How the Rule of St. Benedict is Relevant Today
Not Everyone Likes Rules…Really?
“I don’t like rules.”
My eyebrows lifted slightly. At the Episcopal church where I served as the priest, we had just begun a seven-week education and worship season focusing on The Rule of Benedict. My heart’s desire was that everyone would see the value of Benedict’s ideas.
I paused, hoping that the speaker of these words hadn’t noticed my reaction. “Ah … oh, I see.”
I then explained that even though written in the sixth-century for monks in a monastery, The Rule of Benedict has so much to offer us. Benedict gives ways to nurture respectful relationships, compassionate leadership, meaningful worship, and faithful prayer. He guides us in forming a heart open to God and others. He shows us practical ways to follow Jesus and bring his gospel alive in our lives and hearts.
“Many people today like us, who live outside the monastery,” I continued enthusiastically, “have turned to the Rule as a guide for a God-centered life.” I then paused, eagerly awaiting a positive response to my sales pitch for the Rule.
“Well,” the disgruntled church member responded, “I still don’t like rules.”
By Jane Tomaine
Novice Mickey, who also doesn’t like rules, is standing in for this un-named parishioner.
You are a visitor on a website that is all about The Rule of St Benedict. How do you feel about rules?
Even if you don’t like rules or are unsure about rules, you might be simply curious to know what this particular Rule is all about.
Whatever brought you to this exploration, I welcome you and give thanks that you are here. I pray that this website will inspire you to learn more about the Rule and Benedictine living.
Photo Credit: Gary Fultz
Why Explore and Follow This Rule?
When I was young, my mother planted morning glories alongside our screened-in porch. The flowers were a vivid blue and truly glorious. The plants flourished not only because the sunlight was perfect for morning glories. They flourished also because they had a trellis to guide and support them as they grew. Without that trellis the plants would have become untidy clumps that didn’t show the beauty of both flower and leaf.
Like the morning glories hooked to the porch trellis, The Rule of Benedict is a spiritual trellis that you and I can cling to that will guide our growth as people of God, helping to bring out the beauty within each of us. The Benedictine trellis can support our relationship with God and others. This stong trellis can shape how our spirit unfolds through good works, prayer, worship, and a balanced way of living. The Benedictine trellis connects deeply to God, and so can foster a meaningful and fulfilling life.
What People Have Said About the Value of The Rule of St. Benedict
People from all walks of life and all branches of Christianity have written about the influence of the Rule on their lives.
In Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict noted Benedictine author and Anglican laywoman Esther de Waal writes that she follows Benedict “to discover how to be human now today, tomorrow and for the rest of my life.” “St. Benedict’s concern,” she explains, “is always to form the underlying attitude and motivation, ‘the disposition of the heart’, which determines the way in which we see and handle our lives.” The Benedictine heart, whether inside or outside the monastery, reaches one hand to God and the other to the world.
Visionary spiritual leader and Benedictine author Sr Joan Chittister describes the Rule as “a model of spiritual development for the average person who intends to live life beyond the superficial or the uncaring.” (From Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today.) Even Buddhists have written about the value of the Rule, noting similarities between their spiritual practices and that of the Benedictine monastics.
What Everyday People Have Said About The Rule of St. Benedict
“Benedict’s teachings are a gift passed down through the ages, providing practical yet deep truths about human nature. The Rule addresses our basic needs for meaning and for belonging. St. Benedict teaches us to be gentle with ourselves and with one another, recognizing Christ in our daily interactions. Wherever we may be in life, we can draw upon this wisdom to lead contemplative lives and to foster life-giving relationships. I find these to be the most deeply satisfying expressions of my faith.”
Oblate of St. Benedict’s Monastery (St. Joseph, MN)
Sr Joan Chittester OSB
“By its size the thin volume titled the Rule of Benedict, written as it was in the sixth century, might at first give one the impression that it can only offer an abbreviated form of ancient Christian spirituality. However, as brief as it is, what Benedict wrote continues to offer readers in-depth contemporary spiritual advice for the twenty-first century.”
The Rev. Dr. Lee Doucette
(The above from Megan and Lee are from Jane’s book, St. Benedict’s Toolbox.)
Note: The Rev Dr. Lee Doucette, faithful Benedictine and Episcopal priest who lived outside the monastery as we do, died in August 2015. At the time of this picture Lee was a member of the Companions of St. Luke. I honor his life and memory here.
Sr Nikki culling Chapter 33 – Monastics and Private Ownership to confirm that Amma Jane is not following this direction in the Rule but is “indulging in this evil practice.”
How Can This Rule Help Me??
