MEMORIAL OF SAINT BENEDICT, FOUNDER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM
In today’s world, about 7,500 religious men and women follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, the father of western monasticism in the sixth century. Benedict established twelve monasteries in Europe, the most famous being Monte Cassino in Italy, which was completely destroyed during WWII. Monk comes from the Greek word monos which means single or alone. Benedictine monks and nuns live alone in community (sounds paradoxical, no?), gather in the chapel at seven different times during the day for prayer, and usually have some line of work that helps support their community, as diverse as raising cattle or chickens, producing jams or honey, or even distilling fancy brandies or beers. The Benedictine Trappist monastery in Dubuque, Iowa, manufactures simple pine coffins. Because the average age of today’s monk or nun is quite high, oftentimes monasteries hire people from outside the monastery to help with their self-supporting endeavors.
The Rule of Saint Benedict, which has endured as a spiritual classic over the last 1500 years, is a simple guide for spiritual living for every Benedictine and for you and me.
One of our nation’s most well-known Benedictines is Sister Joan Chittister. If you are not familiar with her spiritual writings, simply Google her name and pick any one of a number of her very fine books. You will be inspired!
Sister Joan has authored A Little Rule for Beginners, which is a good introduction to the Rule of Saint Benedict.In regard to the qualities of the abbot or prioress of a monastery, Chapter 2 of the Rule states:
While helping others to amend by their warnings, they achieve the amendment of their own faults.
Sr Joan writes: Authority is not a synonym for perfection. The one who leads must also learn to listen to those they lead and so obey the call to growth within the community. Otherwise, obedience is nothing more than a lame and obvious excuse for authoritarianism.
Sister’s point is well-taken. Good leaders are always good listeners.