Enlarging the Heart
Daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict
By a Benedictine of Saint Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde
“… as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God’s commandments.”
(From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict)
St Benedict wrote his Rule for monks some fifteen centuries ago. Driven by his love of Christ, he wanted to establish his monastery as a “school of the Lord’s service”: a place where people who truly seek God could find him; places where “authentic Gospel values prevail”(1); where nothing whatever would be preferred to Christ. The Rule of St Benedict spread all over Europe, and had an enormous influence on the life and spirituality of the Latin Church. It continues to inspire monks, nuns, and countless lay people throughout the world today. Like many monasteries we divide the Rule into sections so that the whole Rule is covered over a period of three months. The commentaries will follow the sequence of the sections.
(1) Pope John Paul II, to Benedictine Abbots, 23 September 1996
But this very obedience will then only be acceptable to God and pleasing to men if what is commanded be done without hesitancy, tardiness, lukewarmness, murmuring, or a manifestation of unwillingness; because the obedience which is given to superiors is given to God; for He Himself has said: “He who hears you hears Me.” And this obedience ought to be given by the disciple with a ready will, because “God loves a cheerful giver.” For if the disciple obeys with ill will, and murmur not only with his lips but also in his heart, even though he fulfil the command, nevertheless he will not be acceptable to God, who regards the heart of the murmurer; for such a deed he receives no reward; nay, he rather incurs the punishment of murmurers, unless he amends, and makes satisfaction.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” “Cheerfulness is a sign of a generous and mortified person, who forgetting all things, even herself, tries to please God in all she does for souls. Cheerfulness is often a cloak which hides a life of sacrifice, continual union with God, fervour and generosity. A Person who has this gift of cheerfulness often reaches a great height of perfection. For God loves a cheerful giver, and He takes close to his heart the religious who loves.” (St Teresa of Calcutta)
CHAPTER 5: Of Obedience Sept 22
The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This obedience is characteristic of those who prefer nothing to Christ; who, on account of the holy service to which they have obliged themselves, or on account of the fear of hell, or for the glory of eternal life, as soon as anything has been commanded by their superior, as though it were commanded by God Himself, cannot suffer a moment’s delay in fulfilling this command. It is of these that the Lord said: “At the hearing of the ear they have obeyed Me.” And again to teachers He says: “He that hears you hears Me.” Therefore, such as these, immediately putting aside their private occupation and forsaking their own will, with their hands quickly disengaged and leaving unfinished what they were about, with the instant step of obedience, fulfil by their deeds the word of him who commands; and so, as it were at the same instant, the command of the master and its perfect fulfilment by the disciple are, in the swiftness of the fear of God, speedily carried out together by those upon whom presses the desire of attaining eternal life. These, therefore, seize upon that narrow way of which the Lord says: “Narrow is the way that leads to life”; inasmuch as they, not living according to their own will, neither obeying their own desires and pleasures, but walking according to the judgment and command of another, live in community and desire to have an Abbot over them. Such as these, without doubt, fulfil that saying of the Lord: I came “not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.”
St Benedict sees obedience as important for the renunciation of self-will. The heart of original sin is the inclination to do our own will contrary to the will of God, the tendency to follow our own desires of the moment even when they bring us to the greatest evil. But the way of conversion, holiness, is the way of renunciation of self in order to love God more than ourselves, in order to love not merely the small good of a satisfaction of our own desires, but the great good, the universal and perfect good desired by God. In this universal good, we find not merely satisfaction but peace and happiness which is the loving plan of God. That is why St Benedict says there is no love of Christ without the foundation of obedience by which we renounce our attachments and self-love in order to unite ourselves to Christ. The meaning of our obedience is deeply spiritual: the interior transformation worked by complete dedication to the will of Christ. The monk obeys in order to unite himself to Christ. The task commanded is secondary. One obeys in order to serve and to enter into God’s plan of salvation.
- To love chastity.
- To hate no man.
- To have no jealousy or envy.
- Not to love strife.
- To fly from vainglory.
- To reverence one’s seniors.
- To love one’s juniors.
- To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
- To make peace with those with whom one is at variance before the setting of the sun.
- And never to despair of God’s mercy.
Behold, these are the instruments of the spiritual art, which, if they be constantly employed by day and by night, and delivered up on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself has promised: “Eye has not see, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him.” And the workshop in which we are to labour diligently at all these things is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.
To love chastity. St Benedict says not merely to observe chastity or practise it, but to love it. The first and essential mark of consecrated persons is that they have embraced a life of dedicated chastity for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of Christ. To love chastity: St Benedict indicates a positive approach that turns upside down all notions of repression or mere obligation. It represents an attitude of mind that is not denying, but affirming. Our chastity begins by belonging to Christ and ends by belonging to everyone; its sets we free to love God and each one with whom we come into contact with an undivided heart. It enables us to devote our whole lives to the single-minded task of loving Christ, in whom we find all men. It is, as St John Paul II put it, “a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.” There must be more love in us because we are chaste.