I. We live with a sacramental view of the world.
1. We integrate a commitment to the common good with respect for the individual.
1. We are committed to forming stable relationships in community.
Catholic, Benedictine Values
I. We live with a sacramental view of the world.
A sacramental view of the world is an organizing principle in the Rule. This is not surprising since it is the framework of Catholic religious experience and thought throughout the centuries. The word sacrament may initially evoke a direct connection to a formal, liturgical celebration such as baptism, eucharist, or reconciliation. For our purposes, however, the word has a more inclusive set of meanings. By sacrament we mean an experience through which a human being or a human community encounters God and is given an opportunity to respond. In these experiences we are drawn into the mysteries of human life and human existence that touch their deepest meaning and significance. Changes such as the following can occur over time: insights into the human condition emerge; intuitions about the direction of our lives clarify; priorities are ordered differently; our anger gives way to compassion and freedom; fear is replaced by a trusting embrace; despair yields to hope. We call these moments sacramental because our beings brush up against Being itself. They are graced moments.
In this section the fundamental idea of a sacramental view of the world embraces the Catholic sacramental principle that the universe is charged with the presence of God. It includes a discussion about Benedict's view of our search for God and our encounter with God through sacred texts, persons, and the rest of creation.
A. We acknowledge the primacy of God.
Benedictine spirituality is grounded in the Christian search for God. A deep human desire to be united with God, a desire graciously given to human beings by God, provides the initial impetus for a spiritual journey towards God. "Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days? If you hear this and your answer is 'I do,' God then directs these words to you" (Prologue to the Rule 15-16). The monastic journey begins in humility, with the conviction that "God is God and we are not."7 This belief is surely the origin of the Benedictine phrase "that in all things God may be glorified," (RB 57:9). Benedict was convinced that "life" and "good days" are the results of a deep inner awareness of the love and mercy of God, especially as known in the words and deeds of Jesus. But "life" and "good days" are not found only in the monastery; they are everywhere in the world. The universe is graced; it is a place where God can be encountered.8 Thus, we speak of the world as having a sacramental character.9
Application. This sacramental view of the world challenges some common dichotomies which we so readily live and accept in an educational community. For example, it is conventional wisdom to argue that the focus of a college should be academic excellence, an excellence that is largely or exclusively the result of the interaction between faculty and students.
A Benedictine spirituality, in contrast to this exclusive focus on intellectual growth, extends beyond this conventional wisdom in two ways. First, students are learning skills such as accountability, teamwork, leadership, focus, time management, and confidence. This learning occurs in the classroom and independent research, on the volleyball court, through employment on campus, in student government, through writing for campus publications, through relating with roommates, or by working in campus ministry. Second, the integration of the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual components is the desired outcome of an education in a Christian environment, in this instance influenced by a Benedictine framework. In our situation this integration is often spoken of as balance.
Often students discover themselves in one area and growth can occur and expand into another if that development is recognized, acknowledged, and encouraged. Furthermore, we need to foster an environment in which students are aware that they are in a process of faith development as well as one of choosing a field of study. This understanding challenges the false dichotomy that promotes an ongoing tension and conflict between the curricular and the co-curricular, between academic life and "the rest of life." Just as a monastic encounters God everywhere and not only in church, so a student encounters learning and transforming moments in classes, in friendship, and in service to others. The Rule encourages all learners--students, faculty, staff and administrators--to see the potential for growth and new insights in all areas of the campus environment and beyond it.
Questions for reflection:
1. What do you personally find most exciting, most energizing about this set of ideas?
2. What are other examples that show our commitment to educate the whole person?
3. What are some forces that make the integration of the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual a challenge?
B. We reverence all persons.
The spirituality of Benedict is profoundly Christo-centric, that is, centered on the person of Jesus Christ. The Rule expresses this character in a number of sentences that act as summary statements. For example, for monastics the love of Christ is to come before all else (RB 4.21), and they are to pray for enemies out of love for Christ (RB 4:72). Christ is embodied and received in guests (RB 53.7), in the poor (RB 53:15), in the sick (RB 36.1), and in the abbot or prioress (RB 2.2, 63.13). As RB scholar, Columba Stewart, OSB, has noted, "Benedict's utter faith in the divine Son of God casts into even sharper relief his insight that this divine Christ is to be found and even adored in other human beings (RB 53.7). His incarnate presence is not limited to Jesus of Nazareth, but remains among us in the monastic leaders, the sick, the guest, the poor, a list so inclusive as to signify Christ's presence in all whom one meets."10
Application. This Christo-centric character under-girds all of the core values that are described in this essay. For example, because Christ is believed to be present in all persons, the mission of our two colleges challenges us to create a learning community in which students, faculty, staff, and administrators are deeply respected for who they are as human beings. This respect is also extended to the local communities in which we live as the basis for welcoming the stranger, for creating a culture of listening, and for staying in the conversation even when there are sharp disagreements. Not everyone in our two colleges believes in Christ; however, the Second Vatican Council affirms that "everyone should look upon his [/her] neighbor as another self, bearing in mind above all his [/her] life and the means necessary for living it in a dignified way."11
Questions for reflection:
