Softening Our Hearts Benedictine-Style

By Prioress Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB

In the Prologue of the Rule, St. Benedict urges us to continue to practice answering the calls we receive.  He quotes from Scripture, “It is high time for us to arise from sleep,” “to 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 today you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.’”

What does it mean when St. Benedict says, “If today you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts?”  What constitutes a hardened heart?  Perhaps it is the heart of one who no longer exhibits compassion toward those who are ill, lonely, or downtrodden.  It may be the heart of one who shows no interest in what is meaningful to another.  Or it could be the heart of one who takes another person for granted or finds their daily life routine and uninteresting.

How can we soften our hearts?  Sister Joan Chittister says, “life is often confusing and blurred, unsure under foot…our relationships do not feel as firmly fixed as they once did. The work is no longer invulnerable to change.  The world around us has tilted and tipped without our permission.  Nothing is what it once had been, nothing is what it promised to be.

“But one thing is inescapable: the way we deal with whatever happens to us on the outside will depend entirely on what we have become on the inside. Wherever we have fixed our hearts, whatever it is to which we have given them, will determine the way we experience all that is happening to us now.  It is stability of heart, not stability of place, that is the real monastic gift.

“Stability of heart—commitment to the life of the soul, faithfulness to the community, perseverance in the search for God—is the mooring that holds us fast.” (Monastery of the Heart by Joan Chittister, pp. 159-161)

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