We are, without a doubt, living in a time marked by exponential changes. It’s all around us, changes that have an effect on all of us in one way or another, a lot of blowing and shifting sand in the air.
In my own mind I reckon today’s moral and economic climate as something akin to the dust bowl era - the Dirty Thirties when so many lives were changed, many lost, because of physical climatological changes, Black Tuesday, and the Great Depression that had global ramifications. Will we see such dire degrees of hardship? Who knows.
These modern moral and economic changes may be new to our sated and spoiled times. Even a little trying and scary. I have to remind myself that there is really nothing new about them. They’ve happened before, numerous times over the course of history. Regionally, nationally, and globally. Who’s to say they can’t or will not happen again?
Benedict entered onto the stage of life at such a time in history. The world that he lived in was a big mess of an upheaval - a moral, economic, and political mess. His response to the climate that surrounded him? Leave it. As much as it was possible to leave it. Trade it for a balanced life of prayer, study, and manual labor.
That was 1500 years ago and multiplied tens of thousands are safe at home in heaven after following the pathway marked out by St. Benedict. In these shifting and changing times I can’t help but to feel safe following his fatherly advice, even if it does go against the grain of contemporary thought.
In Benedict’s mind prayer, study, and manual labor are the basic Benedictine ingredients for stability. They sow and cultivate the interior stability of the heart that makes for the possibility of a congenial stability within the context formed by a community of individuals.
The latter stability really isn’t possible without the cultivation of the former personal stability of the heart.
Benedict’s Rule prescribes:
Set times for prayer.
Set times for study.
Set times for work.
Set times for sleep.
Set times for eating.
Set times for leisure.
Joint participation by all community members at the prescribed times. Every day. Without fail. No excuses.
Routine. Balanced routine. Routine that contains only slight seasonal variations. Routine that, like good liturgy, accomplishes more than the mere orchestration of time. Routine that honestly partners with God’s deepest intentions and most intimate desires.
It’s easy, in these modern times, to balk at or even totally dismiss such an ideal life-program as unrealistic. Perhaps an exact replication of it this side of the cloister is unrealistic for most. It is unrealistic for me. At least at this point in my life. It does, however, keep presenting itself as a target to be shot at. Even here in the layman’s world.
But, in their simplicity, the basic principles found in the rings of that target, implemented and applied, are far from unrealistic. Difficult to attain? Yes. Unrealistic and unattainable? No.
Basic Benedictine principles fit themselves quite fluidly and substantively into my workaday life tethering me to the Gospel Anchor. They do, practiced over and over, over time have a definite life-molding effect, showing up more and more not only in the way I think but also in the way I respond to life’s circumstances.
No. I don’t consider myself a master at the Benedictine craft. Far from it. My Oblate Novitiate may be several years behind me now. But I’m still very much a novice in need of the tutelage of the masters. It’s always easier to talk a straight line than it is to walk one.