LOVE OF CHRIST AND NEIGHBOUR
Benedictine life, like that of all Christians, is first and foremost a response to God’s astonishing love for humankind, a love expressed in the free gift of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Love, the motive for monastic life and its goal, tops St. Benedict’s list of tools for good works (RB 5:10, 7:67-69, 4.1-2). Yet the Rule recognises many ways in which monastics can fail to ground their lives in love. It sets up personal and communal practices that deal directly with human selfishness wherever it occurs and seeks to heal the resulting harm to one’s self and others. Ultimately it is the power of God’s love that is decisive. Indeed, the crowning good work for the monastic is “never to lose hope in God’s mercy” (RB 4:74).
Benedictine schools cultivate a fundamental attentiveness to the ways in which God is present in the human mind and heart and, indeed, in all creation. St. Benedict directs that nothing is to be preferred to prayer (RB 43.3). This daily experience of prayer is supported and deepened by individual spiritual reading, a practice that Benedictines call by its Latin name, lectio divino. Lectio divina is the slow meditative reading of Scriptures and other sacred texts with the intention of discerning how God is at work right now in the world and calling within the individual’s own heart. For a monastic, the daily movement between common liturgical prayer and lectio divino opens up new space within where qualities and virtues such as compassion, integrity and courage can develop and grow strong.
Stability shapes a Benedictine way of life. All of its members commit themselves to seeking God. They resolve to pursue this, their heart’s deepest desire, together, day in and day out, in good times and in bad, throughout the entire span of their lives.
At its core the Rule seeks to foster a fundamental reverence toward the creation that God has made. St. Benedict exhorts his followers to regard all the tools and goods of the monastery as the sacred vessels of the altar (RB 31.10). Benedictine monastics do not simply use up what has been given to them, nor do they aim to live in poverty. Instead, they prize good stewardship, the respectful use of material things for the good of all, with a special eye to frugality, integrity of form and function, and the capacity of beauty to communicate the presence and power of God. HOSPITALITY
St. Benedict sees Christ present within the monastery in Scripture and liturgy, and in the person of the abbot, prioress, the sick, and each of the members of the monastic community. However, St. Benedict accords special attention to Christ’s unexpected arrival from outside in the person of the guest, whom he describes alternately as poor and as a stranger. Christ presents himself in the outsider’s vulnerability and calls the monastic to put aside individual plans and pre-occupations in order to let the unexpected person in, to help them get established, to respond to their most pressing needs. And when the outsider comes to experience being “at home” in this new place, for however brief the stay, the monastic discovers new awareness of the common journey in which all are engaged. A blessing accompanies both the offering and the receiving of hospitality.
Benedictine monastic community is rooted in a particular place in which mutual service, especially in the mundane areas of everyday life, is demanded of all with no expectation of individual reward. It is a challenge to contribute to a living, flesh and blood community on such terms. The qualities of character that are required are nurtured by the individual community’s sense of its mission, the witness of monastic forebears and the broader communion of saints across the ages. The imagination to persevere and thrive in...