On this feast day of St Benedict, it is good for us to reflect on his Rule. The sixth-century Rule of St Benedict is a code written for the foundation and maintenance of a Christian monastery. It has been in use for the last fifteen hundred years as the basis for every Benedictine monastery and convent and for many other religious orders. Benedict’s Rule is full of practical wisdom and principles of human relationship which can be applied to almost any situation where people work together.
Benedict calls us to make an act of the will – to make a decision to follow the path of God’s commandments. Throughout the Rule, the three Benedictine vows of Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life provide a driving force. Benedict sees spiritual maturity as something which is the product of a certain type of life. It can be accomplished only through a lifetime of wholeness. This wholeness consists of finding our proper place in the world and giving glory to God by finding our peace in His will. Once of the ways to find this place of simplicity and wholeness is by pursuing stability of life.
The emphasis on stability is vital in our personal lives and in our Christian homes. In a fast-changing world where mobility is taken for granted, it is all too easy to move house, church, or job simply because we are bored or restless and think things will be better somewhere else.
Christian husbands and wives are forced into stability by their marriage vows and by the need to provide this stability for their family. We can either rebel against these enforced enclosures or we can see them as the crucible of our own spiritual refinement. The constraints of family life can either be the chains that bind us or the force of stability which gives us true freedom. Stability reminds us that we may run away from others, but we cannot run away from ourselves.
Obedience is the second of the Benedictine vows. If we take our marriage vows seriously, then we have the basis for a life of obedience. Obedience is being in a constant attitude of self-sacrificial love towards our spouse and our children. The family life demands a regular sacrifice of our will and our desire to the good of others. Benedict never pretends that obedience is easy. Of the three vows, this is perhaps the most difficult one to attain on our own.
The last Benedictine vow is a vow of conversion of life. One of the ways to prepare for and co-operate with this conversion is to develop a constant awareness of God’s presence. Throughout the Rule, Benedict reminds the monks to be awake, to be alert, and watchful for the Lord’s presence. This watchful awareness of God is a humble state of dependence on the heavenly Father. To nurture this awareness of God is to nurture our humility because an awareness of God reveals our own frail condition. We are called by our baptism to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. We are called to cooperate with God’s grace and to prepare the ground for that work which he is pleased to do within us. The demands of our marriage and family life are more than enough to lead us to that total conversion which God provides through Jesus Christ.
Today, on the feast of St Benedict, let us give thanks for this great saint and for his Rule. And let us pray for stability, for obedience, and for conversion of life especially in our marriages and in our families.