As lockdowns continue and children and students are confined to attend school from home, increasingly it would seem, there is a need to structure the obligations of family life, work, study and even prayer in the confines of a single dwelling; a condition not unlike a monastery. St. Benedict of Nursia, (480-547) the Father of Western monasticism is arguably history’s greatest expert and exemplar in the art of good living in community. He was primarily concerned with living on a very small scale – with a family of monks. Nevertheless, we can learn from his precepts how to live well both in the intimacy of our own family life, the domestic Church, and by extension, in the family of the Church, which for all Catholics is experienced in the lived reality of parish life.
In his Rule, St Benedict provides us with practical wisdom to help us live and experience the peace and joy of the Gospel and to achieve the perfection of charity chiefly by learning to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) to love one another with mutual affection and to anticipate one another in showing honour (Rom. 12:10). In the chaotic times that St Benedict lived, a chaos that was experienced politically, morally and civilly, the Benedictine monastery became an oasis of physical order and by extension of spiritual and moral order.
Our times are not unlike those of the Patriarch of Western Monasticism. The lockdown of many places of work, of schools and our also of our churches, perhaps most especially of our places of worship has deprived many people of points of reference for the day and for life itself. The social effects of this anomalous state of affairs are already being felt and so it makes sense for us to establish a sacred order in our lives, and specifically our life in common in our families. What follow are excerpts from St Benedict’s Rule that have particular relevance to enabling Catholic families and those who share a common dwelling to experience something of the tranquility of order that is characteristic of a peaceful life lived in the holy presence of God, even and perhaps most especially in the midst of a chaotic world. If we heed the counsels of St Benedict, the isolation and limitation imposed on us in this strangest of times may actually be for us an opportunity to establish and strengthen the Catholic home as a school for the Lord’s service and a haven of sanity and sanctity.