1. When do you experience that you are respected? How can you tell that you are respecting others?
2. Respect is a unifying idea in the Rule of Benedict. What other values does respect require?
3. Do you experience human beings as bearers of the divine? If so, how? If not, explain.
C. We reverence all creation.
The Rule is permeated with a sacramental view of the world. God is believed to be manifested in finite things and present in the world, in the human family, and in events unfolding in history. There is no marked division between the sacred and the profane, between the holy and the material. Every encounter with the physical world, with persons, and with situations can be an occasion for hearing God's voice. A sacramental view of the world avoids any understanding of the material world as secondary, unimportant, or disdainful. Benedict makes clear that the cellarer, the person in charge of the material goods of the monastery, is to regard "all the monastic utensils and goods of the monastery as if they were the sacred vessels" (RB 31:10). Similarly, he says, "Whoever fails to keep the things belonging to the monastery clean or treats them carelessly should be reproved" (RB 32:4). Anyone breaking or losing something, whether in the bakery, the kitchen, out in the fields, or in the crafts room must take responsibility for it (RB 46:1-2). This same careful attention to the goods of the monastery is present in the chapter devoted to clothing and footwear (RB 55). On the one hand, the monastics are to wear "whatever is available in the vicinity at a reasonable cost (RB 55:7)." On the other hand, clothes should be appropriate to the season and should fit properly (RB 55:1-2, 8). In a variety of ways, Benedict teaches a healthy respect for the material world because it is God's creative work.
Application. A Catholic, Benedictine spirituality holds material things as sacred. Water, bread, wine, oil, and the entire created universe can reveal and mediate the work and word of God. This understanding manifests itself in the care shown to all people, buildings, tools, grounds, and natural ecosystems. Indeed, these two campuses are blessed with dedicated men and women who daily care for the repair and maintenance of the entire physical plant. Still others enrich the natural habitats for purposes of research, teaching, and enjoyment. Understanding the material world then is not a hindrance to the understanding of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical development. The four communities on these two campuses seek to respect all of creation, demonstrated by the stewardship of resources such as paper, buildings, and the beauty of the campus environments. Such a view of the material world mediating the presence of God has serious ecological implications.
Questions for reflection:
1. How is the material emphasis of Catholic, Benedictine spirituality a source of comfort to you? a source of discomfort or confusion? a matter of complete indifference? Explain.
2. How do you experience creation as a source of wonder and awe?
3. How might we give a clearer witness to the integration of the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of our lives as human beings?
D. We listen reverently with the ear of our heart.
Often the first act of understanding is often careful, focused listening. It is not surprising, then, that the first sentence in the Prologue admonishes the monks to "listen with the ear of your heart..." (RB Prologue: 1). This imagery captures the notion that our listening cannot be an exercise of the mind only. It must engage the whole person, the whole heart--the integrating center of thought, feeling, imagination, and will. This imagery captures the notion that our listening cannot be an exercise of the mind only. It must engage the whole person, the whole heart-the integrating center of thought, feeling, imagination, and will. In his reflection on the first step of humility, Benedict also encourages monastics to be mindful of God's presence in their lives and never forget what God is asking of them (RB 7:10-11, 13).
For the monastic, this listening occurs in the daily process of doing lectio divina (holy reading),12 at community prayer, and in the countless interactions with other human beings. It is also the basis for obedience to the abbot or prioress and other members of the community. Esther de Waal has written: "To listen closely, with every fiber of our being, at every moment of the day, is one of the most difficult things in the world, yet it is essential if we mean to find the God whom we are seeking. If we stop listening to what we find hard to take, then, we are likely to pass God by without ever noticing."13 For example, it is a challenge to hear the cry of the poor and give a creative response. In the face of overwhelming world poverty it is difficult to imagine and respond in a way that makes a difference. In addition, the environmental destructiveness on a global scale presents enormous challenges. Careful listening can enable us to examine these issues in an integrated multi-strategy approach rather than searching for single-strategy solutions. Thus, listening with the ear of our heart might also encourage all of us, as concerned citizens, to make ethical decisions and to act on them.
