KB Categories Archives: Monastic

Celtic Spirituality and Formation

Audio Resource: 

Tracy Balzer (right) was the guest for this edition of Ancient-Future Faith radio. She is the director of Christian Formation at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  She is the author of Thin Places (Leafwood 2007), A Listening Life (Pinyon, 2011), and Permission to Ponder:  Contemplative Wisdom for the Spiritually Distracted (Leafwood, 2015).  She holds a Master of Ministry degree, is a certified spiritual director and advocate of Celtic spirituality, and is an oblate at the beautiful Subiaco Abbey, also in Arkansas.  Tracy regularly leads pilgrimages and study trips to the British Isles, having a special interest and affection for the Isle of Iona, Scotland.

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Then Shall They See: Meditations for Advent

Long-time AFFN member and contributor Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond has written a remarkable set of devotionals for the Advent Season. May it be a great blessing and source of inspiration to you during these days of listening and waiting. 

Thank you, Don, for your ongoing (and precious) contributions to our Network.

Here’s the introduction to the series, and then find the link to the .pdf file for the entire set just below:

 

Then Shall They See: Meditations for Advent

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent, as found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, encourages us to “readmarklearn…and inwardly digest” holy Scripture. The purpose of these four admonitions, according to the Collect, is to empower the reader to embrace and emulate Christ’s teaching. Reading and reflecting upon Holy Writ, with an honest and open heart, helps us to do this. These simple meditations seek to honor the Collect’s concern.

As in the past, with my other seasonal reflections, there is a process that I encourage you to follow. First, and foremost, read and reflect upon the Lesson of the day. Do not rush the Reading. Do not try to interpret the Reading. Sit before the Reading and let it speak to you. Instead of interpreting it, let the text interpret you.

As well, read and reflect upon the brief commentary that I have written. Engage with what I have suggested by asking questions. Is this how you read the text? Do you interpret this biblical passage in the same way? What are the readings, found in both the biblical text and my commentary, communicating to you? What is God asking you to do, based upon the Scripture provided?

Finally, and importantly, pray the prayer. The prayer, Come Thou, long-expected Jesus, is written in red throughout the meditations and was originally composed as a hymn by Charles Wesley. Although I reference the same prayer each day, if done with devotion it will work its way into our hearts.

May the Christ-Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, incarnate himself ever more richly in our hearts and our lives.

 

Enjoy the entire set of Advent devotionals by clicking here.

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The Imitation of Christ: Original Art by Donald Richmond

Donald Richmond:

Self Portrait: Donald Richmond

Self Portrait: Donald Richmond

The Imitation of Christ, purportedly written and/or compiled by Thomas á Kempis, is one the most beloved and important books within the Christian corpus. It has been said that, until relatively recently, it outsold every other book except the Bible. Although this has now changed, the text is a treasure trove of Christian philosophy and living that is appreciated by every major Christian tradition– including the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The first copy I ever saw was a 1954 edition, published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, that my mother had when I was a child. As I could not read at the time, I remember paging through the text and being deeply moved by the images which accompanied this particular publication. These images changed my life. Later, when I eventually learned how to read, the words shaped and changed who I was and how I thought. Apart from the Bible and my Prayer Book, The Imitation of Christ has been my constant companion for almost forty years.

Several months ago, I was impressed by these words from the twelfth chapter of the first book of á Kempis’ four-part collection:

“In the cross is salvation

In the cross is life

In the cross is protection

In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness

In the cross is strength of mind

In the cross is joy of spirit

In the cross is the height of virtue

In the cross is the perfection of sanctity.”

These words, albeit modestly abridged from the Challoner edition (Tan Books), began to stir within my heart and imagination. Within a short time, I began producing images related to the quotation.

What you now have before you (below) is a selection of these images– and a bit more. I hope that you will enjoy looking at them as much as I have enjoyed creating them–  and this with the equal (if not greater) hope that you, too, will adopt á Kempis’ classic text and apply it.

