability and conversion of life it makes up the three vows that we take at Profession. Benedictine obedience is based listening and responding to the call of God in our lives. To some extent that’s straightforward, the desire to respond to God is at the heart of all Christian life. But, important as it is, it is only one aspect of Benedictine obedience.

St Benedict is very clear that our obedience is not only directly to Christ, but also to our monastic superiors who represent Christ in our communities and to the whole community through the mutual obedience that calls us to recognise Christ’s voice in the other members of the community. St Benedict writes:

“Because of the holy service they have professed… They carry out the orders of the Prioress or Abbot as promptly as if the command came directly from God.”

His words are challenging, especially in an age that values personal autonomy and independence. He calls into question our assumption we are better placed than anyone else to discern God’s will for us. Benedictine obedience insists that we recognise and trust the discernment and insights of others. It calls us to the humility of acknowledging that sometimes someone else will know better than we do the path we should take.

Where are you being invited to listen to God calling you through other people today?

Benedictine Spirituality Scripture Uncategorized

Sacred Reading

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#BeingBenedictine, #Benedictine #BenedictineSpirituality, #Delight, #GodInAllThings, #gospel, #GospelValues, #RuleOfStBenedict #Lectio #LectioDivina #SacredReading #Scripture
My seventh #Benedictine word is Lectio Divina. The practice of Lectio Divina is the basis of personal prayer in Benedictine spirituality. St Benedict says very little about it. I’ve always assumed that’s because his monks would have been familiar with the term and known what he meant. It’s not quite so straightforward for us many centuries later and with a very different understanding of and relationship with text and the written word.

It’s reading, but it’s very different from any other sort of reading we might do. It’s not speed reading, skim reading, reading to gain knowledge or any of the other useful ways we engage with text. It’s not about understanding everything a text has to say, or getting to the end of it. It’s more about finding the treasure buried deep below the surface of a text.

Speaking about Scripture St John Chrysostom writes:

“To get the full flavour of a herb it must be pressed between the fingers so it is the same with Scripture; the more familiar they become the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield the indescribable riches.”

It’s a slow, reflective, repetitive reading of a text that allows it to reveal its hidden treasures and insights. As we revisit the text again and again its riches can sink to the depths of our hearts transform our lives from the inside. We need to be prepared to sit with the text however uncomfortable or challenging it is. We need to wrestle with it as Jacob did with the angel to receive the blessing it carries for our lives and for our times.

What helps you discover the treasures of Scripture in your life?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Saints Uncategorized

St John Henry Newman

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Revisiting an older post to celebrate the feast of St John Henry Newman. When the Pharisees and Sadducees decide to put Jesus to the test they ask him a question that goes right to the heart of their faith, “which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Jesus avoids their trap with a clear, precise and orthodox answer, saying:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind… You must love your neighbour as yourself.”

He goes on to remind his hearers that these two commandments are the underpinning of all of the Law and the Prophets. His answer is so clear and straightforward that it would seem impossible to mistake his meaning. We all know it’s true, we all believe it, but it doesn’t always make it past being a fine principle into the nitty-gritty practice of daily life. It is easy and comfortable to spiritualise the scriptural commandment to love, so that it has little effect on how we live our daily lives. We don’t have to reflect for very long to realise that that is not what Jesus meant. The love he talks of is practical, costly and life changing.

St John Henry Newman has never been one of my favourite writers. I mostly encounter his work as readings in the Divine Office. In that situation I confess that I often lose the sense of his words in the Victorian flourishes of his style. So I was surprised when one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons stressed the practical implication of the Gospels’ message of love in a way that shone through the restraints of language and style with a clarity I couldn’t ignore:

“By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.”

His words reminded me of another Victorian writer, George Eliot. In her novel, “Adam Bede” she writes:

“It is these people – amongst whom your life is passed – that it is needful that you should tolerate, pity, and love: it is these more or less ugly, stupid, inconsistent people, whose movements of goodness you should admire – for whom you should cherish all possible hopes, all possible patience.”

She doesn’t shirk from acknowledging that the call to love requires real effort and real engagement with the people we live among regardless of how we might feel about them. She knows the power we have over one another to build up or destroy. She knows that to practice this costly love can be enabling and life enhancing, and that to withhold it can be withering:

“[And it is these] real breathing men and women, who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be cheered and helped onward by your fellow-feeling, your forbearance, your outspoken, brave justice.”

The words of these two Victorian writers took me back not only to the heart of the gospel, but to the heart of the Rule of St Benedict. Despite coming at the end of the Rule Chapter 72, “On the good zeal that monastics ought to have”, is its centre and the filter through which the whole Rule is interpreted. In it St Benedict writes:

“Bear with one another’s weakness of body or behaviour with the utmost patience. No one is to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.”

