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



Website Reflections May-Sept 2022

Reflections for this cycle are by Mary Cockroft, an oblate of Stanbrook

CHAPTER 3    CONSULTING THE COMMUNITY

MAY 17 – 18

I do not have a community to consult, but this chapter has much to tell all of us about the value of listening to others’ opinions and really hearing what they say. If we run our choices and more important decisions past others it may help us to reflect more deeply and discern more prayerfully. Do we value the different approaches that our friends, our colleagues, our parents, even our children may offer? I love the way Benedict reminds us that the young may have insights. Experience is valuable, but the young may see clearly through to what is important and will possibly be less hesitant to say what they think.

Do we value the views, not only of those younger than ourselves, but different from us in other ways? Whom have we classed as unimportant… the ‘wrong’ age, the ‘wrong’ colour, the ‘wrong’ educational background, the ‘wrong’ social status…?

Are we allowing God to speak to us where we are, through the people whose lives touch ours?

Ultimately our decisions are our responsibility, but where is God in my decision-making process? Have I discussed things with Him? Have I recalled a bit of Scripture or the Rule which might help? Does my decision reflect my desire to love God and others by using my gifts in service? Will it enable me to grow in friendship with the Lord? Or is it all about ME? What I want, what I think is best?

 

CHAPTER 4    THE TOOLS OF GOOD WORKS

MAY 19

Do my eyes glaze as I skip down this list of things I haven’t done recently – killed anyone, committed adultery, stolen anything, coveted others’ possessions (really not?), borne false witness…

Stop! Have I honoured every human being? Have respect for everyone? (1 Peter 2:17)

Am I dealing firmly with the instinct to prioritise my own desires and ambitions, and thus becoming more free to follow Christ?

And of course, am I putting nothing before the love of Christ? That is the motivation for my response to this whole chapter.

There are far too many tools in this chapter, even when split up over 4 days, for most of us to take on board at once. It may be helpful just to focus on one or two for each day, areas calling for spiritual growth. For me personally this May 19th, offering support and accompaniment to the sick, the sorrowing, those who are a bit down about life, is one of those.

So just take one or two, start small, take it slowly, but start!

MAY 20

Again, there are around 20 excellent tools here for how to live at peace with others and to avoid excess in one’s personal life. I would suggest taking a mindful moment, then calmly asking God to be alongside as I read them and to show me which he wants me to focus on today. Which needs to grow right now in my spiritual life? Be open to His choice!

And place all your hope in God. You are not alone on the journey. Ever. Not for a moment does God abandon us to cope alone with our mistakes, temptations, tendencies, confusions.

MAY 21

Today, too, I would choose from among all these excellent tools the one I personally need most. I am going to admit that I always prefer to skip over these thoughts of death, but the recent unexpected death of a friend has focused my mind on the quality of my living and the prioritising of what I believe to be the ultimate goal of the journey. Greater clarity about the journey is a gift from God we may recognise at moments of loss, and His gifts are always for our growth.

It is good to be reminded to cast despair and temptation at the feet of Christ and to know we can trust his compassionate support. Perhaps there is something bothering me right now which I could bring to Christ?

Today we are also reminded of the need we each have for a spiritual support system including personal prayer, reading scripture, meeting Christ in the Gospels. Some people are better at getting organised than I am, I don’t cope well with rigid structures. That means, however, I have to be more creative each day with how I am going to listen to the Lord at the heart of my life.  God can most certainly cope with each individually expressed relationship with Him. Beating oneself up because one has yet again not managed to fulfil a rigid list of prayer targets is NOT helpful! What will help me grow today in friendship with Christ?

MAY 22

More things to search my life for. Does one leap off the page today?

The crucial one for me is the culminating moment of this chapter – never despair of God’s mercy. I will get things wrong, I will make mistakes, I will wish I hadn’t said this, done that, failed to help…I am human. BUT…

The Lord is compassion and love,                                                                                                        Slow to anger, and rich in mercy...                                                                                                                     He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults.  (Ps 102)

I note the everyday-ness of all these tools. It may help to see them not so much as restrictions (negative) but as gifts (positive).  They deal with the nitty-gritty of daily living alongside others, of co-operating with people, some of whom one may wish the Lord had not put in our lives. But there they are, and my vocation is to accept them and love them with an open heart as I would wish to be accepted and loved myself. I am called to seek peace and pursue it, with the help of Benedict’s tools.

 

CHAPTER 5   OBEDIENCE

MAY 23 – 24

Obedience is the first step of humility, and humility is going to occupy the whole of Chapter 7 of course. Obedience outside a monastic setting perhaps calls for me to reflect on how I discern what is God’s will in my life, and what is mine, and whether the two are compatible. We pray often, possibly on auto-pilot, ‘Thy will be done’, but to what extent are we actually open to what this involves, not just in major decisions, which we don’t often face, but in the minutiae of our undramatic lives?

Are my skills of discernment honed by regular (daily?) discussion with God about how my life is going?  Am I reluctant to do what I am reasonably sure God wants me to do? Why? Maybe it would be good to list my reasons and pray about them. Remember: Life is not about me!

Or am I doing what I think God wants me to do, but with an audible sigh, a slamming of doors, clenched teeth, and an air of martyrdom? It is possible that God does not ask me to volunteer to help Ukrainian refugees, but wants me to look at the current circumstances of my life and spot that I can be of service by sitting unglamorously with the relative who is wheel-chair-bound, extremely demanding and mega-ungrateful for my help. Maybe He is asking me to go the extra mile for a neighbour I barely know, a friend with problems, a neighbour, a young relative I haven’t seen for far too long.

