Since early 2000, I have studied Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese art that adapts moves designed for self-defense into patterns that carry strange and wonderful names like “Crane Spreads Wings” and “Ride the Wild Tiger.” My teacher continues to remind me that practicing Tai Chi is just that—practice. One does not perfect the practice; even the masters continue to refine their movements throughout their lives.
That’s an insight that helps to shed some light on the treasure we inherit from St. Benedict, whose Rule forms the foundation of western monasticism. In the Prologue, he writes:
And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow. For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love. Thus, never departing from His school, but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom (RB Prol. 45–50, The Rule of Saint Benedict, Leonard Doyle, trans., Collegeville, Minn., The Liturgical Press, 2001).
In today’s Church, the religious—monks and nuns—live by this rule in cloistered communities. Others are oblates, who live by the spirit of this rule beyond the walls of monasteries. All of God’s people, as Proverbs tells us, hear His summons to seek to “incline our hearts to understanding” His wisdom. As Jesus reminds us in Luke’s gospel, He calls us to “carry the cross and follow him.” In that way, Benedict writes, “… we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ …” (RB Prol. 50).
These acts of discipleship and obedience are ones we practice, but do not perfect, despite a lifetime of attending “a school for the service of the Lord.” St. Benedict encourages us not to lose sight of the benefits of our practice: “… as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love” (RB Prol. 49). Amen.
This reflection was written by David Frye, who made his final oblation in 2009.