Sermon: Benedict of Nursia

“Listen carefully, my child,
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart.
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.”

Those are the opening words of The Rule of St. Benedict.

Benedict of Nursia, considered the father of western monasticism and who we celebrate today, lived during the turn of the 6th century, dying in the year 550. He received his later education in Rome, but by his mid-teens was repulsed by the debauchery he saw there, which led to him retreating to a life of isolation. As he grew in wisdom of the Lord, he attracted others to the lifestyle he had chosen and would go on to form a community of likeminded individuals. Between 525 and 530, he moved this community to Monte Cassino, about 80 miles southeast of Rome, and it was there, around 540, that he wrote what we now know as the Rule of St. Benedict.

When analyzed, the Rule prescribes the day of the monk: four hours of liturgical prayer, five hours in spiritual reading, six hours of manual labor, one hour set aside for eating (including three glasses of wine per day – primarily because water may not have always been clean enough), and about eight hours of sleep. By adhering to the schedule the monk would discover a balance of life in silence, prayer, humility, manual labor, and obedience.

I don’t know of many who would be able to assign nine hours per day to prayer and study, as a priest I don’t know that I could even manage that, but for everyone, Benedict’s Rule points to a life of balance. A balance of what we give to God and what we give to this world. To what end? Esther de Waal, one of the great Benedictine scholars, wrote that all of Benedict’s writing could be summed up in the short passage from chapter 4, verse 21 of the Rule, “The love of Christ must come before all else.”

The Rule of St. Benedict is one of those books I would encourage you to read. You’ll come across directions for the day-to-day matters of the monastery that seem to be irrelevant to us today, but can provide significant spiritual insights. For example, chapter 22 describes how young monks are to sleep and how they “should remove their knives, lest they accidentally cut themselves in their sleep.” You’ll read that and think it has nothing to do with you, but how many spiritual “knives” have you gone to bed with that ended up cutting your soul more deeply than any real knife could cut your flesh?

There are more resources for Christian living than you’ll ever be able to read. One of the greatest that you should read comes from Benedict of Nursia. Today we give thanks to the Lord for Benedict’s life and his teachings.

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