Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is the advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. 2 The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. 3 This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.
4 First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection. 5 In his goodness, he has already counted us as his sons, and therefore we should never grieve him by our evil actions. 6 With his good gifts which are in us, we must obey him at all times that he may never become the angry father who disinherits his sons, 7nor the dread lord, enraged by our sins, who punishes us forever as worthless servants for refusing to follow him to glory.
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
The Rule is for us the guide of our life and our basic spirituality. We will hear it over and over and over in our monastic life. We hope that every time we hear it, we are able to accept it as our guide and our way of living. To hear it once is never enough. To have studied it in the past is never enough. We must hear it and revere it. We must hear it and strive each time to put it into practice in our daily lives. It is not a Rule that we just study or just read. It must become our life.
We do not study the Rule of Saint Benedict as scholars study it. We need to know some of the scholarly details of the Rule insofar as they affect the basic spiritual teaching. Always more important than being a scholar of the Rule is being a person who lives the Rule in his or her life.
Scholars tell us that the Rule of the Master was written before the Rule of Saint Benedict and that Saint Benedict edited the Rule of the Master and added some material of his own.
Saint Benedict took material from many other sources, as did the Rule of the Master, and formed that material into his own Rule.
Our formation in the Rule of Saint Benedict is always a formation in living. We must find the principles by which we choose to live.
In this small section of the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict, we find two things that can be of highest importance to us. First, the very high place of obedience in this Rule and secondly, the importance of prayer.
Are you ready to give up your own will? That is the question of formation for each of us, including the superior. We give up our will when we acknowledge that there is a wisdom much greater than our knowledge. As Benedictines, we must recognize that our Rule presupposes that we are willing to give up a great deal of personal freedom in order to grow in deep, inner spiritual freedom.
In modern culture, there is a strong emphasis on MY deciding, MY choices, MY way of thinking, etc. In the Rule, the emphasis is on accepting a way of wisdom that comes to us from others. The emphasis is on allowing ourselves to be formed by the wisdom of scripture, of tradition, of the desert monastic ancestors, etc. We must try to live the way they lived in order to understand their wisdom. That means giving up our own will.
There is a dynamic way of relating to one another that is described in the Holy Rule. To give up my own will implies that I know my own will and that I can express my own will. In the Holy Rule it is presumed that we speak with our superior and our superior with us. Look for a moment at Chapter 2, verse 11 and following. The Abbot is to teach by example and by words. This presumes a communication from the superior of the house. It implies that we are grown men and women who know our own thoughts and feelings, can express them and can also live beyond them. This is the challenge of our monastic life.
In Chapter 3 of the Rule we find the presumption that all the brothers are called to council and that all are able to speak. This chapter actually presumes that every member of the community is both able to speak and able to listen. It is a most important chapter in the Rule.
Chapter 5 tells us that obedience must be free from any grumbling and any reaction of unwillingness; it should not be cringing, sluggish or half-hearted. Saint Benedict wants each of us to give himself or herself totally to the monastic way of life, with all our heart and with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
We can go through all the Holy Rule and point out this dynamic over and over. Each of us should be reading the Holy Rule and finding this for yourself. Saint Benedict presume a community in which there is communication. He does not expect a community of saints, nor a community of experts, nor a community that is perfect. He expects a human community that makes mistakes, that has sinfulness and that is always learning. Saint Benedict presumes that we will give our whole energy over to becoming a saint through following the monastic way of life.
Each of us, if we follow the Rule, must become responsible for his own actions. We will not always take such responsibility even when the Rule invites us to do so. We cannot say, for instance, “I am unhappy and it is the community’s fault.” Nor can we say, “I am unhappy and it is this or that brother’s or sister’s fault.”
We will only be able to take such personal responsibility if we have a life of prayer. That is why the life of prayer receives such emphasis in the Holy Rule. The emphasis is not on how to do a life of prayer, but throughout the Rule every action that is mentioned presumes that we are praying and that our actions are based on prayer. Whatever we do, we must do it with prayer. No matter what decisions we take in our lives, we are invited to pray about them first and to try to take such decisions from our prayer.
Obedience and prayer. These are the cornerstones of our monastic life and we seek to love God and our brothers and sisters more faithfully. May the Lord lead us all to everlasting life. May God give us deeper faith, strong obedience and a lively life of prayer.