The Prologue of the Rule of Benedict is some of the most lryical, lush and arresting prose ever written. These words from the 5th century summon, urge and admonish with utmost delicacy.
L I S T E N carefully, my child,Prologue-The Rule of Benedict
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.
And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
The Rule of Benedict. Having decided to become a Christian Catholic at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Still Water, Massachusetts, I’d grabbed the red booklet from the gift shop to purchase and adopt as my own. Along with the two tomes I’d been assigned by Brother Andrew, the monk who was assigned the task of teaching me the rudiments of our faith, I was ready to work. I wanted it all: Now.
In those initial years, I bought at least five of those small booklets, each time, hoping that the words would make sense, that it wouldn’t feel like reading gibberish.
But they never did make sense.
Of course they didn’t, I barely could spell catholic. So easily I forget that I can’t do it alone, that the timing is not mine.
It would be another six years before the Rule became my school. Yes, school:
…And so we are going to establish
a school for the service of the Lord.
In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome…
For as we advance in the religious life and in faith,
our hearts expand
and we run the way of God’s commandments
with unspeakable sweetness of love (Ps. 118:32).
Thus, never departing from His school,
During my years as a Benedictine Oblate, I’ve read the little rule over fifty times, for all us read through the entire Rule three times each year. And yet each time we begin anew, I look forward eagerly to the Prologue. We’ve just completed it in this past week between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord.
Always, it feels new-thinking, yet again about the rule of Benedict.
When it happened, my initial conversion felt sudden. Even impetuous and precipitous. Certainly that was how it felt to me when I decided to become a Catholic Christian-as if I’d jumped off a cliff. That is until pondering all that came before and accepting that the real precipice had been the one of unbelief.
It’s odd, isn’t it, how clearly we can see when looking through the rearview window?
“…by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience…my words addressed to you who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Jesus Christ, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience…
Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace for anything which our nature finds hardly possible. And if we want
to escape the pains of hell and attain life everlasting, then, while there is still time, while we are still in the body and are able to fulfill all these things by the light of this life, we must hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.”
That word’s a lightning rod and has been for almost as long as I remember. But is there anymore critical a virtue?
It’s why He came, right?
Maybe it’s easier for converts like me to grasp the need for ongoing conversion: Conversion as in repentance-rethinking. Especially so for those of us whose faith did not just become lukewarm, but we who decided that it was all a myth: the Bible, faith, God. And believed ourselves to be atheist.
I remember, as a brand new Benedictine Oblate, now almost eighteen years ago, being fascinated by the word stability. Axiomatic of Benedictine spirituality- a promise we make when we make our oblation, the word connotes stasis…an inner permanence despite external turbulence. We vow to stay put, regardless of what is happening in our marriage, our body, or our family.
To many in this change-loving culture of ours, this concept of permanence, of a changeless inner core, evokes constraint, regulation-lack of freedom, even that word we see everywhere: slavery. But I’ve learned that it is when I am most uncomfortable, even frightened, that if I stick there, accept the anxiety of all of it…that the view from the other side is breath-taking.
If…only if, I look through His Spirit…desiring only His Will.
Theophany is defined as a visible manifestation of a deity, a visible manifestation of God to man by actual appearance. The glory of these Christmas days which end with this day, can we ever even glimpse the immensity of the graces showered on humanity with the Baptism of Our Lord?
One of the many reasons I remain a Benedictine Oblate is the promise we make each day to read, study and ponder the words of the Daily Office or the Breviary. Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin, writes in the Second Reading of the Office for the Friday after Epiphany that the baptism should be called the feast of Jesus’ birthday. “Reason should demand” that the Baptism should follow so close to the incarnation even though 30 years separate the two events.
This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
Listen to Him.
Christ is baptized not to be made holy by the water but to make the water holy. When our Lord is washed, all waters for all baptism for all time are made holy. He who led the Israelites in a column of fire through the Red Sea, through the Jordan, into Canaan does now, in the column of His Body, provide eternal light to all those who believe; all those who see Him as the Way.