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by Irene Nowell, O.S.B.

The word of God is very near to you
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out (Dt 30:14; cf. Rom 10:7)

Daniel Olivier has said that "in order for a community of monks to be able to function, all they have to have is a Bible."1 Is that true? Does that relate to your experience? Are we aware that "the word of God is very near to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts"? I'd like to begin with an imaginative exercise. Let's turn this upside down. Let's imagine that there is no Bible. Imagine that we have everything else-community, place, schedule, ministry-just no Bible. What would our day be like? Can any of our monastic communities function without a Bible?

First of all, morning prayer will be very short! We cannot begin with "Lord, open my lips," since that is from Psalm 51. We might be able to manage the hymn, although most of them are biblically based. The antiphons and psalms are out, as is the reading ordinarily. We could have intercessions, but no Lord's Prayer. We could purge the closing prayer of biblical images perhaps, and a blessing might be possible. Pretty brief.

We would find a similar situation in the other Hours. "God, come to my assistance" is also from the psalms (40:14; 70:2) and the rest follows as above. Eucharist would also have to be seriously abbreviated. Besides the readings, we would run into difficulty with the Gloria, the Holy and Lamb of God, and "Lord, I am not worthy." The Eucharistic prayer would also need some adjustments. Lectio divina too would be radically different without the Bible and biblically based books.

"Well," you will say, "that may be true of our prayer life, but there are other facets to monastic life." True. My mother always thought that what Benedictines did was eat and pray. So let's look at meals. (I'm back to prayer again.) Meal prayers, at least at my house, would have to be changed. So would some of the short table readings. Even at meals the Bible has crept into our daily lives.

What about ministry? Those of you who are teachers, consider this. Does the Bible ever come into your courses? One of the reasons I am in monastic life today was the habit my high school English teacher had of quoting the psalms at every available occasion. In college I had a voice teacher who encouraged me to prepare for a high note by saying, "I go to prepare a place for you." When I found a note I particularly liked-and wanted to hang onto-she would say, "We are a pilgrim people; we have here no lasting city." I suspect that every teacher here has some favorite and useful quotations-whether you teach first grade or college chemistry. I am also confident that those in healthcare or social work quote the Bible more than they realize. So it would take some effort to imagine our ministries without the Bible.

In fact, our everyday conversations would be diminished without biblical allusions and citations. Pay attention to your conversations for a day and see how often you quote the Bible, whether seriously or in fun. We are soaked in Scripture from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed. It flows into us, through us, out of us.

Finally, we would not have the Rule. Benedict is our premier example of a person soaked in Scripture. Hardly a sentence appears in the Rule without some biblical connection. Mary Forman points out that there are only twelve chapters in the Rule that do not have a biblical allusion, and those are chapters on very practical matters, such as the tools of the monastery (RB 32) and the times for meals (RB 41).2 Without the Bible we would not have the Rule!

Scripture really is the basis of monastic life. I do not know if it is true that all you need for a monastery is a community and a Bible, but I do know that you cannot have a monastic community without one-at least not a Benedictine community. Benedictine life is unwaveringly rooted in Scripture.

Scripture is central; we are bathed in it every day, all day. Does that mean that all we have to do is just show up? Just walk under the shower or step into the pool and everything we need to understand Scripture flows into us through osmosis? I don't think so. In 2002 Rosemary Rader challenged this group to contribute to the revitalizing of both our spiritual and our intellectual tradition, thus the title of this year's meeting. At a recent meeting of the presidents of American Benedictine Colleges and Universities with the abbots and prioresses of communities who sponsor them, a related challenge was raised: the integration of our Benedictine intellectual tradition in the daily workings of our educational institutions.

Meeting these challenges is vital for our continued health as monastic communities. In the end, I think the two challenges are one; the challenge is simply to be who we are. Jean Leclercq named his influential book The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. The name describes the heart of the monastic enterprise and the two elements cannot be separated. We monastics are called to seek God with our whole being: body, mind, and spirit. The goal is fullness of life in a whole and healthy human community.

