Prefer Nothing Whatever to Christ
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Benedict. His life span (480-547) conjures up a world in disarray. His genius was to chart anew a path to the abiding and life-giving Center that was both contemplative and practical: a school of the Lord’s service.
The famous close of his Rule reads:
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life.
This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other” (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weakness of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but, instead, what he judges better for someone else.
To their fellow monks, they should show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.
Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may He bring us all together to everlasting life.
The Benedictine monk, Columba Stewart, in his Prayer and Community: the Benedictine Tradition writes:
Benedict’s most fundamental insight in the Rule is that we seek God through ordinary means. God is already here, in and among us, if only we can learn to see Christ and hear his voice in those with whom we live.
Benedict would have us structure each day with several exercises of attentiveness to Christ, each a form of listening and responding to God in prayer. The development of these exercises over the centuries and the various arrangements of them in the Benedictine tradition past and present suggest that the key to mindfulness lies not in precision of detail but in the ensemble of practices.
Individuals have the same freedom as communities to find a mix that works for them. For it to be “Benedictine,” it would contain both liturgical and personal prayer, be grounded in lectio divina, and heighten awareness of how we stand before God as both sinful and saved.
And so the Church prays today (in my “dynamically equivalent” translation):
O God, you set the blessed Abbot Benedict as an outstanding master in the school of holiness. May your people prefer nothing whatever to your love, and, with generous hearts, may we follow the way of your commandments: through Christ, our Lord. Amen.