“If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95:8). Prologue 10
Hello! I’m Resident Novice Little Jenny. Welcome to my article unpacking verse 10 of the Prologue. Here’s how it all began.
The Woeful Reality in the Resident Novice World
Resident Novice Miss Sassafras sighed, “My spiritual life is as dry as a navy bean.” The gathered novices hiss in disgust at the thought of such a bean. Several ears flatten. “Not that I have ever eaten a dry navy bean,” she continues. “But my prayer life is not rich and inspiring. I can’t wait to finish and get on with my more interesting chores in the Cloister. I’m bored in chapel, too.”
“You are right, Sass,” mewed Resident Novice Michael James, nodding his head in feline agreement. “I feel less close to God now than when I first became a novice. I know that our humans run into these dry spells, too.” Nods and sighs are seen and heard in the novice quarters.
The novices came to this conclusion –ALL feel dry as a navy bean; in their prayer, the Divine Office, the reading of Scripture, and in their time of silence; really in everything. Their spiritual lives are nothing like they had envisioned and hoped for.
Novice Little Jenny Takes Action
All this really concerned me. Isn’t centering our life around God, or at least trying to, why we are here?
I shared our discussion with Novice Master Br. Ricky In my weekly conference. He responded with a concerned mew, “It sounds like a case of hardness of heart has crept into the resident novices of the Feline Cloister.”
Br. Ricky looked thoughtfully at Resident Novice Little Jenny. “You are our novice scholar, Little Jenny.” At these words I lowered my eyes and gave a tiny purr. Br Ricky pulled out his well-worn The Rule of St. Benedict in Mew. “Why don’t you do some research on this verse.”
“If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts”
(Ps. 95:8). Prologue 10
“Find a reason why each novice feels so disconnected from God. See what’s in the Rule to help them get back on track.”
Henry illustrating a feline with a
Novice Little Jenny is the
Feline Cloister’s Novice Scholar
So, I embarked on the research project on Prologue 10. Here’s what I found out. I hope what I share will help you, too, should your heart be a tad hard…maybe once in a while anyway.
The Importance of Prologue 10 in the Rule
“Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from the heavens that every day calls out this charge: If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts.”
(Ps. 95:8). Prologue 9- 10
These words from Psalm 95 are so important that Benedict places it in his liturgy for Vigils, the first office of the day which takes place before dawn. In her book Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Just for Humans, Sr. Scholastica Muffin, OSB-F paws,
“Every morning this verse rings out life a fanfare calling for a full awakening….Therefore we are to seize this opportunity, to live in the today.” 
Sr Scholastica reminds us that “…we are not dealing with an external hearing [and seeing] but rather with an opening of our internal being.”  This opening comes through having a soft, open heart. If our heart is hard we probably won’t hear or follow God’s call to us, however it comes. Since we don’t want that, let’s look at what a hardened heart actually is.
What is Hardening of the Heart?
I found a wonderful book by a feline Benedictine scholar, Sr. Maria Benedicta Ramos, OSB-F, The Feline Path to God: Mewsings on the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict. Sr. Maria puts her paw right on hardness of heart.
“As we have seen, God’s light shines upon us every day and God’s call invites us to a more abundant life. The problem is that too often we are not on the correct wavelength. We are so concerned with what we are feeling and doing that we do not take the trouble to step back from these immediate preoccupations, and so we are not aware of anything beyond them.” 
This focus on ourselves makes us forget to have any focus on God and who we are to be as Jesus’ hands and heart in this world. Whatever good thoughts and intentions we have rarely take shape.
The Bible calls this “hardness of heart.”
Wilson has a hardened heart and hisses, “I am doing what will benefit me.”
The surface of the heart is toughened so that it becomes progressively impenetrable; nothing can get through to it.”  We have (or had) good will and good intentions, but they are locked behind a tough heart and cannot get out.
It’s not just hardening the heart against people. It is hardening the heart against God and against God’s Word.
Smaragdus of Saint-Michiel, who wrote an amazing commentary on the Rule in the ninth century, sums it up this way – “Those harden their heart who refuse to put into practice what they correctly understand about God’s commandments.” People get sluggish and their hearts harden and their understanding dulls. 
Over and Above #14, 1964 by
Clarence Holbrook Carter (1904-2000)
Does any of this ring true for you? You know what God would have you say or do, but you turn from this and go about your business. The door to care, compassion and generosity is closed. I don’t think that we want to do this, but the way we live can make it all happen this way. The result is loss of focus on God and on our spiritual practices.
