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A way of life
on 1 April 2005
The Rule of St. Benedict itself is a fairly short book, usually printed in fewer than 100 pages, with its 73 chapters of a few paragraphs in length at most. However, often a simple reading of the Rule leaves modern readers dis-satisfied; it is a rule in many ways of and for a different world, just as the biblical texts can be so characterised. However, it is also, like the Bible, a text that speaks to us today, and has application and inspiration for modern followers.
Benedict's Rule for life includes worship, work, study, prayer, and relaxation. Benedict's Rule requires community -- even for those who become hermits or solitaries, there is a link to the community through worship and through the Rule. No one is alone. This is an important part of the relationship of God to the world, so it is an integral part of the Rule.
Benedict's Rule was set out first in a world that was torn with warfare, economic and political upheaval, and a generally harsh physical environment. This Rule was set out to bring order to a general chaos in which people lived. This is still true today, and men and women all over the world use Benedict's 'little rule for beginners' as a basic structure for their lives.
The first word of the rule is Listen. This is perhaps the best advice for anyone looking for any guidance or rule of life. While Benedict's Rule is decidedly Christocentric and hierarchical (though not as hierarchical as much popular ideas about monastic practice would have one think), it nonetheless can give value to any reader who is looking to construct a practice for oneself.
Benedict's establishment of a monastery was in fact the establishment of a school for spirituality. In his prologue to the Rule, Benedict even states this as his intention. In drawing up its regulations, he intends to set down 'nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.' He sets forth in this brief rule a guide to individual life within community that will bring one ever closer to the divine.
Benedict explores the issues of charity, personality, integrity, and spirituality in all of his rules. From the clothing to the prayer cycle to the reception of guests, all have a purpose that fits into a larger whole, and all have positive charges and negative warnings. Benedict is especially mindful of the sin of pride, be it pride of possession, pride of person, pride of place -- he strives for equality in the community (as a recognition that all are equal before God).
Joan Chittister's commentary is brilliant, as always with her writing. This relates the timeless rule to the timeliness of the world today. This is an excellent resource, and an excellent guide.