By Prioress Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB
Happy Feast of St. Benedict today! We began our celebration with a vigil last night, during which I shared the following reflection with the Sisters.
We are very familiar with the story of Benedict’s early life as presented in Pope Gregory’s account of Benedict in the Dialogues. St. Gregory’s narrative shows that Benedict as a student was wise enough to understand the real meaning and worth of the self-indulgent and immoral lives of his companions. He had the possibility of a career as a Roman noble. Yet, weighing all these things, Benedict chose the life taught in the Gospels.
Gregory provides a spiritual portrait of a gentle, disciplined abbot. This is evident from the first three verses of the Prologue in which Benedict uses such phrases as “listen carefully, my daughter,” “advice from a father who loves you;” and “give up your own will,” to Chapter 73 in which he refers to “ this little rule that we have written for beginners.”
The Rule has a unique spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness. In referring to Benedict’s Rule, an ancient saying relates: “A lamb can bathe in it without drowning, while an elephant can swim in it.” Its wisdom is of two kinds: spiritual (how to live a Christocentric life on earth) and administrative (how to run a monastery efficiently). More than half the chapters describe how to be obedient and humble, and what to do when a member of the community is not. About one-fourth regulates the worship of God (the Opus Dei). One-tenth of the chapters outline how, and by whom, the monastery should be managed. And another tenth specifically describes the prioress’s pastoral duties.
In whatever way we group the themes of the chapters, one thing is clear, the Rule of Benedict is inundated with passages from scripture. The many scripture passages are like seeds sown throughout the Rule, as in this morning’s Gospel when we heard the parable of the sower and the seed. Scripture is so much a part of the Rule that we can easily forget its prominence in the text.
Benedict himself notes in Chapter 73, “What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?” (RB 73:3) He made sure that he included an abundance of gold nuggets from scripture as guides for our life in God’s service.
I experimented with going through the Rule and reflecting on the passages from scripture that are so prevalent. It brought to life the many jewels that are scattered throughout the text and broke open a deeper understanding of each chapter of the Rule. The Rule of Benedict is so very rich with the word of God, but it, like the seed in the soil, needs to be cultivated and watered in order to bear fruit.
In the first reading today, Isaiah wrote: “Thus says the Lord: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
May we, like St. Benedict, achieve the end for which the word was sent by living a life immersed in the word of God as it is embraced in the Rule of Benedict.