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

Jan 21, 63. To love chastity. 64. To hate no man. 65. To have no jealousy or envy. 66. Not to love strife. 67. To fly from vainglory. 68. To reverence one's seniors. 69. To love one's juniors. 70. To pray for one's enemies in the love of Christ. 71. To make peace with those with whom one is at variance before the setting of the sun. 72. 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.

Several of these tools given today concern peace and peace-making: Not to love strife. 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. Our aim should not be just to preserve a quiet life but to go out of our way to make peace. That is where the beatitude of the peacemakers lies. How do we make peace? As much by our suffering as by our activity. It is made by refusing to return hostility, by the gentle answer that turns away anger. It is made by being prepared to give up one's rights, our pet scheme, and our opinion where nothing more is at stake than our own interests and where the common good, the peace of the community, is at stake on the other side. We are called to be signs of the Kingdom, especially in the pursuit of perfect charity. But before we can be a sign to all people of God we must first be a sign to one another. Insisting, contradicting, and digging in one's heels-all that shows a lack of charity and humility, a deficiency in the art of listening. To listen to others requires humility and charity, for it is basic to listening that others may possibly have something to say from which I can profit. I have not cornered the market on ideas. The art of listening and peace-making is essential to the Christian and especially to the Benedictine, as our Rule begins with the word: Listen. St Benedict listened to God, to the Church, to his Community. He was a man of peace.

Jan 20, 44. To fear the day of judgment. 45. To be in dread of hell. 46. To desire everlasting life with all spiritual longing. 47. To keep death daily before one's eyes. 48. To keep guard at all times over the actions of one's life. 49. To know for certain that God sees one in every place. 50. To dash upon Christ one's evil thoughts the instant they come to one's heart, and to manifest them to one's spiritual father. 51. To keep one's mouth from speech that is wicked or full of guile. 52. Not to love much speaking. 53. Not to speak words that are vain or such as provoke laughter. 54. Not to love much or noisy laughter. 55. To listen willingly to holy reading. 56. To apply oneself frequently to prayer. 57. Daily with tears and sighs to confess one's sins to God in prayer, and to amend these evils for the future. 58. Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh. 59. To hate one's own will. 60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, being mindful of that precept of the Lord: "What they say, do ye; but what they do, do ye not" 61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is so, but first to be holy that one may be truly so called. 62. To fulfil the commandments of God daily by one's deeds.

First be holy, that one may truly be called so... From this chapter we see that there is nothing sentimental or abstract about St Benedict understanding of holiness. Holiness is not an invitation to certain spiritual feelings or thoughts about holiness. It is something concrete. This chapter speaks of loving others, doing them no wrong, being patient, forgiving and cheerful, meek, honest and true, performing our daily duties, giving ourselves to prayer and reading events in the light of Scripture-and much else. As Blessed John Henry Newman put it: "Is not holiness the result of many patient, repeated efforts after obedience, gradually working on us and first modifying and changing our hearts?" The challenge of holiness may be difficult, but as Newman goes on to point out "we dwell in the full light of the Gospel and the full grace of the Sacraments" (PS I, 344).

Jan 19, 22. Not to follow the promptings of anger. 23. Not to seek an occasion of revenge. 24. Not to foster deceit in one's heart. 25. Not to make a feigned peace. 26. Not to forsake charity. 27. Not to swear, lest perhaps one perjure oneself. 28. To utter the truth with heart and lips. 29. Not to render evil for evil. 30. To do no wrong to anyone, but to bear patiently any wrong done to oneself. 31. To love one's enemies. 32. Not to speak ill of those who speak ill of us, but rather to speak well of them. 33. To suffer persecution for justice' sake. 34. Not to be proud. 35. Not to be given to wine. 36. Not to be a glutton. 37. Not to be given to sleep. 38. Not to be slothful. 39. Not to be a murmurer. 40. Not to be a detractor. 41. To put one's trust in God. 42. To attribute any good one sees in oneself to God and not to oneself. 43. But always to acknowledge that the evil is one's own, and to attribute it to oneself.

Today we shall focus on the 26th tool: Not to forsake charity. This is a striking maxim. St Benedict says we should never abandon charity. There are many ways forsaking charity: we may simply give up trying to put another's needs before our own. We may lead a narrow, limited life with the minimum amount of good works, as little threatened by the needs of others as possible. We may decide that the best way of dealing with so-and-so is to keep right out of the way. I may define strictly what my business is and what not my business is. There are in numerous ways, attitudes that replace charity in us, and that are really a deviation from it. To really love is difficult, costly. Our love must be founded on the love of Christ; only then will it survive and be strengthened. Only then will it not depend on other people, on their response.


©SBVM 2013