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-there-is-Salvation

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-is-Life

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-there-is-Protection

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-is-the-Height-of-Virtue

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-is-Perfection-of-Sanctity

Kempis-Richmond-Eye-of-the-Needle

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Benedictine Stability: When the Going Gets Tough, Stay!

Stace Tafoya:

There has been growing interest in the last few years in St. Benedict.  Benedict was born about 480, at Nursia in central Italy, and was educated at Rome. The style of life he found there disgusted him. Remember Rome had fallen and was at this time overrun by various barbarian tribes.  It was a shell of its previous glory.  The period was one of considerable political instability, a breakdown of Western society, and the beginnings of barbarian kingdoms. Benedict’s disapproval of the moral chaos of Rome led him to a vocation of monastic seclusion. I believe the urge to steal away to follow the precepts of the gospel is an urge for apostolic living.  A living picture of the life of Christ.

St Benedict at Subiaco Workshop of Fra Angelico c 1400

St. Benedict at Subiaco. Workshop of Fra Angelico, c. 1400

Benedict withdrew to a hillside cave above Lake Subiaco, about forty miles West of Rome, where there was already at least one other monk. Gradually, a community grew up around Benedict. However, initially he was too strict in his Rule, so much so that some of the monks tried to poison him.  He had to retool and reevaluate his methods and disposition.  Sometime between 525 and 530, he moved South with some of his disciples to Monte Cassino, midway between Rome and Naples, where he established another community, and, about 540, composed his monastic Rule. He does not appear to have been ordained or to have contemplated the founding of an “order.” He was simply trying to follow the call of Christ.

Benedict’s “Rule,” is a manual for monastics which covers a variety of topics, not unrelated to what you might think of when you think of monasticism: chastity, obedience, simplicity, prayer, etc.

Perhaps Benedict’s most compelling contributions are what he says about learning, listening, conversion and stability.

What is stability?  Benedict talks of those monks to beware of, those who go from place to place looking for the next greatest thing but who have no roots and are unable to commit. What is needed, is the monk who will stay put, to commit oneself to a particular place.

Stability is not just for monks or nuns in Benedictine orders.  It is for all Christians.  We are called not only to follow Christ as individuals, but also as those deeply rooted in community.

We are a transient people.  We get bored, things get stale, people are bothersome.  What we need more and more is to see the situation that we find ourselves in, and the place where we are— in family, neighborhood and in Christian community– and to stay put.

There is nothing idyllic about this— we know the reality of existing with more than one person. Esther de Waal puts it this way:

“[In community] some are stubborn and dull, undisciplined and restless, others negligent and disdainful (there are of course the obedient and docile and patient).  There are the stupid and the lazy, the careless and the scatterbrained, and those who are always getting in the way, only too familiar in any group or organization or parish.  We know the picture only too well.”

So why stay put?  Why stability?  Because we need that person next to us or across from us or in our home to help us be who we need to be in Christ.

Thomas Merton said, “The real secret of monastic stability is, then, the total acceptance of God’s plan by which the monk realizes himself to be inserted into the mystery of Christ through this particular family and no other…. [We have been] destined from all eternity to bring one another closer to God by our love, our patience, our forbearance, and our efforts at mutual understanding.”

keep-calm-and-stay-putAlso, while our tendency is to leave when the going gets tough, as Jonathan Wilson Hargrove says, “Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you.”

Yet stability is not “the way we’ve always done things.”  It is not staying put for staying put’s sake.  Stability is the environment in which we need to be challenged to grow.  Stability says that our maturity in Christ is at stake whenever life in community is challenging.  Those whom God has placed around us are indispensable for the Holy Spirit to form us into the image of Jesus.

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Book Review: The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving the Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality

Donald Richmond:

The Story of MonasticismA book review: The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving the Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality
Greg Peters
Baker Academic, 2015
288 p.

What do pronounced scholarship, Evangelical Theology and historic monasticism share in common? Although significant headway has been made over the last number of years in this regard, the answer to this question is “not much.” Apart from a very few people, myself being one of the few, Evangelical Protestant Theology and monasticism have had little correspondence. With rare exceptions, to be an Evangelical Protestant AND a practicing monastic was almost unheard of.

