Posted March 23, 2004
Book: The Benedictine Handbook
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, pp. 350
Excerpt from Introduction:
when St. Benedict of Nursia put down his pen some time in the sixth century, he had completed one of the most remarkable and long-standing achievements of his and any other century. Since his time, there have been men and women committed to the search for God that he describes, a search that has always been shared with oblates, friends, pilgrims and visitors who have come to Benedict’s monasteries since the beginning. This handbook is one expression of that ongoing sharing.
Most people come to a monastery for the first time have one question at the back of their minds: ‘What do you, the monks or nuns, actually do?’ This is not a bad question with which to approach the heart of the Benedictine life – let me give an example.
In 1309, two rather dishevelled monks were summoned to answer exactly this question. It was not, at the beginning, a friendly encounter.
On the one side were three busy officials of the King of England, Edward I. They had been sent to the last remaining fragments of the King’s regions in France, and specifically to the island of Jersey, to enquire into the state of Royal property. Facing them were two monks, by birth loyal to the King of France, by monastic vow attached to a Norman monastery and by chance of appointment abandoned on a remote outcrop of rock between Jersey and the Cherbourg peninsula. Their rock was truly tiny — at high tide little more than a break in the waves — but the King of England was nevertheless interested in who owned it, and, more particularly, in what its only two residents did. Their answer is recorded in the plain style of a legal document:
‘He who is called Prior and is companion . . .dwelling in the chapel throughout the whole year maintain a light burning in that chapel so that the sailors crossing the sea by that light may avoid the peril of the reef . . .where the greatest danger exists of being wrecked. These two always perform the divine office.’
To me, this simple answer reveals much about the nature of the Benedictine vocation. In so many different ways throughout its history, and in so many different places throughout the world today, Benedictine women and men have engaged in precisely that same task of bearing a light that shnes not for their own glory but for the good of the church and the world. So the aim of this Benedictine handbook is very simple — to be a support to those many people who come into contact with monasteries today and who want to deepen their experience of the monastic way in their own lives. You may live under the shadow of some mighty monastery, or you may be a visitor who has always wondered whether such places still exist. You may be an oblate or supporter of a new foundation, or you may live a long way from a monastery such that you want to take a part of it with you. If you belong to any one of these groups, then this handbook is for you.
An Excerpt from the Book:
Two areas call for constant vigilance. First we must be not only hearers but doers of the word. Unless we come to our lectio with an antecedent will for conversion, the exercise is vain. Our lectio will thrive most fully when we aim to incarnate what we read in the way we act. When God seems silent, it is usually because either there is a latent resistance, or there is too much inner noise coming from a multiplicity of other concerns. Sometimes the difficulties we experience in lectio serve as a summons to re-examine our lives and to seek to establish there a greater harmony with what we read. Second, we have to renounce the search for novelty. Lectio needs to be regular and not erratic. We need, as St. Benedict insisted, to read whole books of Scripture from beginning to end, quietly working our way through a Gospel or an Old Testament prophet, willing to be surprised, resisting the temptation to exercise total control over what we read.
Lecto demands much of us, but it is an enriching experience that constantly renews our spiritual life. God’s word adds perspective to our experience, gives meaning to our struggles and keeps alive the flame of hope. Above all, contact with the scriptures is a source of joy and delight to the heart, bringing us into an ever-deeper relationship to the God whom we seek and to Jesus who calls us.
Table of Contents:
Part One: Saint Benedict’s Rule
A short introdution
Patrick Barry, OSB
A new translation for today
Part Two: Tools of Benedictine Spirituality
The work of God
Demetrius Dumm, OSB
The art of Lectio Divina
Michael Casey OCSO
Mary Forman, OSB
Kym Harris OSB
Richard Yeo OSB
Part Three: The Benedictine Experience of God
A simple daily office — morning and evening prayer
Oswald McBride, OSB
A Benedictine Who’s Who
Benedictine holy places
Colman O Clabaigh OSB
Part Four: Living the Rule
Columba Stewart OSB
Maria Boulding OSB
As an Oblate
In the world
Esther de Waal
Part Five: The Benedictine Family
A short history
Joel Rippinger OSB
Dominic Milroy OSB
The Cistercian tradition
Nivard Kinsella OCSO
Part Six: A Glossary of Benedictine Terms
Jill Maria Murdy and Terrence Kardong OSB