Thursday, August 6, 2009


Anglican nuns at St. Mary’s Convent here at Sewanee practice the Benedictine Rule in their daily life at the convent on the bluff. I have a lot of respect for The Rule, and in the past my family in Franklinton often went on picnics to a place where this Rule is practiced --the Benedictine Abbey near Ramsey, Louisiana. My mother befriended many of the priests there and provided breakfast for those who came out to Franklinton to celebrate Mass for the small group of Catholics in this predominantly Baptist community. Several of the priests were highly educated, and one of them, an Irishman, had been trained in Rome. All of them observed The Rule, which is: “Cross, Book and Plow,” translated: “Pray, Study, and Work (physical).”

Several evenings ago, I attended a class about The Way of St. Benedict, led by a close friend, Cookie Sampson, who just received her Masters in Theology from Sewanee. The class combined reflections about The Rule and Lectio Divina, a method of reading a Scriptural passage and meditating on it, then sharing thoughts about the meditation within the small group.

Although most people associate The Rule with monasticism, lay people often adopt this discipline characterized by reasonableness, balance, and moderation, with an emphasis on humility and service. Writings about the life of St. Benedict, who founded The Rule, are scant, and the only authoritative, ancient account was written by Pope Gregory who claimed that his source was from a handful of Benedict’s disciples.

Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia and could have been a Roman noble himself but abandoned his studies and left home at about the age of 20. He took an old nurse with him, and they settled about forty miles from Rome, several miles from Subiaco. At Subiaco, he met a monk, Romanus of Subiaco who was the abbot at a monastery on a mountain with a cliff overlooking a cave. Benedict chose to live as a hermit in the cave for three years. During those years he matured spiritually and after Romanus died, he was invited to be the abbot of the monastery. However, the monks became jealous of him and tried to poison his drink. It is said that Benedict prayed a blessing over the cup, and the cup shattered. Then the monks attempted to poison him with poisoned bread, so he blessed the bread and a raven swept in and confiscated the loaf. Benedict then built 12 monasteries and placed a superior in each of them. He died at Monte Cassino, Italy in 547 and became patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

During the session about St. Benedict, I selected a few rules from Chapter 4 to ponder: 22. “Do not act under the impulse of anger,” and 23. “Do not reserve it for later.” I particularly focused on “Do not reserve it for later,” which to me meant not to explode in anger to a person who has wronged you, but don’t harbor it indefinitely either. I suppose this is why spiritual directors came into being; that is, to listen to outbursts of anger and then to guide the energy into some constructive action.

To become an Associate of St. Mary’s Convent, I had to develop a Rule of Life and while my rule is not as stringent as St. Benedict’s, I find that the major one implicitly includes the thesis of St. Benedict’s Rule: concentrate on a Christocentric life on earth. As the Rev. Timothy Fry says, “if there is strictness (within the Rule), the purpose is to amend faults and safeguard love.”
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