To be read: April 30, August 31, December 31
Now, we have written this Rule that, observing it in monasteries, we may show that we have acquired at least some moral righteousness, the beginning of the monastic life. 2For the one who is hastening on to the perfection of the religious life, there are the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leads a man to the height of perfection. 3What page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a true guide for human life? 4Or, what book of the holy Catholic Fathers does not loudly proclaim how we may go straight to our Creator? 5So, too, the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives, and the rule of our holy Father, Basil—6what are they but the monuments of the virtues of exemplary and obedient monks? 7But for us, who are slothful, unobservant, and negligent monks, they make us blush for shame and confusion. 8You, therefore, who are hastening to the heavenly home, with the help of Christ keep this little rule written for beginners; 9and then you shall, with God’s help, attain at last to the greater heights of knowledge and virtue which we have mentioned above.
G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” The Christian life is demanding. And it is sometimes hard for us to discern and to know how to live according to the Gospel. That is why we have tools like the Rule of St. Benedict to help us. Living according to the Rule helps us make space for God to do His transforming work in us. Living by the Rule helps us to know how to fight the fight and live more closely in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Benedict concludes his Rule with these encouraging words: “You…who are hastening to the heavenly home, with the help of Christ keep this little rule written for beginners; and then you shall, with God’s help, attain at last to the greater heights of knowledge and virtue which we have mentioned above.”
Benedict says that this Rule was written for beginners. This is a theme which is reiterated throughout this chapter and throughout the Rule. In the first and eighth verses of this chapter he says that by keeping this Rule we have “the beginning of the monastic life”, and that “this little rule [was] written for beginners”. And from the opening verses of the Rule, Benedict says: “In the first place, each time you seek to begin a good work, earnestly pray that He will perfect whatever good you begin…” (Prol. 4). We are all beginners. We all are taking classes in the School for the Lord’s Service.
As in any school there are many facets to a complete curriculum. The Rule of St. Benedict is but one source of learning for the beginners. Benedict provides a nice list of other helpful literature available to us. He says, “For the one who is hastening on to the perfection of the religious life, there are the teachings of the holy Fathers…the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament…the holy Catholic Fathers…the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives, and the rule of our holy Father, Basil…” That is quite a collection of instruction. We would do well to pay attention to this suggestion.
The Rule is an intense and earnest manual for the practical living out of a life consecrated to God. Benedict’s goal was always to be pointing elsewhere and onward, to fix the monastic’s eyes on Christ. Our formation into the likeness of Christ (Imago Christi) is a lifelong process, enabled by a lived familiarity with formal disciplines, and involving ever more whole-hearted inner receptiveness and response to God’s Spirit. The Rule began with an exhortation earnestly to engage in such a life, and that exhortation is renewed here at the end. Even the words of this chapter are echoes of and invitations to deepen the words of the Prologue. So the work of the consecrated life is like that of a spiral. No matter where we are, we are always just beginning in the journey with Christ. It may seem like we are wandering in circles, but as we assess our progress we can recognize that yes, we have gone around, but we are now on a slightly higher plane. Thanks be to God. And, thank you Father Benedict for showing us a better way.