Discernment Retreat Week Three
The opening of Rule of St Benedict (Prologue) is very much like the overture of an opera; here we meet the themes, words and images which will be developed throughout the Rule. One such theme is that of the urgency of God’s call. The urgency of the call is such that St Benedict does not want us to delay and would have wake up, open our eyes and run:
Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep (Rom 13:11). Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps 94:8). And again: You who have ears to hear, listen to what the spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7). And what does he say? Come and listen to me, sons; I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Ps 34:12). Run while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you (John 12:35).Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue v 8–13
There is all the energy and dynamism of an athlete in this short quotation. It’s easy to imagine a runner on a path, with the goal in sight. For St Benedict the race is not so much one person competing against others, but a community running together, running in the tracks made by monastics from centuries past. It is love which empowers us, love which spurs us on. Towards the end of the Prologue St Benedict returns to the image of running on a path:
As we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commands, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue v 49
This is a grand vision, but one which is certainly worth the effort. The whole of the Rule could be understood as guidelines for expanding the heart and growth in love. St Benedict knows that it won’t be easy and that we are bound to stumble. One of the ways in which the monastic is strengthened for running on the path is by learning to listen to God, to the superior and to others in community. This three-fold listening is how St Benedict understands OBEDIENCE.
Throughout the Rule St Benedict makes explicit the quality of obedience which is expected of each member of the community:
The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. Because of the holy service they have professed, or because of the dread of hell and for the glory of everlasting life, they carry out the superior’s orders promptly as if the command came from God himself.Rule of Saint Benedict, Obedience, Chapter 5 v 1–4
St Benedict’s vision is very much an ideal, something which we work towards during monastic life. What he is concerned with is the practice of virtue. Just as an athlete trains and builds stamina and so is able to compete, so too, the monastic trains and is able to offer ‘unhesitating obedience.’ It is easy to think of obedience as a burden, something wearying and heavy. St Benedict sees obedience as a blessing:
Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all, not only to the abbot, but also to one another as brothers, since we know that it is by this way that we come to God.Rule of Saint Benedict, Mutual Obedience, Chapter 71 v 1–2
Obedience is a very active virtue which demands everything that we have. Michael Casey, a prominent Australian Cistercian, expresses the urgency in the following quotation:
For St. Benedict, the opposite of obedience is not rebelliousness or insubordination, but laziness, negligence, doing nothing. In the Prologue is expressed a labour of obedience against the laziness of disobedience. Obedience is the opposite of inertia. So, rise from sleep, open your eyes, and let us hear God’s voice! RUN! He doesn’t say walk or…take a taxi! To run is very active. Run is the work of a lover. It speaks of a certain enthusiasm, to be at tune with what God tells us. Obedience is to act now, in this moment. Benedict calls here upon the subjective conscience of each person to complement external regulations with the awareness of further possibilities for doing good and avoiding evil. Keeping the commandments is the minimum. A fuller righteousness is required.
Scriptural Perspectives On Running
I have chosen the way of fidelity,Psalm 119 30–32
I have set my heart on your rulings.
I cling to your decrees:
Lord do not disappoint me.
I run the way of your commandments, since you have set me free.
The Lord is an everlasting God,Isaiah 41: 28b-31
he created the boundaries of the earth.
He does not grow tired or weary,
his understanding is beyond fathoming.
He gives strength to the wearied,
he strengthens the powerless.
Young men may grow weary,
youths may stumble,
but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength,
they put out wings like eagles.
They will run but not grow weary,
walk and never tire.
s for me, my life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; and I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-8
- Use the quotations from the Rule for reflection over the next few days. Notice the words and phrases which strike you.
- Use the Scriptural quotations for your reflection this week.
- Make your own list of Scriptural quotations that express the urgency of God’s call.
- Spend some time reflecting on the image of an athlete training for a race. In spiritual language we use the word ‘ascesis’ for the discipline that is needed to follow a particular spiritual path. In the Greek world ‘ascesis’ meant discipline and training for the Olympic Games.
- How would you describe your own physical stamina? How do you think you might adjust to a monastic timetable with early rising and set periods of silence?
- How would you describe your spiritual stamina? Have you known times that have seemed ‘uphill’ spiritually? How did you respond?
Rule of St Benedict: ©1981 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.
Scriptural quotations from THE JERUSALEM BIBLE, ©1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday, a division of Random House/ Penguin, Inc. Reprinted by Permission