On March 21 we celebrate the Feast of Benedict and honor this holy man who became the founder of the Benedictine tradition. The beginning of his story is captured in this excerpt from St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, by Sr. Margaret Clarke, OSB:
Benedict, whose name in Latin means “Blessed,” was born to a Christian family in the mountains to the northeast of Rome (A.D.480?). The Roman Empire was crumbling and the Goths and Vandals controlled Italy. As a youth, he was sent to Rome for schooling and there experienced a religious awakening which caused him to renounce corrupt secular society and to join a band of Christian ascetics. He later became a hermit, living in the hill region of Subiaco. … In about AD 529, he and a few disciples came to the mountain above the city of Cassino where they established the monastery now known as Montecassino.
Eventually Benedict and his followers founded monasteries for both women and men throughout Europe, which served as places of hope and hospitality and as a witness to God’s love during a particularly dark period of history. At Montecassino, Benedict wrote his monastic rule, drawing on many years of experience and wisdom toward the end of his life.
Benedictine life remains a life-giving, if counter-cultural, option in our world today. Ways to explore this life with us are listed at the end of this blog. But first, a brief introduction to the Rule of Benedict, drawn in part from a previous blog post.
Benedict’s Rule is a guide for community life, which he called a “little rule for beginners.” The Rule quickly became the foundation for monastic communities across Europe, giving direction for ordinary people wanting to live extraordinarily well.
Beginning with his prologue, Benedict’s words draw many to explore the Rule more deeply:
Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.
Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from the heavens that every day calls out this charge: “If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts (Psalm 95:8).”
Therefore we intend to establish a school for God’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. … But as we progress in this way of live and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.
Today, the Rule of Benedict continues to serve as a guide for those who seek God individually and in community. Short in length, written in clear language and translated in many languages, it combines practical rules for living with pages of sublime spirituality. Fifteen centuries after its creation, the key values inherent in the Rule are pertinent to ordinary life.
Suggesting ways to seek and celebrate God in daily life, the Rule fosters listening, hospitality, humility, embracing change, respect for people, learning, prayer and work. It envisions a community that works to support each person’s developing relationship with God and others. Members live and work together, seeking God through living the Christian life.
The Rule of Benedict calls the community to open their hearts in service to those in the community and to others, wherever they may be. Benedictines are to receive all who come to the monastery, believers and nonbelievers, as Christ.
The Rule highlights the importance of a balance of daily work and prayer. No work is considered beneath a monastic. The purpose of work is to provide service to others and an opportunity for personal development. A commitment to a balanced life is the backbone of Benedict’s document and this message still resonates among those who seek to incorporate spirituality into their everyday lives.
The Benedictine tradition lives through the centuries as testament to the strength and applicability of its message. Modern Benedictine communities live the values of the Rule in ways that apply to their local environment and to the unique skills of each member.
We, sisters in the community of Benedictine Women of Madison, emphasize values from the Rule in our mission of weaving prayer, hospitality, justice and care for the earth into a shared way of life. The community leads a balanced, communal lifestyle, welcoming guests from all faith traditions to join in a journey of spiritual discovery. We are committed to making life as a Benedictine sister a possibility for all Christian women, Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational. If you feel called to this way of life and would like to know more, please contact me: Lynne Smith, 608-831-9305.
Single Christian women are invited to experience intentional community with us for six months as Benedictine Sojourners. If your heart is calling you in this direction, and you would like to ask questions or talk further about these possibilities, please contact me: Lynne Smith, 608-831-9305.