So how do we integrate body, mind, and spirit? How do we revitalize the life of the mind and the spirit? Too often, I think, we have relegated the disciplined life of the mind-the real work of study and scholarship-to the "professionals." Let the Scripture scholars tell us what Scripture means and the Rule scholars tell us what the Rule means. But this integration is demanded of all of us. The scholars too face the demand to integrate their spiritual life with their scholarly life. None of us can-or ought to-compartmentalize "thinking" and "praying." Actually-and we don't always admit this-I find that most monastics are extremely good at integrating study and prayer, so good that preachers are sometimes criticized for being too academic and teachers are criticized for being too spiritual!

So what does this have to do with my topic, Scripture as central to monastic life? Sometimes a certain shyness hampers the ordinary monastic in the choir stall. We "old" Catholics may still have a hangover from the years when we were told in no uncertain terms that we could not understand Scripture and should not attempt to interpret it. We are also a bit skittish because we find different translations and know that Hebrew and Greek are not in our tool kit. On the other hand, we who have slaved over Hebrew and Greek can sometimes get caught in technicalities and forget that the whole point of Scripture study is to understand the Word of God, to taste this Word that is in our mouths and in our hearts and to carry it out. We all have work to do. How can we do this?

Scripture in LOH and Lectio

Our most frequent and pervasive meeting with Scripture on a daily basis is in our prayer life. How can we enrich our prayer lives by integrating study, prayer, and action? The key, I think, is in lectio divina. Lectio itself is not study, but it is our first opening to the depth of the biblical text. Doing lectio with the psalms, for example, is an excellent way to enrich our prayer at Liturgy of the Hours. During prayer itself the psalms flow by too rapidly for a lot of sustained thought, but lectio gives us all the time in the world. In lectio we can pray the psalm a few verses at a time, considering how God speaks to us now through these words. We can put ourselves in the situation of the psalmist and make the prayer our own.

We can also keep the newspaper handy and reflect on those in today's news who need to pray this psalm. In the Liturgy of the Hours we give voice to the voiceless; pondering their need can help us do this well. Most of the psalms are laments, so it's not hard to find someone who needs to lament! We can read the superscription of the psalm-those first few verses-and search out the story of David that is described. Can we pray with David's voice? Or we might pray Psalm 90 with Moses, pondering how Moses prayed for the people: "Relent, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!" (Ps 90:13). Remembering how he turned away God's anger during the incident of the golden calf may teach us how to pray for our whole society? What would happen if we did lectio on one psalm a week?

We can enrich our prayer further if we supplement our lectio with a good commentary. Konrad Schaefer, Bernhard Anderson, and Carroll Stuhlmueller, for example, have excellent books on the psalms that are accessible to the non-professional.3

The same process can be fruitful with the continuous reading in the Liturgy of the Hours or the Lectionary. We are reading Haggai now for Morning Praise and just finished Nahum. Commentaries on those two books are very short and very helpful. One sister came to me last week and said, "What in the world is Nahum up to? What does this mean?" It helps if you know the relationship between the Assyrians and the Israelites! Whether or not we are reading a biblical book linked to the liturgy of the moment, commentaries are useful and sometimes indispensable.

Study is not itself lectio, but it can flow in and out of our lectio. We read with our whole being. We need to understand what we read; we need to take advantage of all the wonderful resources that are available to us. The word is very near to us. It is certainly in our mouths daily. It needs also to be in our hearts. Remember, the "heart" in ancient Israel is the seat of thinking and of wisdom. Our equivalent phrase is "in our minds." The word also needs to be in our imaginations and our actions. Can we learn to play with Scripture? Can we rewrite its stories in our own time? Or imagine ourselves in tenth-century Israel? Can we dialogue with Elijah or Jeremiah or Peter or Martha? The effort is worth it. By requiring lectio divina of us, Benedict gives us the great gift of time to ponder the Word of God. In this pondering, study and prayer are blended.

Scripture in RB

The Word is also in our Rule. Here too Benedict expects us to study as well as to pray. It is significant that his instructions regarding lectio divina are in the chapter on manual labor (RB 48). Our reading is work, just as the Liturgy of the Hours is work-the Opus Dei. A substantial time each day-and almost all of Sunday-is to be given to our reading. During Lent we are to work our way through a whole book. The time for reading is to be quiet so that we may concentrate.

