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 September are by Bev Hallam, Oblate of Stanbrook

 

September 15

The final section of Chapter 2 reminds the Abbot of his responsibilities both to the material needs of his charges, which are important, but first and foremost, of his accountability to God for the government of the souls in his care. His brethren are, of course, responsible for themselves, as is the leader for himself.

This speaks to me of the immense spiritual responsibility and qualities required in a leader, beginning with him or herself. Without keen discernment and integrity, the correct atmosphere for growth of the spirit within the group or community will not be created, and people will not thrive spiritually. With leadership comes responsibility which will ultimately be tested and weighed in the balance of God’s justice.

September 16

Chapter 3 continues with Benedict laying out the balance that is to be achieved between the Abbot’s authority and the accumulated wisdom and insights of everyone in his community. A portrait emerges of open consultation and careful listening before the abbot retires to consider the views he has been offered, to discern the various points of view and to arrive at a resolution which seems best and most just. It is noteworthy that the opinions of all are valued, even the youngest.

All of us who have sat on committees or councils are aware of how the loudest and most confident voices often prevail over the quieter and more reflective!

It strikes me that here lies a beautiful antidote for our contemporary public debate, with its entrenched positions, intolerance to the point of bigotry and screaming, abusive headlines. I wonder what Benedict would have made of a person, whose views differ from the mainstream, being ‘cancelled’. How would our national life be transformed if we offered our views with deference and humility and did not defend our opinions obstinately?

September 17

Today’s reading describes the importance of the Rule as a touchstone for the discernment and conduct for all the community. Given that in general an atmosphere of openness and consultation prevails, the abbot may also decide, using his own judgement, to limit his consultation to a more experienced group of brothers.

A leader in any context who is aware of what should be widely consulted upon and what is better decided by a smaller group is a wise one indeed, as over consultation can bring the day to day life of a community to a grinding halt and actually diminish interest in proceedings.

September 18

I always think that both the form and the content of today’s reading comes as a bit of a shock after the simple continuous prose of the preceding readings and teachings on the Rule, which focus our attention on our accountability to the Lord and to ultimate judgement. Yet, the more often I come upon it and reflect upon it, I feel I am being provided with the absolute and non-negotiable tools for my everyday living and for my spiritual state.

These are precisely the actions and habits of thought and mind that must constitute my active and spiritual world. This series of tenets must mould my outward living if I am to live a true Christian life. They anchor me so that I am not tempted to believe that only complicated spiritual reading and silent prayer are the sole focuses for my practice. They foster my humility, my grounded-ness and turn my view outwards to the care and nurture of others.  The final injunction distils the essence of the Benedictine approach, ‘To prefer nothing to the love of Christ’.

September 19

Today’s reading seems to breathe the essence of the Rule and Benedict’s way of thinking. All the advice, although applicable to everyone trying to live a decent and religiously committed life, are of paramount importance to any living in a community with spaces and facilities shared with the same people day after day.

We cannot be warned often enough about lying, grumbling, grudge-bearing and a lack of honesty both in our hearts and in our dealings with others. I am inspired by the final lines of the reading, in which I read I must submit myself to God, and give thanks for whatever graces I am given, and to take responsibility for whatever evil I do and to blame no-one else.

 

 

September 20

In these verses Benedict returns to ultimate things and to the finality of our last judging by God. On first reading, it may appear to modern sensibilities that reflecting upon our sins and keeping death always in view is somewhat gloomy and self-absorbed. Yet if we hold that death is the very gateway to eternal life, our present life takes on a fresh perspective of preparation and amendment, energy and even joy.

We make room for silence in cutting down our chatter and laughter at the expense of others, applying ourselves to quiet spiritual reading instead.

September 21

In today’s reading of Benedict’s laying before us more tools for the spiritual craft, we may again feel some of the advice is a bit obvious. Most of us, for example, realize jealousy and envy are wrong, but for me the key to this lies in the final part of this section, and in the words ‘If we employ them (the tools) unceasingly day and night’, that is by being mindful and constantly awake to our behaviour and habits of mind. All of these excellent attitudes of reverence for all, young or old, making peace after a quarrel, and so forth, are valued by all right-thinking people, but what distinguishes our Benedictine approach is that we must ultimately give account to God of our use of them. Just as the vessels and tools of kitchen and church must be treated with reverence, so too must these spiritual tools which, if used unremittingly and with perseverance, will take us at the end into God’s presence.

