THE HOLY RULE OF
OUR HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT
8. 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).
Wherefore, let us at length arise, since the Scripture stirs us up saying: “It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep.”
At some point during the Advent Season we hear the summons from Saint Paul to shake off the phantoms of sleep and to awaken in the bright light of the New Day. As the Apostle preaches, now is the acceptable time, and today is the day of salvation. The New Day of Christ is about to break through the dark night of sin and self-deception. We are summoned out of our patterns of habitual slumber and comfortable laziness. We have grown lazy. We take for granted all kinds of bad habits. Sin and vice have been enthroned in our hearts. Our thoughts race around over well established ruts of broken promises and unfulfilled resolutions. Gradually, we assume that such a state of spiritual dullness is just the way things are. The status quo of our soul is fast approaching death. Indeed, we are paralyzed and have no desire to move out of our comfort zone. All we can do is continue to make excuses for our lack of movement. We no longer even desire, to desire, to overcome sin or to grow in holiness. It is to such hardness of heart that the Voice of Christ is addressed. It is to the stiff necked that the Master commands—“Stand up! Pick up your mat and walk!” Such is the summons not just before we begin Novitiate; such is the command of the Master as we begin each day of our monastic life!
9. 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:
And our eyes being now open to the Divine Light, let us listen with reverent awe to what the Divine Voice admonishes us, as it cries out daily and says:
Father Terrence Kardong, OSB suggests that this passage of the Prologue, “Let us open our eyes” or “And our eyes being now open” is a possible harkening to the bright glory of the Transfiguration, in which sleep disciples are awakened by the shining forth of Christ and summoned by the Father’s voice from the clouds. At the beginning of his ministry the crowds heard the same divine summons in the Baptism of the Lord Jesus. Here the Father affirms the true identity of this itinerant preacher: “Behold, my Son, upon whom my favor rests!” By the time the disciples have followed the Beloved Son for several years the divine voice is heard again in the Transfiguration: “This is my Beloved Son, listen to him!” Listen to him upon the throne of the cross. Listen to him; he’s just like me. He forgives those who crucify him. He forgives those who abandon him. He forgives us who would rather not open our eyes. Yes, even those who prefer the darkness are loved unconditionally and severely. Even when we would rather continue to be blind to our own compromises with darkness, we are summoned by the Father’s voice at the Jordan River and on the Mount of Transfiguration. Whether we are at the beginning of our monastic journey or at the beginning of the end of our monastic journey, the Master Voice is heard: “Wake up! It’s not too late! There is much more beauty to behold in the light of my face than there is delight in the dreams of slumber, in the illusions of the night. Indeed, no chimera can compare with the truth of my love.” The Master proclaims to our heart of hearts, “I want you to behold all the beauty I have created for your joy and gladness. I want you to live in the abundant joy of my love. Behold I make all things new. The sins and failures of the past I have forgotten; now, all is new—yes, even you are new!”
In the West we call this movement of grace—sanctification, and in the East we call this movement of grace—deification. Indeed, Blessed Pope John Paul, summoned us to breath with both lungs. We are the whole body of Christ and we need to appropriate both traditions of prayer in order to grow in holiness and wholeness. We need the apophatic experience of prayer in order to empty our hearts to be filled with the self-gift of the Holy One. We need, also the kataphatic experience of prayer to fill our hearts with the Word of The LORD so that we always have a reasonable response to those who ask us why we continue to hope, or why we dare to trust. Yes, we trust the LORD finally and definitively only once we no longer rely upon our selves. Such is the summons that breaks through our carelessness and sloth each day we hear Psalm 94.
10. “If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps 94:8).
“Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
Hearts that resist the Word are like soil that resists the Seed. Perhaps we need to ponder the question this first Psalm of the day implies. What would harden our hearts? It seems from the text that we are able to harden or not harden our hearts. If the heart is the place wherein we listen to the Word, why would we not want to listen? Perhaps listening is too painful, too demanding, too challenging? Perhaps we have listen before to lies, and we have been deceived. Perhaps we are afraid to take the risk with difficult demands, impossible expectations, or wild hopes. Perhaps we are just tired of trying to live up to all that the Lord asks of us when we listen with the ear of our heart. No doubt our Holy Father knew such a spiritual hardness of heart; either in his own life or in the life of one of his disciples. Perhaps we need to hear this daily summons to openness and receptivity before we can possibly listen to the Voice of the LORD. If hearing is impossible when there is a hardening, then listening will never happen without an open and subtle heart. With what kind of a heart did I start this day or even this hour?
