Reflections on the Rule of St Benedict: Introduction
(please scroll down for daily reflections)


We wanted the Rule of St Benedict (RB) to pulse through the website as it does through our life, hence the decision that the daily portion of the Rule, read in most Benedictine monasteries and by many individuals, should feature on the Home Page. The version selected is that of Dom Justin McCann of Ampleforth published by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in 1937 and used by kind permission of the Ampleforth Abbey Trust. There are several reasons for this choice: first of all, we feel it still reads as an elegant translation, then we wish to celebrate cooperation between the Ampleforth and Stanbrook communities over many years, and thirdly, perhaps the old-fashioned ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ can actually help us approach the Rule of St Benedict thoughtfully. For all its relevance, RB remains an ancient text which needs careful ‘unpacking’.

To accompany the extracts of the Rule we hope to post regular reflections, from members of the Stanbrook Community and Stanbrook Oblates. These do not aim to be scholarly commentaries of which there are many excellent editions available. Rather, the reflections allow us to re-visit the Rule, to try to listen to its familiar voice anew, and to share thoughts via this forum.

Your comments are welcome via secretary@stanbrookabbey.org.uk



Click here for pdf of whole Rule: RB37


Reflections for December 2020 are by Mary Cockroft, Oblate of Stanbrook

Chapter 53

December 4

This lovely chapter must be one of the best known in the Rule. Hospitality is a key element of the Benedictine life, as indeed it should be of every Christian life. To receive others without distinction, with loving care and courtesy, with words of peace, with prayer and humility is to be a core aspect of our lives.

I had particular reason to reflect on this chapter at the point at which I made my commitment to become a member of the Hospitalité de Notre Dame de Lourdes. In view of the fact that I had already made my commitment in Baptism as an adult, and had later become a Benedictine Oblate, I was unsure that I needed to add a further layer of commitment to my life. So I sat down and thought about how this Chapter of the Rule is reflected in what I do, and who I am as a member of the Lourdes Hospitalité. The spirit asked of those who become members is a spirit of obedience and humility, availability and gentleness, generosity and respect in their service of welcome, above all to the sick and handicapped. This spirit of welcome and respect has its roots in the way in which Our Lady spoke to Bernadette, using the local patois and the polite form of address which a 14-year-old of extremely humble background would never have expected. Our Lady asked her if she would be kind enough to come to the grotto every day for 15 days – not an order, but a wish expressed with graciousness. Bernadette said later: ‘She looks at me as one person looks at another.’ Elle me regarde comme une personne. I think this is the key to hospitality of the heart.

When we are acknowledged, respected, loved by others, we can find it easier to know we are loved by God. In this lies our value and our dignity. This, then is the gift I have to offer to the other on my path.

 

December 5

Hospitality, it seems to me, lies not so much in my ability to make cake or run up a decent dinner, to greet with a cup of coffee anyone who makes it to the top of my three flights of stairs, it lies rather in an attitude of openness and availability and welcome to all – what I think of as hospitality of the heart. This can be practised in lockdown and Tier 3 restrictions just as well as in better times. It may even have become more necessary than ever. It is easy to extend hospitality to friends, it is considerably less easy to be, in my case, the person I am in Lourdes (with what I know as ‘my Lourdes smile’) with people who annoy me, the irritating driver in the car behind me, the colleague whose idea of the job does not include reading and following the instructions. It is also much easier to be a kind, gentle, available person in Lourdes, where actually that is all I have to do and be. At home a million other things may come between me and my availability to others and my patience may be sorely tried by them.

Hospitality of the heart means I do not need to wait for the chance of being self-sacrificing to come along. There are lots of unremarkable opportunities on each day’s path, chances to exercise patient kindness, generosity, love in small, almost unnoticed ways. Maybe all I can do is really listen, offer my time and attention. I am also called to nurture attitudes of acceptance and welcome to all those I read about or see on television, whose lives as refugees, or homeless persons, or lived in desperate poverty in our own society make them so often into unwanted, unwelcome strangers. My response to their needs should not be the one I heard from someone recently ‘Well they all have mobile phones…’.  These people are all potential guests in my heart. I may not have the gifts to go out and launch into major activity on behalf of refugees, solve poverty and hunger, educate the millions who have no chance to go to school, but in my small-scale life I will be able to do something. Benedict says that all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.

