Tag Archives: Rule of Benedict

NY Oblates’ Retreat 2019

Labor Day weekend (2019) had 25 of the NY Oblates of St. Meinrad’s Archabbey attended their annual retreat in Ossining, NY. We welcomed several new people. We were blessed, once again to have Fr. Mateo Zamora, OSB was our retreat master, with a series of conferences “A Careful Watch: Vigilance in the Rule of St. Benedict.”

Vigilance is a looking forward to something. It is sober, thoughtful, careful. We care for another; we anticipate something/someone for the future; we are ready to serve. One good example of being vigilant is the Vigil for the Sick and Dying. In context is a team effort (a communal effort) with the person in question. We bear witness to the Hope of being in Christ even when the sorrow is shared. The waiting is for Christ’s coming (the beginning) not for death (the end). Vigilance, therefore, is attitudinal, as we do this because of our relationship with God.

St. Benedict dedicates four chapters of his Rule to keeping the prayer vigil (RB, ch. 8-11). In this case, Benedict teaches that keeping vigil is an ascetical practice of sacrifice. In a world where sacrifice is not a well-accepted idea, the sacrifice of sleep in the Rule is real commitment to something more important: prayer.

In A Not-So-Unexciting Life Essays on Benedictine History and Spirituality in Honor of Michael Casey, OCSO (2017) we are reminded that “The practice of keeping vigil is part of our conversatio. … [the Office of Vigils, for example] actually symbolizes: our heart’s being awake so that we can enter into the mystery, being awake when Christ comes.” In another place, it was said, “This idea of keeping watch is present in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13), and it is very much part of the celibate life.” However, we need to remember that keeping is Christian regardless of marital status.

Keeping with the theme, we started and ended the conferences with Luke 12:35-48:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks…”

When we are vigilant or keep a vigil, there is much waiting. Waiting is more than just biding time, it is an attitude – vigilance requires us to look inward as we look forward… being ready for what is coming. It requires trust, hope, a readiness to serve and a willingness to sacrifice. Regardless of the length of the wait, the waiting/vigil is a difficult sacrifice. We don’t “keep vigil”, the vigil keeps us, it forms us.

We only wait for people and things that we care about, those that matter most to us. We wait out of love.

In each conference Fr. Mateo challenged us to reflect on the following questions, as they related to the many types of vigils we keep:

    • How long did you wait?
    • What did you waiting for?
    • Why did you wait?
    • How did you wait?

We are always waiting for something or someone… we wait in line, we wait our turn, we wait for death, but we keep on living. If we know how long the wait will be, it seems like time is running out, there is not enough time. And yet, if we do not know the hour or the day, time is infinite, there is too much time. Having a sense of deadline makes us more diligent and organized, we take it more seriously, we are less likely to procrastinate.

Thankfully, we don’t often wait alone. When we share our waiting with others, the joys are multiplied and the sorrows are divided. In the waiting room of hospitals, it helps to have some to share the news you are waiting for – both good and bad.

Fr. Mateo also challenged us to be mindful of our words and actions, as we considered how Silence is vigilance over our words – restraint of speech. Silence is Wisdom’s first response (Euripides). This is especially challenging when we are easy with our words without considering how they function in person or on social media (in particular, the media). Our job is to first listen—be present, actively and attentively listening. Be especially careful with other people’s stories. Words have a sacred quality to them. Our words/speech should not be done at expense of the other (RB 6:8). Words should adore the other, make the other more beautiful. This is true because it is the Incarnate WORD of God –Jesus– who sanctifies, redeems and restores us. Read in the Rule 6: Restraint of Speech: good words are sometimes left unsaid for the esteem of silence

Humility is vigilance over our actions and Simplicity is vigilance over our possessions. Watch also what you do to yourself and others, as well as what you have. Humility is our acknowledgement of our lowliness and it is our acknowledgment of our gratitude. Humility is not just about our limitations but also what we can do –how we use our gifts. The converse is pride which is taking credit and it is using the self as the standard. Humility is Christ as the standard.

Culture encourages hoarding and consuming. Our possessions can possess us – they distract us. When we realize we can live without something, we start to let go, detach, so that we can be more attached to God. (MD/PAZ)

Labor Day and St Benedict

“Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’.”

