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
CHAPTER 47: OF ANNOUNCING THE HOUR FOR THE WORK OF GOD Nov 26
It shall be the duty of the Abbot to announce the hour for the Work of God both by day and by night, either by giving the signal himself or by assigning this task to such a careful brother that all things may be done at their proper times.
Let those who have been commanded intone the psalms and antiphons, each in his order, after the Abbot. Let no one presume to sing or to read unless he can fulfil this office to the edification of the hearers. And let it be done with humility, gravity, and reverence, and by him whom the Abbot has appointed.
Our second Abbess once said: “It is well to remember that the bells that call us to choir have received a special blessing; bells have a state of grace, so to speak, for calling us to choir. We must let them be eloquent to us, obeying them festinantes (with haste) as the Blessing of Bells puts it: “and when they hear this ringing, may devotion increase in them, so that hastening to the heart of Holy Mother Church, they may sing to Thee.” The bell’s function is to call us to prayer; we must respond to this call. That is what constitutes the nobility of the bell, its dignity.”
CHAPTER 46: OF THOSE WHO COMMIT ANY OTHER FAULTS Nov 25
If anyone, while engaged in any sort of work, whether in the kitchen, in the cellar, in serving, in the bakery, in the garden, in any occupation, or in any place does anything amiss or breaks or loses anything or offends in any way whatever, and does not come at once before the Abbot or the community and of his own accord do penance and confess his fault, let him be more severely punished if it is revealed by another. If however, the guilt of his offence is hidden in his own soul, let him manifest it to the Abbot only or to the spiritual seniors, who know how to heal their own wounds and not to disclose or publish those of others.
Yesterday we saw the importance of the humble, spontaneous, and immediate admission of mistakes in choir; here St Benedict extends this practice to broken objects and any kind of material damage. At the end he recommends the humble admission of hidden faults. Again, St Benedict nowhere supposes perfection but he does require a sense of responsibility, accountability.
Here too we find the correspondence between material and spiritual, outer and inner that runs throughout St Benedict’s Rule. He suggests that the routine repentance for external and visible faults – breaking or damaging things – can help guide us in matters of deeper inward weaknesses and tendencies. In the fifth step of humility and in the chapter 4, the tools of good works, St Benedict had urged us to dash at the feet of Christ our troublesome thoughts and to lay them open to our spiritual father. As we have seen, there is a danger to our soul in hiding things, even from ourselves. Once brought to the light, troublesome thoughts are deprived of their power to harm. The more we allow ourselves to be blind to our true self, the further we are moving away from God who is Truth itself. And when one tries to hide a personal weakness from others, there is a tendency to become self-justifying and proud. Everything is brought to light, revealed in humility to those who will respond in love, protect our reputations and treat our wounds well. Great freedom and peace come from living in the light.
CHAPTER 45: OF THOSE WHO MAKE MISTAKES IN THE ORATORY Nov 24
If anyone, while reciting a psalm, responsory, antiphon, or lesson, makes a mistake and does not make satisfaction, humbling himself before all, let him be subjected to more severe punishment, inasmuch as he refused to repair by humility the fault he committed through negligence. Boys shall receive corporal punishment for similar faults.
To fail to prepare prayer, to pray thoughtlessly or carelessly is for St Benedict something that strikes at the heart of the spiritual life of the Community and the individual monk. St Benedict never expects perfection but he does require a sense of responsibility. Here he follows monastic tradition which teaches us not to be too easy-going even in small matters. In the oratory especially, at the Work of God, where all is sacred, a mistake calls for humble satisfaction. To fail in humility is always a serious fault for St Benedict, but even more so in the oratory where everything recalls the presence of God.