The Bible is the center of this reading. Benedict asks, "What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?" But commentaries and other works are also recommended by Benedict: "What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the creator?" (RB 73.3-4). We will see later that not only the reading but also the production of biblical commentaries and meditations has been part of monastic life throughout the centuries.

Benedict himself is an excellent example for us. The Rule is interwoven throughout with biblical quotations and allusions. Many-perhaps most-of these biblical references reveal the workings of Benedict's mind as well as the richness of his prayer life. Time after time it is evident that Benedict not only knew the verse or phrase but also knew the context of the citation or allusion. Benedict's other reading was also rich. He cites Scripture as mediated through other careful readers: Cyprian, Augustine, Clement, Ambrose. He worked, not only with his Bible, but also with commentaries and homilies from other Christian thinkers. He studied too!

How can we take advantage of this? We have wonderful resources for reading and study. New translations of early Christian writers are appearing along with books that set these writers in their own context. Helpful commentaries on the Rule itself open our minds and hearts to new ideas. One of the best resources is RB 1980, especially the large version (big red) with all the indexes.4 We can spend years mining the riches of those indexes: the thematic index, the index of Scripture to Rule and Rule to Scripture, the index of patristic and ancient writers.

Let me give an example. A talk by Genevieve Glen turned my attention to RB 57, "The Artisans of the Monastery." There are two references to Scripture in that short chapter: the allusion to the story of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11 and a quotation of 1 Peter 4:11: "that in all things God may be glorified." The question that stirred in my mind was: "Why Ananias and Sapphira in this context?" It is true that they were guilty of deceit and it had to do with money, but their action did not have to do with artisans practicing their craft. What inspired the use of this biblical passage? Was it just that Benedict happened to be reading Acts that morning or is there something deeper?

I began by looking at the context of the passage in Acts. The story of Ananias and Sapphira follows one of Luke's idealized summaries of the community life of early Christians. "The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed to own any possession, but they had everything in common" (Acts 4:32). There were no needy people among them because those who did own property or houses sold them and turned in the proceeds. Thus distribution was made to everyone according to need. (Sound familiar?) The last story in Acts 4 is of Barnabas who sold a piece of property and brought the money to the apostles.

So Ananias and Sapphira decide to sell a piece of property too. Are they shamed into it? Peter will later say that they weren't forced to sell anything (5:4). In any case, they agree to hold back some of the profits but to turn in the rest as if it were the whole. The real problem here is the deceit. Peter says, "Why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the Holy Spirit? . . . You have lied not to human beings, but to God" (5:4). The consequence is startling: Ananias and his wife both drop dead when they learn that their deception is known. "And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things" (5:11).

Two stories follow this incident in Acts. The first is a summary of the signs and wonders done at the hands of the apostles and a report that the number of believers continues to increase (Acts 5:12-16). The second picks up the story that began at the beginning of Acts 4 and narrates the arrest of the apostles and their refusal to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, which so enrages the Sanhedrin that they want to put them to death. They are deterred by the wise advice of Gamaliel: "If this comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God" (5:39). The stories confirm the fact that God supports and protects this early Christian community. Their trust in God is not misplaced; they can risk even their lives.

So where is this story used in the Rule? In RB 57 Benedict warns against two related dangers to the artisans in the monastery-and to all of us. The first danger is the temptation to pride: Look what I am contributing to the monastery! They should be really grateful that I'm here! The second danger is the temptation to greed, the practice of fraud in the sale of products. Benedict's medicine against these temptations is also twofold: to avoid greed set the price even a bit lower than the going rate; to avoid pride remember that whatever you do is not for your own glory but the glory of God.

What does the story of Ananias and Sapphira add to Benedict's teaching? Their action is certainly fraud, and it can be interpreted as greed. They don't want to share the profits of their sale with the rest of the Christian community. Is their action also spurred by pride? Do they sell the property in the first place and pretend to bring all of the proceeds because they want to look good in the eyes of the community? It certainly seems so. But I find an even deeper motivation in Ananias and Sapphira. They don't believe that the community can really support them. They don't believe that distribution will really be made according to need-or they want more than they need! In the end, they don't trust God.