Thankfully, and in large part due to the work and writings of Rev. Dr. Greg Peters, this has changed — and dramatically. The Story of Monasticism, Peter’s second book for Evangelicals on this topic, clearly, concisely and concretely articulates why Evangelicals should attend to monastic history, priorities, and practices. Beginning with a broad definition and several biblical examples, Peters outlines why Evangelicals must “care.”

Unlike Peters’ first book, Reforming the Monastery, whose intention was to succinctly provide a Protestant apologetic for Evangelical monasticism, The Story of Monasticism provides a detailed history that spans the ages. From the “pre-monastic impulse” through what he calls “Protestant monasticism” and into the 21st century, Dr. Peters takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of monastic history through the ages. All the “greats,” in my opinion, are represented.

Although there are many reasons to commend this particular work, let me cite only a few by way of contrast.

Contrary to many of the histories of monasticism, and there are quite a few, Dr. Peters is sensitive to Evangelicals. As an Evangelical Anglican priest who is a Professor at a conservative Evangelical University, Peters knows his audience and crafts his work accordingly.

Contrary to the New Monasticism, which, while commendable has its problems (as Dr. Peters and I have separately and collaboratively published upon), The Story of Monasticism is unapologetically rooted in history. His work does not try to reshape the history, as much as it seeks to report the history — albeit shaped around Evangelical considerations and concerns.

Contrary to a work of scholarship, such as with Dom Jean LeClercq, Peters’ work is accessible. While certainly a work of a scholar – which is why Father Peter’s writings are to be preferred above my devotional reflections – it is not scholarly, egg-headed, disconnected or irrelevant. Peters’ history is readable and reliable.

Contrary to works that entirely focus on Catholic and Orthodox forms of monasticism, and these ARE important, Peters’ book not only provides a compelling apologetic regarding Greek AND Latin monasticism, but includes the significant Protestant contributions as well. Although some people might now be able to cite examples of Protestant monasticism, Dr. Peters cites example after example — and dating back hundreds of years. Peters’ narrative is enlightening, enlivening, and convincing. He will, I hope, make YOU a convert to monasticism.

With Richard Fosters Celebration of Discipline (and not to overlook A. W. Tozer’s earlier awareness of the broader catholic tradition), Evangelicals began to reconsider and reclaim the classic Christian disciplines of our shared patrimony. Following Fosters’ lead, over the past thirty years other books, journals and papers on Christian Spirituality within Evangelical Protestantism began to emerge. Bible Colleges and Evangelical Seminaries began to develop schools focusing upon Christian Spirituality, formation and direction. With Peters’ two books, Reforming the Monastery and The Story of Monasticism, Evangelical Christians can now continue to broaden and deepen this knowledge-base for transformational purposes. I highly commend Father Greg’s writings.

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The Broken Body: A Lay-Monastic Perspective

Donald Richmond:

Although significant positive ecumenical changes have occurred over the past one hundred and fifteen years, and most especially since the Second Vatican Council (1960’s) and Pope John Paul II’s landmark Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1990’s), considerable progress has yet to be made. The body of Jesus Christ continues to be divided, and our shared evangelistic task continues to be compromised. More working, worshiping, and weeping are desperately needed.

We may indeed lament over our separated state, and properly so, but what can be done in the meantime? What can we do to mend fences and build bridges? How can we more faithfully come to the Table of Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice when, at times in practice and for a variety of reasons, we are not functionally faithful to our Lord’s and Saint Paul’s admonition to reconciliation BEFORE participation?

One of the advantages of increased ecumenical cross-fertilization, as Roman Catholics and Protestants begin to more fully share a common language and a measured common life, is the pronounced interest in monasticism both as a vocational occupation and as shared means of discipleship among those who may not be called to live within the “enclosure.” That is, in other words, there is increased interest in (and provision for!) those who are called to become “friends” or “oblates” of the monastery who may not be Roman Catholic– and may, in fact, entirely reject certain Roman Catholic perspectives.

