I’m delighted to introduce you to Benedict of Nursia. Perhaps you recognize his name as the famous monk and author of the Rule of Benedict. This may be your first meeting with this “holy man of God,” so my desire is to go easy on historical information, and in fact we know little about the 6th century historical Benedict. Rather we learn of him through the influence of two documents, The Rule for Monks, and Gregory the Great’s Dialogues.
We can also meet the person of Benedict through the lives of dedicated Benedictine women and men who practice his teachings.
This is a personal account of my first meeting with Benedict and how he began to touch my life and continues to influence my 60 years in a Benedictine community.
Kneeling in the back of the oratory (chapel) at St. Vincent Hospital, Sioux City, Iowa, in 1951, I watch the sisters in their white habits gather for prayer. They rise together, face one another, chant and bow, offering their evening praise, The Liturgy of Hours. Psalms, hymns, scripture reading and silence with a concluding prayer comprise the service.
“A community prays together,” I learn from my older sister. “We pause throughout the day for prayer, to remember God’s presence in our lives.” “And what about your work with the patients?” I ask. “Nurses will care for them in our absence.” In looking back, I now recognize how many of Benedict’s enduring values from his Rule I was seeing lived in those 30 minutes: community, work balanced with prayer, scripture reading and silence; conversation, and dialogue.
After a lengthy discernment and conversations with the sisters, I chose to embrace a call to become one of them and a learner of all things Benedictine. The Gospel, the Rule of Benedict, and the community would be my guides.
To find at age 22 a path that encourages the use of my every gift and even talents unknown to me is no small blessing. But Benedictine life is not just about finding one’s path for now, but about a path into the future.
The words of Thomas Merton resound in my heart through the years:
There is nothing whatever of the ghetto spirit in St. Benedict. That is the wonderful thing both about the Rule and about the Saint: the freshness, the liberty of spirit, the sanity, the broadness, the healthiness of early Benedictine life.
This quotation helps direct our Benedictine community outward. In this brief narrative however, I must omit how Benedict’s relationship to the land, nature, and the created cosmos are part of our outreach at Holy Wisdom Monastery, and how Benedict might rightly be called a steward of creation. Many other aspects of the Rule must be passed over also.
Saint Benedict speaks to me today. Like his little community, the community of Benedictine Women of Madison is little. We too choose to live, pray and work together. Daily we attend to his admonition “to receive all guests with the courtesy of love.” This spirit of hospitality is deep in our hearts and daily creates our sisters’ ecumenical community. Like Benedict, our theology is a lived experience. A monastic writer says, “a theologian is one who prays and the person who prays can be called a theologian.”
St. Benedict speaks to me about our future. From this seed of hospitality many ecumenical communities grow at Holy Wisdom Monastery: the Oblate Community, an intentional community of women and men; Sunday Assembly, a worshipping community; Benedictine Sojourners, a temporary form of commitment; and volunteers and donors.
My introduction to Benedict is incomplete at best; it is a beginning. Become a pilgrim with me and together we will be learners, ordinary persons on the path that leads to fullness of life.
To learn more about Benedict and the sisters’ community, Benedictine Women of Madison, contact Sister Lynne Smith at 608-831-9305.