Is lack of trust also the problem in RB 57? Just six verses before RB 57 is Benedict's second citation of Acts 4:35-the last verse of Acts before the story of Ananias and Sapphira: "Distribution was made to each one as he had need" (RB 55.20). The chapter is on the clothing and footwear of the brethren, the necessities of life. Benedict's other citation of Acts 4:35 is in RB 34, the more general chapter on distribution according to need. Acts 4:32, "All things should be the common possession of all . . . so that no one presumes to call anything his own," is cited in the preceding chapter, chapter 33, on the evil of private ownership. All these chapters call for trust in the abbot and in God (RB 33.5; 34.3; 55.3, 18), for gratitude, and humility (RB 34.2; 55.20-22). "Whoever needs less should thank God . . . but whoever needs more should feel humble" (RB 34.3-4).5 Are gratitude and humility not the fruits of trust?

We could continue by studying 1 Peter 4, cited in the final verse of RB 57 but that will have to wait for another day. If you begin to pursue this kind of study, you may also be driven, as I was, to also investigate Benedict's other sources. RB 1980 has a handy index for that too. You will find Ananias and Sapphira in similar contexts in the Rule of the Master6 and Cassian's Institutes and Conferences.7 But that reflection too must be left for another day.

Was this exercise study? Or was it lectio? It certainly taught me something about my life. I collect a fair number of checks in practicing my craft. The temptation to keep one now and then is not unknown to me. But that is precisely what Ananias and Sapphira did. The reason for their deceit was lack of trust and lack of humility. That is precisely the fault that underlies my temptation. Will the community really provide everything that I need? Do I always have to ask? It's so humbling to be dependent! Underneath these thoughts lies a more significant awareness: Do I really trust God to take care of me? Now there's a question! I saw all this much more clearly because of my pursuit of Ananias and Sapphira, so I think my study turned into prayer. The word is in our mouths and in our hearts; we have only to carry it out!

Any one of us can do this kind of exercise! I began by working just with the Bible and the Rule, and then I made a little search of the ancient writers with the help of the Internet and the community library. I couldn't find everything, but what I found gave me much to ponder.

History of Scripture Study in Monastic Life

Our tradition too tells us of generations of students of Scripture, who were also infused with prayer. I offer just a few examples who demonstrate qualities that persist through our history. We can begin with Gregory the Great, (pope 590-604), our first interpreter of Benedict. Robert McNally names him the "most prolific Bible commentator" of his time and says that his work "reflect[s] the spirit which will inspire the Bible exegesis for the next thousand years."8 Beryl Smalley calls him "the master of `spiritual' exegesis,"9 so he is not neglecting prayer either. She concludes her description of him: "Exegesis is teaching and preaching. Teaching and preaching is exegesis. This was the strongest impression left by St. Gregory on medieval Bible study."10 Gregory is a clear example that Benedictines do not park their minds at the door when they pray, nor do they put their hearts in a drawer when they study. Benedictines are always doing lectio, and lectio leads us to pray with our minds and hearts and bodies. The word is very near to us!

Because of the stability of our community lives, Benedictines are naturally mentors for the next generation. A trio of monks from the Abbey at Auxerre in France provides interesting evidence of biblical mentoring in the ninth century. First in the trio is Haimo, a monk and teacher in the abbey school. Haimo wrote commentaries on both Old and New Testament books.11 What is interesting for our purposes, however, is Haimo's influence through his student Heiric and Heiric's student Remigius. The sharing of thought between the three is so strong that until about a century ago, two of Haimo's commentaries were thought to be by Remigius, and others were published under the name of Heiric. We not only pass on our buildings and our ministries to the next generation, we also entrust the results of our study to them.

The community responsibility for serious study and serious prayer is demonstrated in a different way in the thirteenth century at Helfta. Would the insights and understanding in the writings of the two Gertrudes and two Mechtildes have been as deep if they had not had each other? Would their work even have been preserved? What was happening with the rest of the community? They surely were part of this great surge of studious prayer and prayerful study.

So it is on through the centuries: Benedict's followers pray through their study and study through their prayer; they continue to entrust the task to the next generation. And so it comes to us. What has been entrusted to us by the monastics of the past fifteen centuries? What are we entrusting to the next generation? What are our gifts, our difficulties, our challenges?

