Happy St Benedict's day
Obsculta, o fili, præcepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui.'Listen, O Son to the teaching of the Master and bend the ear of your heart'. Thus begins the Holy Rule of our father St Benedict whose feast day it is today.
"Listening" and "bending the ear of the heart" is at the centre of Benedict's Rule, 'what has been lost by disobedience let us regain by obedience", the word "obedience" here can be understood in terms of to 'listen intently to' 'oboedire' .
The whole of the rule is to create an environment where someone can listen to God and gradually learn to stop listening to himself. We can understand Jesus' summary of the Law and the Prophets in Matthew 22:37, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.' as being about handing over one's very soul in obedience to God, it is about interior submission of heart and soul and mind to God. Everything about a monks life, his stability, conversion of life and his obedience, the monks three vows, is about this submission of his heart to God.
Today in this country most of our monastic communities are hanging on a knife edge, there are exceptions but several are unlikely to be in place in twenty years time. Like canaries in a mine monastic life reflects the health of the life the Church in general. The busy-ness of modern life both secular and religious does not bode well for monastic life. Most of all our liturgical life does not lead to a life of contemplation, it is worth reflecting that the more of Traditional worship a monastery takes on the more it seems to flourish. New monastic communities at least in the Europe and America are invariably 'old rite', think of Fontgombault and its daughter Clear Creek or the young Canons of Lagrasse or the Franciscan's of the Immaculate. It could simply be that the 'old rite' demands more time spent in Church or that those attracted to such communities are prepared for the contemplative life by attendance at the Traditional Rites.
I remember a trad guest at an English monastery saying the monks now spent more time preparing for one of the 'hours' than they did in actually singing it. It is not necessarily just the time spent in prayer that is problematic but the actual nature of prayer that has changed, the unreformed monastic Offiice ended with a few brief Kyries, the Pater and the Collect, now to its culmination is added a series of Intercessions. Possibly I am over stressing this but the unreformed Office, and therefore monastic prayer was entirely about praise, adding specific intercessions, for the sick, artists and craftsmen, the bishop, vocations etc. changes it. Rather than its end being contemplation it becomes about intercession, a subtle movement from 'being' to 'doing', it brings about a change in the anthropology of a monks.
Monastic life used to be centred on the hortus conclusus of the cloister and the liturgy, now the cloister no longer seems to satisfy. At one time a monk, even more so a nun, would enter the cloister knowing they would never leave it, not even to attend a parent's funeral, things seem to have changed. I am not criticising merely suggesting things have changed, I think it is rather good to have email contact with monastic friends but there was a time when even postage stamps were limited in a monastery, none at all in Lent, one or two a month at other times. The change is interesting.
One of the reason the Pope Emeritus chose the name Benedict would seem to be to recapture the contemplative nature Catholicism and the priesthood, and most importantly the contemplative nature of Christian prayer, it was his life's work.
Speaking on the charism of the Carthusians, he said
....as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, "expose" themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent "void," which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones.... God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.
The monk, in leaving all, "takes a risk," as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.