KB Categories Archives: Christian Disciplines

Praying the Rule

 

Don Richmond:

St. Benedict

St. Benedict

Introduction

The Rule of Saint Benedict (RB) is as relevant today as it was in the chaos of 6th century post-Roman “civilization.” It speaks efficiently and effectively to the concerns and questions of our rapidly crumbling western culture. It speaks, as well, to each of us. Often, however, we have neither heard nor heeded its important message.

Many messages, or life-lessons, are in fact found in the RB. Instruction regarding community living, relationships, integrity, equity, fidelity and employment are all addressed. However, the principle concern of the RB is prayer; the worship of God (the worth of worship) and liturgy as life (the work of worship).

While planted within a closed community of monks (the “enclosure” of the monastery), and rooted within fixed forms and times of prayer and work, its flowering can be enjoyed by all Christians. That is, as history has clearly demonstrated, those who live outside of the monastic enclosure can also profit by adopting and adapting monastic priorities, principles and practices.

The RB, in both its “Prologue” and “Seventy-Three Short Chapters,” support the priority of prayer. Praying the Rule seeks, in some small way, to contribute to this priority– as well as the profitability that may be derived from it. In keeping with both the context and content of the RB, Praying the Rule is divided into three parts: (1) Reading the Rule,* (2) Reading the Bible** and (3) Reflectively reciting and applying the Prayer after these readings. These, coupled with a heart-felt recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, make a good beginning.

It is a very short and simple process that I trust will encourage devotion to God through a fixed, albeit brief, commitment to reading, reflection and prayer.

-Alcuin, Obl. OSB.

*The Rule of Saint Benedict (Saint Benedict Press, 2007)
** English Standard Version (Crossway Books, 2011)
Art (below): catholic.com, 2007

 

PrayingTheRule

Praying the Rule

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Rule of Benedict (RB): “Listen carefully my son…”

Proverbs 1: 8: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, / and forsake not your mother’s teaching.”

 

Father,
I am prone to sloth
and disobedience.
By Your mercy help me
to listen, hear, turn,
and put into practice
Your precepts.
In Christ’s Name I pray.

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RB: “With passion filled prayer…”

1 Thessalonians 5: 16: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…”

 

Father,
I do not want to be
a reluctant follower.
Help me, therefore,
to begin and end
the path You have set me upon
with passion, purpose,
and persistent prayer.
In Christ’s Name
and for his sake.

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RB: “With eyes open to the Divine Light…”

Luke 9: 32: “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory…”

 

O Lord Jesus Christ,
I have slept again
on the Mountain of Divine Revelation.
Awaken and speak to me
Your Word,
and help me
to hear and heed You,

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RB: “With your loins covered…”

Ephesians 6: 11&14: “Put on the whole armor of God…having fastened on the belt of truth…”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
You have called me to strong obedience
and peace-making violence,
the violence of love.
Help me
to labor long
with a love so strong
that I will see
and celebrate Your kingdom.

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RB: “Let us hear our Lord, answering and showing us…”

Matthew 11: 15: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear…”

 

Speak to and show me
Your holy way,
O Lord.
Help me
to walk, do, and speak
in Your mercy
by Your mercy
and through Your mercy.

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RB: “The days of our lives are prolonged…”

Matthew: 7: 24: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…”

 

O Lord my God,
You call me
to radical repentance and
reconstruction of my life
upon the Rock.
Establish me upon this True Foundation.
Help me build a strong structure
of righteousness,
that I might truly live
and serve You
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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RB: “Be prepared to fight…”

Ephesians 6: 12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…”

 

O Lord my God,
You have turned my mind and my heart
to Your will
through Jesus Christ.

In his Name,
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
give me the graces
that human nature cannot give:

Faithfulness to Christ,
Fidelity to his cause,
Fighting with spiritual weapons
to accomplish his will.

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RB: “To safeguard love…”

1 Corinthians 13 -14: 1a: “Pursue love…”

Lord Jesus Christ:
Your way is easy and light…
But beginnings can be hard.

 

By Your mercy and grace
help me to be
Your disciple
by exercising reason, amending faults, and safeguarding love.

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RB1: “Under a Rule…”

1 Corinthians 11: 1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ…”

 

Abba, Father:
I am prone to want
my own way,
and wander.

Assist me,
by Your good guidance,
to attain and maintain
stability of heart,
soul, mind, and body,
within the community of all those who are in the True Faith
and Perfect Love of Christ.

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RB2: “An Abbot [Father in Christ] who is worthy…should always remember what he is called…”

Ephesians 4: 1: “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

Almighty Father:
You have spoken to me
in Jesus Christ,
and showed me how
life should be lived.

Help me
to so speak and live
as to bring You glory,
and build Your Church,
in Christ’s Name.

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RB3: “[A]ll be called to Council…”

Hebrews 10: 25: “…not neglecting to meet together…”

 

Father:
You have called Your own
together for prayer,
instruction, fellowship,
and Communion.

Help me to hear
and heed Your calling,
as an obedient child,
of our Lord
Jesus Christ.

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RB4: “These, then, are the tools…of our spiritual profession.”

Philippians 2: 12: “[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

 

O Lord our God:
Working out my own salvation
can be arduous,
with many pressing responsibilities.

Help me
to see all as one,
in You,
through the exercise of love.

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RB5: “[The disciples] do not live according to their own will….”
Luke 22:42: “Father…not my will, but yours, be done….”

 

O God my King,
I want my own way,
but must learn humility
and instant obedience.

Empower and Equip me
to listen, “leave immediately,”
and “quickly put into effect”
Your will in Christ’s Name.

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RB6:  “[I]t is fitting for a master to speak and teach, and it is proper for a disciple to hold his peace and listen.”

Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, / but  whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

 

O Living Word,
My Lord Jesus Christ:
Teach me restraint of tongue
and responsibility of speech,
so that I may be renewed
and Your people refreshed,
through the Holy Spirit.

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RB7: “[I]f we are going to reach the highest summit of humility…our ascending actions must set up a ladder….”

Philippians 2: 7: “…[B]ut [Christ] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men….”

Isaac the Syrian:  “Virtue is not accounted virtue if it is not accompanied by difficulty and by labors” (Daily Readings with St. Isaac of Syria, Templegate Publishers, 1990).

 

My Lord Jesus Christ,
exemplar of greatest humility
by becoming flesh
without sin,
Help me
by the actions You have taken,
to ascend to humility
by descending into Your poverty.

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RB8: “[I]t seems reasonable that [the monks] should rise at the eighth hour of the night [for prayer]….”

Ephesians 6: 18: “[P]raying at all times in the Spirit…with all perseverance….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ,

Swift to pray:

You were vigilant
in prayer and obedience.

Help me
exercise reasonable vigilance
in the same
during the Winter of this life.

RB9: “And thus the Vigils should be brought to an end [with the Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy].”

Psalm 143:1: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; /give ear to my pleas for mercy….”

Lord Jesus Christ:
You have ordered
my end and my beginning,
encouraging me to disciplined prayer.

Assist me,
by Your great mercy,
to worship well
and pray fully.

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RB10: “Let [a Reading] out of the Old Testament be said by heart….”

Psalm 119: 105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet / and a light to my path.”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
Your Written Word
is certain guidance
and a sure defense.

Through the Holy Spirit
help me
to store Your Word in my mind
and establish it in my heart
as a solid foundation for my life.

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RB 11: “On Sunday…Gloria…Alleluia…Te Deum laudamus…Amen.”

1 Thessalonians 5: 18: “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you….”

 

Almighty God,
whose only Son was resurrected
as my perpetual Sabbath

Help me to rest in You,
and praise Your Name,
who alone deserves glory, Amen.

