st. benedict's spirituality

(Fr. Robert)

St. Benedict is a towering and ecumenical saint, celebrated on the Catholic, and also the Episcopal/Anglican, and also Lutheran Calendars. And he is reverenced in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Without him the Camaldolese wouldn’t be—we Benedictines who follow St. Benedict’s Rule. Now would our Oblate family be, since our shared charism is also Benedictine.

One thinks of the thousands of abbeys, monasteries, convents down through the 1500 years following the Rule of St. Benedict, the hundreds of thousands of monks, nuns, sisters, Oblates and others influenced by his spirituality.

Many hundreds of books and articles have been written about Benedict’s spirituality as expressed in his Rule. Where does one begin in exploring that spirituality.

The highly reputed scholar of St. Benedict, Fr. Terrence Kardong, O.S.B., recommends that we begin with a foundational theme of the Rule, that is there all the way through, explicitly or at least implicitly. He terms this: “The Divine Approach, the Presence of God.” He notes that St. Benedict stresses this Divine Presence in every aspect and element of the monastic day (and night), in every nook and cranny of the monastery. We would hold that this would also be true of every Christian home and life. So we are called, the Rule teaches, to open our eyes to the “deifying light” and the ears of our hearts to “the voice from heaven which daily calls out to us:

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” It doesn’t depend just on our efforts to remain open to this Presence, but primarily to God who is constantly reaching out to us, anticipating our yearning. And so St. Benedict quotes Isaiah quoting God: “And even before you ask me, I will say to you, “Here I am.” Not just there I was, or will be, but right now, right here, here I am. And this echoes the great I Am of God’s self revelation to Moses in Exodus, and to Jesus’ several revealing of himself as “I am.”

And this Divine Presence isn’t a severe, judgemental Presence, God’s spiritual voice not terrifying for the committed monk (and Christian) St. Benedict insists: “What, dear brothers, is sweeter than the voice of the Lord calling to us? See how the Lord in His love shows us the way of life.” Of course Christ Himself is that “way, truth and life,” and so St. Benedict’s injunction that “nothing is to be preferred to the love of Christ.”

All this is not always evident at first, but St. Benedict assures us that with our effort and God’s grace, this awareness and spirit becomes more ongoing in our lives: “As we progress in this way of life and faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delights of love.” This resonates with Christ’s first great commandment, to “love God with all our heart…” and with Christ’s invitation, “abide in me, abide in my love.” And with the basic New Testament affirmation that “God is love.”

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