We all have our “growing edges.” Perhaps these are things we do that we later regret or thoughts that cloud our days with worry or with judgments of others. Growing edges can be around frustrations that time gets away from us and that our work is never done. A growing edge can be revealed by sadness that God seems far away as we handle the responsibilities of the day. What are your growing edges?
I would like to share with you a few of the verses from The Rule of St. Benedict that have special meaning in my life. Getting out The Rule and reading the verses or remembering them puts me back on the Benedictine track which is really the Gospel track of Jesus.
As you read I invite you to think about how these verses might help you come back on track when those gremlins whisper in your ear? I will share a few thoughts after each quote. (Please notice how much Benedict quotes Holy Scripture.)
“Seeking workers in a multitude of people, God calls out and says again: “Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?’” (Prologue 14,15 & Ps 34:13)
I sure would like good days! Here is St. Benedict’s plan that follows the above.
“…keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim.” (Prologue 17 and Ps 34: 14-15)
Two actions to avoid, two actions to nurture. Let’s focus on doing good and aiming for peace.
“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” (RB 4.20-21)
You and I are to be the hands and heart of Christ in the place we find ourselves.
How do we keep the love of Christ before all else? Here is a touchstone verse from the Rule. It’s in bold type below to highlight the importance of these words in our Christian life.
“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ.” (RB 72.11)
I try to keep this verse before me as much as I can. It is a challenge because my own motives in any situation can get in the way. But I keep trying.
“Place your hope in God alone.” (RB 4.41)
This verse reminds me to let go of worry or anxiety and return to trust in God.
“Do not grumble or speak ill of others”. (RB 4.39-40)
But it’s FUN to grumble about others or about unsavory situations in my life!
Sr Bridget: “And then do you know what Sr Espy said to me???”
Whoa! The real truth is that the immediate and short-lived benefit of grumbling has after effects. Grumbling creates strained and inauthentic relationships. Grumbling feeds an overall dissatisfaction with others and with life in general. St. Benedict was aware of this truth.
“The abbot and prioress must be chaste, temperate and merciful, always letting mercy triumph over judgment (James 2:13) so that they too may win mercy. They must hate faults but love the members. (RB 64.9b-10)
The superiors of the monastery are asked to live by a high standard, yet a standard I strive for, too.
Mercy can be a goal in our actions and internal musings about self and others.
“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (RB 53.1 and Matthew 25:35)
I like to think that Jesus’ words about welcoming the stranger apply to people whom I meet but also people whom I already know. isn’t it often harder to have an open heart with those people we know?
“Listen readily to holy reading and devote yourself often to prayer.” (RB 4.55-56)
Benedict embraces the power of private prayer, especially “holy reading,” lectio divina in his native Latin.
I could go on forever and must stop. But not yet. One more!
“Everyone has personal gifts from God, one this and another that” (1 Cor 7:7). It is, therefore, with some uneasiness that we specify the amount of food and drink for others. However, with due regard for the infirmities of the sick, we believe that a half bottle of wine a day is sufficient for each.” (RB 40.1-3)
I don’t even drink wine but thought you might enjoy seeing these verses. Keep in mind that St. Benedict lived in what is today Italy. Wine was the water of the day. Benedict goes on to say that really, monastics shouldn’t drink at all. However…
“…since the monastics of our day cannot be convinced of this” let us at least (Jane’s emphasis) agree to drink moderately, and not to the point of excess.” (RB 40.6)
I think Benedict sounds a tad exasperated here. Yet it is also one instance of many in the Rule where Benedict’s compassion for humanness finds expression. Please note that many Benedictine monasteries today are producers of great wines. An example follows.
The monk about to taste the wine is a Member of the Abbaye de Lérins Cistercian brotherhood. They make highly prized organic wines on their 20-acre vineyard. © ABBAYE DE LÉRINS
Explore the wines of Abbaye de Lérins here.
Benedictine monasteries also make beer for all the beer lovers. One of these is the Benedictine Brewery of Mount Angel Abbey in Mount Angel, Oregon. From their website:
One of only three breweries in the United States owned and operated by monks, this Benedictine craft beer uses locally sourced hops grown on Abbey land and water from the monks’ well. These include the Brewery’s flagship beer, Black Habit, which has received an enthusiastic reception from the brewing community and beer lovers
Fr. Martin Grassell, OSB – Brewery General Manager
Check out Benedictine Brewery
Beer only available on site – Do a retreat and have a beer!
Are You Ready to Learn More?
Are you ready to grow on the Benedictine trellis?
Here are some links to resources on this website. Just click on where you would like to explore and you will be zipped to that page.