September 22

Today’s reading conveys a wonderful impression of urgency and hurry to obey the advice and instructions of a superior, and thus to make our own immediate wants and desires subservient to the will of others and ultimately to Christ. It reminds me of times in the Gospel when for example Jesus asks the disciples just to put down their nets and follow him.

 

September 23

 

This passage inspires with its commending of joyful and willing obedience to God’s will and to the accumulated wisdom of the tradition and the Rule.

Even in the most modest and worldly of contexts, we know how willingness and correct disposition of heart works. Who is not familiar, whether in a family gathering or classroom or workplace, of the energy that is almost palpable when everyone believes in a shared goal and happily pulls together to achieve it, and conversely, how heavy and negative the feeling when even one person in that group is disgruntled or feels they have a grievance.

An ex-colleague who was a wonderful leader of people, always said a few willing and cheerful volunteers got the job done and would not countenance ‘pressed men!’

September 24

This reading begins the chapter on restraint of speech or silence, particularly restraint of evil or cruel talk and laughter.

 A former boss of mine, from Liverpool, could be at his fiercest and most worried when it reached his ears that there was ‘jangle’, meaning gossip and grumbling, within the staffroom. He was justifiably worried because the ‘jangle’ not only indicated discontent but would spread and cause misunderstanding and hurt feelings. Woe betide any member of the senior leadership team who was found to be involved in any aspect of ‘jangle’.

However, the real centre of today’s passage for me is the emphasis on listening but also of knowing when and how to speak appropriately. To listen at all, in Benedict’s sense of the word, a real space must be cleared for silence so that hearing can take place. We all know we are surrounded by incessant media noise and chatter, clashes of ideas and opinions, strident voices raised in anger and disagreement, and are familiar too with the blessed relief when we turn off. Only in silence can the Word be heard and heal our minds and hearts.

September 25

Today’s reading begins Chapter Seven, Of Humility. The quotation from the Gospel of Luke that begins the passage exhorts us to beware of every kind of pride. It is one of those teachings that is so well known it is easy for me to think I know what it means. Like a weaned child, I must grow up and ask myself direct questions in response to this straightforward teaching. Do I think I’m special? Or better than everyone else? The questions come thick and fast if I consider carefully, and often my answers, if they are honest, are uncomfortable

September 26

I find it helpful when reading this section to imagine the ladder placed firmly within the context of all the communities within which I live. This is my world, and I must go up and down the ladder placed within it. Yet the point is that the ascending and descending are counter cultural. Our successes and attainments can lead to descent, and our grounded-ness and self-perspective can help us to rise. This clear image gives me a structure and framework on which I can try to measure myself as I make my daily examination of conscience.

September 27

Today’s passage begins the description of the first step or degree on the ladder of humility.

Benedict places before us, emphasising the point repeatedly, that we must always have a sense of God’s presence. Regarding this, it is interesting for me to discern a complete shift of perspective in my own life. As a small child in a church school, I found the idea of the all-seeing eye of God quite terrifying. It felt punitive and oppressive. Yet in this passage, although Benedict warns me of hell and those burning for their sins, I feel that with God’s grace, my behaviour and attitudes are within my control and discipline, and the constant presence of God is a source of support and a help to discernment.

September 28

This reading points up for me the importance of discerning God’s will in my life. I must listen attentively to God’s voice in prayer, and if still unsure, sit quietly and mindfully until my path becomes clearer. Once I feel that I have divined his will, I must then use it as a touchstone on which I can test my thoughts and actions.

September 29

 

As the Rule moves towards the end of the first step on this road to freedom, Benedict exhorts us again to mindfulness and a constant awareness of the presence of God in our daily lives. This constant awareness, if we respond to it positively, lifts our thinking and behaviour to a new level.  If God's love and mercy for us are unfailing, then our expectations of ourselves in terms of our thoughts and actions must rise to respond. If we learn to live each day immersed in this closeness to God, enfolded in love, we cannot fail to desire that all we think, feel and do should give delight to the Lord who knows every hair of our head.

 

September 30

This short section, the second step on the path to humility, expresses one of those exhortations that I read with half of my attention and think ‘Why of course!’ But if I stop and really think about what Benedict is asking us to do here, I am pulled up short. Letting go of own’s own will, control and impulses is so hard, but we are told will win us a crown. What must I do? This surely does not mean that we abandon our rational thoughts and actions and our freedom for right choice and conduct. Instead the quotation from John 6 points us in the right direction. I am again to model myself on Christ, who in his acceptance of the Father’s will and submission to it, showed us all the way to freedom. I am being asked to engage in quiet, honest discernment of God’s will for me, and to put my own wants and ambitions into the background.