The reflections for August are by Bev Hallam, oblate of Stanbrook

 

August 15

In the welcoming and absorbing of the stranger monk into the community, the key word is ‘content’, which is repeated twice in the first sentence. It occurs to me that the idea of contentment, of being reconciled to things as they are, is a rare one in today’s world. Contentment is unfashionable, and conventional wisdom pushes us in the direction of pressing on to change things, of striving to mould circumstances and communities to our idea of improvement and betterment. It is tempting when joining a new parish, for example, to ‘see what needs altering’ instead of spending time getting to know people and absorbing the established way in which things happen.

Benedict reminds us, however, that the newcomer may have suggestions or observations of value to make, so in its turn, a community should always be open to fresh ideas and new ways.

August 16

Today’s reading speaks of the balance we all need in life, in situations both practical and spiritual. We must of course discern the suitability of an individual for a given community and be prepared to have what my former boss used to call ‘the difficult conversation’ if a person is going to make life for others uncomfortable. On the other hand, we must not set up barriers against what is new and challenging as we sit comfortably within a clique of those who think like us and doze in an atmosphere of ‘we’ve always done it like this.’

August 17

Today we are reminded of the dangers for anyone who is given a special role to carry out. Just like the person of special skills referred to in chapter 60, it is very easy for anyone to identify solely with their special status, to develop pride because of it and then begin to think of themselves as exceptions to whom the rules of everyday conduct, or here, the monastic rule, no longer apply. This attitude is destructive both in spiritual terms to the individual as well as to the harmony of the community.

August 18

In today’s reading I am struck by the importance of order in people’s lives, and the idea of knowing where we stand in relation to others. My professional life in education has consistently shown the benefits for all when the structure of the working day and relationships are clear and well thought out, allowing care, compassion and respect to flourish.

It is interesting too that, apart from those monks with a special role, it is time of entry into the community which dictates the order of seniority and not age or any other consideration of background. The values of the world do not apply. What matters is the time at which the monk committed to the sacred vocation. Thus I am again reminded of what is important; the call to embrace humility and the search for God.

August 19

Today’s reading speaks to me of the importance of individuals embracing protocols which create an atmosphere of honour and respect for everyone. I attended a traditional girls’ grammar school whose ethos instilled in us the need to consider the comfort and well-being of others. For example, you could be reported the next day by a prefect if, when travelling home on public transport, you stayed in your seat when an adult was standing. Over the years, this behaviour created a very good reputation for the school which benefited everyone and taught generations of young people a healthy attitude towards others.

August 20

Today’s reading on the election of the abbot indicates to what degree the monastery has a responsibility and connection to the Church as a whole. The entire Christian community has an interest in ensuring that the monastery is not driven into an evil path by the election of the wrong person. Benedict sees this intervention as a sacred duty which must be directed by pureness of heart and a desire to see God’s will done.

August 21

Today’s substantial section is a personal favourite in its description of the qualities that should be demonstrated by the abbot. The first part deals with the positive virtues of discretion, prudence, love and mercy, while in the second part, more negative attributes such as jealousy, anxiety and suspicion are described. How wonderful to be part of a community led by a person imbued with the positive qualities of the first part. One can imagine feeling safe and secure, able to develop and grow spiritually in an atmosphere of confidence and, to use a contemporary word, empowerment. But the actions and governance of the abbot are under God, who is both the wellspring and the judge of everything he does.

August 22

 

Today’s section feels particularly tense, dealing as it does with the thorny political problem of the external appointment of a prior and the power struggles that may result. It is clear that Benedict has ‘seen it all before’ and is as ever very clear-sighted as to the frailty of human nature. He cites ‘envies, quarrels, detraction, rivalry, dissensions and disorders’. What a different picture this creates to the one we have been given in the previous chapter, where peace and love reign. The sin of pride is mentioned twice, but we also feel intuitively to be present the little worm of discord that arises in the mind, with which we have all at some time been familiar.  This disturbing reflex enjoys mistakes made by others, particularly public ones, takes delight in gossip and seeks to take sides, to be partisan, to gather around us those who share our opinion. Peace and harmony are gone, dispelled by dissent and point-scoring at the expense of others.

It is so easy to see this process at work in communities of all kinds; in companies and firms, in schools, in parishes, even on voluntary committees whose aim is charitable. And perhaps also in nations.

Interesting too that Benedict lays the blame fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of those whose behaviour has caused the dissent. The desire to sow discord is a vile mind, truly endangering the soul.

 

August 23

 

Today’s section strikes a contemporary note in its recommendation of shared leadership and accountability in the creation of deans under the control of the abbot. This shared responsibility militates against pride and overweening arrogance. However, should the position of prior be a necessary one, the abbot may choose such a person but again with advice from the brethren. Contemporary also is the protocol of correction set up should a prior misbehave; four verbal warnings, much like current employment practice, although rather more generous! There are checks and safeguards everywhere, even warning that should an abbot need to expel a prior from the monastery, this decision cannot be informed by envy or jealousy.

 

It is interesting that this chapter has underlined for me the difficulty of drawing up a Rule, of Benedict’s covering of all angles and scenarios, seeing trouble before it happens, trying to smooth the path of community harmony by a far-sighted knowledge of the way people are and laying down humane protocols for them to follow. Perhaps not such a prayerful chapter or so overtly Gospel-centred, but nevertheless another piece of the solid foundation on which the life devoted to God can develop.

 

 



 


                                      





 


 


 


 




 




 


 


























Click here for pdf of whole Rule: RB37





Further Reading:
If you have enjoyed looking at words and patterns in the Rule you will probably benefit from Sr Aquinata Boeckmann's approach, eg in her Perspectives on the Rule of St Benedict (2005), pub. Collegeville.
Dom Hugh Gilbert's books: Unfolding the Mystery (2007) and Living the Mystery (2008) and The Tale of Quisquis, published since he has become a bishop.
Gregory Collins OSB: Meeting Christ in his Mysteries (2010) pub. Columba.
Maria Boulding OSB: Gateway to Resurrection (2010) pub. Continuum, is shot through with the Paschal dimension of Benedictine life.
Anything by Michael Casey OCSO!


Reflections on the Rule of St Benedict: Introduction

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 OSB published by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in 1937 and used here 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 reflections, initially from members of the Stanbrook Community. 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