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RB12 / 13: “How to celebrate…on Sunday….”

Hebrews 4: 9 – 10 “[T]here remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God….”

O Lord of Sabbath,
joy of my heart
and peace of my life:
At all times and in all places
You awaken and call me
to ordered prayer and worship.

Give me,
by Your good graces,
those attitudes, words, and actions
most pleasing to You,
that I might begin with worship
and end with the same.

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RB13: “The thorns of scandal are likely to arise…and thus they should be reminded by the covenant of this prayer, namely, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive….”

Matthew 6: 12 …[A]nd forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors….”

 

O Christ our Savior,
You endured the scandal
of suffering and death

Help me to give no offense,
nor take any,
so that I might pray
freely and fully.

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RB 14: “On Saints days…the same order should be observed….”

Hebrews 12: 1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….”

 

Almighty God:
You have raised-up
in Your Church
righteous Saints.

Raise me up,
in and through Your righteousness,
to good works
from a pure heart.

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RB15: “From the holy feast of Easter until Pentecost ‘Alleluia’ should be said without intermission….”

Revelation 4: 11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, / to receive glory and honor and power….”

 

Alleluia, O Father,
Alleluia,
for Your Son’s sacrifice.

Alleluia, O Christ,
Alleluia,
for Your ascended ways.

Alleluia, O Spirit,
Alleluia,
for Your tongues aflame.

ALLELUIA!

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RB16: “Seven times in the day I have sung praise to you….”

Psalm 119: 62: “At midnight I rise to praise you….”

 

O Holy Spirit,
You have distributed tongues
for proclamation and praise.

Empower me,
by Your great gift,
to speak well and sing faithfully.

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RB17: “We have already arranged the order of the Office…[l]et us now deal with the Hours that follow….”

Ephesians 6: 18: “[P]raying at all times in the Spirit….”

 

Lord,
help me sanctify
my ways and my days,
by ordering
my priorities and practices
as prayer.

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RB18: “Those monks who do not sing over the psalter in the course of a week…show themselves negligent and lack devotion….”

1 Timothy 4: 15: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them….”

 

Lord God,
Gracious Heavenly Father,
By the Holy Spirit
help me to be
diligent in devotion,
prepared to pray,
ready to die
for Jesus’ sake.

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RB19: “We believe that the Divine Presence is everywhere…especially…when we assist at the Word of God….”

Psalm 2: 11: “Serve the Lord with fear, / and rejoice with trembling….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
Assist me to read and reflect upon Your Written Word….

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RB20: “Our prayer, therefore, should be short and pure….”

Matthew 6:7: “[D]o not heap up empty phrases…for they think that they will be heard for their many words….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
Help me attain simplicity in prayer
from a pure heart
avoiding superfluity of words.

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RB21: “ [C]hoose men with good reputations and saintly lives….”

1 Corinthians 1:2: “…called to be saints….”

 

O God, my Savior
and Sanctifier,
I have no good
apart from You.

Empower me
by Your great love,
through the Holy Spirit,
to live righteously and serve lovingly.

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RB22: “[L]et the monks always be ready…to the Work of God….”

2 Timothy 4:2: “…be ready in season and out of season….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
As with your example in St. Mark’s gospel,
help me always be ready:
quick to pray
swift to serve.

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RB23 – 24: “If any Brother…does not correct his ways….”

Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault….”

 

Almighty and Most Merciful Lord,
You have called me
to the listening ear
and responsive heart.

Strengthen me, therefore,
to hear and heed
Your rebuke and restoration
through others.

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RB25: “None of the Brothers should speak with him nor associate with him.”

1 Corinthians 5: 5: “[Y]ou are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

 

Lord of All Righteousness,
my sin has separated me
from all true fellowship.

By Your mercy in Christ
help me to repent
and return.

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RB26 -27 (Matthew 9:12): “Those who are well do not need a physician….”

 

Abba Father,
I am sick with my own sin.
Help me, in Jesus’ Name,
to attend to and amend my ways.

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RB28: “The medicines of the Divine Scriptures…and the prayers of the brothers…would do something to cure the sick brother….”

Galatians 6: 1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness….”

 

O Christ our Healer:
Your Scriptures and Saints
provide help and hope.

Help me,
through the comforts of these graces,
to be restored and renewed.

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RB29 – 30: “[L]et him be received….”

Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him….”

 

Lord of Mercy:
You have provided
the means of salvation
through Jesus Christ.

In Christ’s Name,
by the Holy Spirit,
help me
to repent and remain steadfast.

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RB31: “He should care diligently for the sick, the children, the guests….”

James 1: 27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the orphans and widows….”

 

God of All Comfort,
whose children are
the poor in spirit,
Help me
follow Your path and plan
of practical discipleship.

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RB32-34: “All things should be held in common….”

Acts 4: 32: “…[T]hey had everything in common….”

 

O Great Giver
of all that is good:
From Your gracious hand
all life receives
daily sustenance.

Help me, therefore,
to hold your gifts
with an open hand and heart;
giving and receiving
as compassion and necessity dictate.

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RB35: “The brothers are supposed to serve each other, and no one should be excused….”

Galatians 5: 13: “[B]ut through love serve one another….”

 

With selfless service,
O Lord,
You came to save.

With such selflessness,
for the salvation of souls,
give me strength for service.

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RB36: “[S]pecial care must be given to the sick….”

Matthew 25: 36: “…I [Jesus] was sick and you visited me….”

 

Lord Christ:
Help me to know
that service to You
is service to others,
because to love others
is to love You.

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RB37: “Their weakness should always be taken into account….

Galatians 6: 2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
In Your mercy You accommodated Yourself
to my weakness.
Through this same mercy
help me arise faithfully
to my neighbor’s need.

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RB 38: “Reading should not to cease….” (sic)

1 Timothy 4: 13: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ,
You are the Logos,
the Living Word
active in my life.

Empower me, therefore,
by the Holy Spirit,
to attune and attend myself
to what You communicate.

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RB39 – 41: “[I]t is not without some misgiving, that we appoint the measure of…food and drink….”

Romans 13: 14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
You practiced self-denial
throughout Your life,
suffering, and death.

Help me, therefore,
throughout life’s wilderness temptations,
to be and become
Your faithful follower.

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RB42: “Monks should keep silence at all times, but especially during the hours of the night.”

Habakkuk 2: 20: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; / let all the earth keep silence before him.”

 

Lord,
it is easier to speak
than to listen
and hear.

During this life’s dark night,
help me
keep all silence
that precedes wise speech.

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RB43: “Prefer nothing, therefore, to the work of God.”

Mark 14: 38: “Watch and pray….”

 

Lord God:
Through the Logos
You call me
to the work of prayer.

Assist me to be
instant in prayer,
anxious to preach,
ready to die.

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RB44: “It is enough.”

John 19: 30: “It is finished….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ,
You have made full
and sufficient sacrifice
for my sin.

Strengthen me
to true confession,
total repentance,
and appropriate reparation.

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RB45 – 48: “[T]hat all things may be done at their appointed times.”

Ecclesiastes 3: 1: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

 

O Lord of Sabbath:
Idleness and inattention are enemies
of community and conscience,
warring against piety and prayer.

Help me, therefore,
to employ myself intently
in Your purposes
and for Your glory.

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RB 49: “A Monk’s life should at all times resemble a continual Lent….”

Matthew 4:1: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness….”

 

Lord of the Desert,
Your inspired and obedient self-denial
defeated the devil and death,
and encouraged me
to follow.

By the Holy Spirit
lead me,
through life’s wilderness,
to obedience, overcoming,
and effective service.

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RB50 – 51: “The Brothers who work at great distance…should fall upon their knees in the place where they are laboring….”