11. And again: “You that have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7).
And again: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.”
Hearts that are open to hear the Voice of the LORD will also hear the Spirit of the LORD. The Holy Spirit gives testimony in every believer’s heart about the love of God. The same Holy Spirit also stirs up zeal in every human community. Every day, that begins with an open heart, ends with hearing the what the Spirit is saying to the Churches. All through the book of Revelation the Spirit is summoning the Churches to renewal, reform, and revival. This same Holy Spirit makes such a call to each monastic community. We who hide ourselves in Christ reveal His Presence in the world. This is our monastic vocation within the general vocation of the Church. We are summoned by the Master to become a mirror for our society and for individuals so that all might see the truth and come to new life in the freedom of the Children of God. Becoming who the Lord has called us to be is impossible without hearing with the ear of the heart and listening without hardness of heart.
12. And what does he say? “Come and listen to me, sons; I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Ps 33:12).
And what does He say? “Come, children, hearken to Me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”
With this verse from Psalm 33 Saint Benedict begins to share the fruit of his lectio divina with those who have heard the Lord’s call to a monastic manner of life. Again we have the two translations: we listen and we hearken. We passively receive the seed of God’s Word and we actively appropriate that word by reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. The health of hearts depends on learning the “fear of the Lord.” What is this fear? Are we summoned to be afraid? Indeed, we cannot fear if we are afraid. To fear the Lord demands that we live in awe and wonder. We live in holy expectation that the LORD is near and wants us to move from glory to glory. Yes, we are initially afraid of change—it’s only natural. However the transformation in store for us is radical and eternal. We are summoned to uproot vice and plant virtue in the daily flow of living. Gradually we expect to live in the transforming union. Eventually the Voice of the LORD deep within our hearts becomes the energy by which we speak his praise and proclaim his truth. Soon and very soon we begin to breathe with the Divine Breath. This becoming one with the Living God makes us a new creation. Such radical transformation is what we expect from our daily living out of our monastic consecration. This is not too much to expect. This is not too far beyond us. It is the fruit of living in the gift of the Fear of the LORD. It is the conversion, obedience, and stability for which we have come to the monastery.
13. “Run while you have the light” of life, “that the darkness” of death “may not overtake you” (John 12:35).
“Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you.”
In his commentary on the Holy Rule Father Terrence reveals the background for translating in RB 1980 the Latin word “currite” as “run” rather than “walk”. In the Gospel of Saint John believers are summoned to walk in the light of Truth so that we are not overtaken by darkness. Darkness here is a metaphore for evil. Unless we are on the Way that is Christ we will be wandering of the path that leads to glory. Unless we are in the Truth that is Christ we will get lost in the lies of the evil one. Unless we live in Christ we are truly dead, eternally dead. In the Rule of the Master Father Terrence discovers an urgency that demands running and not just walking. As he teaches, “The Master accentuates the already dramatic text of John with the words “life” and “death.” RM 91.33 has a further interpretation of this text: “Run while you still have the light permitting you to take care of your future, lest the darkness of death overtake you and put your negligence on trial.” The Master also changes John’s “walk” (ambulate) to “run” (currite). This change is habitual in the sermons of two great Gallic monk/bishops of the period: Faustus of Riez ep. 1 and 10; Caesarius of Arles, serm. 130.2; 168.8; 197.4; 209.1.” Father Terrence goes on to develop this insight of our Holy Father by pointing out that he uses the concept of running four times in the Prologue. Even though Saint Benedict expects every monk to grow at his own pace and develop the variety of gifts from the Holy Spirit, every monk must “exercise the alacrity of fervor and love.” This insight gives a depth of meaning to the traditional concept of monasticism as “fuga mundi”. We are expected to take flight from the sin and death that is present and active in our world. This is a journey of escape from fear; it is a life lived in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Such is the meaning of Lent in the monastic life. We are to recover the zeal that has been overwhelmed by a desire for comfort in our daily living out of our monastic vows. In the Prologue to the Gospel of Saint John we are commanded to run from the darkness and live in the light. In the Prologue of the Holy Rule we are commanded to flee with haste from all that is darkness so that we are not overcome by death. Such a movement in the Spirit is essential for anyone who takes prayer seriously and desires the one thing that matters most in life.
