Feb 13, 2013
When reading the Rule of St. Benedict, one is struck by the order and discipline he advocates. Whether prayer, work or rest: every single activity of a monk is given its precise time in the monastic schedule and he is taught to respect it.
We all know that some very talented people never achieve much because they are so disorganized, so undisciplined that all their rich gifts never blossom. On the other hand, we all know that many mediocre people occupy high positions. This might be explained by two facts: they know how to organize their day and moreover have learned how to play the “political game”, I.e. how to be politically correct. This might shed some light on a naughty remark of – I believe – Chesterton marveling at the mediocrity of many of our “leaders.”
Why do all founders of religious orders insist upon having a rule? The answer is obvious: because we need guidance and direction; otherwise we are tempted to run from one thing to another, and achieve nothing. On the other hand, being given man’s propensity to become a slave to anything that he does, it is worth remarking that this precious discipline can, for some, become a jail. Life is full of surprises, and always challenges us to face new situations. Once again, it is remarkable that a St. Benedict has foreseen this, and his severity about observing the Rule (the moment the bell rings, a monk must immediately abandon whatever he is doing, even in a “crucial” moment) is counter balanced by an equal readiness to follow the “thema Christi” – that is to say to break this holy routine when there a “call” to do so. The same great Saint writes that when a guest appears at an unaccustomed hour, immediately some monks appointed to this task, should turn their full attention to this call. He has become “wax” in the divine hands, and is for ever ready to “shift gears” when he hears a Divine Call. Christ said to Peter, and a bit later to James and John, who were repairing their fishers’ nets, “Follow me,” and without a moment’s hesitation, they did.
In monastic language: this is holy freedom. Total fidelity to the Rule and simultaneously full readiness to change course, if circumstances indicated that it is what Christ wishes us to do. Medical emergencies or tragedies (such as a fire) call for immediate attention. It would be monstrous is someone, instead of coming to the help of someone who has a heart attack, would insist upon first finishing to clean the dishes.