1 Thessalonians 5: 17: “[P]ray without ceasing….”

 

O Lord Jesus Christ:
You labored long
for  the lost.

Help me in my labor,
with patient and persevering prayer,
to accomplish Your purposes.

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RB52: “If any other Brother should also wish to pray…let him enter without ostentation and pray….”

Matthew 6: 9: “Pray then in this way….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
You have instructed us
to pray
simply and sincerely.

Help me, therefore,
to exercise faith
in Your Person,
instruction and provision.

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RB53: “Due honor should be paid to all….”

1 Peter 2: 17: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God….”

 

O Christ,
You are The Door
of welcome
and gracious hospitality.

May I also
open wide my heart,
and hands,
generously to others.

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RB54 – 55: “[A]nd they were distributed to each according to need.”

Acts 4: 34: “There was not a needy person among them.”

 

Father of Love
and great grace,
You know my needs
before I ask.

Help me,
with this understanding,
to trust in You
and learn contentment.

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RB56: “…with guests and strangers….”

Ephesians 2: 19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens….”

 

Savior of the stranger,
Your self-emptying grace
provides all good things.

May I,
no longer a stranger,
radically welcome others
in the same spirit.

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RB57: “[T]hey should exercise their crafts with all humility….”

Isaiah 64: 8: “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; / we are the clay, and you are the potter….”

 

Creator God:
You fashion all life
to accomplish
Your purpose.

Craft me,
Your human clay,
into a vessel of honor
and useful service.

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RB58: “[T]o discover whether he truly seeks God, and is eager for the Work of God, for obedience and for obtaining humility.”

Hebrews 4: 10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
You know the hearts
and minds of all,
discerning and dividing flesh from spirit.

Create in me
a clean heart,
and a single eye,
to the humble obedience
of prayer in community.

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RB59: [M]ake the…promise…together with the oblation.”

Numbers 31: 50: “And we have brought the Lord’s offering [oblation]….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
You have poured out Your life
for me
as perpetual sacrifice.

Empower me,
as a free will offering,
to promise properly,
pour our my life wisely,
and serve you completely.

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RB60-63: “[I]f they deserve it…”

1 Timothy 3:2: “[B]e above reproach…sober minded, self-controlled….”

 

Lord of all Servants,
You humbly descended
so that I might ascend
to Your great humility.

Strengthen me
to so descend
as to uplift others
to their potential and Your purposes.

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RB63: “[T]he Brothers should receive the Pax, approach the Communion, lead a Psalm, and stand in Choir, according to the order assigned to him….”

1 Corinthians 14:33: “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace [Pax].”

 

God of Order:
You have appointed
all life a season,
place and purpose.

Help me
to order my life
according to Your appointment,
giving place to others.

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RB64: “[H]e must give account for his stewardship…”

Luke 16: 2:  “Turn in the account of your management….”

 

Almighty God,
Who was, and is,
and is to come,
calling all to account.

Help me,
with full knowledge of Your rule
and expectation of Your return,
to be a faithful steward
of Your many gifts.

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RB65: “…[E]nvy arises, along with quarrels, detractions, rivalries, dissensions and disorders…”

James 1: 20: “[T]he anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
You are the Prince of Peace who,
through selfless service,
secured the Kingdom.

Help me,
following Your path of peace ,
to step down
in order to ascend to Your will and way.

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RB66 – 67: “[B]eg the prayers of all, on account of the faults they may have committed on the way…”

Hebrews 13: 2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers….”

James 5: 14: “Let him call for the elders of the church….”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
Receiving me to Yourself,
You have given
new life.

Anoint me, therefore,
with like Spirit,
to receive and to give
Your offering to others.

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RB68 – 71: “[W]ithout manifesting any pride, resistance, or contradiction….”

Hebrews 13: 17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them….”

 

Lord God:
You have established
all authority,
perfectly in Jesus Christ.

In His Name,
and through the Holy Spirit,
assist me to submit with assurance
to Your sovereign will
exercised, at times, through human authority.

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RB72: “[E]xercise…zeal with most fervent love….”

Galatians 6: 2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

 

Lord Jesus Christ,
You were zealous
for God’s house
and honor.

Open my eyes to see
the house and honor
of God in my neighbor,
especially my sister and brother.

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RB73: “But for those who hasten towards the perfection of holy living…”

Hebrews 12: 1” [L]et us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus[who is] the founder and perfecter of our faith…”

 

Lord Jesus Christ:
You have run the race,
hastening to obedience
and the just reward
of resurrection and rule.

May I also
follow hard after God,
and run well
to Your reward,
celebrating Your eternal rule.

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“For what page, or what passage is there in the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testaments that is not a most perfect rule of a [person’s] life?”            -Rule of Benedict, 73

 

DONALDPRICHMONDThe Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a widely-published author, is Priest-Oblate with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Order of Saint Benedict, and is connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.

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In Praise of Penance

Donald Richmond:

“Blessed is the person who knows his own weakness, because awareness of this becomes for him the foundation and beginning of all that is good and beautiful.” -St. Isaac of Syria

 

laying-500x331Monasteries host a number of unusual people and practices. I know because I have been a part of a monastic order or community for over a quarter of a century. Being “unusual” is not necessarily bad. In fact it might even be asserted that in a fallen world, where brokenness is to be expected, the unusual and abnormal might be (from God’s perspective) a sign of sanity.

Just the other day at the monastery with which I am affiliated, as an example, I saw a woman “creeping” to the Altar on her knees. From the back of the church, until she had almost reached the Priest-Monk at the transept, she scraped her way up to receive Holy Communion. Her black-lace veil only accentuated her penitential posture.

We Protestants have almost always found such demonstrations suspect. In fact, within the Reformed English Christian tradition, such practices were openly mocked. “Creeping” to receive the Eucharist suggested religion gone wrong. “Creeping” suggested that we were seeking to make atonement for our own sins, instead of boldly receiving the gift of God provided to us through the substitutionary death and justifying resurrection of Jesus Christ. Such a penitential posture suggested that we must “earn” grace, not be humble recipients of grace.

But this perspective may not be entirely accurate. In fact, penance is an essential part of repentance. Consider an illustration. I steal ten dollars from you. After spending this money, I am convicted by God. I feel sorrow and remorse. I want to be right with God again. Consequently I repent and commit myself never to steal again. Does God accept my remorse and repentance? Of course He does! God is good and gracious. Nevertheless, while God freely forgives me, you are still missing the ten dollars I stole from you. My sin continues to impact your pocketbook. My sin, even if you do not know I stole the money, has separated me from you. This must be repaired. Scripture is quite clear about this. Penance, the active and social aspect of repentance, must take place. I must engage in the penance of reparation if my repentance is to be full and complete. (I must add, however, that HOW one makes reparation requires wisdom and caution.)

Evangelicals make much, as we should, of “keeping short accounts with God.” Most of us, every day I hope, examine our consciences and confess our sins and shortcomings. And this we must continue to do! However, what we often lack is the reparative element of repentance. Being right with God must result in, when and where possible, reconciliation with our neighbor. Remember Zacchaeus!

When I was a child, at a certain part of the Eucharist (a practice that, among Roman Catholics, has now been reinstated), I used to strike my hand upon my heart three times, repeating “by my fault, by my fault, by MY MOST GREVIOUS fault.” On some occasions, during both my private devotions and public worship, I continue this practice. This is very useful, I believe, to impress upon myself the truth of my absolute depravity.