When people visit the monastery where I am an Oblate they are greeted by the monks and brothers, a number of whom are friends, with utmost charity. The monks and the brothers seek to demonstrate their commitment to the Bible, the Rule, and the spirit of Saint Benedict by being as warm and welcoming as possible. We are welcomed, frequently, as Christ himself. This is in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of Benedict’s Rule of life.

Often, after arriving, I pillage the monastic bookstore, receive spiritual direction, take a walk, and pray. As an Oblate who takes “the work of God” (Liturgical Prayer at set times) and monastic discipleship seriously, participation in the Service of Worship is central to a visit to my monastery. Attending the corporate Worship is, for most visitors, attending to our most urgent needs as homo-liturgical beings. Public worship and personal-worth are in some ways connected.

arms_crossHowever, as an Benedictine Oblate who is ordained in a separated Ecclesial Community, I (and a great many other people) am not allowed to participate in the Communion Sacrament. I am, according to Roman Catholic teaching, canonically restricted from partaking of the Real Presence of Christ who is our common Lord. I grieve. I struggle. My wife weeps. I think there are many Evangelical Christians who find themselves in the same predicament. Having a pronounced interest in monasticism and its disciplines, we attend some monastic Roman Catholic services but find ourselves blocked at the very center of our shared faith: Holy Communion. As such, for many, celebration becomes lamentation.

For some years now I have been thinking about this most poignant and painful problem. I want to share in this Bread and Wine, this Body and Blood, but cannot do so. It is, indeed, a problem. How might we all, not just me and my wife, more fully participate in this Sacrament while remaining respectful of these monks whom we have come to love and count as members of our very own spiritual family? In short, how do we partake of this most precious Body and Blood without ever taking the consecrated Bread and Wine upon our tongues?

Apart for the self-sacrificing love that we have for our brothers, they key is in our RADICAL AND INTENTIONAL IDENTIFICATION WITH JESUS CHRIST. Holy Scripture tells us that our Lord was crucified outside the walls (Heb 13:12). As one who hung upon the tree, our Lord was considered accursed (Deut 21:22-23 and Gal 3:13). As the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world,” taking our sin entirely upon himself, he was driven into the wilderness where, after many trials and temptations, only angels were his ministers (Rev 13:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Mark 1:12; Matthew 4:11). And it was precisely this separation which God consecrated, accepted, sanctified, and glorified (Isa 53:10, KJV).

When non-Catholic Oblates and Friends attend “Mass,” but cannot physically partake of the Sacrament as those who with Christ are “outside of the walls,” we must do so intentionally– fully recognizing that our radical identification with Christ by non-participation is taken, consecrated, and blessed by God. In other words, humble yet hopeful non-participation empowers us to fully participate in the Sacrament precisely because we choose to identify with Christ himself in his own suffering of separation.

When after the Consecration of the Bread and Wine we move forward, crossing our arms upon our broken hearts to indicate our non-participation in the physical sacrament, we in fact open our arms to receive the blessing of God upon our sacrificial action. We, by the grace of God, are cruci-formed. Our humble and hopeful “no” to our most earnest desire for physical participation is seen and accepted by God as personal participation that embodies the spirit of Eucharistic devotion. To reference the words of Thomas á Kempis in his first book, he who would perfectly understand the words of Christ must entirely conform himself to the life of Christ. Doing, identification with Christ, provides revelation and release.

Many ecumenical advances have occurred for over a century. More work remains. In the meantime, most especially for those of us who are Oblates or Friends of Catholic monastic Orders, let us share in our Lord’s work by loving others enough to be separated from them. Let us, by our small sacrifice (and theirs), share in our Lord’s redemption of his Church.

I CUT MY TEETH

I cut my teeth on Your Flesh

“Chew,” You said, “Chew.”

It was tough, and no tenderly melting intinction,

to taste of the velum of Your living life.

To take within and upon myself

this very bread and this very wine,

this Jordan of our shared humanity,

this excruciating genuflection,

this Table so shabbily set

as unsavory courses.

