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Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict Paperback – April 1, 2001
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- Publisher : The Liturgical Press; second edition (April 1, 2001)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 163 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0814613888
- ISBN-13 : 978-0814613887
- Item Weight : 6.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.46 x 0.43 x 7.12 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #59,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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St. Benedict lived between 480 and 540 A.D. He wrote a Rule (guide) for his household of Christian brothers that enabled prayer to be their central focus as they engaged in preparing food and washing up, housed guests, maintained buildings and property, educated children, cared for the sick, and earned a living. "The monks are to bear with patience the weaknesses of others. Let them be charitable towards their brothers with pure affection" (Rule 72.5-8). Seven times a day the monks would gather in the oratory to say the prayers of the opus Dei, the work of God, from Vigils to Compline. These "Black Monks" brought Christianity and civilization to much of Europe through "Cruce, libro et atro," the cross, book (Bible) and plough. Half the cathedrals were under Benedictine rule. St. Benedict once told a monk who had chained himself to the side of a cave near Mount Cassino, "Do not chain yourself with chains of iron, but rather let Christ be the chain that binds you." Benedict pointed everyone to Christ.
CHAPTER 2 -- THE INVITATION
"Let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide" (Rule: Prologue)
"Now is the hour for us to arise from sleep (Rom 13:11). Let us open our eyes...Let us hear with attentive ears (Rev 2:29). Run while you have the light of life" (Jn 12:35).
The Rule is simply an aid for us to live by the Scriptures. For the Word of God is "the light that comes from God" and "the voice from heaven." Psalm 95:7-8 implores us: "Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." Almost every page of the Rule quotes the Bible or alludes to it, over 300 times. Chapter 7 of the Rule opens with, "Holy Scripture cries aloud!" The "cry" of Scripture is the voice of God. Christ is the beginning and the end of the Rule.
CHAPTER 3 -- LISTENING
The very first word of the Rule is "listen." We listen so we may obey God. Obedience teaches us how to love others better. For example, it is NOT loving to be inwardly furious at someone who interrupts you while you outwardly smile. In the Rule, a man seeks to imitate Christ who said, "I have not come to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (Jn 6:38). Humility must increase and self-centeredness must decrease. To grow in humility, I must ask myself, "How aware am I that anything I do in any way is part of the working out of God's will?" Subjecting myself to another "in all obedience for the love of God" (Rule 7.34) means giving up my power and arrogance and submitting myself to seeking the will of God through others. It means recognizing someone's strengths and letting go of my ambition and self-assertiveness. Then I will not be so quick to laugh at, scorn, or criticize others.
This Rule is not meant to be a burden for you, but to do what God has willed for you. The novice prays Ps 119:116, "Uphold me, O Lord, as You have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope." At the root of obedience is the humble surrender of our will to God.
CHAPTER 4 -- STABILITY
Rule 58: "Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry." The novice is to be left knocking at the door for four or five days. He is then warned about "the hardships and difficulties that will lead him to God." If he promises perseverance in his stability after two months, the Rule is read straight through to him and he is told, "this is the law under which you are choosing to serve. If you can keep it, come in. If not, feel free to leave." If he still stands firm he is taken back into the novitiate and is tested again after six months, and then four months later. The phrase used each time is "if he still stands firm." Only then does he come before the whole community and make his promises, and then the promise in a written document is laid solemnly on the altar. Having decided to accept the Rule, he is no longer free to leave the monastery.
We find our stability in God, who is steadfast and utterly reliable. "The Lord is my rock and my fortress" (Ps 18:2). The Trappist monk, Henri Nouwen, had seen how disjointed his life was with lecturing, traveling, counseling and praying. Inner stability came when he finally gave up the desire to be noticed by others. God calling us by name and to be unique is completely compatible with the routine and ordinary. "Wherever I am, at home, in a hotel, in a train, plane or airport, I would not feel irritated, restless, and desirous of being somewhere else or doing something else. I would know that here and now is what counts and is important because it is God Himself who wants me at this time in this place."