Again when I was in my late teens, soon after I became a Christian, I was convicted by God about the things that I had stolen. As part of my repentance I needed to return what I had stolen. I can assure you that asking forgiveness of others, especially when I had stolen from them and needed to make reparation, was not easy. And yet, by God’s grace (and the graciousness of others) I did so. (“Creeping” to the “Altar” of human reconciliation is, indeed, frightening!) The first example illustrates a physical expression of heart-repentance toward GOD. The second example illustrates a physical expression of penance toward my NEIGHBOR.

Penance does not need to be relegated to the oft-used and oft-illustrated statement of, after confessing our sins to a pastor / priest, “Say ten ‘Our Fathers’ and ten ‘Hail Marys.’” In fact even Roman Catholics recognize the limitations of such a strict interpretation of penance. Penance seeks to make things right. It is a righting of wrong in the human forum —- which, at times, intersects with the Divine forum. Maybe we should become far more pronounced, physical and practical in our expressions of repentance. Maybe “creeping” to the “Altar” of our neighbor’s mercy, a little practical repentance (=penance), is needed.

(As well, it must be noted, that penance may also involve expressing EXCLUSIVLY TO GOD an outward form of inward transformation.)

 

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Holiness as Life

Donald Richmond:

FOR MY FRIEND, REV. DAVID PENN, CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE (HESPERIA).

holinessWhen we think about holiness, what comes to mind? What frame of reference do we use? To what, or specifically to WHOM, do we appeal in our analysis? These are important, if not essential, questions that must be answered before we can effectively move from a philosophy of holiness into the practice of holiness.

Sanctification – whether crisis, process, or some admixture of both – begins and ends with God. Both Leviticus 19 and 1 Peter tell us that we are to be holy BECAUSE GOD IS HOLY. Our Lord’s words in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) profoundly echo and uniquely emphasize these words when he links perfection to love: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Ezekiel 39 tells us that the Name of God is “Holy.” Mary, in the Magnificat, makes this abundantly clear and provides us with a bridge between the Old Testament imperative and the New Testament (through Christ) fulfillment.

From a strictly human perspective, holiness, sanctification or “perfection” is a sublime impossibility (Romans 3:10 – 12). Between the imperative and the performance falls the perpetual shadow (Colossians 2: 17 and Hebrews 10: 1). We, alone, cannot do what is required of us. We need Christ. We need him to do for us what we cannot do. Without God, therefore, we intend the impossible. (And, it must be added, even our worst and most despicable actions are nothing more than holy-intention in horrific disguise.)

With Christ, however, we are set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1 -2). In Christ we are righteous (1 Corinthians 1:30). By his Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, the holy impossibility becomes wholly possible (Romans 8:1 – 5).

But what does practical holiness look like for us? The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1 – 11), the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7), provide a framework for Christian holiness.

First, restating the obvious, we must come to Jesus if we are to be holy (Matthew 5:1b). Disciples always come to Christ. Because he has descended to us in his incarnation, we ascend to him in reconciliation.

Second, we must be content to live in a perpetual state of spiritual poverty and mourning (Matthew 5: 3 – 4). Spiritual poverty is not a passing experience. It is, rather, an ongoing and “blessed” expectation and experience of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 5:3b). It is mercy meeting our mourning (Matthew 5: 4). Without poverty there is no perfection because it is only in our weakness that Christ’s strength can be revealed (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Third, humility is the “earth” of holiness (Matthew 5:5). If we want to cultivate a holy life we must cultivate a humble life. The Rule of Benedict is clear, echoing our Lord’s own active intention: we must descend in order to ascend. Humility is holiness.

As well, having intimately known the spiritual essentials of the poverty-mourning-meekness paradigm, we are now afforded the true hunger for holiness (Matthew 5: 6). We want to be “pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8). But, as the astute reader will note, there is a gap between hunger (vs. 6) and purity (vs. 8). This is because there is a gap between intention (vs. 6) and reality (vs. 8). To move from the hunger for holiness and the satisfaction of that desire, we must practice mercy (Matthew 5:7). The exercise of mercy, practically speaking, exorcises those destructive and sinful inclinations that militate against sanctification. That is, briefly, if we want to be holy we can only do so in the company of others. Mercy is the bridge between our intention and the fulfillment.

This will mean, as well (and in keeping with a Benedictine emphasis), that we must become peacemakers (Matthew 5: 9). Holiness of life is a peacemaking operation. Note that I did not say “peace KEEPING.” There is no real peace in a Christ-less world. We, therefore, do not KEEP peace at all. We enter the spiritual realm, enemy territory, not as warriors (except in the Ephesians 6 sense) or as consultants but as women and men who are armed to die. That is, like Christ on his Cross, we come with open arms, open hands, and bleeding hearts. Psychologically speaking, this is a crown of thorns. MAKING peace is critical to sanctification.

Finally, this requires that we reconcile ourselves to persecution and pernicious slander (Matthew 5:10 – 11).  We come, again, to mercy. Mercy is a quantitative quality that measures (so to speak) sanctification. We need God’s mercy to be holy. We demonstrate mercy as a means of holiness. We are exercised by the mercy we have ourselves received in order to be and become holy.

What does holiness look like? Turn to Gethsemane, Golgotha and Grave. Look to Christ — the Promise, Possibility and Resurrection Reality of Righteousness. 

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With Eyes Open

eyeDon Richmond:

“With our eyes open to the Divine Light,
and with our wondering ears,
listen to the advice of the Divine Voice
that speaks to us every day…”

Upon making this statement, found in the Prologue of the Rule (RB), Saint Benedict gently and persuasively leads the reader to a crucial conclusion:  If we are to “see” and “follow” Christ there are certain clear expectations that must be met. Reading this text within its context, we are prone to move swiftly on to the “answers” Benedict provides. And yet the text itself suggests that we take a passing yet important detour. This detour, driving us to the very heart of Benedict’s words, is found in St. Matthew 17:1–9; St. Mark 9:2–10; St. Luke 9:28–36 and 2 Peter 1:16–19.

Each of these cited references refer to the Transfiguration of our Lord, and are central to Benedict’s considerations and our calling. Urging us to have our ears and our eyes open, the author persuades us to pursue perfection. He encourages us to pursue the holiness “without which no [person] shall see the Lord.” He urges us to live the transfigured life. He urges us, within the biblical texts referenced, to WAKE UP, SHUT UP, GET UP, and PUT UP.

WAKE UP. Our texts tell us that Peter, James and John were asleep during a significant part of the Transfiguration. Luke 9: 28 suggests that this journey “up…the mountain” was for the purpose of prayer. However, instead of rising to the occasion, the three Apostles fell asleep. They were, our text says, “heavy with sleep.” As Moses and Elijah began to depart from their conversation with Jesus, the Apostles finally began to wake up — They became “fully awake.”

SHUT UP. In keeping with his pronounced personality, as Moses and Elijah are leaving, Peter begins to speak. His words unintentionally communicate the core of “man-made,” instead of God-ordained, religion. “Master,” Peter says, “Let us build.” Obviously the Father is not entirely pleased with Peter’s plan because, just after this, the “Divine Voice” says “listen to [Jesus].” In other words, God says stop talking and start listening.

GET UP. Soon thereafter the Apostles and Jesus descend from this mountain-top experience (through which the Apostles largely slept) back into the real world below. Their silence was further enforced by Jesus who told his disciples to “tell no one” until after his salvific death and justifying resurrection (Matthew 17: 9). In short, the Apostles needed to get up and continue to shut up.

PUT UP. Finally, before the applications which will be drawn from these important set of texts, the disciples are firmly planted back in the real world where there are real needs — needs that they were not entirely able to address (Matthew 17:14–21). Although they had some small experience of the Transfiguration, although they tasted a bit of both the “Divine Light” and “Divine Voice” (RB), they had to come down from the proverbial “mountain” and live a real life among hurting people. They had to, in short, put up as well as shut up. They had to live life — not pontificate upon the wonderful “experience” they each were afforded by God’s grace.