St Benedict, St John Henry Newman and George Eliot all call us back to the centre of the gospel message, the call to love. The love they speak of is a call to action. It’s a call to put ourselves aside for the good of others, especially in the small, ordinary and apparently mundane interactions of daily life. We are called to be patient with weakness, kind and non-judgemental, accepting people as they are, not expecting perfection or even necessarily any noticeable change.

We are facing challenging times, full of fear, uncertainty and mistrust. In such circumstances it is tempting to withdraw from one another, to focus our attention on ourselves and our own needs. It seems to me that, now more than ever, we need to practice this gospel message of practical, costly and particular love. So let us face our times looking for ways to share those mustard seeds of love that can grow to “overshadow the whole earth”.

Benedictine Spirituality Uncategorized

The practicalities of loving.

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My sixth #Benedictine word is LOVE. It’s no surprise to find that this is an important word for St Benedict, it is impossible to follow Christ without love. It is the very heart of the gospel as Jesus tells his disciples:

Love one another: as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

So from the outset St Benedict puts love at the heart of his Rule. He tells us in the Prologue that we “shall run on the path of God’s commandments with hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”

In the rest of the Rule he unpacks what it means to love. He tells us that it is organising things so that “the strong have something to strive for, and the weak nothing to run from.” It is making sure that everybody receives what they need to live with dignity. It is giving a kind word and a smile even when we have to say no. It’s putting the needs of another before ourselves. It is arranging the practical details of everyday life so that “no one may be disquieted or distressed in the house of God.”

These seem to me important principles to put into practice as we begin to rebuild our lives and our societies in these challenging times.

Where are you being called to act from love today?

Benedictine Spirituality Uncategorized

Choosing the better part

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Zeal is an important #Benedictine word. St Benedict devotes the central chapter of the rule to good zeal. Recognising its complexity, he divides it into two. There are, he tells us, two kinds of zeal. There is a wicked zeal that leads us to bitterness and away from God, and a good zeal that draws us towards God and eternal life. We are called to exercise good zeal and distance ourselves from wicked zeal. As both are recognised by their fruits St Benedict takes a practical approach, describing the good zeal that we are to strive for:

“They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour… No one is to pursue what they judge best for themselves but what they judge better for another.”

He gives us a very clear and practical idea of what good zeal looks like in daily life. It’s a constant striving to be respectful, charitable and patient with one another. It’s a call to put ourselves aside, putting others’ needs before our own in both the big and small situations that arise. It requires us to make a choice.

However zealous we are in practising and proclaiming our faith if it doesn’t make these virtues of patience, respect and kindness a reality in our lives it’s not the good zeal that will lead us to God.

How are you being called to find ways of practising good zeal in your life?

Benedictine Spirituality Uncategorized

Welcoming one another

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My fourth #Benedictine word is HOSPITALITY. It’s a value that’s at the heart of the Christian life, and of Benedictine hospitality. In his chapter on the reception of guests St Benedict sets a high standard for hospitality saying:
“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ… Proper honour must be shown to all…”

It’s a fine ideal that suggests a genuine and openhearted welcome for everyone who comes. Yet, St Benedict acknowledges that hospitality is double sided. There are two elements that have to be held in balance if true Christian hospitality is to be offered and accepted. The community are called to an open and generous welcome, yet they are not to be foolish about it. They need to be aware of the risks involved in offering such hospitality and to be on the lookout for “the delusions of the devil” who will take every opportunity to disrupt their efforts.

The guests need to bear in mind that, as they are welcomed as Christ, they are called to be Christ-like in their response. They are not to make demands that disrupt the life and worship of the community. True Benedictine hospitality holds these sometimes opposing elements in balance, so that the needs of both guests and community can be acknowledged and met.

It requires that both sides imitate Christ by putting aside self. It calls both guests and hosts to adjust their expectations, and to accept the boundaries and limitations of the other with love and respect.

What does it mean for you to welcome others into your life as you would Christ?

Benedictine Spirituality Uncategorized

Yearning for life.

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My second Benedictine word is CHRIST. From its beginning to its end the Rule of St Benedict is completely Christocentric. It begins with a call to obedient service of “Christ, the true true King” and ends with chapter 72 telling us that we should “prefer absolutely nothing to Christ.”

Everything else in the Rule shows us how to discover Christ’s presence and to imitate his example, that is what it means to be focused on Christ. Just as Christ called the disciples from seashore and tax office he calls us to leave everything and follow him:

“Seeking his workers in a multitude of people the Lord calls out to them and lifts his voice again: is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?”

St Benedict really couldn’t be any clearer, the way to “see good days” is to give ourselves whole heartedly to following Christ. We can’t be sure exactly what that will mean or where it will lead us. It will almost certainly not mean imitating either the daily lives of the disciples or of Benedict’s monks.

Instead Benedict advises us to “take the gospel as our guide and discover the ways in which we are called to imitate Christ in the complexity and challenges of our times. We are called to learn how to treat others by looking at the example of Jesus, and to model our lives on his love, acceptance, openness and compassion.

How are you learning to be Christ-like today?