Application. Listening carefully yields a more accurate understanding of self and the world around us. Mindfulness means being truly present in the moment, understanding or intuiting what needs to be said or done; not said nor done. We may be called to listen in situations such as these: the chemistry student struggling to recrystallize an unknown compound; the chorus of birds waking in the early morning; the developing tension in shoulders needing some stretching; a professor trying to discover a way to motivate a particular student; staying in a conversation in the midst of conflict. For students, listening to oneself may mean re-evaluating a sequence of decisions that have led to the choice of a major. This is a kind of obedience to oneself, to pay attention to an "obligation which urges us to become more than we already are."14 At other times it means suspending judgment and being willing to live through uncertainty in one's perceptions of "good" and "bad." Sometimes listening will mean attention to the word of God in the Scriptures, as in the practice of lectio divina. This practice of reading the Scriptures and other related texts in a prayerful, reflective manner accompanies and amplifies the listening integral to community worship. The word, through whatever channel it comes, awaits a response. Hence, we note Benedict's gently insistent encouragement as he recalls the psalmist's plea, "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts" (RB Prologue: 10). A significant portion of listening is done in solitude, in reflective moments of reading, studying, and writing. In a Benedictine environment, however, the gathering of the community is also an important environment for listening and can in itself be a sacramental experience.
Questions for reflection:
1. In many ways, attentive listening is the key to being a learner. How has active listening helped you in learning?
2. What is your experience of listening to God?
3. We want to have a culture of listening at CSB/SJU. What attitudes/actions inhibit or support such a culture?
II. We nurture and develop community life.
Community living is essential to Benedictine spirituality. In fact, most of us are part of several communities: family, neighborhood, department, faculty, student body, or the monastery. Each one of these communities places certain demands on us, and at different times more or less energy and time are required. In this section, community is the major focus and each communal setting is specified.
A. We seek the common good.
Perhaps nowhere in the Rule is the communal vision of Benedict more clearly stated than in Chapter 72, "The Good Zeal of Monastic." In this chapter Benedict urges monastics to earnestly compete in obedience to one another (RB 72:6). We take this statement as a directive to listen to each other, community members are urged to listen to one another because each one has some insight, encouragement, or wisdom to offer. Later in the chapter, Benedict writes, "No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else" (RB 72:7). Few statements provide a more powerful antidote to the rampant individualism of our time than this fundamental commitment to the common good. Finally, Chapter 72: concludes, "Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life" [11-12]. Monastics take seriously their communal search for God. This sense of the common good does not stop with the monastic community, however. It extends to the local community, to those in need. Regarding concern for the poor, Benedict says, "You must relieve the lot of the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and bury the dead. Go to help the troubled and console the sorrowing" (RB 4:14-19). Service to the poor is never a matter of standing above them but rather standing in solidarity with them for "in them more particularly Christ is received" (RB 53:15).
In our time the idea of the common good is easily misunderstood. Philosopher and monastic Enid Smith, OSB, has written cogently about the relationship of the individual good to the common good.
The following paragraphs are reflections on integrating respect for the individual with a commitment to the common good, decision-making in relationship to the common good, hospitality and respect for the individual, and attention to frugality and simplicity.
1. We integrate a commitment to the common good and respect for the individual.
Benedict integrates a community-based spirituality with a deep respect for the individual person, a commitment to the development of each person, and pervasive attention to the needs of the individual. Attention to the needs of the individual diminishes the likelihood that legitimate needs will be too readily subordinated to the demands of the community. The abbot or prioress is told in chapters 2 and 64 how to adapt to a variety of characters, people with different gifts, human beings with different needs. Benedict provides for two kinds of cooked food so that if a monastic cannot eat one, the other might suffice. Benedict states that everyone has a gift from God, one this and another that (RB 40:1). Benedict provides for two kinds of cooked food so that if a monastic cannot eat one, the other might suffice. This attitude of paying attention to individual needs is summed up in RB 34, Distribution of Goods According to Need. "By this we do not mean that there should be favoritism but rather consideration for the weak. Whoever needs less should bless God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of his (her) weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown him (her). In this way all members will be at peace" (RB 34:2-5). Most importantly, the abbot or prioress is strongly urged to attend to the spiritual growth of each person in the community.
