Rule of St. Benedict
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, July 11, we celebrate the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia. He is remembered as the founder of monasticism in the Latin-speaking Church. His “Rule of St. Benedict” is still used and studied today, and the various Benedictine orders that follow the Rule are still widespread. St. Benedict certainly had a tremendous influence on the course of our culture for the past fifteen centuries, and we would all do well to share, even a little, his vision of what makes societies healthy and humane.
The bedrock of St. Benedict’s vision is humility. Humility, he says in the Rule, is the root of all virtue. Without humility, we cannot have gratitude to God or true compassion for others. But if we diligently seek for humility, we will grow readily in imitating our Lord’s perfect obedience and total, self-giving love. With humility, we will also find deeper and richer faith, livelier penitence, and stronger hope and joy. The Rule includes whole chapters on how to become more humble, and much of the way St. Benedict organized monastic life is meant to promote humility.
In our own lives, we can strive for humility especially through daily prayer, little acts of sacrifice, frequent examination of conscience and the sacrament of Penance, and a lively practice of charity. Daily prayer grows our humility by bringing us into a deeper relationship with God. As we grow closer to Him, we are able to let go of our false or merely worldly goals, aiming for our ultimate end and happiness, which is eternity in Heaven. Also, praying for the needs of others is an act of charity, and helps us become more attentive to those needs, and less focused only on our own desires. Little acts of sacrifice, such as the traditional times for fast and abstinence, or choosing to spend a little more time with our family instead of work, can unite us to the sufferings of Jesus, and can help us be free from purely secular activities. Examination of conscience teaches us to know our faults and sins more readily, and seeking God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance increases our desire to be more like Him. And charity, especially in how we use our time and our personal gifts, helps us always to be oriented to others. Being with God, desiring His mercy and grace, and being open to the needs and hopes of others is exactly what humility looks like in the lives of all the saints.
St. Benedict also builds his vision and his Rule on the double foundation of “ora et labora,” prayer and work. In Benedictine life, prayer is both liturgical prayer – daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and so forth – and deep and constant personal prayer, including meditation on Scripture (lectio divina), silent prayer, and devotional prayer. The whole of each day is permeated with prayer, according to a community schedule. But work is also important, since God made us to have physical bodies and physical needs, and also because, more prosaically, even monks need to have an income to keep the lights on. For centuries, a major part of the work of most Benedictine monasteries was the production of books; and therefore monasteries also became schools and libraries, the forerunners of universities and seminaries, and the pattern, eventually, even of our parish schools. Even today, many Benedictines conduct schools, including, for example, Conception Abbey Seminary in Missouri and St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, where several of our own seminarians currently study. I am grateful for the Benedictine influence they receive at these fine institutions.
The twin pillars of prayer and work make sense also for our busy lives. We should pray every day. Take a few minutes each morning and evening to thank God for the gifts and graces of the day, to offer Him your hopes and needs, or simply to adore Him in your heart! Read a few verses of the Bible, perhaps the daily Mass readings, or a Psalm. Say an Our Father and a Hail Mary, or an Act of Faith or Hope. None of these kinds of prayer is too long or difficult to put in any schedule, no matter how busy. We can pray while we dress, or drive, or wash dishes, and so on. If we do not pray, it is because we choose not to pray. There is no other excuse, because God is always with us. It takes no effort, but only the practicing of the good habit of prayer, to speak with Him at any time.
Likewise with our work. Most of us work, or have worked, or (if we are young) study so that we can work eventually. But our work is not for or about ourselves. Of course we need to earn a paycheck, and also we seek a certain achievement and fulfillment in our work; these things are not wrong or bad, in themselves. But “work” can be much more than this. Ultimately it is offered to God in union with our prayers and our humility. Work, of any kind, can be a means of doing good for others, and a means of sanctification of the world. Any kind of work is worth doing carefully and well, with gratitude for the opportunity and joy for being able to serve another person. Here in Iowa, we’re still close enough to the family farm to appreciate that hard work is a virtue, but we can still be encouraged to work, not for ourselves, but for others. St. Joseph is always our best example in this.
Lives of humility, prayer, and work for others are, by and large, saintly lives. If we diligently pursue these qualities in our hearts, and teach them to others, we will have a solid foundation for the fullness of our Catholic Faith, and a much healthier society all around. May St. Benedict carry your prayers before the throne of our Savior in Heaven, and bring you every grace and blessing from His mercy! Enjoy these days of summer and the vacations you may be able to take. You are all in my prayers,
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
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