Our Present Situation

Our Gifts

We have many gifts to help us in this great work. Our most basic gift is our own communities, the faithful monastics who ponder Scripture day after day and share the fruit of their wisdom with us. We also have good Benedictine Scripture scholars-some of whom are sitting here. Their work blends the best of monastic values and biblical scholarship. We have benefited from the Church's opening of the treasures of the Bible, especially since Vatican II. Good translations have been made in the last several decades; excellent commentaries have been written. The revised liturgy has spread the banquet of Scripture before us. We have reclaimed lectio divina and welcomed the freedom to read the Bible as intelligent Christians without fear of straying into radical misinterpretation-as long as we read with humility and are willing to be redirected by the believing community. We are teaching Scripture in initial formation and ongoing formation and using the wealth of resources that the last thirty years have brought us. We have many gifts.

Our Difficulties

Focusing on Scripture, acknowledging the Word of God as the basis and center of monastic life, is not easy, however. There are many difficulties we face if we are serious about studying and praying with Scripture.

Violence: First of all, Scripture is often just too real, too human. Scripture is the Word of God in human words; it is incarnational. It is as complex and as paradoxical as the rest of human life. Its incarnational character is the real gift to us; the Word is very near to us. But that means that Scripture expresses not only our noblest virtues but also our most horrible tendencies. Usually the facet of its humanness that we most resist is the expression of violence. Dealing with the violent texts is difficult. What can we do? What solutions do we have?

Should we censor Scripture? For example, should we never read anything in the Old Testament after Deuteronomy? Should we never read Revelation? What about Ananias and Sapphira, who dropped dead at Peter's word? Or the beheading of John the Baptist? Or the report that Jesus called the Syro-Phoenician woman a dog? Should we censor these texts? On what authority would we do that? It is a fearsome thing to tamper with the Word of God. The texts that comfort us and those that offend us are all part of the living word of God. The believing community has preserved them through millennia. The offensive texts aren't going away. So we have to figure out how to deal with them. God still speaks to us today through those texts. How can we hear this word? I have no answers, only some observations.

First, these texts force us to be honest with ourselves. Once when I was teaching a class to our older sisters one of them said, "I cannot pray those violent psalms." I was edified, thinking that years of monastic life had rooted the violence out of her heart. But another older sister said, "I don't know why you can't say those things in church. You say them in the hall!" I have been pondering that ever since.

The most difficult question regarding violence in Scripture has to do with those passages that report that God instructs the Israelites (or whoever) to kill every living thing. Consider this: When do we think that God is on our side? That idea makes most of us cringe. But it forces us, I think, to consider who our enemies really are. Benedict takes the phrase from Psalm 137 about bashing Babylonian babies against the rock and, following Origen, teaches us to bash our wicked thoughts, while they are still babies, against the rock that is Christ (RB Prol 28; 4.50). He is teaching us that our enemies aren't Babylonian (or Iraqi) babies but our own wicked thoughts. What are our real enemies? When we know the answer to that question, we will know when God is on our side.

It is startling and paradoxical to remember that our most treasured Christian symbol is violent. Yet we Christians are told never to take our eyes from the cross. What can this mean except that we are never to take our eyes from Christ's suffering today in his members? We are called to grieve over this suffering of Christ in every human tragedy so that we will do something about it! Benedict tells us to keep death daily before our eyes. Is that only peaceful death in our beds with our brothers and sisters around us praying? The daily news keeps another kind of death before us. What are we to make of this? Why does Benedict tell us to keep death before us? Is it so that we can recognize our frailty and learn to depend on God? Is it so that we will continue to beg God to "deliver us and the whole world from evil"? The violence in Scripture that so unnerves us can have the same result.

I find it heartening and even virtuous that we are horrified by the violence in Scripture, the violence that people inflict on one another and the violence that comes from God (which we call natural disasters and the insurance companies still call "acts of God"). I hope we are equally horrified by the violence in the news and in our own thoughts and actions. I have a friend who, as a small child, was taken to see the movie of the Wizard of Oz. She cried when the Wicked Witch melted. That, I think, is the tenderness of heart we must cultivate regarding violence wherever we find it.