It was and is our wilderness.

And so I took

(or not, as so painfully necessary)

this Bread and this Blood,

crossing my arms upon the scattered scraps

of my own fragmented life,

Offering all to You

for all of Your gestures,

Your denial

And mine.

 

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No Small Matter

 

Donald Richmond:

community“It is no small matter to dwell in a religious community, or congregation, to converse therein without complaint, and to persevere therein faithfully until death” – Thomas á Kempis, Imitation of Christ

The Rule of Saint Benedict (RB), in its very first chapter, considers four kinds of monks. Only one of these, however, is crucial to Benedict’s forthcoming Regula: The Cenobites who are submitted “to a Rule or Abbot.” The Sarabites and the Gyrovagi, respectively referenced as the “worst” and the wanderers, are directly dismissed as a disgrace to their monastic profession, while the Hermits consist of those who have attained sustained spiritual maturity. Saint Benedict writes for those who are Cenobites, “the most steadfast.”

Remaining steadfast is “no small matter,” as both Benedict and the author of the Imitation indicate. Anyone can claim to be under authority when, in practice, there is no one (“Abbot”) or nothing (“Rule”) to which we must submit. It is easy, dangerously easy, to assert and embrace spiritual disciplines for which no one holds us accountable. If we would embrace the life of an ascetic, monastic, Oblate, or simply a committed Christian, we must with Benedict reject spiritual grandiosity in every isolationist expression and seek to live in faithful community with others.

But how do we accomplish this? How do we remain steadfast? Given the fact that people are difficult, and that sustained relationships can be hard? What are some “how to” priorities and practices that we can take to heart?

In order to be good monastics, or faithful Christians, we must realistically face the fact that remaining in community can be difficult. As Thomas á Kempis insists, it is “no small matter” to establish stability as one of our guiding spiritual priorities. This difficulty is exacerbated in a culture that celebrates (and suffers from) unrestrained “freedom.” However, like it or not, such freedoms do not make us free. Instead, freedom of this sort only asserts a socio-psycho-pneumatic theology of bondage. This type of “freedom” only asserts chaos. Instead, to be truly free, we must have constraints. We must be under authority. To be truly be free we must learn to say “no,” and not simply “yes.” We must learn to embrace, stealing from St. Paul, the profitability of Christian living and not simply the permissibility of sub-Christian living. Many things may be “permissible” to the Christian, but, in order to grow, we must govern our lives the ethic of profitability. Only spiritual children live from the perspective of permissibility. If we live from permissibility we are spiritually immature. Stability under established authority is the profitability we should strive toward.

Growth occurs, by-and-large, through dwelling in a religious community. This is not the same as having an accountability group or a spiritual director. While both of these are commendable, they are insufficient. We can hide from an accountability group. We can hide from our spiritual director. It is far more difficult to hide from those with whom we share a common life. We must “dwell” with others intimately if we are to grow exponentially. We must live in and as community, with an authority over us, if we are going to avoid hiding.

But what does it mean for us to “dwell” together? I am sure that many of us are aware of those who “dwell” together but live apart. Such “relationships” exist in marriages, homes, workplaces, congregations and monasteries. Technically they “live” together, but, practically speaking, they are divorced from each other. They share space but they do not share life. To dwell in a religious community, therefore, suggests at least three practices: religion, conversation, and confession. These, together, determine the faithfulness referenced by Benedict and refined by á Kempis.

Religion is critical to dwelling effectively together. This includes both rituals and relationships. The quality of our religion is determined by how we live our lives, by how our rituals define and refine our relationships. St. Benedict’s entire Rule seeks to regulate relationships around the priority of prayer. Every ritual and every practice revolves around what is “profitable for another” (RB 72) so that prayer will be unhindered. Every gathering, discussion, and engagement attends and submits to certain rituals so that we might more effectively live lives devoted to prayer. As such, prayer is not just a private devotional practice (although we must pray privately) it is a poignantly social discipline. Spiritual disciplines for the purpose of prayer require disciples. There must, citing the Lord’s Prayer, be a practical “Our” if God is “Father.” Practically speaking, therefore, the Christian religion must be entirely relational and familial.

