Life in common is an identifying charism of the Benedictine. St Benedict believed that in the common life the average person would receive better formation as well as mutual support in his search for God and have ample opportunity to exercise mutual love, a core principle of the gospel life.
In answer to God’s call, the Benedictine monk binds himself for life to a particular monastery and to a particular group of people under a particular abbot and his successors. The community thus formed may rightly be called an ecclesiola, the church in miniature. By the witness of a shared life in Christ and by various ministries, the community proclaims the message of salvation.
Like the monks and nuns of all monasteries, our monks retain their individual personalities. In living out the Rule of St Benedict, each will, over the period of a lifetime, be integrated into the lives of the other monks and they into his. For those living in community, the command to love God through one’s neighbor is given ample opportunity to develop throughout their lives. We are spurred on by the example of our brothers and learn from each other. On the human level, we can rub each other up the wrong way, have our own convictions as to how things should be done, become angry over a real or imaginary slight. Yet this is all material for transformation in God, who transforms us not only as individuals but also as a monastery.
It is not in the rare, big events that community is formed, but in the small exchanges that take place every day: how we answer a brother, how we wait upon one another at table, how we anticipate one another’s needs, how we thoughtfully hold open the door for one another. It is shown by the way we not only refuse to gossip about one another, but by the very way we think of one another. It is made concrete by the way we pray together, work and meet informally as a community. At times our life in community may also require mutual correction – arising not out of anger, but out of concern for the other.
St Benedict tells his monks that there should be real love among them and that “they should try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else”. (Rule ch.71). The whole movement of love is outward to the other, in imitation of Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave” (Philippians 2: 6-7).
- Dom Boniface Von Nell