How do these Transfiguration principles apply to us? First we must WAKE UP. We must open our eyes. Human beings, apart from Christ, live in a perpetual sleep. We are soul somnambulists. All too often we pass through life half-asleep. But God has FAR MORE for us. God in Christ by the Holy Spirit wants to bring us up the “mountain,” enliven us in prayer, and help us to both see and hear the Vision and Voice that God has for us. He wants us, with Christ, to live the transfigured life. To do this we must first choose to wake up.

As well, and embedded within both the Bible and the RB, we are to SHUT UP long enough to hear and heed what God has to say to us. Silence is not simply a monastic priority, it is the well-advised practice of EVERY committed Christian. All too frequently we seek to “build” (as did Peter) “tabernacles” to God without hearing God’s direction. We want to “do” for God without knowing what it means to “be” in God. This is the heart of dangerous religion. While God DOES call us to do things (the Great Commandment and Great Commission immediately come to mind), He wants our actions to be rooted in our relationship with him. We need to SHUT UP for long enough in order to hear (and later, heed) God.

This of course means there will come a time when we must GET UP and go. The disciples could have sat about, after the Transfiguration, discussing all of the theological fine-points of their experience. They could have called the other disciples up to them and held a weekend retreat about “Transfigured Living.” They could, as well, have just sat back and soaked in the Transfiguration experience. “Wasn’t that,” they might rhetorically ask, “a PHENOMENAL experience?!” However, in fact, the Apostles got up and again followed Jesus back down the mountain. What Christ had to communicate was communicated as they walked to work. Many Christians need to learn this. Some Christians are like Mary of Bethany who is simply content to sit and listen. Some Christians are like Martha of Bethany who wants to get up and get going. What we need to learn is that there is a pronounced place for both sitting (listening) and serving (living) within transfigured living. Perfection in and by Christ requires both being passive and being active. The balance of timing is important.

Finally, and also important, transfigured living requires us to PUT UP with life as it is. Jesus never intended us to live on the mountain top. The “valley” is the place where real life is lived. It is easy (apparently not for the sleeping disciples) to live a vibrant life on top of the “mountain” of intense religious experience. It is not so easy – but entirely necessary – to descend from the “mountain” and encounter real people with real needs in a real world where we are (without Christ) really helpless (Matthew 17: 16 – 18).

But this is exactly what we must do. Holiness requires hands-on work. Perfection requires being planted in the real world. Sanctification requires getting our hearts cleaned (by Christ) and our hands “dirty” through Spirit-guided and Spirit-grounded work in the real world. Transfiguration is TOUGH! So, by God’s grace and mercy, we must WAKE UP, SHUT UP, GET UP and PUT UP. The RB and our Redeemer Christ requires these transfiguring disciplines.

 

DONALDPRICHMONDThe Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a widely-published author, is Priest-Oblate with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Order of Saint Benedict, and is connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.

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Now

rule_st_benedict_wideDon Richmond: There is an immediacy expressed throughout the Rule of Benedict (RB). From the very first paragraphs in the Prologue we read words like “here now” and “now.” This emphasis on immediacy, the “now” of God’s expectation, is reinforced with words such as “listen”… “accept”… “practice” … “awake” and “arise.” These words require exclamation: Listen! Accept! Practice! Awake! Arise! Is there any other way of walking with God? As Holy Scripture tells us, “Now is the time…”

But what is it time for? Why is there such urgency? Considering how we as a society are inclined to race and rush, to shuttle from one task to another almost without thought, shouldn’t we seek to slow things down? Should we not attend to the well-spoken word by Dr. C. G. Jung when he wrote, “busyness is not of the Devil, it is the Devil”?

To be sure, there is a real need for us to slow down. The Christo-centric life is in some way a contemplative life. The Christ-centered and ordered life cultivates a life of disciplined withdrawal in order to effectively engage. Jesus himself frequently withdrew, and even encouraged his disciples to withdraw, for the purposes of retreat and refreshment.

And yet, notwithstanding our need for retreat and reflection, Christ also immediately attended to the call of God and the pronounced need of humanity. St. Mark’s gospel clearly and repeatedly references this by its transitional “and immediately” refrain seen throughout the narrative.

As we examine the RB, most especially in the first few paragraphs of the Prologue, the immediacy which St. Benedict references is for the purpose of “obedience,” the “labor” of obedience.  Christians must learn the disciplines of swift obedience. The monastery, disciplined Christian life and RB are each aimed at training us in this painfully exacting art. “Here!” “Now!”

There are several reasons for this orientation. First, Christ is King (RB, Prologue, paragraph 1). Second, we are in the midst of a war (RB, Prologue, paragraph 1). Third, swift service expresses practical gratitude (RB, Prologue, paragraph 2). Forth, Christians are sons and not simply servants (RB, Prologue, paragraph 2). Finally, and no doubt a “hard word” that is in keeping with the tribal and covenantal loyalties a conquering and compassionate King would expect, to not obey is to reject the very LORDship to which we have submitted ourselves (RB, Prologue, cf. paragraphs 2 and 4).

If Christ is King, do we not owe him swift obedience? If we are in a life and death struggle against “principalities and powers,” is not swift obedience the safe and wise choice? If we have been “conquered” by The Compassionate King, should we not express the gratitude of swift obedience? If we have been graced with adoption, should not children be swift to show honor by obedience? Does not loving Lordship generate a responsive “fear” inspiring obedience?

“O GOD, our refuge and strength, who art the author of all godliness; Be ready, we beseech thee, to hear the devout prayers of thy Church; and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (1928 Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity).

DONALDPRICHMONDThe Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a priest with the Reformed Episcopal Church, has been a monastic associate/oblate for over twenty years and connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.

 

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Holiness: A Benedictine Approach

Donald P. Richmond:

Orthodox_Christian_Monasticism_by_flekaEvery Christian is called to holy living. This is not a personal option, it is an inspired expectation. The Holy Spirit desires a holy people. The Paraclete requires perfection, Christian perfection. As those who are made alive by the Holy Spirit, with Jacques Maritain we can therefore assert that the “only one sadness [is] not to be a saint.”

Those of us who have read The Seven Storey Mountain may recall Thomas Merton’s fruitful exchange with Robert Lax soon after Merton’s conversion. During this conversation, Lax flatly insisted that the call of the Christian was to be a saint. In shock, Merton asked how this calling was to be achieved. Lax’s answer was short and simple: “By wanting to.” According to Merton, Lax went on to say that “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what he created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

Of course, as we are all aware, this is far easier to say than it is to do. Between the intention and the reality falls T. S. Eliot’s pernicious “shadow.” And, with Eliot, we may indeed have “wept and fasted” and “wept and prayed,” and repeatedly found that we all too often fall short of God’s ideal and our intention. The wanting is not always the achieving. We need to be disciplined and discipled in practical holiness. Although we all Christians may be inclined toward holiness, we are all in need of “how to” instruction. In short, we need “a word.”

The Rule of Benedict (RB) is precisely the word that we need. It provides God’s children with an outline of obedience that leads to practical holiness. It does this by issuing a call, providing a context and establishing a college. These, rooted as they are within the considerations of living in and as a community, help every committed Christian achieve her or his intended purpose.

THE CALL OF OBEDIENCE

Echoing Solomon’s Proverbs, Saint Benedict heralds his Rule with the oft-quoted word LISTEN. “Listen carefully,” he writes (RB, Prologue, Saint Benedict Press, 2007). The wisdom of God is found in carefully listening to God. God’s words are our wisdom and our way.

