Posted August 12, 2003
Book: "Listen My Son" St. Benedict for Fathers
Author: Dwight Longenecker
Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, pp.287
Excerpt from Jacket:
For centuries, the Rule of St. Benedict has provided guidance for many monastic communities. In recent years, individuals outside the monastery have discovered the merit in living according to the ideals of Benedict. In Listen My Son, author Dwight Longenecker takes St. Benedict one step further and uses the Rule to help men become better parents. Just as the abbot of a monastic community reads Benedict’s Rule for guidance, Longenecker says, so, too, can men read the Rule to help them guide the family.
Listen My Son breaks the Rule into short daily readings and provides commentary to help strengthen men in their role as open-hearted, attentive, and intelligent fathers and husbands. Without underestimating the emotional, spiritual and physical demands of fatherhood, Longenecker also holds up the joys of developing a strong bond with God — one that nurtures the individual man and that provides him with the ability to grow himself and his family in faithfulness, service, and love.
Excerpts from Book:
The Prologue (E)
And so the Lord also says in the Gospel, ‘Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them, will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock; floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall; it was founded on rock.’ Thus the Lord concludes his reply, and daily expects us to respond through our dutiful actions to his holy precepts.
Therefore in order that amends be made for sins, the days of our life are prolonged to give us a time in which to make our peace, as the Apostle says, ‘Do you realize that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance?’ For this loving Lord says, ‘I do not wish the death of the sinner, but that he should change his ways and live.’
The Benedictine monk vows to pursue stability of life, and the need for stability is a constant theme throughout the Rule. Benedict himself lived in times of great upheaval. In the year 410 — just seventy years before Benedict’s birth — the city of Rome fell to the invading hoards of barbarians, and by the middle of the century Huns were ravaging northern Italy. At the same time the Church was torn apart not only by the social and political chaos, but also by internal theological controversy.
His times are similar to our own. We have lived in a century of unparalleled violence, social upheaval, and cataclysmic change. Nothing seems secure and our whole world sometimes seems built on quicksand. In the midst of this our own lives often shudder with insecurity, uncertainty and the stress of rapid transition.
So Benedict’s injunction for us to build our house upon the rock is all the more timely (Matt. 7:25). Benedict teaches that the way to build sensibly on the rock is to obey the Lord’s precepts and build carefully day by day — not attempting great things overnight, but constructing an edifice of faith which will withstand the tempests of life.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a stable home life. We usually think only in terms of financial stability, but that is perhaps the least of our worries; in many ways finances will look after themselves. What is most often neglected is spiritual and moral stability. Christian values were once strongly supported by society, education and the media. But increasingly the Christian values that provide a stable home for our family seem like an outdated counter-culture.
Nevertheless, it is a strong and loving discipline of prayer, duty, and worship which provides not only the most stable environment for our homes, but also gives the surest foundation for our children to step out into the wider world with confidence.
This domestic stability can only exist if it is first being built in our own lives. There are various practical ways of building stability. With the help of a spiritual director we can put together a rule of life which gives form and structure to our spiritual quest. In today’s reading Benedict provides the other plank in the platform of a spiritually stable life. He encourages repentance because it is through an attitude of repentance that we continually correct and modify our straying path.
The eleventh step of humility is that when a monk speaks, he does so quietly, without laughter, with humility, with restraint, making use of a few words and reasonable ones, as it is written, ‘The wise man becomes known for his few words.’
In this final word about silence Benedict not only recommends what to speak — as few words as possible — but he also says how we should speak them: ‘quietly’. Benedict gives this advice not only because silence is a virtue in itself, but because words are precious, and our language is always to be used wisely.
Jesus warns us that we will be held responsible for every idle word that comes from our mouth (Matt. 12:26). What we say has real power for good or evil. We must be careful how we speak to one another because that is how we communicate our feelings for them. It is through our words that we either build up or tear down. Nothing we say is neutral because all words have both a denotative meaning and a connotative meaning. That is, our words have face value, but they are spoken within an emotional context, and that unspoken message is often communicated more powerfully than the words themselves. So in our family relationships words become precious. They are the carriers of not only our thoughts, but also our feelings.
Not only are we to speak few words, but we are to speak them softly. But if Benedict encourages reticence and quietness, he does not encourage suppression of our emotions. In chapter three he allows argument and full discussion with all members of the community. So within the Christian family conversations should be controlled, quiet and honest. If we lose our temper and things descend to an undignified screaming match we have lost it and need to repent. It seems much easier to say, ‘We are only human’. But that excuses us too easily. It overlooks the real hurt caused by lost tempers and pretends the damage doesn’t matter.
In fact emotional violence is sometimes worse than physical violence because with physical violence we see the pain and physical injury. But with emotional violence the injury is internal and invisible. Emotional violence goes deeper and inflicts permanent damage on the developing child. So within the family context Benedict’s words are especially important. We need to make it a family policy that a soft answer turns away anger (Prov. 15.1), and be reminded of the teaching of St. James: ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger’ (Jas. 1:19).
Table of Contents:
The challenge of fatherhood
The Life and Rule of St. Benedict
The Way of Benedict
How to use this book
The Rule of St. Benedict with daily commentary
The Kinds of Monk
What Kind of Man the Abbot Should Be
On Summoning the Brethren to Council
The Tools of Good Works
On Keeping Silence
The Divine Office At Night
The Number of Psalms to be said at the Night Office
How the Praise of God is to be Performed on Summer Nights
How Matins are to be Carried out on Sundays
How the Solemn Office of Lauds is to be Carried Out
How Lauds are Carried out on Ordinary Days
How Matins are Carried Out on Feast Days of Saints
When the Alleluia is to be said
How the Work of God is Carried out During the Daytime
How Many Psalms are to be said at These Hours
In what order the Psalms should be said
Recollection in Chanting
Reverence at Prayer
On Deans of the Monastery