Listen carefully … (RB 1, 1)

Listening, according to the Father of the Benedictine Order St. Benedict, is the founding attitude of the monastic. Listening means to be open, to be awake and aware toward the world and toward God.

~ Archabbot Theodor Hogg OSB, Auf den Spuren der Heligen Väter, p. 7.

As I pointed out in my previous post the core of the monastic life is not about retiring to a monastery or a lonely desert. Rather the core of the monastic life is receptivity toward God. Monks and Nuns living either in communities or as hermits do so to achieve precisely that. The “spirituality” of Monks and Nuns and lay people is in essence the same. There are different intensities of the same path but not different paths to the “heights of perfection.” The Way is One (John 14, 6) and there can not be another.  It is therefore the responsibility of Monks, Nuns, and laity alike to reach for these heights and to learn to become receptive of God.

To pray is to ask to be made ready to hear. … praying is a kind of hearing – not a mere opening of the ears, but a trained attentiveness in a habit acquired over years, even decades; a directedness towards in a particular manner.

~ Laurence Paul Hemming, Worship as a Revelation, p. 1.

Listening is well chosen by Benedict to open his Rule with. It announces the beginning, middle, and end-goal of his Rule: receptivity toward God. Or as St. Evagrius would have it to attain the state of prayer. To listen includes the reading of a text (reading was done out loud in ancient times, even if privately) as well as the sitting at the feet of a Master to hear and be taught. Listening is communal and humble. I submit to another so that obstinacy may be replaced with receptivity.

The purpose of this series of posts is taken from the series of books published Beuroner Kunstverlag available (to the best of my knowledge) only in German: Weisungen der Väter. To gain some access to St. Benedict’s personal library. The sort of works he would/could have read. The sort of books one can imagine that may have lay open on his writing desk. Not having access to such a living father (or mother ! ) the next best thing is to absorb the teaching of the Fathers and putting it into practice as best as one can (while constant in prayer to be given a father or mother, and always willing to accept the one God will give).

It also seems to me that some measure of guidance can be found in the Divine Office. The consistent effort to pray those offices one can reasonable do is itself a teacher, a master if you will. It is surely no accident that in the Holy Rule the chapters on obedience and humility immediately precede the long section of how to perform the Divine Office. At this point many reasons, good ones, really good ones, scholarly ones, pastoral ones, … N …  ones (insert your preferred pick) may come up to explain why this order of office is not be followed but rather another one which is for one or many reasons far to be preferred. Disobedience is such a devil.

Of course I realize that many of us, especially Oblates and other non-cloistered and non-eremitical folk, will simply not be able to perform the entire office as stipulated by St. Benedict. What I am getting at is not the submission of the entire Office of St. Benedict to the self. I am suggesting that the self merely jump into the stream of the Divine Office where it can (and step out when it needs to) and not fix it to fit one’s circumstances. In a sense, I am suggesting the opposite of what Thomas Cranmer did. I do not subject the Office to me and my perceived needs and or improved (because new) theology. Rather I submit myself to the Office as given so that its blessings may feed me and its ancient theology inform the contents of my faith. To not be obstinate but obedient. To be humbly receptive rather than proudly assertive.

If prayer is indeed characterized by listening … being made ready to hear. Evagrius informs us of a fundamental truth about this trained attentiveness which has become a habit acquired when he writes:

Prayer is a condition [state] of the mind (nous) occurring only from the light of the Holy Trinity.

~ St. Evagrius of Pontus, Skemmata, 27.

Our submission to what is given goes against our obstinate and rebellious inclinations. These inclinations may – and often do – come up with a host of very reasonable sounding excuses to not receive the given but to replace it. If this path is followed the self-will has hardened and we are like Pharao rather than Moses. So picking up the Monastic Diurnal or the Anglican Breviary – which both contain the traditional (given) Divine Office – one can surely find some office one can pray consistently, daily, and devoutly. The contents of these books puts the one using them in the stream of prayer as it was given “in the beginning” (a term which needs unpacking in later posts so as not to be misunderstood !).

Submission to the Rule is a safe guide to attain receptivity to attain the condition of prayer if we will learn to eradicate obstinacy and self-will by obedience and humility. Just as we must read chapters 5 Obedience, 6 On restraint of speech, and 7 Humility before we get to the chapters on the Divine Office so we must progress through obedience, restraint of speech (curbing self-will), and humility (submission) to the state of prayer (Divine Office). This is not easy. But to the same degree it is, however, necessary.

Fr. Gegory Wassen


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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