My question is this: What makes us harden our hearts??
Novice Little Jenny’s Plan to Explore Hardness of Heart in the Cloister
I decided to mew with several Resident Novices in the Cloister to find out why each one was struggling in their spiritual life, a direct result of a hardened heart. Then I would cull the Rule to find a remedy for each novice’s spiritual condition. This took a lot of prayer!
Perhaps some of what the novices are meowing will sound familiar to you? Listen up.
The Five Causes of a Hardened Heart
In my interviews I found five causes of hardness of heart. I am grateful to both Sr. Maria Benedicta Ramos, OSB-F, PhD-F, (Bio to be submitted) and the noted feline scholar and author Br. Terrence Sebastian Furling, OSB-F, PhD-F, for the help in identifying these five causes. 
Forgetfulness – Novice Clarissa Anne
“To be honest, it is sometimes hard for me to stay focused. I like to play with my catnip toys and take naps. I need others to hold me accountable for something bigger than me. I forget what will help me to reach that something bigger. I get so involved other things that my prayer time gets short-changed. I forget why I am really here – to seek God.”
Using Energy on Things that Don’t Matter – Novice Sebastian Thomas
“I have spent much of my life feeling overwhelmed with so many things to do and not enough time to do them. I know I needed to get my priorities straight so that everything doesn’t seem important. I thought that when I became a novice my life would calm down. I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and could focus on the priority that brought me here – God! But I STILL have a To-Do list. And because I focus on all those to-do’s, my prayer life, my lectio and study all suffer from lack of attention. God seems far away.”
Lack of Self-Knowledge – Novice William
“I don’t know what the problem is. I’m fine as I am. I know that I am a good novice. Things are purring along for me. Br Ricky has mewed to me about the need for humility and less self-focus. This confused me because I’m already doing both!”
Lack of Self Acceptance – Novice Mickey
“Other felines can really bother me. Humans, too. I hiss about their foibles. I’m really judgmental. I know this isn’t what Jesus wants of me. So, then I feel bad and hiss at myself. I get down on myself and can’t mew a positive thought about me. Because I’m critical of myself, I’m critical of everyone else. And I don’t even pray right.”
Somnolence – Novice Miss Sassafras
(I had to look up this word – It means sleepiness, drowsiness, lack of attention.)
After a large yawn, Miss Sassafras mewed this to me. “Praying, going to chapel, doing lectio, studying the Rule all seem like too much work. Plus, I’m bored. The spiritual life should be more exciting. Nothing happens so a nap is the best thing to do. (Miss Sassafras has been seen napping in the Divine Office.)
Benedictine Remedies for the Five Causes of a Hardened Heart
Forgetfulness – We Are to Remember
Benedict stresses that we must intentionally remember God.
“The first step of humility, then, is that we keep the reverence of God always before our eyes (Ps 36:2) and never forget it.” RB 7.10
We must actively seek those paths that help us to progress spiritually. I find that lectio divina, “Holy Reading” of scripture in prayer is an important way to remember God. I do my best to make time for this prayer because Benedict says,
“…while there is still time, while we are in this body and have time to accomplish all these things by the light of life–we must run and do now what will profit us forever.” Prologue 43-44
Using Energy on Things that Don’t Matter – Focus on Your
There are so many felines, humans and situations that vie for our attention. We can spend time meeting these. Maybe this is easier than our spiritual practices. We can see what we have accomplished and check it off the list, right? The danger here is that we can spend time on things that may not be that important to meeting our deepest desires.
Here Benedict is addressing the monastic superior, but we can also take his instructions to heart.
“Above all, they must not show too great a concern for the fleeting and temporal things of this world… they are to remember what is written: Seek first the reign and justice of God, and all these things will be given you as well (Matt 6:33), and again, Those who reverence the Holy One lack nothing (Ps 34:10).
Benedict says use your energy on things that matter, but don’t overdo. Busyness can lead to forgetfulness of what is really important.
”Listen readily to holy reading, and devote yourself often to prayer.” RB 4.33. 35b, 36
“Yet, all things are to be done with moderation on account of the fainthearted.” RB 48.9
Lack of Self-Knowledge – Know Yourself
One of the foundations of monastic life from the beginning is knowing oneself. The heart is hardened by not knowing ourselves well enough to turn from those things within that are controlling us; those things of which we are unaware – pride, anger, resentment, self-focus, affirmation, etc. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses will prevent us from being driven by unknown parts of ourselves.
