To be read: January 21, May 21, September 21
Listen willingly to holy reading. 56Apply yourself often to prayer. 57Confess your past sins to God daily in prayer with sighs and tears, 58and to amend them for the future. 59Do not fulfill the desires of the flesh (cf Gal 5:16). 60Hate the urgings of your will. 61Obey the commands of the Abbot in all things, even though he himself (which Heaven forbid) act otherwise, mindful of that precept of the Lord: “observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do”(Mt 23:3).
“Listen readily to holy reading.” Reading is a huge component of Benedictine discipline and something all of us should be readily about. There are set times for reading, according to the Rule, so that the monks may study the Word and the Fathers in their private cells. There is an exhortation to do lectio divina, divine or meditative reading. If a monk arrived at the cloister and was found to be illiterate, one of the brothers was tasked with teaching him to read. And in subsequent generations Benedictines have been instrumental in bringing literacy to the masses. Reading is essential to encouraging and fostering a healthy spiritual discipline. It is one of the means used to foster spiritual growth in the disciple. The “holy reading” that Benedict is prescribing here is not just the Bible; the monk is commanded to read the teachings of the Fathers, and whatever books the Abbot assigns, especially during the Season of Lent (cf. 48:10-16). We would all do well to follow this example. Ask what those in leadership in the Church are reading. Follow their example.
“And devote yourself often to prayer.” This prayer is above and beyond the liturgical cycle of prayer. Benedict is encouraging all of us to fulfill St. Paul’s challenge to pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17). At those quiet moments throughout our day (when we are so blessed to have them) we can pause in thankfulness to God. While driving, or shopping, say a blessing on those around you. When waiting in line, or stuck in a traffic jam due to construction or an accident, pray for those causing or dealing with the delay, and pray for the injured and inconvenienced. And Benedict declares that we ought every day to confess our sins in prayer that we might change our ways in the future (vv. 57-58).
Even as we pursue a life of prayer, it is a labor of obedience—a battle against self-will. Benedict recognizes this work as he commands that we “hate the urgings of self-will”. It is not enough to desire to submit to Christ’s will, we must subject our will to His, which is a much bigger step. We must recognize that there is a war of wills being waged, and self-will must be defeated. It is essential that we turn against its urgings and acknowledge that those urgings are working against our best interests. They have become our enemy.
And finally, don’t do as I do; do as I say. When I was in high school I had an employer who actually said those words to me. I had a job where I spent many hours unsupervised. I had seen my boss cut corners in one of the jobs that I shared with him. One day he caught me doing that very same thing and took me to task. I confronted him saying that I had seen him do it, and he replied “Don’t do as I do; do as I say.” Benedict says, “Obey the commands of the Abbot in all things, even though he himself (which Heaven forbid) act otherwise…” Those in leadership are human, and they are in the battle, too. We will all slip up, and as St. Paul says, we all fall short of the glory of God. But, it is not for us to judge them. We are to maintain a place of submission to their authority and obey—to do as they say.