Laborem Exercens (1981) St. John Paul II

The Pope focuses our attention on the the subjective experience of the worker, who bears the imago dei and thereby lends work its dignity. He raises some things we need to regularly recall. Today, too often, workers disconnect their experience from that of God’s image, and the life of the Church’s genuine experience of prayer, work, the moral life (one’s personal encounter with the Lord) and the community of faith. Their might be good reason for this fact. That is, too many of us are not doing anything meaningful in contributing to the common good; there is a lack of generatively, a failure to see work as working with God to advance His Kingdom on earth and looking forward to Paradise.  Work is not vocation; work may be more akin to one’s mission but not a “calling.” Big difference. And I think we need to revolutionize work according to the mind of St. Benedict and the Benedictine tradition.

Having just returned from the annual Benedictine Oblate retreat I attend with men and women in the greater New York City area, where we conferenced on St. Benedict’s idea of accountability as a cor ad cor experience. Today, I am also thinking of, in general terms, what the Rule of Benedict and the gift of Benedictine monasticism gives us on the theme of work. Just as accountability is a heart-to-heart experience, so is work.

In the experience of the monastery –which needs to be translated in the life of those of us not professed monks and nuns but Oblates, living in the world– work is a daily (except Sundays in selective cases) component and necessary part of the spiritual life, i.e., there is a natural rota of attending to prayer and work. In relation to our Sabbath observance which has become so non-existent today, the teaching of Abraham Joshua Heschel is worth considering anew and taking his challenge seriously. (As an aside, if you have not read Heschel’s work on the Sabbath, do so. You won’t regret the time with the book.) The Jewish scholar argues for the idea that Sabbath is at the heart of human existence. He says, on the Sabbath, the person “must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of”man and woman. So, work is placed within the ambit of the Sabbath.

Not to distract, St. Benedict’s teaching is germane for us today: work is essential to fulfilling the community’s needs without becoming an end in itself; he in fact limits work in order to prevent it from inculcating vicious habits that will distract our focus on seeking God. The monastery (our home) is a “workshop” for holiness. Further, Benedict uses work as way of keeping a monk (nun and Oblate) from sinful indolence: he should “be given some work in order that he may not be idle.” Think of all the ways we get into trouble by being idle, of having an essential focus on God.

From the perspective of the holy abbot, Benedict places a limit on how long a monk should perform any one job in the monastery. Essential common work done on behalf of others, like cooking, cleaning and reading at mealtime, are to rotate among the monks. Today, monks change these jobs weekly for the most part. The kitchen master’s job may be more stable than the table reader. In fact, no one becomes a permanent reader, no matter how good he is. The avoidable danger is becoming specialized and seeing yourself as indispensable. Likewise, the artisans from his Benedict’s experience, end up with the wrong priorities. In the Rule we read: “If one of them becomes puffed up by his skillfulness in his craft, and feels he is conferring something on the monastery, he is to be removed from practicing his craft and not allowed to resume it unless, after manifesting his humility, he is so ordered by the abbot.” No work of the artist is a work placed ahead of the companionship’s journey to conversion of manner, to holiness.

The Benedictine approach to work might be characterized this way:

NOT, What work am I called to do? BUT, How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness? How does my work contribute to my life of virtue, and edify others? Is my work missionary, human, loving and creative?
NOT, How does this work cooperate with society’s expectations, material creation? BUT, How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being? How does my work make me more a man, (or, more a woman)?
NOT, Am I doing what I love? BUT, What activity is so important that I should, without hesitation, drop my work in order to do it? What is my God-given mission for the sake of the Kingdom and the good of others?

Always remembering the exhortation of Saint Benedict, Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ  (RB 72.11).

Benedictine spirituality is simple

Lady Abbess Benedict Duss (+2005) of Regina Laudis in a 1998 conference with the Core Oblates of the Abbey that may be of interest to those who live –or try to live– according the Rule of Benedict:

“Benedictine Spirituality is very elusive, because it is so simple. We have great aspirations, which can cause us to lose sight of the simple, and achievement is not helped, thereof.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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