Careful listening, according to the RB, has at least three very practical applications. Those who want to be holy must “turn” (RB, Prologue). We must, according to Saint Benedict and Holy Scripture, “turn the ear of our heart.” As such, Benedict calls us to a change of heart. We are called to radical interiority. According to him, change comes from the inside-out, and not from the outside-in. However, we cannot change our heart. We cannot, on our own initiative, “turn.” We must recognize, as did the old Shaker hymn, that turning is a gift. The ability to turn is, in fact, a gift of God. And the very good news is that this interior change is prompted and empowered by a relationship with God. As one of my teachers repeatedly said, “God’s command is God’s enabling.” We are God’s children and, as such, we can change. In this context, therefore, obedience is inwardly generated and not outwardly imposed. It is not an “I must” but an “I want” and an “I will.” This is a great gift.

Second, those who want to be holy must also “accept” (RB, Prologue). Saint Benedict urges us to “[w]illingly accept” the “advice” that is offered. Turning opens the mind and accepting inclines the heart. Turning is “seeing” and accepting is “believing.” But why should we accept this teaching? Why should we believe enough to obey? The reason is simple: This calling is issued by God (with whom Christians have a relationship), through Scripture (through which God and God’s covenant are revealed), by Benedict (by whom we are issued a Rule to which we are committed) out of complete and unconditional love. Acceptance is therefore the penetration of the life of God into the soul of human persons. We turn to embrace and be embraced. Acceptance is the “Yes” of our Lady. Acceptance knows that it is God “here now, speaking to you” (RB, Prologue). Such knowing moves from the “head” to the “heart” into the “hands.”

As well, those who want to be holy must “practice” (RB, Prologue). Hearing + Heeding = Holy. The practice of this advice is “labor.” It is, properly understood and applied, war (RB, Prologue). To be holy is to “fight for our true King, the Lord Christ.” Turning opens the mind. Accepting enlivens the heart. Practice engages the hands. “Blessed be the Lord my God / Who trains my hands for war and my fingers to fight.” As such, the practice of obedience is established upon the priority, principles, practice and power of prayer. The rule of prayer is the rule of both belief and behavior. Listening, accepting and practicing are prayer-as-perfection-in-community priorities.

THE CONTEXT OF OBEDIENCE

The context of Saint Benedict’s appeal is issued within a set of intersecting relationships. We have a relationship with God. We have a relationship with Holy Scripture. We have a relationship with Benedict. We have a relationship with the Rule — and, in fact, other Rules upon which the RB was composed and compiled. These relationships, and the very concept of relationship, are indispensable to liturgy (the work of prayer) and living. There is, however, at least one other relational context that is clearly and forcefully referenced.

The RB is issued to “children,” the daughters and sons of God and Benedict. It is issued to the community, the enclosure, as family. This emphasis sets the tone for the entire text, and is highlighted in Chapter One of the RB. The RB is issued to “Cenobites, or Conventuals, who are the most steadfast class of Monks.” To this I would also add Oblates and all those who seek to live holy lives within the context of a vital and vibrant Christian community. (It must be noted, however, that the time-and-community-tested “Hermit” also has a share in the calling to and context of holiness. The hermit’s relationship to the whole and the holy is the subject of other considerations.)

Community is the context of obedience.  It is the cathartic way and means by which we grow in practical holiness. How is this accomplished? It is accomplished through God’s grace and the practical expectation of Benedictine “stability” which enlightens and empowers prayer. It is accomplished, again by God’s grace, by stability within the (at times) unsatisfactory society of saints.

Our society, and often our churches, resists stability. Church-hopping and church-shopping are commonplace. If we do not like the pastor, we change churches. If we do not like a particular theological nuance, we leave. If the worship does not provide us with the “feeling” we are looking for, we jump ship. If the community is not “seeker sensitive” – with a coffee bar, bookstore and smoking lounge in the lobby – we feel deprived. If people are not “nice” or “too nice” or are “not our kind,” we resist or refuse relational commitments. We do not seek stability – the grist of change – we want stimulation. Stimulation, however pleasant, does not result in sanctification.

Saint Benedict, living as he did during a time of great and unremitting upheaval, clearly understood our wandering propensities, relational proclivities, cultural climate, and the difficulties we all face during times of challenge and crisis. This is precisely why he emphasized stability in community. For Benedict this was just not a social need (which it certainly was and is), but a spiritual imperative. If we are going to successfully resist being crafted according to cultural norms, we need a counter-cultural answer. This answer is found in the Rule of Saint Benedict. Benedict’s call and challenge to his children is a “here” and “now” imperative (RB, Prologue). He requires saintly stabilization for the process, purpose and power of sanctification. He tells us to “stay put” in order to “grow up.” His stabilizing “voice” is, especially in our society, radically counter-cultural. (And, thankfully over the past number years, more people from many different denominations and walks of life are embracing “intentional community”). Community is the catalyst of change. Relationship is the critical resource for revival.

THE COLLEGE OF OBEDIENCE

I am now an aging “hippie.” My adolescence was shaped by the priorities, principles and practices of the counter-cultural revolution of the late 1960’s and very early 1970’s. Unfortunately this radical reorientation occurred at a time when I did not enjoy the stability of church life. As such, and in very short order, I became indiscriminate and disoriented. Not only did I embrace the concepts of human and civil rights, of “liberty and justice for all,” of peacemaking, I also became involved in a number of destructive counter-cultural activities that compromised my socio-psycho-pneumatic health. Dereliction, depression and despair began to dominate my life. Two very unfortunate drug-experiences, along with a hearty “Lord, save me,” shifted the entire direction of my journey.

This journey largely began about a year after the “two very unfortunate drug experiences” referenced above. I went to college; but not just any college. The first college I attended was biblically faithful, grounded in community and functioned like a monastery.  Although it technically did not have an Abbot, Prior and monks, in almost every way this college was structured as if it did. Its substance and standards were monastic. Prayer and work were emphasized. Obedience was not just suggested, it was mandated. It truly was a “school of the Lord’s service” (RB, Prologue).

It is to be noted that Saint Benedict’s Rule begins with (RB, Prologue), and is immersed in (RB, Chapters 8 – 20), prayer. This foundation of prayer is for the purpose of perfection (cf. RB Prologue, “amending our ways” and RB 73, “loftier heights…of virtue”). This occurs within the college of an obedient and stable community. A VERY swift analysis of Benedict’s prayer-as-perfection oriented agenda insists upon a community for prayer (Prologue and Chapter 1), a captain overseeing the community of pray-ers (Chapter 2), a parenthetical council by which prayer and community are governed (Chapter 3), the characteristics or prerequisites of prayer-and-perfection-in-community (Chapters 4 – 7), the calling and crafting of prayer-as-perfection (Chapters 8 – 20) and, with a few exceptions, considerations for continuing as a community committed to prayer-as-perfection (Chapters 21 – 73). The “school” was and is the community, and the “service” was and is prayer. These, structured as they are in the RB, are the path of perfection.

I must conclude with the essential curriculum of Benedict’s college of obedience, and it will be properly assumed that the curriculum is prayer. And, of course, on some level, it is. Nevertheless, the RB provides two very pronounced particulars about prayer-in-community-as-perfection. These are found in Chapters 6 and 7 and can be crassly considered as emphasizing our need to “shut up” (Chapter 6) and “put up” (Chapter 7). Of course “Silence” is far deeper than keeping our mouths closed, and “Humility” includes far more than toleration. But, in spite of this, prayer-as-perfection-in-community (and through community) is enhanced through the cultivation of silence (“waiting on God”) and the disciplines of humility (“wanting for God”). Although we have a wide-array of tools from which to draw (RB, Chapter 4), the children of the Lord’s school are perpetually clothed in silence and humility as prerequisites.

