LISTEN MY SON:
St Benedict for Fathers
by Dwight Longenecker
(Gracewing, 2000, 286pp, $24.95. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Reviewed by Michael Daniel
The last couple of decades have witnessed a growing interest in The Rule of St Benedict. Although written for monks, many modern writers have applied the age old wisdom contained in this text to the lives of lay people. In Listen My Son, Dwight Longenecker applies The Rule of St Benedict to fathers.
Both Longenecker in his preface and Lord Alton in the forward to this book argue that our civilisation is witnessing a crisis in fatherhood. We are now into the second generation in which a significant number of children are being raised by their mothers in single parent families (800,000 in Britain alone) with many young fathers lacking a role model as a frame of reference, particularly when seeking to balance the demands of marriage, parenting and work.
Longenecker demonstrates that the wisdom of The Rule translates well into meeting these demands. The three monastic vows - stability, obedience and conversion of life - are at the heart of a marriage, obedience being understood as "a constant attitude of self-sacrificial service" to spouse and children.
Inherent in the ethos of St Benedict is the belief that God is to be found in the circumstances of our lives and thus these circumstances, in the case of a husband marriage and raising children, are an integral aspect of our redemption.
The division of The Rule into daily portions follows the monastic division, such that it is read three times a year. After each portion of the rule, Longenecker has placed a reflection of approximately a page in length. The chief strength of Listen My Son is that the bulk of the advice contained therein can be described as "no nonsense, common sense."
For example, Chapter XLV of The Rule counsels monks to humble themselves when they make a mistake in chanting the Divine Office and seek forgiveness. Applying this counsel to the family situation, Longenecker speaks of the importance of fathers seeking forgiveness from other family members when they have wronged them.
Similarly, St Benedict's insistence in Chapter VII that humility is the core virtue still applies in the twenty-first century in which we are constantly told that "success" and "happiness" are to be equated with owning a raft of material possessions.
Although written primarily for fathers, Listen My Son contains reflections useful for all family members, as well as for those in any position of leadership or mentorship.