WHAT THEN is the peculiar value of the Benedictine life as an objective, visible thing in the Church and in the world today? All religious orders, we realize, are most valuable not for what they do but for what they are, in the widest, most spiritual sense. Thus the strictly contemplative orders have an influence far beyond the small circle with whom they come into direct contact. They are in a real sense witnesses, martyrs to the truth of Christianity and to the possibilities of human nature assisted by grace. The mere fact of their existence is an inspiration to weaker souls in moments of despair or doubt or lassitude.
All religious, all priests, and all others dedicated to any high religious ideal share in this influence in their measure. It is not with this that we are concerned here, hut rather with the particular aspects, moral and intellectual of the full Christian life that are emphasized by Benedictines in the form of life they lead.
Here surely it is the balance, the objectivity of their life that has the greatest value. Individualism, the subjective, the analytic, the self-conscious, the sub-conscious, the desire for self-expression and self-realization -- all the tendencies implied by these words, which are themselves new-minted coinage -- are rife among us today nowhere more than in the world of religion. They represent cravings and discoveries that the Church must take cognizance of and satisfy when their claims are shown to he legitimate, but they are not the whole of life.
Similarly, it is a commonplace that we live in a world of ceaseless activity and flux and novelty, and it cannot be but that this has its counterpart in the life of the spirit. It produces in the heart and mind a restlessness, a desire to be moving and changing, a feeling that with all the changing world we are on the brink of discovering some new way of salvation, and that the old must go.
In contrast to this, Benedictine monachism presents an objective form of life, sane, strong, unchanging from year to year, a life of work and liturgical prayer which can he seen and heard, lived in conditions which aim at representing all that is best in the basic family life of Christianity, aided by all human courtesies, reverences, and affections. It is nothing secret or esoteric, nor an impossibility, but an ordered form of ordinary life. It is a religious life which is free from all that is doctrinaire or experimental. It is the Christian life writ large for all to see, with all the non-Christian elements removed that are normally interwoven with the devout life as lived in the world.
The message of Saint Benedict is simple and direct. Work, obey, keep silent, praise God in common, and if you wish to pray to Him alone, enter the Church and pray.
It is for Benedictines to see to it that they are a living commentary on the Rule, remembering that just as they hope to save their own souls by living the regular life, so by their example they may, in what small measure soever it may be, have something of the same influence over their contemporaries of today that their predecessors had over a chaotic and pagan Europe.
Table of Contents.
About the Benedictines