14. Seeking his workman in a multitude of people, the Lord calls out to him and lifts his voice again:
And the Lord, seeking His own laborer in the multitude of the people to who He addresses the forgoing admonitions, says again:
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew the Lord Jesus summons his laborers from the crowd who are looking for work. Our seeking for meaningful labor and the Lord’s seeking for laborers is the universal call to Gospel Life. All those who accept baptism and seek holiness are the ones called out of the multitude. Our monastic vocation is nothing less than a fulfillment of Baptism. As it has already been pointed out all disciples of the Lord, all workers in his vineyard are summoned to have some kind of monastic identity. Even though everyone is not expected to become a nun or a monk, everyone must develop a lifestyle that balances prayer and work. Without this creative balance of action and stillness we cannot grow in holiness. Indeed, the Lord Jesus calls out to the whole human race and summons all men and women to do the Father’s will and renounce self-will. Faithfulness to such a vocation demands discipline. For us who labor in the cloister that discipline is mandated by the Holy Rule, and for every disciple of Christ the discipline of holy liturgy and loving service will resemble in basic ways the monastic witness. Indeed, the monastic vocation is implicit in the baptismal vocation. This does not make us special; it makes us precious. Without strong and faithful nuns and monks the church can easily loose its way in the world. We are one with all who labor for The Master. Indeed, our love and service of The Father, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, helps to create an atmosphere of mutual challenge and comfort for all who belong to His Body at this moment of waiting in joyful hope for the coming of the Kingdom.
15. “Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days? (Ps 33:13).
“Who is the man that loves life, who desires length of days” in order to enjoy good things?
Who would not respond positively to this question? Who would not yearn for life and desire to see good days? Only those who do not believe that good days are ahead. Those who have no hope; these no longer yearn for life. Such as these yearn for death because their suffering seems beyond endurance. Who does not love life and desire a long life in order to enjoy good things? Some there are who do not love life. For them the shorter life is the better life is. What seems a mere rhetorical question catches our hearts and calls forth prayer. Indeed, this world has more than a few cynics. Even some monasteries have managed to attract the hopeless, but these monks and nuns cannot long endure. Hopelessness and despair cannot fuel a life long monastic vocation. Yearning and desiring for abundant and eternal life is essential to monastic life. If you have no hope for good days, why embrace the cross of Christ? If you cannot see beyond the pain of conversion and the birth of virtue, why endure the mystery of the Cross? Only the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus can summon us through our suffering to enjoy the sheer delight of union with Him for whom our heart yearns and desires.
16. If you hear this and your answer is “I do,” God then directs these words to you:
Shouldst thou, hearing this, make answer, “I am he,” God says to thee,
This verse of the Holy Rule harkens back to the scene in the vocation call of the prophet Isaiah. The Prophet overhears the heavenly courts engaged in a decision making process. The LORD asks his angels, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Then Isaiah is almost startled by the sound of his own voice crying out in the silent pause, “Send me! I will go!” At this point it seems that he’s not quite sure that the invitation is even directed to him. It is one of those awkward moments that seem to linger unresolved. Should I have spoken up? Did the LORD invite me to consider his invitation? Was it an invitation at all, or was it some inner court musing? Indeed, we are caught off guard and quite surprised by the call to monastic life. Something about our call remains a mystery even to this day. Perhaps it will always be amazing that the Lord Jesus wants me to leave my boats and nets, my tax collector’s table, my father, mother, children and property. Perhaps no one will ever be able to answer this question without asking another question, “Why me?” However, the most unbearable answer is taken from the showings of Saint Julian of Norwich when the Most Courteous Lord Jesus says to his beloved: “I am so delighted that you are grateful for the cross, and I want you to know that I would have suffered more for you, if I could…”
17. If you desire true and eternal life, “keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim (Ps 33:14,15).”
“If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from words of deceit. Forsake evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it.”