Metropolitan monk Andrew Bloom says that "at the heart of stability is the certitude that God is everywhere and that we have no need to seek God elsewhere. He is here. God is present in every situation and every place." Catherine de Hueck Doherty refers to the "poustinia," a Russian word meaning desert, indicating silence and solitude, a standing still.
Benedict said stability is achieved through perseverance. This is patience "amid hardships and unjust treatment," and one's quiet embrace of suffering. Through courageous endurance we participate in the suffering of Christ. "We are put to death continually; we are regarded as sheep marked for slaughter" (Rom 8:36). We should never lose hope in the mercy of God.
CHAPTER 5 – CHANGE
Living the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection is the heart of everything for the monks. Each must "die" like a grain of wheat before it bears fruit (Jn 12:24). Chapter 4 of the Rule lists 73 "Tools for Good Works." "You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love" (4.22-26). "You must not be proud," pride in the sense of trying to control things, to make sure the world is put together the way I want it. We must not be lethargic, letting others do most of the work. We must avoid grumbling and gossiping and complaining. We must guard against addictions. "Place your hope in God alone" (Rule 73:41).
Unlike our modern sentiments, Benedict advised, "Live in fear of judgment day. Have a great horror of hell. Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die" (4:44-47). "Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God's gaze is upon you, wherever you may be" (4:48,49). "As soon as wrongful thoughts come to your heart dash them against Christ." Reach out to others, respect the old and love the young, make up quarrels and pray for our enemies. Benedict always had warm consideration for human weakness. "Never lose hope in God's mercy." The goal is never self-fulfillment. It is Christ. We make progress toward Him through total dependence on His grace. "In all this we overcome because of Him who do greatly loved us" (Rom 8:37).
Benedict used the passion of Christ as the model to live by. The great central east window of Canterbury cathedral shows Christ's redemption. It was viewed by the Benedictine communities there throughout the Middle Ages. Three central panels lead from the cross to the resurrection and then to Pentecost. At the very bottom, the start shows the spies with the grapes of Eschol (Deut 1:24,25), the symbol of the Eucharist, one man turning away, representing the man who does not recognize Christ, and the other man who follows Him. Old Testament scenes which prefigure His passion are placed around the main panels. Christ is shown laid on a marble tomb. Of the figures around Him, Jonah is in the belly of the whale. "He is held and thrust out, swallowed, shut in the fish; here in like manner Christ is taken, dies and is buried." Then Jonah, a fully dressed man, steps out onto dry land. From that death comes new life. The central panel is the resurrection. This window continues upward. First the ascension, then Pentecost, until the final panel shows Christ in majesty, the Pantocrator, seated on an orb, His right hand upheld in blessing. Christ dominates the window as He dominates the Rule.
When the monks said the first offices of the day, sunlight would illuminate the paschal mystery of dying with Christ. They entered with Him into the depths and rose again with Him, their life lived out day by day year after year, reminding them they would someday be partakers in the glory of the Kingdom.
CHAPTER 6 -- BALANCE
The Rule was designed to be "nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." It sought moderation in all things by balancing the mind, body and spirit. Daily it allocated four hours for liturgical prayer, four hours for spiritual readings, and six hours for manual labor. The Celtic fishing and farming people of the Outer Hebrides pray, "O bless myself entire," for both body and soul.
Humility must be cultivated in both body and soul. "A monk always manifests humility in his bearing no less than in his heart at the work of God, in the oratory, the monastery, the garden, on a journey, in the field. Whether he sits, walks or stands," his bearing will reflect his inner attitude of mind. This is so the whole person can be transformed in Christ. This leads to joyful service in performing tasks no longer out of dread or fear of hell but out of love for Christ.
