To be read: January 8, May 8, September 8
We, therefore, intend to found a school for the Lord’s service. 46In drawing up the regulations, we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. 47But even if, to correct vices or to preserve love for one another, we are prompted to a little strictness, 48do not be quickly discouraged and fly from the way of salvation. The beginning of the Way must be narrow. 49But as we advance in the way of life and faith, we shall run the path of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and the inexpressible delight of love. 50Never departing from His guidance and persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and may be found worthy also to share with Him in His kingdom.
We come to the end of the Prologue and Benedict’s summary statement of purpose: “We therefore, intend to found a school for the Lord’s service.” This is a word of hope for all of us who struggle with our own sense of inadequacy in spiritual matters. We see the spiritual depth of the saints, and even our friends in the Church, and we recognize just how far from God we really are. However, as a fellow priest once said, “We measure our insides against their outsides. And that is not valid.” It serves no purpose for us to compare, and Benedict gives us the reason: we are all in school—“the school for the Lord’s service”—and we are each at our own level of education and expertise. We want to make it more difficult than it needs to be. In the recesses of our spirit we know we are unworthy and we convince ourselves that we must earn the Lord’s favor. But the words of this concluding paragraph of the Prologue are meant to encourage us to persevere. “Do not be quickly discouraged and fly from the way of salvation.”
St. Benedict is, of course, writing his Rule for the cenobite—the man committed to the monastic life. But the stated purpose of his Rule ought to apply to all Christians seeking unity with Christ: “Never departing from His guidance…we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and may be found worthy also to share with Him in His kingdom.” Whether in the monastery or secular world, discipline is the key to keeping to the path of righteousness. And the Rule of Saint Benedict offers us a plan—a curriculum—for pursuing a right relationship with God. No single spiritual rule will fit the needs of every Christian, and Benedict acknowledges this. That is why he refers to it as a school. Not every student will excel in every subject. We each have gifts, one differing from the other. And each is adept at using the tools for which he or she is most highly suited and trained. Thus, Benedict says, “In drawing up the regulations, we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.”
The learning is in the doing. The only way to embrace and understand the application of the Rule to our individual lives is to, as it were, enroll in the school and regularly attend classes. “Do not be quickly discouraged and fly from the way of salvation. The beginning of the Way must be narrow.” And with this exhortation to persevere, our father Benedict gives us this encouraging word: “But as we advance in the way of life and faith, we shall run the path of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and the inexpressible delight of love.” We are to “run” like the child who delights in every new thing, like the calf released from the stall (Mal. 4:2), like the athlete pursuing the prize (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 2:5). There is great delight in pursuing God’s love; for in this way of life, in following the Rule, there is new life and fulness of joy.