Discernment Retreat Week Two
The Rule of St Benedict opens with two sentences which reassure and challenge the reader in equal measure.
Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.Prologue, Rule of St Benedict
St Benedict’s words are an invitation to intentional discipleship, to follow on a path that has been trodden for centuries. The single word ‘listen’ lies at the heart of the monastic path. Listening is an attitude of mind and heart. This beginning sets the tone for the Rule of St Benedict as practical wisdom on how to live the monastic life. The first verse explains the full significance of listening: complete attention of the whole person, good will and implementation. Hearing has priority over seeing and activity in both the Rule of St Benedict and the Bible.
An important part of the monastic way of life is the practice of maintaining silence in the monastery. Traditionally communities work in silence, eat their meals in silence and keep the time from after the last formal prayer period in the evening until a fixed time in the morning as a special time of silence- usually known as Great Silence. The wisdom behind this practice is simple; in silence there is space for God to speak. There is a popular misconception that monks and nuns take a ‘vow of silence’. Such a vow is not part of the tradition. Monks and nuns are to cultivate silence in their daily lives and are encouraged to be charitable at the same time. It is a silence that allows love to grow.
Scriptural Perspectives on Hearing and Listening
Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord our one God.Deuteronomy 6:4
Come children and hear me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord.Psalm 34
Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, ‘Samuel, Samuel.’1 Samuel 3:9-10
And Samuel said; ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.Matthew 7:24
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold a voice said; ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: Listen to him.’Matthew 17:5
Reflect on your own experience of listening:
- Where and how do you listen to others in your daily life?
- In which circumstances do you find listening easy?
- In which circumstances do you find listening difficult?
- How do you listen to God in the events of your daily life?
- What is your experience of having someone listen to you?
The monastic listens to God through the Scriptures, through the Rule of St Benedict, through her sisters and through her superior (Prioress).
- Spend some time this week noticing how God speaks to you. Pay attention to the many different ways in which God can speak. It can be through words, actions, people, nature…
- Try each day to find some time when you switch off things which might be a distraction. Notice the thoughts and feelings that arise for you.
- Spend some time each day cultivating silence.
- Use the Scripture texts above for your personal prayer this week.
- How do you think you would manage in a monastic community where silence is a key element in the lifestyle? Are there aspects to this that you would find easy? Are there aspects that you would find difficult?
Rule of St Benedict: (c) 1981 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.
Scriptural quotations from THE JERUSALEM BIBLE, copyright (c) 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday, a division of Random House/ Penguin, Inc. Reprinted by Permission.