In the Office of Readings for January 3 there is a lovely passage from St Augustine : Where is your journey, if not to the Lord God, to him whom we must love with all our heart and all our soul and with all our mind? We have not yet reached the Lord, but we have our neighbour with us. So then, support him with whom you are travelling, so that you may come to him with whom you long to dwell. (St Augustine: Treatises on St John).
And who is my neighbour? We know Jesus’ answer to that question. Where can we see an opportunity to offer a welcoming heart to someone in need today?

May your love make us what you have called us to be.  (Collect for Week XV, old translation).

 

Chapter 54

December 6

We can see how necessary it is in a Community to prevent those who have generous relatives and friends from being sources of envy and resentment for those on the receiving end of fewer gifts. I remember reading with amusement many years ago, stories of convents where nuns referred to everything as ‘our’, as in ‘our pen’ ‘our scissors’, even ‘our toothbrush’. Even without repeated use of the word ‘our’, it must evidently be the case that in a monastic community all is shared.

Envy and resentment can sour one’s life and one’s attitude to others. If I am forever thinking that others have been more fortunate in life, that everyone else has more than I have, or the house I would love, or the holidays I can’t afford, then I will become a very bitter person quite quickly. I think probably the answer is gratitude, practised every minute of every day. I need to get into proportion whatever I think my life lacks – a big house, a garden, grandchildren, a happy bank balance, a spectacularly interesting career, excellent health…we can all make a long list, I suspect.

 

We can counter this frame of mind by asking ourselves frequently: What am I grateful for? Am I a grateful person? Do I count my blessings? Advice I was given on retreat once, and which I have seen often in spiritual articles since, is to keep a notebook in which you write down every day one thing for which you are grateful. This goes really well for maybe a couple of weeks, and then one hits a day on which there would appear to be no reason whatever to be grateful, the heart goes into negative mode and the notebook remains shut. At this critical point of course we need to open the notebook and think hard…maybe I am grateful to be alive, to have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, the dog to keep me company. Maybe today it didn’t rain. Maybe the birds are singing. Maybe I am reading a good book or received an encouraging email. Gratitude starts with the very smallest things, and with the overarching blessings of my life. Recalling these blessings on a daily basis should change the way I look at the limitations of my life and make me a less grumpy person to be with. v 



Chapter 50


December 1


I have been on walking holidays where what turned out to be fellow Catholics have expressed surprise that I went to such lengths to find out about local Vigil Masses - in countries where this was a possibility. I have been equally surprised that they thought not bothering about going to Mass on Sunday was ok because they were on holiday. God might like to be alongside you in your holiday life as well as your working life.


Being away from home and one�s normal routine can be a challenge for one�s prayer life. On holiday, on a course, at a meeting it may seem impossible to maintain any kind of meaningful contact with the Lord. In a world of iPads, Kindle, Magnificat, Universalis there is really no excuse, however, for omitting prayer altogether. It is not as if one has to carry the entire Breviary and Bible round with one. My experience of these situations leads me to the realisation that with the best will in the world it is wise not to overestimate what is possible, but establishing a minimum of contact with the Lord each day is surely always possible. God can work even with my minimal offering.


Maybe, in any case, the people with whom I am on holiday or on a course, at a meeting, need praying for? To lay the day in the hands of the Lord first thing, and then at the end of each day to review with gratitude the situations, relationships, encounters and experiences is surely possible?


The longer I am away from home, the more detached I find I get from the person I really am. Without the anchor of daily Mass I owe it to myself and God, wherever I am, to keep in touch with base, with THE relationship of my life, with what sustains me, with who I am and what I am about.


 


Chapter 51


December 2


I suppose the monk, invited to a more interesting meal outside the monastery, would be sorely tempted to start manufacturing urgent reasons to be out and about, ostensibly pastorally, in the vicinity of his meal-offering friends. Meals, however, are for sharing with the family, the monastic community. They bind people together.


We, too, can be tempted to abandon the ordinariness, the perceived boredom of the daily round, the long-standing commitments, even the long-standing marriage, in search of pastures new and sparkly. Our lives certainly benefit from a bit of variety, a holiday, a new creative interest, a course that will challenge us. New interests, new people can bring fresh life to the ordinary world in which we live out our everyday lives. Yet we need the stability, too, of being grounded in our relationships and our commitments to God and to each other.


We may need to work at making these relationships and commitments feel less boring. If, right now, some of them are not life-giving, have I asked myself why? Do I need to inject something of the new and sparkly and promising into the family/community/everyday situations, rather than simply tootling off to seek sparkliness elsewhere? Can I talk to the Lord about how I feel? Will I be listening to his answer?


