St Benedict lived in the 5th century, and wrote his famous Rule as a practical guide for abbots and brother monks living together in a monastic community. It is a short book, consisting of 73 chapters (no more than paragraphs), and sets out St Benedict's vision of how the values of the gospel can be lived out in a community. It offers timeless spiritual guidance on how our lives should be an expression of mutual service and love, seeing Christ in all people, particularly the stranger.
It is difficult to think of any book, apart from the Bible itself, which is still so widely read 1500 years after it first appeared. The Rule is applied not only in monasteries, but also in families, communities and even forward-thinking businesses. Father Laurence Freeman OSB has described it as the most important text on Christian living since the Bible.
There is deep wisdom in the Rule which every family and parish would do well to heed - for instance the danger of gossip and murmuring among members of a community:
'Sometimes even good words should be left unsaid out of esteem for silence'
What peace could come to our world if we listened to this advice?
This is no straightforward self-help guide. The lessons it has to teach us are not easy, and they may seem to run contrary to our modern expectations of life. Benedictine spirituality requires a certain discipline and seriousness, but only because the path to true inner freedom and joy requires it. As St Benedict says in the rule:
'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...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.'