"Prefer absolutely nothing to the love of Christ" - The Rule of St Benedict
There is a powerful scene in the film Godfather 3, in which the ageing Michael Corleone finds himself in conversation with Cardinal Lamberto, who steers Michael towards a consideration of his soul. Seeing the depth of Michael's sins, he reaches into the fountain and retrieves a pebble. Breaking it open, he shows it to him, dry on its inside. "This is like the people of Europe - for centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity, but it has never penetrated the surface. Christ has not penetrated their hearts."
Do you want to deepen your faith, and let Christ penetrate you heart? Many people find their way to Benedictine spirituality because they want a real, living faith to be at the heart of everything they do, but simply do not know how.
We live in an age in which the pace seems to be getting relentlessly faster. People are never off their mobile phones, and friendship is becoming ever more virtual. How often do we turn everything off, and listen with full attention? How often do we make time for regular, quiet prayer, putting Christ at the centre, rather than our everyday concerns?
Benedictine Spirituality has traditionally been followed by those who answer a call to be monks. They enter into a three-fold vow of obedience, stability and conversion.
This has been going on for over 1500 years, and very successful it has been too. But what possible relevance can this ancient monastic rule have for ordinary people? Can people in 21st century England really find something valuable in seemingly old-fashioned ideas such as obedience?
Obedience, Stability and Conversion
To our modern ears the idea of obedience sounds a little old-fashioned. Even when we make a life-long commitment at our wedding we only promise to 'love and honour you all the days of my life' - nothing about obedience there. But when listening to the Word of God, using our modern ears is not enough - St Benedict instructs to 'incline the ear of our heart.' He is telling us that something different is required of us. Discovering that the Bible contains truth, especially if it runs contrary to what our society currently tells us, teaches us the value of obedience.
But that is not enough. The living water of truth will not penetrate the rock of our being that quickly. We need to learn another lesson - that in order for that truth to sink in and change us, we will need to spend not just days or weeks learning from the Gospels, but months, even years. We need to be faithful to what challenges us, to learn not to constantly look elsewhere - the lesson of stability.
Only when we have accepted that Scripture is a source of objective truth, that it commands our obedience, and that we must accept the discipline of being guided by it over the long term, will we experience conversion - putting on the mind of Christ, as St Paul puts it.
Don't be dismayed by the long term nature of this way of prayer. You should never be put off something because of the time it might take - the time will pass anyway. Even if you think you are not capable, just start - fight the good fight, run the face to the finish, keep the faith - do you really have anything better to do?
What generations of monks have learned in the cloister is also ours to discover. We do not need to be swept along by the currents of the secular world, slave to every new ideology. There are older truths, discovered, preserved and handed down to us by the great minds and hearts of the Church - Augustine, Aquinas, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila - and of course St Benedict himself. It is our duty to make sure that this flame is kept burning for our children, and for their children.