“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels” (Rule of St. Benedict, 19:6). By Br. Karel Soukup
St. Benedict lays down four criteria by which candidates to the monastic life are to be judged: first, that he truly seeks God, that he is eager for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials (RB 58:7). St. Benedict conceives of the monk as one who first and foremost seeks God (Pr:2).
Where does the monk look for God? Everywhere: “We believe that the divine presence is everywhere” (19:1) With these few words, St. Benedict sums up the Benedictine world view. The monk sees world as revelatory: each concrete circumstance he meets in life reveals the divine presence to him. Nowhere is this clearer than when St. Benedict speaks of Christ’s presence in the monastery. Over and over again, he admonishes the monk to see Christ in each person he meets: in the abbot (cc. 2 & 63) and the guest (c. 53), in the young and in the old and sick (c. 36). Most especially, the monk finds Christ in the community’s common prayer: “Beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office” (19:2).
The life of the monastery, like the life of the whole Church, is centered around its common prayer. Monastic life is a sacramental experience in which the monk experiences interior renewal through exterior means. And, the grace God gives him comes not primarily through subjective experience, but through the concrete reality he confronts everyday.
Christ’s presence in sacred Scripture and the Eucharist is especially revered by the monastic community. St. Benedict’s vision is of a community steeped in the Word of God, of a community which is bound together into the Body of Christ by the Word-made-Flesh. The monk is to admonished to meet Christ daily in lectio divina—his personal, prayerful reading of Scripture—and in the community’s opus Dei—the common chanting of Scripture, most especially the Psalms.
St. Benedict has few words to say about the Eucharist. The Mass and Communion are mentioned four times throughout the Rule, but always as a sort of passing remark, as though they were taken for granted. Indeed, for the Christians of the early Church, to be Christian was to take part in the Eucharist.
The monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey still foster this reverence for Christ. We recognize that Christ, while dwelling in our hearts, lives also out there: out there in our brothers, out there in the Abbot, out there in the guest. But most especially, we recognize that Christ dwells out there in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and this common encounter with Christ forms the heart of our life together.