For Benedict, monastic community is the place where we search for God. Community as a fundamental element of Benedictine spirituality, of course, is not accidental. Benedict made key adjustments in the monastic tradition he received from others. For example, by establishing community rank based on the date of entry, he minimized differences in social rank and position. Benedict says that "Absolutely nowhere shall age automatically determine rank" (RB 63:5). Immediately following these verses Benedict gives a broader foundation for this arrangement. He urges the younger monastics to respect their seniors, and the seniors to love their juniors (RB 63:10). Love and respect for each person in the monastery are the desired outcomes and these can only be achieved if community members are willing to leave their past social position, whether that be nobility, slavery, or wealth. Benedict understands that healthy community interactions must be based on respect for each person, regardless of class or age. Today we extend this key insight to mean respect for persons regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other forms of marginalization which place people beyond the reach of our love and care.
All relationships are a key dimension of the virtue of humility. The Latin root of the word humility is humus, meaning "of the earth." It is humility that makes us aware of finitude, of death, and of the incompleteness of our lives as common human experiences. This awareness cues us to the insight of our fundamental unity with other human beings. Without diminishing our identity, we reach out to others with care and respect.16
Application. Attending to individual differences is fundamental to Benedictine spirituality. Relative to teaching, each classroom includes a variety of learners with unique temperaments and learning styles. Within any group there will be different ways in which members participate and a range of motivational strategies will be necessary to keep everyone involved. Respect for persons recognizes the singular developmental process each person is engaged in, particularly the dramatic changes that occur over a student's four years of college.
Respect for the individual also implies a pro-active attitude toward the development of the gifts of each person. In every part of the colleges human beings need their gifts and skills called forth. One of the responsibilities of all faculty and student development staff is to dialogue with colleagues to discern the developmental needs and gifts of students. Respect for the individual also means being open to views which may diverge from the conventional.
Furthermore, all persons have their own challenges and need for personal transformation. Each person has to confront the gap between values and behavior, and the rationalizations that are used to justify this integrity gap. Each individual is called to recognize the lies that are accepted as truth or easy solutions, the false motivations and "safe" paths that have been chosen. Individuals need to embrace the personal gifts of leadership, scholarship, or relational skills that have been given. Each person needs to acknowledge a lack of patience with and respect for other members of the community. Everyone needs to develop the skills to support others. In summary, all individuals need to relinquish the "false self" for the truth of their humanity. Paradoxically, as Robert Quinn notes, community building and transformation occurs to the extent that individuals are willing to attend to these areas of personal growth.17
The development of a robust sense of the common good in the residential community of students is one of the strongest goals of Student Development on our two campuses. For example, at CSB, each first-year student brings a familial representation of herself that is sewn into a large quilt; the first-year class is, metaphorically, sewn together. Each college has guidelines for quiet time and for creating a harassment-free environment. In the classroom, pedagogical strategies foster interdependence of the learners through small-group work, cooperative learning, and collaborative research projects. Our athletic teams focus as much on teamwork as on individuals and winning. Service-learning projects take students into schools, neighborhoods, and cities across the country in order to develop a sense of responsibility for the broader society. Service learning ideally includes theological reflection on these experiences; that is, how this service relates to the Gospel message. These efforts counter the prevalent paradigm of individualism in our culture by giving students a larger vision of the world and a commitment to the work of making it a better place.
Questions for reflection:
1. What kinds of persons do you find it easier to support? More difficult to support?
2. What is the difference between "the individual good" and "individualism"?
3. What kinds of challenges do you see in trying to integrate respect for individuals and the common good?
4. What do you see in the relationship between personal and communal transformation?
2. We call the community together for counsel to make decisions.
Benedict expands his fundamental insight into the life of a community with a remarkable chapter entitled "summoning the brothers for counsel" (RB 3). He writes, "as often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together and himself explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it and follow what he judges the wiser course. The reason we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger" (RB 3:1-4). This structural feature cultivates a sense of ownership on the part of each community member and affords a shared sense of mission. However, taking counsel in this situation does not necessarily mean a democratic vote. The abbot is charged to take counsel and then to make a prudent decision. Not everyone's point of view will necessarily find itself expressed in the final decision. It is vitally important to the integrity of the group that those members who do not get what they want remain committed to the common good and to the direction chosen by the leadership and/or community. Within the monastic tradition, this commitment is one of the basic understandings of obedience. Clear communication and ongoing discussion are necessary for building trust and taking action.
