Libenter et efficaciter

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
1 Jan. 2 May. 1 Sept
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience. To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king. In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He hath given us, that not only may He never, as an angry father, disinherit his children, but may never, as a dreadful Lord, incensed by our sins, deliver us to everlasting punishment, as most wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

Listening to the Rule Again

Benedictine monks listen to the reading of the Holy Rule three times a year beginning on January 1st, May 2nd, and September 1st. There is a particular grace attached to the beginning of each new reading of the Holy Rule. It is an invitation to begin afresh, to take heart, to leave behind all that is past and to set out, once again, for that promised land flowing with milk and honey, where life in abundance is guaranteed. It is a summons to abide with the Virgin of Nazareth in the mystery of the Annunciation: to hearken to the Word as she hearkened to it; to incline the ear of one's heart as she inclined the ear of her Immaculate Heart; to accept freely (libenter) the word that descends from above, and to engage effectively (efficaciter) in the Father's plan.

What Makes a Benedictine?

What makes a Benedictine? Is it mere profession according to the Rule of Saint Benedict? Is it a juridical state determined by aggregation or affiliation to a larger body? While being a Benedictine does not exclude these things, it is not determined by them. The Benedictine monk is a man who, having inclined the ear of his heart to the Rule of Saint Benedict, finds that it corresponds to his most intimate aspirations and desires. The Benedictine monk is a man who, having found a treasure hidden in the Rule of Saint Benedict, as in a field, forsakes all else to freely (libenter) and effectively (efficaciter) accept and carry out all that it proposes.

We are not Benedictines only, or principally, because we have professed the Rule of Saint Benedict but, essentially because the ensemble of aspirations and needs that grace has put in us finds its response and its fulfillment in the doctrine of Saint Benedict. There is a spiritual affinity between him and us. A single spirit has co-involved us in his life, and moves us along in his footsteps. We have not taken on a physiognomy that is foreign to us, but have found that which has unraveled the confused sentiments of our hearts, and offered to guide us into life. (M. Ildegarde Cabitza, O.S.B.)

A Learned and Mysterious Abridgment of All the Doctrine of the Gospel

Why has the Rule of Saint Benedict exercised such a powerful attraction over souls for centuries? What is it about the Rule of Saint Benedict that makes it perennially fresh, and new, and life-giving? Why is it that the wisdom distilled by the Rule of Saint Benedict is always relevant and so astonishingly suited to men of every age, background, and culture? Bossuet wrote: Cette règle [de Saint-Benoît], c'est un précis du christianisme, un docte et mystérieux abrégé de toute la doctrine de l'Évangile; "This rule (of Saint Benedict) is a digest of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of all the doctrine of the Gospel." The Rule of Saint Benedict sums up the Gospel and, because it sums up the Gospel, it contains a distillation of all that was given to the patriarchs, the prophets, and wise men of the Old Testament. The Rule of Saint Benedict has the same savour as the Word of God to the palate of the soul; it carries the unmistakable fragrance of the divinely inspired Scriptures; it reflects the luminosity of the Sacred Page, and this, because the man who wrote the Rule was immersed in the splendour of Divine Revelation.

Freedom

Saint Benedict requires that the man proposing to embrace the Rule do so freely (libenter). He must be a free man acting freely, not a driven man acting under compulsion. This does not mean that the aspirant to monastic life be entirely free from the start; no one is entirely free. It does mean that his choice must be free insofar as his freedom goes at the moment of choosing. The Holy Ghost will, over time, and through purifying sufferings, untie and unravel the knots that constrain one's freedom so that, as one progresses in the monastic life one becomes more and more free. This is why, in Chapter VII of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict places interior liberty at the summit of the Twelve Degrees of Humility:

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

Getting On With It

Saint Benedict further requires that the man proposing to embrace the Rule do so effectively (efficaciter). He must carry out the Master's doctrine concretely, and not be content with pious reveries and idealistic visions of what might be, if only others were not such impediments to one's own perfection. It is not enough to say, "Yes, yes" with one's lips, if one's hands, and feet, and muscles, and breath are not quick to carry out what the ear has heard, and the intellect understood.

Labour

Obedience is, as Saint Benedict says, a labour. It involves spending oneself and super-spending oneself, as the Apostle says, Ego autem libentissime impendam, et super impendar -- "But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself" (2 Corinthians 12:15). The cloister is not a refuge for beautiful dreamers; it is a workshop and a school of doing. If it is true, according to the philosophers, that being precedes doing, it is also true that doing shapes being. Benedictine pedagogy (like the pedagogy of the liturgy) says, "Do this first, and later you will understand." Obedience is what allows a man to retrace his steps. By obedience a man goes back through the messy history of his own disobedience until, at length, he finds himself a child again, held fast in the arms of his Father.

On the Battlefield

A monastery faithful to the Holy Rule will necessarily be a battlefield, and its monks will be, not pious dilettantes, but warriors all bloodied and scarred fighting in the service of Christ, the true King. The "strong and glorious weapons of obedience" are, at times heavy and unwieldy. Skill in using them comes from practice. And if, wounded and weary, one needs time and space to recover from the humiliation of a momentary defeat on the battlefield, the Rule of Saint Benedict provides for that as well.

1 Comments

Dear Father. Pax. Your entries in your blog about the spiritual-liturgical life and Benedictine spirituality are so inspiring. They rejuvenate in me my desire to become a Benedictine oblate. Father, is there a way for me to live the Benedictine life as a lay person deprived of a Benedictine monastery in my locality? Father, please post your Constitutions online. I read your entry about a passage from your Constitutions and it is very uplifting. Thank you very much.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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