Conversation also determines both the quality of our relationships and of our prayers. Let us face, again, some facts. Living as a community will at times be difficult. Being accountable to proper authority is not easy. Every relationship will be prone to entropy. The “answer” to these problems may be found in having conversations. This, in part, is why Saint Benedict called the brothers [and sisters] to Council. In order to make sure that our relationships were sound and that our prayers would be heard, Saint Benedict insisted upon conversation. Any type of conversation was not adequate, however. True conversation for the purpose of prayer has guardrails: the Abbot, the Rule, and the voice of the young (RB 3). To neglect any one of these is to court shipwreck. We must listen to the Abbot, our guide, if the ship of “our” supplication is to be piloted properly. We must attend to the Rule, our map, if we are to safely arrive at “our” destination. We must listen to the young, the novices, if we are to avoid the many sirens of spiritual seduction that so often tempt the elder shipmates. Each must be heard. Each must be heeded. The “how” is conversation, with a priority given to Abbot and the Rule. Talk is the true tradition of the Church.

Confession is required in any relationship, and critical to the life of every disciple. We will fail. We will fall short. We will struggle and we will sin. At times our best intention will be grossly misrepresented and misunderstood. We have all experienced the painful disappointments associated with living in a community. The issue is, however, how to move beyond these difficulties and disappointments. It is easy simply to move on. It is easy to write off the offending party; but not if we live in and as community for the purpose of prayer. If we live the priority of community, according to the RB, we will need to find ways to build bridges. We must find ways to “persevere” “without complaint.” As such we must at times be committed enough to put up and shut up. Obedience (RB 5), Silence (RB 6) and Humility (RB 7) are critical to this– most especially when reconciliation is hard, or at times impossible, to achieve.

Faithfulness is what is needed. Faithfulness is the first and foremost quality required of a servant. This, as well, requires fidelity to and within the community, being fixed within the community, demonstrating practical functionality within the community (not distance and withdrawal), and seeking to embrace and abide by a fullness of faith when things do not happen as we would like to see them happen. When everything seems to fly apart, when the ship seems to be sinking, we must stand our ground. We must stand firm. We must do our duty. It is “no small matter” to be in community and to submit ourselves to proper authority. But this we must do if we are to grow.

Again we must return to the wisdom of Thomas á Kempis and the wisdom of the Community of the Common Life as articulated in the Imitation of Christ: “The wearing of the religious habit…[does] little profit, but change of manners and perfect mortification of the passions make a truly religious [person].

 

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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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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SLOW TO SPEAK

 

Donald Richmond:

????????????????????????????The Rule of Saint Benedict asserts that, for the love of silence, we should at times refrain from speaking. But this is not simply monastic wisdom. The Bible itself, in St. James 1, tells us that we should be “slow to speak.” This admonition is simultaneously connected with God’s own creative word (“the word of truth,” in our text) and the absolute necessity for us to hear it (“quick to hear,” in our text). That is, in other words, we must be “slow to speak” because God’s creative word must be clearly heard before we dare to communicate anything.

Asceticism of speech is an important spiritual discipline. Wisdom suggests that we learn to live by this ascetic practice. How very odd, therefore, that God’s insistence upon silence is often met by a preponderance of words.

God exists from eternity and to eternity. For untold and untellable millennia God was, from a strictly human perspective, silent. God, as far as we know, “said” nothing. At a point in time God spoke “Let there be,” and from this point of time the “good” and “very good” speech of God entered into history. Henri Nouwen has properly suggested that this good speech was rooted in and structured upon silence. God’s speech was predicated upon God’s silence. (See: The Way of the Heart)

God, by Divine prerogative, determined to provide us with verbal (Speech), written (Scripture) and visual (Savior) revelation. That which God spoke, was written and ultimately revealed in and through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1: 1 – 2). Without the Bible (and to some degree, Holy Tradition) we would have no ability to know or understand the verbal and visual communication of God. Without God’s written revelation, we would be entirely impoverished.