Application. These principles suggest that a fundamental thrust of Benedictine institutions is an environment in which the Board, administration, faculty, and student body are appropriately involved in setting the strategic direction for the campus community. Such involvement rests in a basic faith in the goodness and value of the individual. Each person brings particular insights, questions, and unique experiences to setting the vision for the future. It is essential for leadership to design decision-making processes that are inclusive and understood by everyone. Within this framework administrators need to engage in wide-based conversations about how planning priorities relate to ideas and differing convictions in the community. Sometimes a good idea needs a longer incubation time if it is to be successfully integrated into the institutional framework. Usually not all points of view are expressed in a planning document; to choose all directions simultaneously may paralyze the community or group. There will always be a tension between the desire to take counsel and the need to make decisions in a timely and effective manner.
Another form of decision-making occurs when academic and non-academic departments articulate their direction, and when the faculty assembly meets to address common issues. Faculty participation is essential for the well-being of the institutions. Others are involved in the daily operation and maintenance of the physical plant. It is essential that those who are most familiar with the physical operations of the place be involved in relevant decision making.
Questions for reflection:
1. Take a decision that matters for you on these campuses. Describe the ideal process for making that decision. What are the crucial elements in the process?
2. What role are you best at in the decision-making process: creative thinker, data gatherer, evaluator, implementer, decision facilitator? Explain.
3. For you, what are the most difficult decisions to make? Why?
How can all members of the college community be involved appropriately in decision-making?
Continued in Part II
Please direct comments or questions to Abbot John Klassen OSB <email@example.com>
1In this essay we will be referring to four communities: the College of Saint Benedict and Saint Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, MN, and Saint John's University and Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN.
2All quotations from the Rule are taken from RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, ed. Timothy Fry, OSB, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1981). Direct quotations and paraphrases use the male pronoun, reflecting the usage of Benedict. In other places, we have tried to use inclusive language, often by alternating gender in the examples given. In addition, we use the word monastic to include monks and nuns.
3Columba Stewart, OSB. Cassian the Monk (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
4Benedict used many sources for the Rule, including the Rule of the Master, and the Institutes and Conferences of John Cassian. He was also aware of Augustine's Rule and many other writings from the Church, both East and West.
5The Rule of Benedict is used by all Benedictine monastic communities, as well as Cistercians and Trappists. The Rule of Benedict and the monastic life that it fosters and directs are deeply revered within the institutional Catholic Church.
6When we speak of the Benedictine values we acknowledge the difference between these values as ideals and the examples we give of their practice on campus. Our practice never reaches the ideal. But the fact that we seek to make real these values in our lives is, in itself, a manifestation of our search for God in our lives.
7Terrence Kardong, OSB. The Benedictines (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988), 84.
8David O'Brien speaks of the Vatican II document, The Church in the Modern World, as "a magna carta for Catholic higher education" (From the Heart of the American Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 49. Hilary Thimmesh, OSB, agrees with this judgment and goes on to say that this document changes the framework for thinking about Catholic higher education. He says it "consistently achieves a view of the human family as a whole in which believers and non-believers alike share the same social conditions, have the same needs, benefit from the same advances in science and technology, long for the same security from poverty, disease, and war, aspire to the same cultural enrichment, need to be guided by the same fundamental morality in their search for justice. It is a superb vision of human solidarity and of the worth of the individual regardless of race, religious belief, or social standing. It says, in effect, that we humans are all in this together" ("The Church and the Campus in the Modern World," CSB/SJU Symposium, Fall 1997, 40). This vision strengthened the view that Catholic colleges should be places where all of God's creation is seen as good and where all work together to search for truth and to serve the world.
9"The Church in the Modern World," #2, 11 in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. by Austin Flannery, OP (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company, 1981).
10Columba Stewart, OSB. Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (New York: Orbis, 1998), 29.
11"The Church in the Modern World," 928.
12Lectio divina encompasses four interrelated steps of reading, reflection, prayer, and contemplation. It usually focuses on a short passage from a biblical book that is read from beginning to end over a period of time.
13de Waal, Esther. Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1984), 43.
14Carruth, Shawn, OSB. "The Monastic Virtues of Obedience, Silence and Humility: A Feminist Perspective," American Benedictine Review (June 2000), 131-132.
15S. Enid Smith, OSB, "Individual and Common Good," Presentation given at Saint Benedict's Monastery, (January 1991), 1-2
17Quinn, Robert E. Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996), 78.
Notes continue in Part II
| Fr. John Klassen OSB <firstname.lastname@example.org>