THE PATH OF LIFE:
Benedictine Spirituality for Monks and Lay People
by Cyprian Smith OSB
(Ampleforth Abbey Press, 1996, 181pp, $24.95. Available from AD Books)
Father Cyprian Smith is a graduate of the University of Manchester in French Language and Literature. He lectured at Hull University on French Poetry before living in Brazil for five years. In Brazil he became interested in the prayer and solitude of the monastic vocation and on his return to England joined the Benedictines at Ampleforth Abbey. He is the author of an earlier book on the Benedictine spirituality.
The Path of Life explains the central themes of the Benedictine rule for both monk and lay person and the place for this spirituality in daily life.
The Benedictine rule commences with the word "Ausculta!" - listen. This provides the key to the spiritual life of the monastic: to listen to God in prayer and scripture. The rule promotes active listening not only to others, but also for the subordination of the desire to dominate a conversation when in company.
Saint Benedict recommended the enclosed life as the most stable and therefore the best context for remaining in God's steadfast love. The monastic life, he believed, remained detached from the instabilities of secular life and enabled the Eucharist, Sacraments and prayer to be the central focus of the Benedictine spiritual life.
The rule promotes a change of attitude and not simply a change in outward behaviour. It recommends a surrender of the self and encourages a change of goals such as the search for power or money. This part of the rule supports communal ownership and a whole of life orientation towards God, not self, while at all times being centred in prayer.
Obedience, Benedict saw as an expression of love in action and applicable to all, whether monk or not. When offered to God, obedience, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, takes on a spiritual dimension and offers freedom from selfish or internal compulsions and desires.
Within the bustling and noisy contemporary world there exists a fear of silence. According to Benedict, any community that treasures silence, with God's grace, will be strengthened by it. Silence in Benedictine spirituality promotes listening to the voice of the Father built on the tradition of the desert Fathers. According to the rule, some time each day must allow a period of silence.
Careful, contemplative reading of scripture and the Church Fathers is one of the major tenets of Benedictine spirituality.This underpins the prayer life of the monks which is expressed in daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and private prayer,
The virtue of humility comes into sharp focus when looking closely at the Benedictine way of life. One of the vehicles for the development of this virtue is work. Attributed to Benedict are the words "to work is to pray" a philosophy upheld to this day.
This book is recommended to the reader wishing to explore the path of Benedictine spiritual life. It is written for both religious and lay people, with the clarity which comes from a deep understanding and appreciation of the great value of the Benedictine monastic rule.