Out of Date: A second challenge we meet when we focus on Scripture is that it is "out of date." Even the New Testament is almost two thousand years old, written in a different language in a different culture. How can it have anything to do with us today? Can we really claim that this is a "living word"?

I was a guest speaker in a college class on Benedictine spirituality a few years ago. My topic was the use of Scripture in the Rule. The students were very polite, listened attentively and asked reasonable questions. Then one young woman waved the little red copy of the Rule and said, "Well, but does anyone read this today? It's so out of date!" I nearly fainted! I pointed out to her that every Benedictine she knew heard a portion of the Rule read every day. It turned out that what she was concerned about was beating boys. Violence again. So we had a little conversation about cultural differences, adapting and looking for basic values and so on. I also pointed out that some of Benedict's seemingly strange advice is very current: for example, not sleeping with your knife translates readily into not keeping a gun in your night stand-for many of the same reasons. She made me realize, however, that what I take for granted as extremely relevant to my life may not be so obvious to others.

Scripture too needs to be interpreted for the present. Origen realized that his audience did not care about Babylonian babies one way or another, so he had to figure out how to apply the last verse of Psalm 137 to the second century. Augustine works very hard in his Expositions on the Psalms to find meaning in obscure or dated psalm verses. Reading, studying, praying Scripture is hard work; it is not intuitively obvious. But the work is worth it. What are we indeed doing in lectio? Are we not listening to hear what God has to say to us today through these words? Scripture is a living Word. It is indeed very near to us, in our hearts and in our mouths. It is worth all the effort we bring to it, following the example of our ancestors, to hear God's Word today. "What word, what passage of the Old or New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?" (RB 73.3).

Translations: Translation provides another challenge. Older translations sometimes make Scripture seem more out of date than it really is. Does Jesus really speak nineteenth-century English? Translations always reflect the language and the worldview of the time and place in which they are made. Both language and worldview change; both language and worldview are sensitive issues. We have struggled with the question of inclusive language, but that is not the only question. Should we translate `ebed as "servant" or "slave"? Zonah as "whore" or "prostitute" or "harlot"? Do we keep all the images of God or only some of them? (Wrongs have been done on that issue from at least two sides-eliminating all the masculine images but keeping the feminine ones, or the reverse.)

Do we make our own translations? On what authority? I can tell you from experience that it takes dedicated scholars decades to make an accurate translation. A cautionary tale: One community I know changed the masculine language in the psalms to neutral terms. So Psalm 78:63 said: "Fire consumed their young people; their young women had no wedding songs." Now that has a considerably different meaning than, "Fire consumed their young men; their young women had no wedding songs." The young women were not getting married because the young men were all killed!

Translation confronts us again with the problem of real life. Language is flawed; translators are flawed. Still God insists on speaking to us through other human beings. (If I were God, I would have found a more responsible transmitter, I think!) Consider this: Augustine can make something wonderfully true and inspiring out of what is often a poor translation. (He can also be heavy and boring!) Thérèse of Lisieux became a saint, following a Little Way, even though the translation of Scripture she had was anything but perfect. This is not an excuse to make poor translations, but God can speak to us, even through the worst of them!

Familiarity: Perhaps our greatest challenge in studying and praying Scripture is familiarity. We know the text all too well. My "on/off" button works admirably. I can sit down after the gospel reading at Eucharist and have no idea what either reading was about. It's worse at Liturgy of the Hours because I'm already sitting down! Even when I'm doing lectio I can find myself just reading words and thinking about what we might be having for dinner. Consider this: What happens when you hear "When in the beginning God created . . ." or "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus . . ." or "If I speak in human and angelic tongues . . ."? How long has it been since you heard something new in one of those readings? How can we deal with this challenge?

Poor readers/preachers: A related challenge is that of poor readers and/or preachers. Conversely, a good reader or preacher can open up a familiar text in ways that we had not imagined. Recently some of us were remembering the way our Sister Jane Frances read the story of Abraham's bargaining with the Lord. She had us sitting on the edge of our choir stalls, waiting to see if Sodom would indeed be spared. Sister Jane Frances has been dead now for two years, but she opened a text for us and the story will never be the same.

