In a divided and divisive world, the voice of St Benedict calls us to come together despite all our differences, to find meaning, purpose and fellowship.
His monastery is above all a place of welcome – in chapter 2 (RB2) he stresses that “God shows no partiality among persons.” (Rom 2:11). The only criteria which matter for living the monastic life are good works and humility. Social origins do not matter – whether you are born a slave or born free you are welcome. His Rule provides for the sick, the elderly and the young. The person at the door welcomes people as soon as they knock, and responds with “all the gentleness of the fear of God…and with the warmth of love” (RB 66).
There are rules and guidelines, and it is possible if you break those rules, to be excluded. But everything is set up to avoid that and steer people into healthy community living. His Rule exudes understanding and caters in almost every chapter for exceptions which show that love is the purpose of being in the monastery. “They are to show one another the purest love.” (RB 72)
We live in a world of polar opposites. Recently there was an incident which sums up the difficulty of living together. In a behind the scenes film about the making of “The Chosen”, a series about the life of Christ, a 3-inch Pride flag placed on one of the cameras was visible for a few seconds. The twittosphere went crazy. Conservatives claimed that the series had gone “woke” and that they would no longer watch the programme.
Dallas Jenkins, the director and the producer of the series, explained that religious belief is not a criterion for working in the film company.
“Solomon’s Temple”, he reminded us, “was built with pagan craftsmen. In our company, we love each other. If you stop watching my programme because of this flag, it means you want me to deny this freedom to my staff.”
Finally, he says that he is not a liberal, “not that it has anything to do with the show,” and as a conservative evangelical, he is in a minority in the cast and crew.
The film set of the Chosen is like a Benedictine space. All are welcome whatever their beliefs because it is people that count. This is what we aspire to create in the LCSB – a safe and welcoming space for all.
Such spaces are important as signs to the world of where people of different beliefs can get on with each other. Humility is important. So is obedience: acting on the words of others. We are called to act differently from our culture. We need human size communities which are beacons of inclusion.
As we move into the world of AI or Artificial Intelligence, and humans become increasingly alienated from a sense of their intrinsic value, so communities will form places of refuge. St Benedict places value on the work of each member of the community. “Idleness” he says, “is the enemy of the soul.” (RB48). No-one steeped in the Rule can ever believe that humans are destined to live purely a life of leisure – we need activities which allow us to develop our skills and add to the common good of society. “If there are skilled workers in the community, let them practise their craft in all humility.” (RB 57).
On this feast of St Benedict, I celebrate Benedict for the gift of diversity. I celebrate Benedict for the meaning which he inspires in my life. I celebrate Benedict for the value which he sees in every single person. He invites us to a life, where, through accepting the constraints of living with others in community, our hearts will overflow. He is very much a saint for our times.
Adam Simon is a lay Benedictine, leader of the LCSB, whose life journey in faith started as a student on a visit to Worth Abbey. He is married to Barbara with three children and two grandchildren. He is in full time work in the IT Industry.