Benedict applied mercy to human nature. He told his monks when they prayed the Venite, they should pray it very slowly because some monks might come late to prayer, and although there is a penalty for being late, praying slowly might make it possible for them to escape this penalty. He did not encourage extremism. He knew that severe austerity did not bring one closer to God. Rising up earlier and working feverishly simply damaged one's health, having no rhythm or relaxation. The Benedictine monk prays, studies, and works, going from chapel to library to kitchen, garden and farm. There are no inferior or superior activities. God is present in every activity.
CHAPTER 7 -- MATERIAL THINGS
For Benedict, God can be sought in ordinary, daily living, the humdrum. The cellarer is instructed to regard "all the utensils and goods of the monastery as if they were sacred vessels" (31.10). Anyone who loses or breaks anything must take responsibility for it, for objects which belong to God cannot be treated lightly (objects in the bakery, storeroom, kitchen or garden) (32.4-5; 46.1-4). Clothing and footwear should fit well and should not be worn until it was in tatters. Neither poverty nor affluence was desirable, just moderation. There was to be enough but no more. Each monk had two cowls and two tunics. "Distribution was made to each one as he had need" (Act 4:35).
Benedict is opposed to private ownership of "anything at all -- not a book, writing table or stylus -- not a single item." Monks are stewards, not owners. They are to be responsible for things while simultaneously regarding them with detachment. However, it is not wrong to enjoy them as God-given. Material things are sacramenta, symbols that reveal the beauty and goodness of their Creator.
Although meat was allowed for the sick who were very weak (39.11), Benedict himself was a vegetarian.
Everyone participates in the work -- preparing the altar, cooking, serving meals, washing clothes, attending the sick. Both idleness and exhaustion should be avoided. If the craftsman "becomes puffed up by his skillfulness" he is to be removed from practicing it (57.2). Work is never to be done for self-fulfillment, but "so that in all things God may be glorified."
Ironically, Benedict's emphasis on work has had en enormous effect on Western culture in the last fifteen hundred years. Benedictine monasticism is associated with magnificent buildings, farming achievements, fine scholarship and education, and economic success.
CHAPTER 8 -- PEOPLE
Benedict was a Christman. For him, Christ was the whole meaning of the Christian life. Without Christ nothing makes sense. With Christ all things are possible. Benedict finds Christ in people -- in the brothers, in guests, in the invalid, in the sick brother, in strangers and travelers. He sees Christ in people when they are stubborn, dull, undisciplined, restless, negligent and disdainful, and those who get in the way. Benedict quietly challenged the preconceptions of his day. A man born free is not to be given higher rank than a slave (2.18). Care is to be given to the poor most specially (53.15). Age does not necessarily determine rank. The junior brothers are to be listened to (3.3). To see the face of Christ in all those we meet day in day out is never easy. "Let everyone that comes be received as Christ." "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other" (72.4; Rom 12:10).
CHAPTER 9 -- AUTHORITY
The abbot is both father and master over the brothers. He should "love as he sees best for each individual" (6.14). "Forgiveness is the greatest factor of growth for any human being." Do it sooner than later so wounds don't grow and fester. What begins as a small grudge or resentment can become a great brooding, a cancer. Murmuring or grumbling in one's heart must be rooted out before causing great damage. "Lord, I am a sinner" (Lk 18:13).
The abbot is to lead with moderation and discretion, not driving his brothers too hard. He can avoid burnout through delegation.
CHAPTER 10 -- PRAYING
Four hours each day are given to reading and reflecting on the Scriptures. Benedict refers to the Scriptures as our guide (Prol. 21), medicine (28.3), divine law (53.9), the rock on which to build (Prol. 33), and the treasury on which to draw (64.9). Reading promotes a dialogue with God. The Psalms is quoted more in the Rule than from the New Testament. The Psalms express our longing for God, our joys and our sorrows. Sometimes God is close, sometimes distant. We see Him in the desert and on the mountain, in poverty and emptiness and waiting. Today God may visit us, tomorrow He may not. Today we are brought up to the mountain top, tomorrow we are calling from the depths. Today we are radiant, tomorrow we face darkness. Benedict wanted his monks to pray without ceasing as much as possible, weaving it into all their activities.