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My journey with St Benedict

by Michael Ford last modified 12 Nov, 2019 11:20 AM

We have a rich vein of Benedictine spirituality in this Diocese. Katrine Hartley tells us more.

This is the story of how a very special Italian man captured my heart.

Two years ago I decided to move to Dorset in an attempt to escape the rat-race. I also wanted to give my son the opportunity of taking up his dream job. I was leaving behind a trail of broken relationships and ‘skeletons’ in the cupboard of life that everyone has but doesn’t always admit to. Cutting a long story short, after a few ups and downs, I found myself living in a quintessential village of tumbling thatch and hills, complete with surrounding green pastures, a babbling brook and more intriguingly a mysterious Abbey that I caught glimpses of as I walked the dog each day. I switched careers from a secretarial role to that of a support worker with autistic children. I was very happy with this result and spent most days pinching myself in case I suddenly woke up back in a world where life is quite different.

The Abbey was a great source of fascination to me and sub-consciously had probably influenced my decision to settle here. Local churchgoers told me rather gloomily that the Abbey had no congregation and others I met muttered it was part of the school and not open to the public, some said the singing was good there. I decided to find out more and looked on the website where I discovered the ancient monastic origins and more importantly a “Call to community in the spirit of St Benedict” from the Benedictine Companions of the Abbey at Milton. This sounded a lot more interesting!

Since childhood, I have been a Christian, but not always in the traditional way, dipping into church worship on and off but preferring to be closer to God in moments of peace and solitude. The Bible is a phenomenal piece of writing with some powerful messages for us all, but like most people, sometimes I do still need a well versed Christian book buddy to act as my guide!

However, the Benedictine values of life spoke to me with great clarity as I read the information on the website. So, I sent an email to the Companions which led to me borrowing a copy of The Benedictine Handbook, essentially the ‘Idiot’s Guide’ to Benedictine life offering a framework for daily Christian spirituality. In a nutshell, this is a holy way of life embedded in the things we do every day, not just going to church on Sunday and ticking a box. Basically, living and adapting the rules used in a monastic life in our own communities. If the monks can do it, then so can we with a few tweaks.

Born in c.480 and the son of a Roman noble, Saint Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino became the father of Western monasticism when he wrote his famous Rule that established and became the norm for monastic living throughout Europe.

St Benedict’s teaching, points to the establishment of the ‘school for the Lord’s service’ to provide both the environment and the necessary means for the individual’s search for God. Benedict shared the biblical view that, unless we are in honest relationship with God and other human beings, we will inevitably prefer our own desires to the demands of the Christian life. Hence he promoted the community life because he knew that it rescues us from our narrow self-interest through a deeper sense of our dependence on God’s mercy and on the love of our community. He recognised that surrender of self-will was key and therefore dedicates a large part of his Rule to obedience.

According to St Benedict our work, however mundane or challenging it may be, becomes a form of prayer reflecting the need for humility. He also asks us to look for God in the simplest things we do and make him our purpose for doing them; meeting Christ when we serve others; finding balance and moderation in all things; being aware of God’s creation and taking great care of our environment. Parents will find some amazing advice in Benedict’s instructions for a good abbot (Abba is Latin for father). It all makes a lot of sense.

From that day, I haven’t looked back. After completing my term as a probationary, I was admitted as a Benedictine Companion in July this year, making my own promises to serve the community in various ways.

I begin and end each day by reading part of the Rule of St Benedict itself, a psalm and short piece of scripture and praying – this is known as the Daily Office. The Daily Office we use was put together by our Prior and contains some inspiring words. I use this thoughtful time at the start and close of the day to think and pray about my fellow Companions bring my thoughts together with God about other things going on that are close to my heart and those affecting the world we live in.

I try to keep the relevant aspects of the Rule in my mind throughout the day and put the guidance of St Benedict into practice. I have found that doing this has changed the whole perspective I have on carrying out tasks that I previously disliked or absolutely detested, which is a real positive and helps my working day become something a lot more worthwhile.

Of course, all this does not come easily and there are times when I fail. But that’s okay, I just persevere and have another go the next day.

And so, my journey continues...

Whatever thoughts you may have after reading this, maybe take a few moments to stop by at the Abbey. It stands waiting with doors open and if you seek and find the red Benedictine Handbook sit for a while and have a read. I can recommend The Prologue to the Rule on page 10. The small green pocket-sized leaflets are also useful. The Companions hold short Services at Milton Abbey as often as possible when the Daily Office is read and a Eucharist service is held monthly.

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