Luke 22:24 –27
It is a well known fact that in the church of the West, even in the civilization of the West, the Rule of St. Benedict stands alone and above other monastic rules. Those who follow the voice of St. Benedict in his Rule may not be a large number today. Hardly the number of the stars of heaven that the poetry of the day would have us believe. But it remains true that following this Rule is following not only the oldest, but also the most enduring of Gospel paths. The Rule has lasted a very long time, from at least the 6th century. To follow it is to be in a path of tradition that outreaches many others. The Rule has endured to the 21st century. In fact, interest in the Rule and the way of life it lays out has increased in the past generation. It has reached beyond monasteries of men and women to become a light for the ordinary Christian of many traditions. The people who come to our St. Benedict Center bear witness to that. And those who come to join us in the Work of God have certainly found a rhythm and prayer that responds to them.
What is this enduring quality in the Rule that keeps it going from one generation one century to another and makes its appeal so broad? The answer lies simply in wisdom. The Rule is one of the true voices of Lady Wisdom as she calls out to wandering and searching humanity. Those who hear her voice in St. Benedict’s Rule have found silver and gold; they have found a hidden treasure.
The man, monk and abbot we remember today is above all a person of wisdom. St. Benedict stands in that long line of men and women who have lived deeply the human life and reflected on it, and in turn are now handing it on to us. At the heart of Benedict’s way is a voice, a call. It picks up the call of Lady Wisdom as found in the Wisdom tradition of the Scriptures. It is the call of Christ, God’s incarnate wisdom, to find life through him and in him. It is the voice of the master, the teacher, who wants to share what he has experienced of God and humanity. It is the voice of love. The loving father caring for his children, the loving master who gently urges us in the right direction toward life. We hear the loving Christ who not only gives us his word and his commandment of love, but who puts his words into action by giving his life on the cross, thus loving until the end. Or as St. Benedict might say it, persevering in the will of his Father even unto death.
Just as the teacher of wisdom says, “My child, if you want life, then listen to the ways of wisdom; seek her, pursue her, follow her paths.” So we hear Benedict in the midst of his disciples saying: Listen to me, hear my words, my message, then live by them. And you will find life. And what do my words point to; what is the real guide that you need for your life: the Gospel is our guide. With that we can set out on the way.
One reason why Benedict and his tradition has lasted in the Christian community is because it is eminently practical in the spiritual life. Practical in the sense that it is eminently wise. It is wise because it begins with human beings and guides them to the face of God. Wisdom in the traditional sense is not just information, data gathering, but living in a deeply human manner. And in so doing, living in the presence and love of God himself. In traditional language, true wisdom leads to the fear of God. To live wisely is to live with God and in God. To live wisely is to live in God’s love of us, Christ’s love of us and our love of each other. To live this wise way, is to live in peace. Benedict structures life so that we are always in that environment. Growing wise in God, finding God in our daily life with one another.
And where does wisdom come from. The wise person knows that wisdom comes from listening. Listening to the voice within; listening to the voice of masters, teachers. Listening to the word of a confrere; wisdom comes through the word of the abbot. And all this listening is crowned by listening to the Scriptures, the ultimate gift that contains the Wisdom of God. The wise heart, says Benedict, is forever expanding, forever opening to the deep rhythms of human life, forever expanding in a love that is beyond words. And after listening, finding a home in the word we have heard.
Whenever we see a picture or a statue of St. Benedict, he will be holding his Rule. In his hand will be the written words of his wisdom. Sometimes the Rule will be held up for us, as though it were his voice calling out to us: Listen, my child. Sometimes it might be held closer to his heart, as though to remind us that this rule is the precious distillation of his experience of life. But above all, his Rule is rooted in that tradition that says the way to God is found in the way of being truly human in the here and now. The path to eternal life lies in an awareness that God is present here and now; God has left not only his traces in creation, but his full imprint. Benedict’s legacy is to leave us a guide to make sure we find that imprint in our daily interactions with each other, in the tools we use, in the people that come to us, in the very persons of our confreres, in all that is both strong and weak.
On this feast of our Father Benedict, we once again are summoned to the qualities of humanity that reflect God; we are asked to listen again to the voice of wisdom summoning us beyond the smallness of our lives into the depths and knowledge of the love of Christ. Today we are summoned by our Father Benedict to take heed of the two preferences that must absorb our being: the love of Christ dwelling among us and the daily rhythm of the Work of God. This Work of God is nothing less than listening to the wisdom of God made manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. And in our listening, to be led together by Christ to Life Everlasting. Amen.
Fr. Prior Joel Macul OSB