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
The fourth degree of humility is, that if, in this very obedience, hard and contrary things, nay even injuries, are done to him, he should take hold silently on patience, and, bearing up bravely, grow not weary nor depart, according to that saying of the Scripture: “He who has persevered to the end shall be saved.” And again: “Let thy heart be strengthened and wait thou for the Lord.” And, showing how the faithful man ought to bear all things, however contrary, for the Lord, it says in the person of those who suffer: “For Thee we suffer death all the day long; we are regarded as sheep for the slaughter.” And, confident in the hope of divine reward, they go on with joy, saying: “But in all these things we overcome because of Him Who has loved us.” Similarly in another place the Scripture says: “Thou hast proved us, O Lord; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried by fire; Thou hast led us into the snare, and hast laid a heavy burden on our backs.” And to show that we ought to be under a superior, it goes on to say: “Thou hast placed men over our heads.”
Moreover, these, fulfilling the precept of the Lord by patience in adversities and injuries, when struck on one cheek offer the other; to him who takes away their coat they leave also their cloak; forced to walk a mile, they go two; with Paul the Apostle they bear with false brethren and with persecution; and bless those that curse them.
Humility has something to do with bearing difficulties and trials with a quiet mind, patiently. God himself tempts no one (James 1:12-13), but he does allow us to be tried in order to probe our faith and faithfulness, and sometimes to educate. It is a revelation of our ways; in such moments we see whether God is the true rampart of our existence. How ready are we to follow God’s lead everywhere, even when we seem to be lost? Without passing through testing times, would we be able to answer this? Temptations and trials give us a chance to say yes to God; in the Bible that this kind of testing is a privilege of the Chosen people, reserved for those walking in God’s paths. That’s why St Benedict here understands testing to be a source of joy since temptation is God’s way of taking us seriously (cf James 1:2 and 1 Peter 1:6.) When we pray lead us not into temptation or make us not enter into the trial, we are not asking to be spared all situations of temptation and trial, which would mean coming to a complete standstill. We are confidently asking God not to abandon us to the power of evil at such a critical moment. Guard us from consenting to temptation; distance us from evil; do not let us be swamped by the struggles and confusions of the natural order. This is the teaching of one who knew temptation in the wilderness. Thus the prayer reminds us of the fragility of our nature and of the need to commit ourselves to God’s power, to that personal relationship with him which is the ground of prayer and the remedy for temptation.
The third degree of humility is, that a monk for the love of God submit himself to his superior in all obedience, imitating thereby the Lord, of Whom the Apostle says: He became “obedient to death.”
Again St Benedict puts before us the example of Christ. Obedience is not a matter of carrying out orders. It goes much deeper than that. To obey is to commit oneself as Christ did, to make a total offering of oneself out of love for God and others. It is an attitude of soul that spontaneously expresses itself to everyone whom the monk meets. It implies that we are willing to put our own desires aside and prefer another’s wishes to our own. Obedience is another word for love. The Father’s will was for Our Lord his “food”, his very life.
The second degree of humility is, that a monk, loving not his own will, delight not in gratifying his desires, but carry out in his deeds that saying of the Lord: I came “not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.” And again the Scripture says: “Self-will merits punishment, but self-constraint wins a crown.”
As we saw above (see 29 May), by self-will, St Benedict means wilfulness, self-love, seeking our own way at every level; he means all those tendencies in us opposed to God and others, all those tendencies that prevent us from loving God and others as we should. In this step of humility St Benedict puts the example of Christ before us. The monk likens himself to Christ in his obedience to the Father. Giving up our own will becomes an expression of that love which impels us to imitate Christ in his self-giving to the Father. Looking at Christ, we see that renouncing our own way does not mean that we become spineless creatures. On the contrary, to give up our own will demands an energetic use of our own will. To give up our own will strengthens our capacity to give and to love, to love without self-seeking. It is something positive. Indeed, renunciation does not mean “giving up”; it means “giving”, a free-will offering to God.