A Brief Reflection on the Rule of Benedict

12 October 2006

The Rule has completed its survey of the twelve degrees of humility, and so it logically turns its attention to . . . the division of Psalms for the Night Office.

We may scratch our heads at the next several readings from the Rule. The Rule has its magnificent Prologue, chapters about the different kinds of monks, the characteristics an abbot should have, humility; informative, useful, and even lofty topics crop up in the Rule. This part of the Rule is very practical; a Benedictine answer to the Gospel question, “How should we pray?” Benedict replies, “This is how.”

As I’ve tried to figure out earlier, how does this play into my life, into our lives? Do we have time to rise in the middle of the night and pray six, nine, twelve Psalms? Is this what Benedict suggests we do?

One historic Benedictine trait is organization; an order that at times has 200 or more monks living under one roof must be well organized. Different tasks are on a regular rotation (e.g., answering the door at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago is something everyone does, including the Prior); people have certain set duties; chores are shared just as all else is. One Benedictine value is order, a principle that says there is time for everything and everyone.

We must order our lives. We must give ourselves sabbaths, but we must also work. We must treat ourselves sometimes, but sometimes we must fast. Benedict spends time dictating how and what the monks and nuns will pray, because prayer is something that becomes quickly squeezed out of our day. As we must plan to see friends, or see a movie, or get out of town to see the fall foliage, we must plan to pray.

Some things do not need to be planned, you migh say. Essential things like eating, sleeping, and recreation, we do without planning. True enough, but have you ever noticed that sometimes, if we don’t plan our meals we end up eating junk food, or overeating? If we don’t plan on a bedtime, even if we go to bed a little later, we often end up staying up to late?

I really don’t think Benedict is a rigorist or a martinet, but human nature slips, and it slips often. We might not think its a big deal, but if we don’t plan, we often don’t do. Benedict in these sections urges us to have a plan for prayer, just as we should plan a lot of things, maybe even most things. Although we all need unstructured time, just plain fun time, we need to plan for it, set it aside, and once that time arrives respect it: don’t let work or our desire to control creep in. Let the wind take you where it may.

Likewise, even if our prayer is simply unstructured contemplation or meditation —which I would say is a hard place to start— we need to plan for it, and when its appointed time arrives respect it, go into our room, and pray.


Linkage

Prior Peter has been writing about his lectio divina and his experience that, yes, people do act weirder on the full moon. I always thought that this was a superstition, but I’ve begun to agree that people act funny during the full moon.
Don Jim writes about the rumored return of the Traditional Roman Rite, aka the Tridentine Rite, aka the Latin Mass. I think it would be unfair to say that this would be “rolling back Catholic practice to pre-Vatican II,” but it would give people who wish to experience this traditional form of liturgy the opportunity, possibly in the vernacular.
Monk in Training takes a stab at contemporary America’s weird Christian realities.


My Favorite October Happening

Orhan Pamuk has one the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. I love the Nobel Prizes in general, and the Literature prize in particular. Hooray for Pamuk!

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