Let us take a moment to reflect upon God’s written revelation. We have been given the Bible, the Canon of Scripture, by God. It is a joy to be able to take, “mark, learn and inwardly digest” what God wants to say to us. This is to be celebrated! But have we ever taken the time to think about what God has NOT said? Think about it. God, who inhabits eternity and exhibits all of the character qualities appropriate to unique Divinity, has not verbally said very much.

Holy Scripture is a collection of books, gathered over a period of some 1500 years, which reveals God’s will, works, ways, and Living Word (Jesus Christ) to humanity. It is important that we revere this revelation. It is important that we read this revelation. It is important that we apply and articulate this revelation. There is, humanly speaking, a lot to learn and live. Given this, however, it is very odd that the Logos, the Living Word, has said so very little. Being God, the Eternal, He could have said much more, but instead God was textually temperate.

This is a lesson for us, a lesson that we have not entirely learned.

When we consider God, the “All-in-All,” He has remained “silent as light.” And yet we have an entire “Science” devoted to His study. The Queen of Sciences, Theology, is therefore intended to be a Theology of reserved speech. The multiplication of “mouths” has only resulted in theological Babel.

When we consider Scripture, God’s Written Revelation by, of and for Himself, He has not really spoken a great deal. And yet, how many commentaries and homilies have been composed and communicated about the Bible? Millions! This becomes most painfully illustrated through some Christian educators who have, quite literally, spent years teaching one book of the Bible. I know of pastors who have actually spent between seven and ten years teaching exclusively, barring holidays, from one book of the Bible. Seven to ten YEARS!! This is really nothing to celebrate. While I do not doubt the intention of these educators, the verbal path they have chosen may communicate far more about them than it does about the true and temperate written word God seeks to speak. Scripture communicates reserved speech, and so should we.

When we consider the Gospels, centering chiefly upon our Lord’s three-and-a-half year ministry, we will be surprised to know that only about three months of our Lord’s life is actually discussed. Yes, we do have references to our Lord’s incarnation, youth and ascension, but such references are brief. Primary attention is given to his adult ministry which is also exceptionally sparse in specifics and time: Three months out of a three-and-a-half year revelation of Christ and his life and ministry. In short, once again, very little is actually said. Silence is largely the “voice” God has chosen to use.

This reservation in revelation, this slow speech of God, is important. God has a great deal to speak to us through the punctuated silence he has “written” into our world and His revelation. But, instead of silence, we cultivate sound. Often the soundings of our searching have resulted in separation from God and neighbor.  Our sound has created a barrier that often limits the proper intimacy that only silence can attain.

The early desert Mothers and Fathers were frequently asked for a “word” from their Abbas or Ammas (spiritual Fathers and Mothers). When they spoke this “word,” the disciple would seek to apply it for days, weeks, months and years at a time. I have myself repeatedly stopped my reading of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter,” when I reached the statement “Love is patient.” Why read more when I have not entirely applied this?! This orientation is seen in one of the stories of the desert Fathers. Three young disciples approached their Abba for a “word.” The Abba graciously gave them a “word,” a spiritual life-principle, to work on. Every week, for the next year, two of the three disciples returned to their spiritual master for another “word.” But the third disciple did not return until a year had passed. After a year, he returned to his Abba and requested another “word.” Surprised by the disciple’s year-long absence, the Abba asked why the disciple took so long to return. The disciple’s answer was telling: “It took me a year to apply the ‘word’ you gave me, so why should I return to hear more words if I had not entirely applied the first?”

I close with another monastic illustration. A great spiritual Father of the desert was asked to speak a “word” to his guest. He refused. Again his disciples asked him to offer his guest a “word,” and again he refused. Irritated by this, his disciples asked why he would not speak to his guest. His answer was simple yet profound: “If my guest would not be edified by my silence, my guest would not be edified by my speech.”

Thomas Merton was right. We are “glutton[s] for words.” We want to hear and speak them — more the latter than the former. Let us learn the lesson of silence. Let us be slow to speak.

 

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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