One of the greatest needs of the church today is to experience and express practical holiness. Unfortunately, as our society no longer seems to hold at the center, as we become more fractured and distant, as we become ever-more removed from community life and living, holiness is not provided the practical “soil” in which to grow. Holiness (with the rare exception of the time-and-community-tested Hermit) requires community. If prayer is a means of perfection, it needs the stability of a community where prayer can be practically exercised (exorcised???) in life. The RB, its priorities, principles and practices, provides us with such an environment.

“Raise up, O Lord, in your Church, the Spirit which animated our Holy Father St. Benedict, so that, filled with same Spirit, we may strive to love what he loved and live what he taught. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

DONALDPRICHMONDThe Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a priest with the Reformed Episcopal Church, has been a monastic associate/oblate for over twenty years and connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.

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To Be a Saint


Nothing.Harsh
Don Richmond:

“There is only one sadness, not to be a saint.” -Quoted in The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain

There is a very interesting and instructive progression documented in the Rule of Benedict (RB). The final admonition in Chapter 4: 72, “never lose hope in God’s mercy,” feeds quite nicely into the final words of the RB in Chapter 73 — some 69 Chapters later. In this last Chapter, which in practice is a beginning, Benedict says that these words were written so that those who hear and heed his words will come to “loftier heights of doctrine and virtue” (emphasis mine). That is, Benedict has written his Rule as precepts of perfection.

But Benedict is also a realist. He recognizes that between the intention and the reality “falls the shadow” (T. S. Eliot). Every one of us has experienced the “shadow” falling between what we intend and what we actually accomplish. Although we have often “wept and fasted” and “wept and prayed” (T.S. Eliot), we have often found ourselves mired in failure and frustration. On some very painful level we know that “there is only one sadness, not to be a saint.”

The reminder that Benedict issues in Chapter 4: 72, “never lose hope in God’s mercy,” is therefore quite encouraging. While Christians should be concerned about and invested in holiness of life, loftier virtue, we must remember that it is only an appreciation of God’s great mercy that encourages the pursuit of Christian perfection. As the Psalmist has written, “But there is forgiveness with Thee / That Thou may be feared.” God’s forgiveness leads to celebratory fear!

When I read and reflect upon the RB I am both refreshed and rebuked. My ongoing reflections highlight how very much I need to learn and apply. And yet, as well, the RB also teaches me that growth in grace, community and God is a process. What God and Benedict want is not “rigorous or burdensome” (RB, “Prologue”), but a “school of the Lord’s service” that is intended as an “unspeakable sweetness of his love” (RB, “Prologue”).

May we all come to know such love so that the disciplines of our schooling may result in greater perfection.

 

DONALDPRICHMONDThe Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a priest with the Reformed Episcopal Church, has been a monastic associate/oblate for over twenty years and connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.

Image above, right: War. “Nothing Harsh.” Cartoon. Don Richmond.

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On Study and Self

Donald P. Richmond:

In a recent well-known film, one of the characters asserts that people read so that they will know that they are not alone. This is true, but there are other reasons why we should read and study. There is a dynamic correspondence between reading well, self-awareness, and living well.

With these things in mind, it must also be said that we must not be indiscriminate in our reading. Readinganything can be, and often is, worse than reading nothing. The Rule of Saint Benedict, one of the books that helped save and shape Western civilization, urges us to attend to holy reading. This discipline includes the why, how, and what of reading.

Why should we read? Reading good literature can help us become far-more self-aware. We come from and live within the context of history. In order to appreciate where we are in life, and where we are going, we must understand where we have been. As just one example, how can we survive the subtleties of the post-modern denigration of mega-narrative if we have no appreciation of post-modern theory, thought, and history? Do we even understand the implications of this philosophic system? If we do not read, if we have little understanding about self and society, we will not be able to defend ourselves from some of the destructive orientations of this (and other) modern philosophies. And be quite sure that how we think will determine how we live. Our feelings and how we function in life are determined, at least in part, by the philosophies we embrace.

How should we read? Thomas Merton, one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, warns us about being “greedy for words.” His warning was prophetic. Very little effort is required for us to see, hear, and experience the unwholesome avalanche of “words” proliferated by both the media and (at times) each one of us. Billboards, television, radio, as well as a wide array of other public and private forms of media, bombard us with information, misinformation, and disinformation. A great deal is being “said,” but very little is actually being communicated. We are often “greedy for words” because there is frequently a pronounced lack of substance in what is being said.

But there is another reason for our informational “greed.” It is far easier to hide ourselves behind an avalanche of information than it is to face ourselves and deal with others. It is very difficult to face our dis-order, dis-ease, and dis-connection. In contrast to this, disciples of Saint Benedict encourage holy and reflective reading — sacred study. Benedict, as communicated through the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, urges us to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” those “texts” which are most important in life and living. Reading and reflection are not intended to distract, but to help us discern what is most important. Learning is for effective living.

What should we read? To a certain degree the answer to this question will depend upon each individual. Every good book, or other vehicle of literature and learning, must suit each person in each of his or her unique life-circumstance. So, once again, what should we read? Although it is tempting to appeal to the “classics,” those books that have endured the test of time, we must not exclusively appeal to them. Some “classics” can be classically dull or damning. Instead, while not disparaging classic literature, we should read and reflect upon texts that demonstrate a clear appreciation for words and language. That is, more pointedly, we should read and reflect upon those texts that tell the truth — even if truth is told from “slant,” including myth, poetry, film, and fiction. Holy reading seeks truth. Holy speaking attends to truth. Attending to reading, wise reading, helps us attend to self and to society. Wise reading can lead to wise living.

The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a priest with the Reformed Episcopal Church, has been a monastic associate/oblate for over twenty years and connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo California.

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Listen!

Donald P. Richmond:

St. Benedict

In one of his most profound writings, “Four Quartets,” T. S. Eliot tells us that the answer to our “disaffection” (alienation) is to “descend lower, descend only/ Into the deeper world of perpetual solitude.” Only this can help us to escape from being “distracted from distraction by distraction” (Burnt Norton III). But the price for many people may appear to be too austere, too demanding. The sensual in all its expressions must be answered with what Eliot calls “deprivation.”

The very first word in the Rule of St. Benedict is an austere and demanding word. Its expectation is severe and its experience is deprivation. “LISTEN,” is St. Benedict’s first and foremost rule. Intensifying this word, however, are other words that make even the heartiest of souls to hesitate. We must listen to our “master,” as we “receive”, “carry out”, and “labor” to “fulfill” God’s expectations. We must “renounce” our own will and “pray earnestly” to perfect God’s will.

The cultivation of a listening heart is not an easy task. In fact, listening requires that we “dig” our ears. A great deal of clutter must be cleared, including the clutter of our (at times) resistance. Some of this clutter may be sin, the outrageous cacophony of our “disordered passions” staging riots. At other times the clutter may not be sinful but it may be of secondary (at best) importance. There are other occasions when we must abandon the clutter of the good in order to acquire the best. As an example, Martha was not wrong in her desire to serve Jesus; it was just that Mary had chosen “the better way.” In order to embrace the better way we will need to sink down into silence. We must “descend lower.”

How can we do this? How can we attain and maintain a listening ear?

There are several means for achieving this, some of which were hinted at in previous articles. Seeking solitude, using the Jesus Prayer, and securing a spiritual director are crucial. But there is another means of achieving stillness, silence. It is the way of patterned prayer using the process of Lectio Divina as a guide.

What is patterned prayer? What is Lectio Divina? The desire of every Christian is to speak with God. If we do not have such a desire we are either not Christian or there is some other impediment that must be swiftly addressed. Often, however, when we do pray our prayers are often undisciplined and they have very little connection to the historic church or its life. Our prayers may be of either longer or shorter duration, and are not inherently wrong, but must be more thoroughly grounded in God’s word and in the history of the Church.

