Pray and work

The rule of St. Benedict

A special place in Benedict's life

The rule

A special place is occupied in the life’s work of St Benedict by  his Rule, written for all those who shared his worldviews and ideals in life and faith.  For a certainty, it could not have come into being all at once or on the spur of the moment. On the contrary, it was of long maturation in him who gave it shape.  The fruit of a long and serious spiritual journey, it was magnanimously offered to all who felt an inner spiritual hunger.  It took on its final form and full glory in Montecassino, the Benedictine abbey.  The Rule is a great book of short compass, containing 73 short chapters. In terms of its influence in the Western and Christian world, it comes just after the Bible.  This is no surprise, if it is taken into consideration that it is shot through with the contents of that Book, starting from the books of wisdom, going on with the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles of St Paul.  Benedict was as man of dialogue and a vivid example of a student who was open to the experience of those who preceded him and who was ready to learn from them.  Among the monastic sources from which he drew his inspiration and the material for his Rule, St John Cassian and the Regula Magistri are particularly to the fore.

Addressing in his Rule the reader and potential practitioner, in an immediate and familiar way, he established communication with them. Right at the beginning, in the Foreword, he lets the reader know that this call and this path on which he or she is determining to set out includes the need for work and everything that went with it.  The necessity of work is manifested at several levels.  Above all, at the internal, and then at the external. Work on the self, work around the self. Work for God, work for man.  In the candidate, Benedict wanted to awaken the desire for creation.  The feeling and awareness of the exaltation and beauty to be and to call oneself God’s workman and associate.  Not diminishing the demands made by this path, he nevertheless wanted to win them over for it, depicting the greatness, beauty and achievability of the ultimate end. A monk, then, is a person who works with God and for God. Monastic work is always understood in relation to Him. He bears within himself, then, a spiritual dimension and thus becomes a means of dedication and transformation. Of self and world.

Although it is never explicitly so said, nevertheless the whole of the contents of the Rule can be summed up with the motto pray and work.  This is just how it was understand by the whole of the later monastic tradition, and it became the trademark and motto of the Benedictine Order.   For Benedict devoted great attention to prayer, but not less to work.  He allowed the time for both of them, and demanded that this time be respected. Aware of the value and need for both the one and the other, he set up the structure for a permanent alternation between them.  He felt that only in this way was it possible to come to oneself, to others and to God.  Expressed in the words of Pope John Paul II: “A man true to God may not forget what is human but must maintain truth to man too. And so the duties that are to be performed vertically, mostly conducted in the life of prayer, must to the same extent be harmonised with the duties that horizontal relations require, which in most cases are effectuated by work.” Only in this way can those two commands be fulfilled, that to God and that to one’s neighbour, which are inseparable from one another.

Saint Benedict took people and their roles in this world with great seriousness, seeing the accomplishment of them in work.  This was a means for self-realisation, if it was done in the true way, with the correct motivation and purpose.  He was a great respecter of human labour. Without exception. He set equal value on manual and intellectual work.  Nothing did he reject, nothing did he belittle.  On the contrary, he endeavoured to elevate the value of human work and of him or her who performed it. In many ways, on every occasion.  By his own example and word, his advice and provision.  He was aware that inherent in work was the particular mark of man and humanness, the mark of a person who worked in oneness with other persons, and that this sign determined his interior and created his very nature.

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