January 1–May 2–September 1
Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to God from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for Jesus, the Christ.
Life is a teacher of universal truths. That may be the reason why the religious readings of so many nations speak of the same situations and fasten on the same insights. The Rule of Benedict, too, is a wisdom literature that sounds life's themes. It deals with answers to the great questions of the human condition: the presence of God, the foundation of relationships, the nature of self-development, the pace of purpose. To the wise, it seems, life is not a series of events to be controlled. Life is a way of walking through the universe whole and holy.
This first paragraph of the Rule of Benedict brings into instant focus the basis for being able to do that.
Benedict says, "Listen." Pay attention to the instructions in this Rule and attend to the important things in life. Let nothing go by without being open to being nourished by the inner meaning of that event in life. There is an Oriental proverb that teaches, "Take from death before it takes from thee." If we do not live life consciously, in other words, we may not be living at all.
The Prologue is asking us to do the same thing. If we want to have a spiritual life, we will have to concentrate on doing so. Spirituality does not come by breathing. It comes by listening to this Rule and to its insights into life "with the ear of the heart," with feeling, with more than an academic interest.
One part of spirituality, then, is learning to be aware of what is going on around us and allowing ourselves to feel its effects. If we live in an environment of corporate greed or personal violence, we can't grow from it spiritually until we allow ourselves to recognize it. The other part of spirituality, the Prologue makes quite clear, is learning to hear what God wants in any given situation and being quick to respond to that, to "welcome it and faithfully put it into practice." To see the greed or sense the violence without asking what the Gospel expects in such a situation is not spirituality. It is piety at best.
Most important of all, perhaps, is the Prologue's insistence that this Rule is not being written by a spiritual task-master who will bully us or beat us down in a counterfeit claim to growing us up but by someone who loves us and will, if we allow it, carry us along to fullness of life. It is an announcement of profound importance. No one grows simply by doing what someone else forces us to do. We begin to grow when we finally want to grow. All the rigid fathers and demanding mothers and disapproving teachers in the world cannot make up for our own decision to become what we can by doing what we must.
In this very first paragraph of the Rule, Benedict is setting out the importance of not allowing ourselves to become our own guides, our own gods. Obedience, Benedict says––the willingness to listen for the voice of God in life––is what will wrench us out of the limitations of our own landscape. We are being called to something outside of ourselves, something greater than ourselves, something beyond ourselves. We will need someone to show us the way: the Christ, a loving spiritual model, this Rule.