Our Challenges

We also have ongoing challenges. Here are some of them:

Scripture: A Great Gift That Must Be Stewarded

These are the questions we must ask if Scripture is truly central to monastic life: How are we nourishing this gift we have that bathes us daily, that gives us life? How are we taking responsibility to pass it on to the next generation enriched by our study, our prayer, our lives? How are we facing our difficulties and our challenges? The difficulties will not disappear; they are part of the human condition. We cannot censor out all the violence; we cannot decree that every translation will suit our particular need. We cannot clone good readers and preachers. These difficulties are here to stay. But difficulties can also be a gift to us. Is it your experience that what you have to work for stays with you longer? That what you sacrifice for is dearer to you? These difficulties demonstrate that study is essential to understand Scripture and to pray it well.

Our conviction that Scripture is central urges us also to attend to the challenges of transmitting our biblical tradition to the next generation. Texts acquire meaning and we are part of that ongoing tradition. The Bible is a community book and it takes all of us with each of our gifts to understand its richness. In that ongoing conversation the integration of study and prayer is essential. Studying Scripture without prayer is like reading a cookbook and never cooking-or never eating. Why would we do it? Scripture is the Word of God; God intends to speak to us today through these flawed and fragile human words. The study of Scripture leads us inexorably to prayer.

Scripture is one of God's great gifts to us. Benedict exhorts us to use all our energy in listening: Every day "the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep. Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice that every day calls out this charge: If you hear God's voice today, do not harden your hearts!" (RB Prol 8-10). We are charged not to harden our hearts, nor dull our ears, nor close our eyes (see Is 6:10). We are called to integrate thinking and praying and acting. Scripture is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. What would our monastic lives be without Scripture? How grateful we must be that God chooses every day to speak to us with our own human words in our own human lives. "The word of God is very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out" (Dt 30:14; cf. Rom 10:7).


1 Daniel Olivier, in La Croix for September 7-8, 1975, as cited by Louis Leloir, O.S.B., "Lectio Divina and the Desert Fathers," Liturgy OCSO 23.2 (1989) 3.

2 Mary Forman, O.S.B., Scriptural Exegesis in the Rule of Benedict (unpublished thesis; Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Toronto 1994) 22. The chapters are 26, 29-30, and 46 of the penal code; 32, the tools and goods of the monastery; 37, care of the elderly and children; 41, times for meals; 50-51, monks away from the monastery; 56, the abbot's table; 59, offering of a sons by parents; 67, brothers on a journey; and 69, presuming to defend another. She also points out that some chapters, such as those on the Liturgy of the Hours, may have only very slight references.

3 Konrad Schaefer, O.S.B., Psalms, Berit Olam (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press 2001); Bernhard W. Anderson with Steven Bishop, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, 3d ed (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox 2000); Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., The Spirituality of the Psalms, eds. Carol J. Dempsey and Timothy Lenchak (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press 2002).

4 RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, ed. Timothy Fry, O.S.B., et al. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press 1981).

5 The verb extollere appears in both sections of the Rule, translated "puffed up" in RB 57.2 and "self-important" in 34.4.

6 RM 82, "In the monastery the brothers may have nothing of their own," The Rule of the Master, trans. Luke Eberle (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications 1977) 247-48.

7 John Cassian, "On Covetousness," Institutes 7.14 (; downloaded 8/6/04) and "Conference of Abbot Theodore," Conferences 6.11 (; downloaded 8/6/04).

8 Robert E. McNally, S.J., The Bible in the Early Middle Ages, Woodstock Papers 4 (Westminster, MD: Newman Press 1959) 15.

9 Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (New York: Philosophical Library 1952) 32.

10 Smalley, Study of the Bible 35.

11 See Kevin L. Hughes, "Haimo of Auxerre and the Fruition of Carolingian Hermeneutics" in Second Thessalonians: Two Early Medieval Apocalyptic Commentaries: Haimo of Auxerre, Expositio in Epistolam II ad Thessalonicenses and Thietland of Einsiedeln, In Epistolam II ad Thessalonicenses, trans. Steven R. Cartwright and Kevin L. Hughes, TEAMS Commentary Series (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications 2001), and Deborah Everhart, "Introduction" in Commentary on the Book of Jonah: Haimo of Auxerre, trans. Deborah Everhart, TEAMS Commentary Series (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications 1993).


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