In his reading, praying and meditating upon Psalm 33 our Holy Father hears The Master, Christ, speaking. Indeed, how could he not hear the summons to abundant life, eternal life? This is why the Eternal Son became man. Indeed, life is not life unless it is abundant and eternal; anything less would not fulfill our deepest desire and our greatest longing. So though Saint Benedict we hear the same summons of the Master Christ—if you desire true and eternal life—then you must turn away from sin and vice and seek peace with your whole heart. Indeed, we must seek peace and pursue it; we must make peace our quest and aim. There is no other way to be sure that we long for life than to behold that seed of desire unfolding in the ways of gentleness, kindness, patience—true peace from the inside out. To meet a monk or nun is to meet peace. We who respond with our whole heart and our every desire to The One Who Desires Us will welcome everyone we meet into the peace that surpasses understanding. Indeed, this is all we have to offer the world that seems to have everything. Without true and lasting peace we have nothing to offer those who come to us in pain and doubt. Through our monastic observance and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we become the peace that we pursue. Such a divine and persistent presence in our world will evoke both boundless gratitude and endless envy. Indeed our unabated peace will stir up more viral than we can imagine. We will discover enemies we never knew before. They will hate us because we already taste and see that the Lord is good. We will be well hated because we are constantly at peace in Christ the Prince of Peace and the King of Love on Calvary.
18. Once you have done this, my “eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers; and even before you ask me, I will say” to you: “Here I am before you ask me, I will say” to you: “Here I am” (Is 58:9).
And when you have done these things, Mine eyes shall be upon you and Mine ears shall be open to your prayers. And before you shall call upon Me, I will say, “Lo, here I am.”
Some, there are, among our separated brethren who would accuse us of the lie of an early heresy. They find particular evidence for such an accusation in the monastic movement throughout the history of the Church. They say that by our lifestyle we think that we are earning grace and achieving heaven. This is complete nonsense as is evident in the Holy Rule. Our Father Saint Benedict here quotes from the Prophet Isaiah to reveal that all is grace. Indeed, the LORD Our God is present and solicitous for our wellbeing long before we even ask. This is the fundamental revelation about the LORD in the Old Testament. I AM here for you and with you not because you are the greatest or strongest of nations. I AM here as I AM for you, unconditionally. I cannot love you more, and I will not love you less, no matter what you do or don’t do, say or don’t say, think or don’t think. I AM here as I AM for you without hesitation and without regret. I AM love and I love you forever.
19. What, dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?
What can be sweeter to us, beloved brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us?
Constantly the young people, even young men, use the word sweet to describe something truly delightful. They have no hesitation and sometimes it is over used and becomes another meaningless term—like, like, cool, awesome, hot. This too is no mere slogan for our Holy Father, Saint Benedict. Indeed, he is asking us the most important question possible. Is anything greater than the love of God for us? Who could ask for anything more? Indeed, Saint Benedict finds the transforming union to be a delight beyond words. Indeed, nothing could be sweeter. What exactly is so delightful, so sweet? The Voice of the LORD calling us, inviting us, is the most unexpected and wonderful experience possible this side of heaven. Indeed, this divine affirmation is worth building one’s whole life around. Such a solid rock of faith is the only thing upon which one can build a life.
20. See how the Lord, in his love, shows us the way of life.
Behold, in His loving kindness the Lord points out to us the way of life.
We are invited to see with eyes of faith, to behold through the lenses of tears. The only One who can show us what we long to behold, reveal to us, in his love or in his loving kindness. This loving kindness is truly other centered love. It’s not just a matter of affection or of mutual attraction; loving-kindness is about acting out of generosity and other centered love, agape love. The LORD, himself shows us taking his time and ours to point out to us the way of life. The 1950 translation, using English words that imply a more gentle and gradual process, we find ourselves more welcome and engaged in the unfolding of the Prologue. This way of life is a way of love, and it is just this loving kindness that reveals the presence and promise of the Holy Spirit.
21. Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him “who has called us to his kingdom” (1Thes 2:12).
Having, therefore, our “loins girt about with truth” and the observance of good words, let us, with the Gospel as our guide, go forward on His paths, that we may deserve to see
Even in the more historical critical commentaries on the Holy Rule, there is a recognition that Our Holy Father Saint Benedict saw the entire Old Testament leading to the Incarnation so from a more lectio divina process of dealing with the Rule we can recognize that the Gospel is every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD—not just the Lord Jesus, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus and the Lord the Holy Spirit. Reflecting on Psalm 33 in Christian Faith one can hear the Voice of Christ speaking long before he was born of Mary. Both “loins girt about with truth” and “clothed then with faith and the performance of good works” mean always being ready to obey the LORD God Almighty, no matter what he commanded. Such readiness describes our ancestors who were slaves in Egypt and those who listen to the Prophet Isaiah preach: “Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.” We can also catch a glimpse of the future where we wait with our fellow servants, with lamps lit and lamps going out. We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ with Our Holy Father Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, Saint Walburga and all the holy and hidden Benedictines at every age in the church’s history.