Some help from the monastics :: Rule of Life


Icon of St. Benedict

I love monastics, I think some of the richest most spiritual traditions of the church come from the Desert Fathers and Mothers as well as the medievals. St. Anthony, St Benedict, St. Francis and Claire of Asssi, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and others have contributed much to our understand of God. Two of my favourite books have had monks has their central characters: Canticle of Lebowitz and Chasing Francis.

I am also enamoured with the concept of a Rule or Regula. There are many ways to interpret what a rule is or can be, especially to non-monastics. Margaret Guenther, who’s book At Home in the World is formational on this topic, states that a rule is about cultivating simplicity by focussing on the essentials. Here’s a short video of her answering the question “What is a rule of life”. It’s great.

There’s more reasons why I’m bringing up the monastics and I’ll be posting more soon.

Chasing Francis [book review]

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The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes
– Marcel Proust

It’s not often that I read a book and want to immediately read it again. It is even rarer that I want to work through the study guide in the back of the book. Chasing Francis had both effects on me, it’s a truly wonderful book. The author Ian Morgan Cron described his work as being wisdom literature, which he describes as a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching”. It is a very fast read, until like my friend who recommended it to me, you feel led to stop and journal all the wonderful insights that are being generated. I did not do that, I had a hard time putting it down to journal, hence why I am going through it again. I read half of it in a weekend and the second half over the course of the next week, finishing it at 12:30am on evening.

The plot of the story revolves around Chase Falson, a burned out evangelical pastor of a mega church in the North Eastern USA. His faith is on rocky ground and the elders force him to take a break. Despondent, Chase contacts an Uncle who is a Franciscan Friar, who is a well known Spiritual Director. His Uncle invites him to come spend time with him in Italy. Chase takes him up on his invitation and thus begins his pilgrimage experience.

Along the way he learns about Francis’s theology and rule of life. His embracing of poverty, but his almost paradoxical love of the arts for their ability to demonstrate God’s beauty. He travels from the richest parts of Italy, from beautifully ornate churches to the slums where abandoned aids patients go to die in the loving arms of Franciscan sisters.

Along the way Chase meets a colourful cast of characters from monks to nuns to drug addicts and musicians. You might think the endgame of the novel is to have Chase become Catholic, but such is not the case. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s actually the part of the novel that is both the most dissatisfying, but I suspect, the most realistic.

The cover of my edition includes a quote from Mark Batterson that reads “Reading this book may cause a total overhaul of the way you think about what it means to be a followers of Christ” and I agree. Anabaptists will really enjoy this book as they will see many aspects of their movement in this book. For those who want more, the book is peppered with suggestions for further reading.

As you follow Chase on his pilgrimage, you will be led on your own to reconsider some fundamental aspects of your faith. It is a beautiful book and there is much wisdom to mine from its pages.

As I work through the study guide, which has some compelling and difficult questions, I will post my reflection here on the blog and take you with me on my pilgrimage. I consider this part of the healing process I announced here.

Rating: 4.9/5
 $14.99 USD

RSB #31: Sacred Tools

A reflection on chapter 31 of the Rule of St. Benedict

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” -Acts 4:32

One of the chapters within the Rule of St. Benedict is found in chapters 31 (pp.54-55). It details the rules surrounding the treatment of the tools of the monastery. We aren’t just talking of the sacred vessels of the altar, but tables, chairs, forks and spoons… in other words, everything they use to perform their work.

How do you treat the tools you use for you work? Do you treat your work computer worse than your home computer? I’ve seen people literally beat their work computer and when they are confronted about their behaviour, they reply “what? it’s not mine” (one of those “remind me not to lend you anything” moments).

St. Benedict reminds us to view all the tools of our work as sacred: “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, . . .[be] aware that nothing is to be neglected”.

Do you give a second thought to the tools you use everyday? Do you think of the people that made the fork you use to feed yourself? Do you think of the developer that designed the computer software you use (whether you like it or not)? Above all, do you thank God for the tools you have that allow you to do your job and thus earn an income?

We often you words such as “mine” and “yours” to identify to whom a certain possession belongs, “that’s my purse”, “that’s your car”. It is necessary to use this language because it is how we relate to our world and each other, but we must ask, can we overuse such language?

Ultimately, it is not correct to say it is “mine”, or “theirs”. “It” belongs to God and God alone. Whatever we have we have because God allows us to have it, and for that we should be constantly grateful.

So, the next time you pick up that 99cent pen, remember who gave it to you and remember that without it, some aspect of your life would a little more difficult.

An intro to the Rule of St. Benedict

I have a growing fascination with the monastic life, that is, the lives of Monks and Nuns. Those Christians who choose to live in community with others for the purposes of sharing life together. One of the key markers of that life together is constant prayer. You talk about prayer warriors, these guys and gals take the cake. They rise at 3am to pray and will pray 3 other times through the day. The rest of the day is spent in service to God by serving others in community or to whatever visitors they may welcome in during the day.

Life in a monastic community is guided by a “Rule”, the most famous of which is probably the Rule of St. Benedict. It quite literally lays the groundwork for how life is to be conducted.

I am married and so along with being a Catholic Priest, being a monk is not an available career path (I much prefer the sacrament of marriage by the way – just to be clear). I am however, fascinating with what this ancient rule can teach us about how we can practically bring life to our faith in our own communities; whether it be at work, at home, or at church.

As I work my way through reading The Rule of St. Benedict, I will post comments and insights here.