The Order of Saint Benedict

benwdplacid.jpgSaint Benedict (born ca. 480, died ca. 540) received the wisdom of his monastic forebears and added to it the fruits of his own experience. Even today we read the lives and sayings of the desert fathers and mothers of Egypt, who were the pioneers of the monastic life and distilled its essential points. To their wisdom Saint Benedict added what he had learned about following Christ in community with others, strengthening the individual pursuit of God with the support of other Christians on the same quest.

The result was Benedict's Rule for Monks, a uniquely balanced charter for monastic living that eventually became the standard rule for monks and nuns in Europe and beyond. Its details have been interpreted and applied in many different ways, but its broader and deeper themes unite Benedictines across time and space.

The key elements of the Rule are expressed in the vows we profess as monks. First, we promise stability in this community, meaning that we promise to cast our lot with these people, in this place, doing what they do. It's the monastic equivalent to marriage.

Second, we promise conversion according to a monastic manner of life, which translates just two Latin words, conversatio morum. They mean something like "getting on with being a Christian." In a monastery, this requires simplicity of life and communal ownership of property, as well as living one's sexuality appropriately. For monks, that means celibate chastity. It also includes the other practices that the monastic tradition has shown to be needed for spiritual growth: gathering for common prayer several times a day, including a celebration of the Eucharist; reading and praying over the Bible, a practice we call lectio divina, or "sacred reading"; joining with one another at table to share food, edifying reading, and conversation; working to serve the church and to provide material support for our community and its various projects.

benedict_medal_3.jpgThird, we promise obedience. Obedience flows in many directions in a Benedictine monastery, for "obedience" literally means "listening," paying attention to the varied ways that Christ calls us into a deeper relationship with him and each other. As Benedictines, we obey—we pay attention to— our Abbot, the principal teacher in our monastery. We obey each other, for there is always something to learn from the example of our brothers in the community, and from the men and women we meet daily in our work. Ultimately, obedience means being accountable to someone other than ourselves—not just to God, but to the flesh and blood people we live with every day. In them, too, we meet Christ.

Commitment —living as a Christian—paying attention and being accountable: Saint Benedict's common sense speaks to many who live other forms of Christian life. As a starting point, think about how each of those Benedictine themes is expressed in your own life, and where you see a need for growth. With the Lord's help, and the support of others, may you grow deeper in union with Christ.