Friday, July 11, 2008

Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia

Today is the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, most famous for the "Rule of St. Benedict," which has had an incredible influence not just on monasticism, but on Western Christianity and, I would argue, western civilization itself.
What I have appreciated in the years since I was first exposed to Benedict's Rule was the necessity of discipline in Christian prayer. Prayer does not just happen, and it does not grow haphazardly. It is something that must be planned for and lived out. Of course, the Rule of St. Benedict is not terribly practical for most of us, though its underlying principles can find expression in many aspects of life outside the monastery. But I would suggest that a personal Rule, a personal discipline, is a magnificent way to progress in the Christian faith.
An ally in this venture would be Martin Thornton, who has included in his book "Christian Proficiency" an entire chapter devoted to developing a personal Rule. Here is what he says about the importance of a Rule:

"Rule" is a literal translation of the Latin word 'regula,' - rule, pattern, model, example - from which we derive 'Regular' as both noun and adjective. Both words are technical terms of ascetical theology associated with, but by no means exclusive to, St. Benedict, and they present...a problem...their meaning is not quite the same as that of common us. Rule, llike pattern, model, or system, is an essentially singular word, in some ways directly opposite to a list of "rules," and a 'Regular' Christian is one who "lives the Rule."
It implies status more than quality, efficiency more than keenness or brilliance; volunteers and conscripts might prove braver and more zealous than regular soldiers but they are unlikely to be more generally proficient.
Let it be said at once that the Rule is a help and not a hindrance, something liberating and not restrictive, expansive not burdensome, in accord with the freedom of the Christian spirit and absolutely opposed to 'legalism.' It is always the means to an end and never an end in itself...

A rule could be as simple as saying the Lord's Prayer a few times a day. It is not the amount, but our faithfulness to it. And if we are faithful, God will open up new doors and new revelation to us that will continue to draw us closer to Him. All we need do is take a small step, be faithful, and listen well.
May the Lord bless all his people through the example of St. Benedict, and through a life of devotion and service, modeled by Benedict, may we all come to the rewards of a righteous life.

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