“Do not gratify the promptings of the flesh” (Gal 5:16); hate the urgings of self-will…shun arrogance” RB 4. 59-60, 69
“Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are, but first be holy that you may more truly be called so. Live by God’s commandments every day…” RB4.62-63
“The seventh step of humility is that we should be ready to speak of ourselves as of less importance and less worthy than others, not as a mere phrase on our lips, but as something we believe in the secret conviction of our hearts.” RB 7.51. 
Betsy has learned to accept herself even though she still loves to chase felines.
“No one is perfect,” she barks.
Lack of Self Acceptance – Turn from Self-Incrimination
Lack of self-acceptance is a form of pride. Pride hardens our hearts. I have heard Novice Mickey mournfully mew, “I’m the worst novice ever!” We all have good parts of ourselves and not so good parts; we all have strengths and weaknesses. It’s part of being feline or human. Can we just accept that in ourselves and get on with what is really important – God and being Christ’s hand and hearts in the world?
“Do not grumble or speak ill of others.” RB 4.39-40
“As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual guide.” RB 4.50
“Place your hope in God alone.” RB 4.41
Somnolence – Wake Up to God’s Light
Benedict is very clear about the need to be awake in life. Br. Terrence puts his paw on somnolence in the religious life, yet what he says can apply to us, too.
“We all tend to a certain somnolence at the Office, at our lectio. And if our life is not filled with as much joy, excitement, and meaningfulness as we want it to be (and as it should be), it is because we are somnolent. We are not wide awake and listening, letting in the divine light, the divine word that comes to us through the Scriptures, in the Office, and in our private lectio. 
We can be sidelined from the joy of God’s grace by not being attentive, by not be looking for and anticipating the inbreaking of God’s light and grace. What happens? We get a hard heart, perhaps even think that God has abandoned us! Benedict says, Wake up!
“Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: “It is high time for us to arise from sleep” (Rom. 13:11).” Prologue 8
“Let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.” Illustrated below
Moving Towards the Heart of Jesus
That’s what I found out about a hardened heart and how to move towards having a heart like Jesus. I would be remiss if I did not mention that prayer is important here. Benedict reminds us that what we cannot do ourselves (which is plenty!) we must ask God “to supply by the help of God’s grace.” Prolgoue 41
Next week I’ll share what I learned with the novices in Chapter. I won’t use names, though. I’ll end with this clarion call from the Rule to help us all get back on track.
“Let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ.” RB 72.11
If you have been helped by reading my article on hardness of heart, I invite you to check our Novice Clarissa Anne’s “Mewsing” on the heart as used n the Rule. You can reach this by tapping your paw here.
It’s been wonderful to be with you. God bless.
Your Companion in Christ and Friend,
Resident Novice Little Jenny
Callie Anne prefers Christ above all
© September, 2023, Jane Tomaine and Novice Little Jenny
 Sr. Scholastica Muffin from her book, Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Just for Humans. Sr. Muffin quotes Aquinata Böckmann, OSB, A Listening Community: A Commentary on the Prologue and Chapters 1-3 of Benedict’s Rule (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2015), 23. Sr. Aquinata is a member of the Tutzing Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Germany and is a well-known and scholarly monastic writer.
 Ibid., 24.
 Sr. Maria Benedicta in her book, The Feline Path to God: Mewsings on the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict, draws from Michael Casey, OCSO, The Road to Eternal Life: Reflections on the Prologue of Benedict’s Rule (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2011), 37. Fr Casey is a monk of Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia. For decades he has been engaged in different aspects of monastic spiriutality. Amma told me that she met him a number of years ago, finding him welcoming, gentle and attentive – a true Benedictine.
 Loc. cit.
 Samaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2007), 75. He departed this life in 840 AD.
 Sr. Maria Benedicta and Br. Terrence are indebted to the following:
Casey, Michael, OCSO, The Road to Eternal Life: Reflections on the Prologue to Benedict’s Rule (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2011), 37-39
Basil Pennington, OCSO, Listen with Your Heart: Spiritual Living with the Rule of Saint Benedict (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007), 53-54.
 Patrick Barry, OSB, (former abbot of Ampleforth Abbey) trans., Saint Benedict’s Rule- Second Edition (Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring Publishers, 2004), 71. This is the version of The Rule of St. Benedict used by the Sisters of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. (Go Gophers!)
 Pennington, 53.