Reflections on the Feast of Benedict, July, 2012
In Chapter 73: This Rule only a beginning of perfection, we read:
“The reason we have written this Rule is that, by observing it in monasteries, we can show that we have some degree of virtue and the beginnings of monastic life. But for anyone hastening on to the perfection of monastic life, there are the teachings of the early church writers, the observance of which will lead to the very heights of perfection.
“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life? What book of holy writers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator? Then, besides the Conferences of the early church writers, their Institutes and their Lives, there is also the Rule of Basil. For observant and obedient monastics, all these are nothing less than tools for the cultivation of virtues…”
That was the 6th century, a time of limited formal education for the everyday woman and man, and even less of an opportunity for personal ownership of books for most people—even monks and nuns.
In the 15th century Johannes Gutenberg gave us the printing press and in the subsequent centuries education came to the masses, eventually even for girls, and libraries emerged as an entire culture of reading developed.
Today in the 21st century, we monastics still read Ch. 73 of the Rule of Benedict. It still has, I believe, much value for us, with perhaps a translation of both time and culture.
Presently, we have many options for “holy writers,” “conferences of church writers,” and “institutes.” Benedictine historians, Ephrem Hollermann, Dom David Knowles, Laura Swan and Joel Rippinger, give us a view into who and what brought us to the monastic path we are on today. Books by Thomas Merton, David Steindel-Rast, OSB and Bede Griffiths, OSB and ones such as Strangers to the City by Michael Casey, OCSO and Benedictine Sister Jeremy Hall’s Silence, Solitude and Simplicity give us reflections on monasticism in the world in which we live. There are also many scripture scholars that bring a monastic lectio divina to their reflections and their study of the “inspired books of the Old and New Testaments.” And, of course, the contemporary commentaries on the Rule itself, those of Benedictines: Aquinata Boeckman, Terrence Kardong, Patrick Berry and Joan Chittister in her beautiful and award-winning, The Monastery of the Heart, bring us to new insights and contemporary applications on Benedict’s words themselves.
What I am sharing with you is my understanding that a chapter such as Chapter 73 can be valid for us today in a great variety of forms and options. Outside of the realm of hardcover or e-books there are excellent magazines and journals—some more academic, some more practical—that bring new insights and ideas to us on our monastic journey.
I expect monastic topics in the American Benedictine Review, the AIM Bulletin, Cistercian Studies Quarterly and the MID online journal but I am always surprised at how much Benedictine monasteries and their life come up in magazines such as The Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter and other religious and secular magazines, books, television programs and in newspapers.
As we celebrate the Feast of Benedict, I hope that each of us uses “tools (such as the ones I have mentioned) for the cultivation of virtues.” There is such a variety of monastic material, certainly something for everyone to read, think about, learn from and value. Benedict writes, “This Rule is only a beginning of perfection.” We have many other guides along the way.
In the continuation of Jesus' ministry, let us deepen our own monastic hearts to live a life worthy of the Gospel.
Happy Feast Day!
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