The answer to this lack of discipline, or, in many cases, lack of breadth and depth, is to embrace some form of patterned prayer that has been historically tested. At its mos

t simple level this pattern of prayer must include readings from the Daily Lectionary and include reflective reading of the Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and Epistles. The careful and prayerful recitation of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, along with silent listening, will be included. So as not to be overwhelmed, especially for novices on patterned prayer, maybe readings exclusively from the Psalms and the Gospels should be capitalized upon.

For a person who is a bit more disciplined, or has more time afforded them, purchasing a Prayer Book might be of use. Several texts immediately come to mind. The Episcopal Church publishes The Daily Office Book which is very easy to use and incorporates patterned prayer with readings from the Lectionary. Similarly, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod produces A Treasury of Daily Prayer. Much like the Episcopal Prayer Book, it differs in its size (one larger volume in contrast to two smaller volumes), text (ESV instead of NRSV), content (no Apocrypha for Lutherans), and price (about one-half the price of the Episcopal text). Apart from these, and although it does not include the daily readings, Dr. Robert E. Webber has compiled a couple of wonderful little prayer books that are useful for beginners: The Book of Daily Prayer and The Prymer. For those who might be inclined toward Benedictine Spirituality, the form of spirituality encouraged by St. Benedict and his followers, the most recently released Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book is very accessible, as are The Glenstal Book of Prayer and The Glenstal Book of Daily Prayer. And finally, for those intrigued by the spirituality of our Orthodox family (often overlooked), Father John McGuckin’s newly released Prayer Book of the Early Christians is a delight — although it too offers no Lectionary readings. All of this, of course, is to encourage a more robust life of prayer — prayer rooted in, moving toward, and cultivating, silence. The first two texts, Episcopal and Lutheran, are far more expansive and will require far more time. As such, for Evangelicals who may not be familiar with patterned prayer, I would encourage them to use one of Webber’s texts (for those who simply want to make a beginning) or the Lutheran Treasury of Daily Prayer (for those who want complete Lectionary readings and want to spend more time in patterned prayer).

These texts all include some form of what monasticism calls the Daily Offices, patterned prayer we pray with the Church. Nevertheless, it is not so much WHAT we pray (within certain guidelines) but HOW we pray. The idea is to create and maintain a contemplative pattern and process of prayer. This is where Lectio Divina comes into play. Father Luke Dysinger, a monastic scholar, has said that Lectio is the prayerful reading and praying of Holy Scripture. This is critical for any Christian of any age to learn. I have highlighted the website in which Fr. Luke outlines this process http://www.saintandrewsabbey.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=35  and I encourage the reader to access Father Luke’s reflections on Lectio.

The cultivation of a listening ear, of attaining stillness, is vital to a robust faith. These keys will, I hope, encourage waiting upon God with a listening ear and a still heart.

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On Being Saints

Donald P. Richmond:

Poet Robert Lax

The true and only vocation of every Christian is to be a saint. This rather unusual assertion was pointed out by the poet Robert Lax to Thomas Merton, Lax before his Christian conversion, and Merton long before he entered Gethsemane Abbey. As they were walking down the street, Lax looked at Merton and asked him what he really wanted to be. In response, rather uncommitted, Merton said that he supposed he wanted to be “a good Catholic.” In a flash, Lax told Merton that his response was unacceptable, and that his only true calling was to be a saint. Merton was stunned.

And it is likely that we, also, will be stunned. It is possible that we will begin to think of St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, St.Augustine, Mother Teresa, of martyrs such as Bilney, Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer (not to mention Thomas More or Edward Campion), or of authors such as Hildegard von Bingen, Julian of Norwich, J. C. Ryle, A. W. Tozer, E.M. Bounds, Andrew Murray, or Thomas Merton, and we will assert that we are not in any way like them — men and women of great passion and commitment. To be sure, we are not these men and women. We are who God has made us to be, and, according to the Holy Scriptures, we are called to be saints.

The question is “how?” Lax suggested to Merton that it was simply a matter of will. Lax is correct. But sainthood is not achieved, nor is it in any way a matter of self-will.

Over the past several decades there have been a great many books about self-help that have been published. Within certain contexts this may be well and good, but not in regard to spiritual awakening, growth, and formation. Flying in the face of monastic tradition (which in most ways I embrace) I am as suspicious about John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent and St. Benedict’s Ladder of Humility as I am about modern texts that seek to provide the reader with twelve easy steps to Christian maturity. Rarely, if not always, does such an approach lead to anything but pride or frustration.

Of course we must be disciplined. There are priorities and practices (such as Bible reading and meditation, private prayer, public worship, and participation in the Sacraments) we must observe. But this does not mean that we should support any form of “cookie cutter” spirituality — one size fits all. Such an approach is little more than a Christianized form of Babel. One Greek Elder had to remind one of his spiritual disciples that what the Elder said only applied to that particular disciple and to no one else. Luke Timothy Johnson, in Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making In the Church, tells us that “freedom is the most rigorous of all asceticisms.” These are wise words, and it is to the theology of individual freedom in Christ that we must look for help in our quest for sainthood.

St. Paul writes, “All things are permissible, but all things are not profitable.” The committed Christian, the monk in the world or in the monastery, takes this statement seriously. As those who are called and challenged to be saints, we seek to live our lives from the position of profitability and not from permissibility.

But we must be very cautious in this regard. We need balance. People tend toward extremes, and we will often be too “hard” or too “soft” upon ourselves. I am a perfect example. As a child, in imitation of St. Dominic Savio, I slept on sticks in order to mortify my body. Not a wise choice, most especially at ages 7 – 9, because I had no idea what true “mortification” really meant. As an adult, as another example, I have always sought a spiritual guide who would “[spiritually] beat me up as an old world Jesuit.” God has never seen fit to provide me with a director who was hard and harsh. Invariably, my directors were (and are) the most gentle of persons. I sought holiness, I sought to be a saint, but I did not have the insight to be able to bring God’s desire for and in me to fruition.

The insight and inspiration we need requires self-awareness. Most frequently this requires objective insight, an insight that can only be provided by another person who, with us, listens to both the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures as they intersect with the context of living our lives. The Celtic Christian Tradition has said that “a person without a spiritual director is like a body without a head.” We need a spiritual director, a spiritual mentor or guide, to help us along our path of freedom and sainthood —- or freedom to sainthood.

But I must be blunt: I am not talking about accountability groups among peers, as useful as these may be. I am not talking about Bible Study, Cell Groups, or Catechesis — as helpful as these may be. I am not referencing transformative worship. I am not talking about pastoral counseling either. What we need is an Elder (the classic spiritual “Elder” of antiquity), a Starets (of the Russian Tradition, and found in Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov), a Soul Friend, or “Anam Cara” (of the Celtic Tradition), a Spiritual Director. We need a mature believer who knows God, the Bible, Church Tradition, human psychology and the traditions of spiritual guidance, to help us navigate our freedom in Christ, our pathway to sainthood.

In his wonderfully inspiring book for young people (gorgeously illustrated by Caryll Houselander), My Path to Heaven, Father Geoffrey Bliss writes these words, “All the roads go to Heaven and to Hell; and they go through all sorts of places with the names of the different kinds of lives. Sometimes I can choose my own road; but generally God chooses it for me, if I keep in the right direction” (emphasis mine). A Spiritual Director helps us to keep our choices profitable, providing us the safest and surest way to God and the grace (SHEER GRACE) of sainthood.

The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a priest with the Reformed Episcopal Church, has been a monastic associate/oblate for over twenty years and connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo California.

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