Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. 46 In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. 47 The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. 48 Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. 49 But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. 50 Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen.
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
We always read the Rule from a perspective. We read it sometimes as young monks, and later hopefully as old monks. We read the Rule from the perspective and understanding of our own time. We read the Rule from a historical perspective. And we read the Rule from the perspective of the Monastery in which we live, and from a perspective of life as we experience it at a particular time.
Our monastic life is one of the many Christian ways that have been established to lead us into deeper and deeper union with God in this life, so that we can choose God as fully as possible while we are yet alive. What holds us back from choosing God are the attachments that we have. The school of the Lord’s service (Cf Prol 45) is to teach us how to become free of attachments and choose only God–that is not an easy task. Let us look at our personal lives and see the things that we choose. As monks we have professed vows and promised our lives to the community, and yet we find ourselves at times choosing not to live out fully the life we have chosen and promised.
We take back in little ways the fullness of life we have promised, and end up giving God what is left over. It is not that any of us chooses against God in big ways, only that we are on the way of perfection, not having reached it at this point. We ought to look into our personal lives and ask ourselves what are the things that we are not yet willing to give up. We need to offer them to God. Even though we cannot yet give them up, we can ask for the grace to give them up.
Non-Christian systems of spirituality and asceticism also recognize that our lack of freedom comes from attachments to things of this life that are really not important in the light of the world to come. At some point in our monastic journey we shall be tested about every attachment that we have. We must prepare now for those tests. The way to prepare is not to give up everything now, because that would be our own energy and will. Rather, we must constantly beg of the Lord that He would change our hearts so that we are attached to nothing except Him.
Benedict teaches us that at times the road will be difficult. We all know that, even when we choose not to accept it. Benedict says that he hopes that the regulations he lays down will not be harsh or burdensome (Cf. RB Prol 46). We hope also that the regulations in our community will not be harsh or burdensome. Benedict reminds us that there is need of some strictness, a need for discipline on our part, both to amend the faults we have and to safeguard our love for one another (Cf RB Prol 47). This is surely one of the best statements about why there are regulations in a community, not only the Rule, but also now in Canon Law, in Constitutions and in Customaries. The purpose of these documents is to help us amend our faults and to safeguard the love of the community.
It is important that we accept some discipline in our lives for the sake of the Kingdom. It is important that we begin early in our monastic life to learn how to deny ourselves this or that good thing so that we grow in such freedom to give up even that which is good. It is good for us to read our Constitutions and our Customary at least once a year. We often forget what is actually said there. It is good to remind ourselves of the way of life which we have agreed to live.
There is always a time and a place where regulations do not hold, where the exact observance of regulations goes against the real spirit of the Gospels.
Benedict tells us that traveling on the monastic road will be difficult at the beginning. This is so, then as today, because it is not easy to live under another’s direction, whether that be the present superior of the community or the direction of the Church in Canon Law, or the direction of the Congregation in the Constitutions, or even the direction of our own community, expressed in the Customary.
We know that a deep acceptance brings about progress in this way of life and in faith (Cf. RB Prol 49). Progress is not measured by external standards, but by the life of the Spirit at work within us, which necessarily shows itself in our outer life, and especially in the way we treat one another and all those who come into our lives.
For now, of course, the most important thing is to keep our eyes on the goal: life with Christ, life in the kingdom, life ever-lasting (Cf RB Prol 50). We have this wonderful hope within us of this life to come. This hope gives us courage day by day to take up once again the monastic drudgery: the daily work, the same old people, the trials of choir, the difficulty of prayer (lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio).
If we lose sight of everlasting life, we shall surely begin to wonder what is the meaning of our vocation. We do give up a lot to be monks and we say that we do this for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We need to deepen our faith in the next life in order that we can see more deeply the meaning of everything in this life. The more we are able to live with our eyes set on the world to come, the more faithful and true will be our decisions about the things of this life with one another.
We can encourage one another in hope as brothers. We can remind one another of the world to come by our own deep faithfulness. That does not mean we will always feel full of smiles, or full of laughter, or even full of a surface joy.
It does mean that we can communicate to one another a deep commitment and trust– trust not in one another, but in God. We must pray for one another and work diligently in the Spirit to live as fully as we can a monastic life based in the love of Christ.
Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers live in unity! This is always the promise of our monastic life and its goal. The more we place all our hope and trust in Christ, the stronger will become our community because of Christ. If we want our community to become better, each of us must commit himself or herself to becoming a saint. Let us pray for one another.