 


 


Chapter 52


December 3


The one thing I envy those who live in monasteries is the oratory. My absolutely favourite oratory is a chapel in the retreat house I go to now and then. Within minutes of entering the chapel its simplicity and the silent sense of Presence and prayer embrace me and switch off the angst-ridden noise in my head, my default mode.


In a world of locked churches, even in non-Covid times, and noisy congregations, it is hard to find this kind of peace. Churches are, as I write, at least open for private prayer and will be more fully open again, of course, in future. When life starts up again it should for many of us be possible to track down a church with Exposition, maybe once a week. Obviously living in manageable driving distance of several churches, as I do, I am lucky to be able to do this. The other way to find some extended possibility of sitting in silence with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is to go on a retreat, even a short one, or to spend a regular day or longer at the Abbey of our Oblation. 


Long months of lockdown have hopefully encouraged us to create a prayer space in some corner of our home and to find God there, waiting to listen to us and be alongside us. Initially I missed going to Mass, but now I have rediscovered how close you can find God is if you just find some silence, calm down and talk and listen to him. And we share this experience with thousands of people in countries where, even in normal times, Christians have very rare access to a church, let alone the Eucharist.

Maybe what we need is to build an oratory in our heart.


 


 






















 














RB Chapters 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

Oct 30, 31, Nov 1,2,3,4,5,6

These chapters all deal with the problems caused when someone acts in such a way as to destroy, or at the very least unsettle and harm, community life, and rather than offer brief reflections, I have chosen to look at the issue as a whole in just one longer reflection.

Benedict suggests various remedies involving the increased exclusion of the offending person from community life until that person sees the error of their ways or decides to leave the community altogether.

He also stresses that the abbot/abbess should bear in mind that the errant sheep is nevertheless one of the flock entrusted to their care and that all possible efforts must be made to attempt to heal the situation.

Few of us will find ourselves in the position to exclude anyone outright from any community in which we participate, including the family, although certainly nightmare family situations do arise and serious action may unfortunately be necessary. If we know of such family crises � I am sadly familiar with at least three � then our prayerful support for all concerned is invaluable.

What we might ask ourselves is where, in our daily lives, we are in a community, where do we belong in a group, say a choir or a Parish group or any recreational/social society, either as a simple member or on a committee. When tensions arise, when someone appears to be out to wreck the group, when someone refuses to delegate or to listen or to enter into constructive dialogue, what can we do, as Christians, as Benedictine Oblates to heal the situation? What steps can we take to seek peace and pursue it? We are hardly going to be in a position to ensure the offending person has to drink their tea alone in another room, and if everyone refuses to speak to said person, nothing will be solved.

Maybe the first step is to listen with the heart to what the root of the problem might be, to speak only with kindness and patience ourselves, not to condemn or judge or reject out of hand, but to try and understand where the other is coming from. Ask yourself: What would make this situation whole again? What words or actions would heal? What positive outcome could we seek, work for, hope for, pray for? Are we/am I prepared to forgive? What steps are we/am I prepared to take to bring about peace?

I am not suggesting this is easy, and sometimes the only solution does indeed seem to be to ask the offender to leave the group. On the other hand, maybe we are too quick to be offended, to be indignant, hurt, irritated, self-righteous, angry, resentful. Have we split into factions? Are we perhaps beavering away in the background to gather support for our/my point of view? Do we somehow seem to present a threat to the person causing trouble? Have we thought that we might be part of the problem? Bear in mind that for everyone else I am the Other who has to be lived with.

Life is not easy, and relationships with other people certainly aren�t. We really are challenged as Christians to look on everyone � not just those we find it easy to get on with � as Christ does. The compassionate love of the Trinity is all-embracing. It accepts every single person right where they are now, today, whatever mess they are in, no exceptions. God loves me infinitely, unconditionally. He loves everyone else infinitely, unconditionally. This is NOT a fluffy concept! We are asked to take seriously, at the nitty-gritty level of everyday life and relationships, the command we reflected on yet again this last week in the Gospel for Sunday 30 (Matthew 22:34-40) to love others, to love and accept every single person we encounter TODAY, as we ourselves are loved by God. That is an immense task, but it is the essential task of our lives. It is here that we will meet God today. Let�s hope � and trust � that practice, aided by Grace, makes perfect!