The Indwelling Word

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
2 Jan. 3 May. 2 Sept.
Let us then at length arise, since the Scripture stirreth us up, saying: It is time now for us to rise from sleep." And our eyes being open to the deifying light, let us hear with wondering ears what the Divine Voice admonisheth us, daily crying out: "Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts." And again, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches." And what saith He? "Come, my children, hearken to Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize hold of you."

Receive the Ingrafted Word

In this very brief passage of the Prologue, Saint Benedict weaves together five passages from Sacred Scripture. What does this tell us about the man? And what does this tell us about the monks he would have us be? It tells us that Saint Benedict was a man wholly indwelt by the living Word of God. The Word indwelling his heart sprang to his lips easily and spontaneously, becoming his own articulation of the inexhaustible mystery of Christ. It tells us that Saint Benedict would have us be men wholly indwelt by the Word; it tells us that in our lives, over time, the Word will begin to spring from our inmost hearts to our lips, becoming in each one of us a unique articulation of the same inexhaustible mystery of Christ. "With meekness," says the Apostle Saint James, "receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).

Maria Regula Monachorum

There is a profoundly Marian dimension of the Rule of Saint Benedict that is too often overlooked. Mary is regula monachorum, that is to say that she is the pattern and image of what the monk is called to be. If one would see the perfection of the monastic vocation, one has only to contemplate Mary, who said "Be it done to me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38), and who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). The Word received and held in Mary's Immaculate Heart becomes the doxological Word (i.e. the Word of praise), the eucharistic Word (i.e. the Word of thanksgiving) that springs to her lips in the Magnificat. The monk, like the Virgin Mary, is called to receive the impression of the Word in silence, and to give expression to the Word in song, and in all of life, by singing what he lives, and by living what he sings.

Ecclesial and Liturgical Context

Saint Benedict would not have known the kind of "Bible reading" practiced and popularised by Protestants: a private reading of the text without reference to the ecclesial and liturgical context that illumines and quickens it. For Saint Benedict, the Word of God was, first of all, a living message carried on the breath of God, striking the ear, illuminating the mind, and penetrating into the sanctuary of the heart where it becomes the sacrament of the Divine Indwelling. Saint Benedict would have known the Word of God by listening to it in the context of the Opus Dei (the Divine Office), and by chanting it seven times daily and once during the night, following the liturgical cycle of fasts and of feasts, within the virginal space of optimal resonance that is the Church Catholic.

Generative and Fruitful

Saint Benedict's apparent mastery of the Word of God is evidence that he was mastered by it. A Benedictine monastery is a school of the Lord's service, a school in which the Word is, at once, both the Master teaching and the matter taught. Humble submission to the Word of God -- perfectly imaged in the mystery of the Annunciation -- is the secret of Saint Benedict's prodigious generativity, and of the fecundity of his capital grace (or charism) down through the ages.

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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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