I might ask God today to be alongside me as I look at my life for all the little ways he would like me to serve with a gentle heart, and to grow in love. St Thérèse of Lisieux is probably our best model!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           CHAPTER  3 CONSULTING THE COMMUNITY

MAY 17 – 18

I do not have a community to consult, but this chapter has much to tell all of us about the value of listening to others’ opinions and really hearing what they say. If we run our choices and more important decisions past others it may help us to reflect more deeply and discern more prayerfully. Do we value the different approaches that our friends, our colleagues, our parents, even our children may offer? I love the way Benedict reminds us that the young may have insights. Experience is valuable, but the young may see clearly through to what is important and will possibly be less hesitant to say what they think.

Do we value the views, not only of those younger than ourselves, but different from us in other ways? Whom have we classed as unimportant… the ‘wrong’ age, the ‘wrong’ colour, the ‘wrong’ educational background, the ‘wrong’ social status…?

Are we allowing God to speak to us where we are, through the people whose lives touch ours?

Ultimately our decisions are our responsibility, but where is God in my decision-making process? Have I discussed things with Him? Have I recalled a bit of Scripture or the Rule which might help? Does my decision reflect my desire to love God and others by using my gifts in service? Will it enable me to grow in friendship with the Lord? Or is it all about ME? What I want, what I think is best?

 

CHAPTER 4    THE TOOLS OF GOOD WORKS

MAY 19

Do my eyes glaze as I skip down this list of things I haven’t done recently – killed anyone, committed adultery, stolen anything, coveted others’ possessions (really not?), borne false witness…

Stop! Have I honoured every human being? Have respect for everyone? (1 Peter 2:17)

Am I dealing firmly with the instinct to prioritise my own desires and ambitions, and thus becoming more free to follow Christ?

And of course, am I putting nothing before the love of Christ? That is the motivation for my response to this whole chapter.

There are far too many tools in this chapter, even when split up over 4 days, for most of us to take on board at once. It may be helpful just to focus on one or two for each day, areas calling for spiritual growth. For me personally this May 19th, offering support and accompaniment to the sick, the sorrowing, those who are a bit down about life, is one of those.

So just take one or two, start small, take it slowly, but start!

MAY 20

Again, there are around 20 excellent tools here for how to live at peace with others and to avoid excess in one’s personal life. I would suggest taking a mindful moment, then calmly asking God to be alongside as I read them and to show me which he wants me to focus on today. Which needs to grow right now in my spiritual life? Be open to His choice!

And place all your hope in God. You are not alone on the journey. Ever. Not for a moment does God abandon us to cope alone with our mistakes, temptations, tendencies, confusions.

MAY 21

Today, too, I would choose from among all these excellent tools the one I personally need most. I am going to admit that I always prefer to skip over these thoughts of death, but the recent unexpected death of a friend has focused my mind on the quality of my living and the prioritising of what I believe to be the ultimate goal of the journey. Greater clarity about the journey is a gift from God we may recognise at moments of loss, and His gifts are always for our growth.

It is good to be reminded to cast despair and temptation at the feet of Christ and to know we can trust his compassionate support. Perhaps there is something bothering me right now which I could bring to Christ?

Today we are also reminded of the need we each have for a spiritual support system including personal prayer, reading scripture, meeting Christ in the Gospels. Some people are better at getting organised than I am, I don’t cope well with rigid structures. That means, however, I have to be more creative each day with how I am going to listen to the Lord at the heart of my life.  God can most certainly cope with each individually expressed relationship with Him. Beating oneself up because one has yet again not managed to fulfil a rigid list of prayer targets is NOT helpful! What will help me grow today in friendship with Christ?

MAY 22

More things to search my life for. Does one leap off the page today?

The crucial one for me is the culminating moment of this chapter – never despair of God’s mercy. I will get things wrong, I will make mistakes, I will wish I hadn’t said this, done that, failed to help…I am human. BUT…

The Lord is compassion and love,                                                                                                        Slow to anger, and rich in mercy...                                                                                                                     He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults.  (Ps 102)

I note the everyday-ness of all these tools. It may help to see them not so much as restrictions (negative) but as gifts (positive).  They deal with the nitty-gritty of daily living alongside others, of co-operating with people, some of whom one may wish the Lord had not put in our lives. But there they are, and my vocation is to accept them and love them with an open heart as I would wish to be accepted and loved myself. I am called to seek peace and pursue it, with the help of Benedict’s tools.

 

CHAPTER 5   OBEDIENCE

MAY 23 – 24

Obedience is the first step of humility, and humility is going to occupy the whole of Chapter 7 of course. Obedience outside a monastic setting perhaps calls for me to reflect on how I discern what is God’s will in my life, and what is mine, and whether the two are compatible. We pray often, possibly on auto-pilot, ‘Thy will be done’, but to what extent are we actually open to what this involves, not just in major decisions, which we don’t often face, but in the minutiae of our undramatic lives?

Are my skills of discernment honed by regular (daily?) discussion with God about how my life is going?  Am I reluctant to do what I am reasonably sure God wants me to do? Why? Maybe it would be good to list my reasons and pray about them. Remember: Life is not about me!

Or am I doing what I think God wants me to do, but with an audible sigh, a slamming of doors, clenched teeth, and an air of martyrdom? It is possible that God does not ask me to volunteer to help Ukrainian refugees, but wants me to look at the current circumstances of my life and spot that I can be of service by sitting unglamorously with the relative who is wheel-chair-bound, extremely demanding and mega-ungrateful for my help. Maybe He is asking me to go the extra mile for a neighbour I barely know, a friend with problems, a neighbour, a young relative I haven’t seen for far too long.

I might ask God today to be alongside me as I look at my life for all the little ways he would like me to serve with a gentle heart, and to grow in love. St Thérèse of Lisieux is probably our best model!