|St.Benedict Writing his Rules|
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"The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up… ."
St. Benedict of Nursia,
The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapters 6 and 7.
This was a few years after I had become a Benedictine Oblate, but although I had studied the rules, I had not really taken them to heart. It was only after mentoring prison inmates who were learning to be Benedictine Oblates and seeing how they used The Rule in reacting to unjust treatment, that I began to see that The Rule had to be a way of life, not just an object of study. When the next occasion came to apply The Rule I was, if not altogether ready, more prepared.
A BENEDICTINE OBLATE ON THE INTERNETSeveral weeks ago Ben Butera was kind enough to review my third ebook "Science versus the Church--'Truth Cannot Contradict Truth.' ", in a post, "Four Big Bangs?" A commentator, "Anonymous", really lambasted the book, or rather Chapter 4, in which I discussed the Church's dogma of Creatio ex Nihilo, creation of the universe by God from nothing, and several cosmological theories about the beginning (or non-beginning) of the universe. In that chapter I tried to follow the proposition set forth in the preface of my book:
"That is the theme of this book: nothing that we know about the world from empirically verified scientific theories conflicts with Catholic teaching. Where there does appear to be a conflict, it arises from theories that are not verified by observation and that, in most cases, can never be so tested. As in many cosmology theories, theories about how (and whether) the universe came to be are untestable and lie in the domain of what might be best termed “mathematical metaphysics.” In short, there is no war between science and the Church." Robert Kurland, Science versus the Church--"Truth Cannot Contradict Truth."However, according to "Anonymous", I failed miserably. In attempting (not altogether successfully) to understand his/her criticisms, I tried to see whether I was misunderstood and how I could clarify misunderstandings. When Anonymous insulted me by belittling my status as a Catholic physicist (I'm not sure whether as a physicist, or as a Catholic or as the conjoined entity), I attempted to make a joke of it This really infuriated Anonymous. I guess that reaction validates the point made in the quote above about the 11th degree of humility--that the Benedictine should speak without laughter, something which is very difficult for me to do.
At any rate, toward the end of this exchange it seemed, and I'll let the reader judge for himself / herself, that the tone of "Anonymous's" comments become less heated and more conciliatory, so perhaps acting by the Rules did have some effect. There seemed to be more of a dialogue.
A BENEDICTINE RULE FOR THE INTERNET
I'm going to focus on those parts of The Rule that seem to me to be most important in our relations with those with whom we interact by comments on posts, our own and those of others.
1. Be mindful of the wounds of others. We should remember that even the most hateful and spiteful commentator has some reason to behave that way and we should be careful not to hurt them more. We should not try to belittle them, to shame them, or make them seem less, just to win an argument or make ourselves feel superior. To quote Fr. Donald Raila, Director of Oblates at St. Vincent Archabbey:
"The Rule of St. Benedict is written for a community of wounded persons. At the end of a series of precepts for dealing with wounded brothers, the abbot is enjoined to 'realize that he has undertaken care of the sick, not tyranny of the healthy.' Therefore, 'he is to imitate the example of The Good Shepherd.' "Fr. Donald Raila, OSB, Lessons from Saint Benedict--Finding Joy in Daily Life.In my replies to "Anonymous" I did not follow this precept as I should have. In explaining that the physics of the "raisin loaf analogy" for the expanding universe was correct, I made a comment that this explanation followed from first year physics. That was snarky, meant (albeit subconsciously) to belittle "Anonymous" and should not have been made. And, as the first quote says "we are to refrain from evil words."
2. I interpret the second quotation "on the fourth degree of humility" as telling us to listen to criticisms even though they seem to be not justified or based on false premises. We should learn from them, and if they seem unintelligible, ask the person making that criticism to explain what premises or line of reasoning he/she is following.
3. We should reflect carefully on criticisms, even when they're worded in a belligerent or belittling way, to determine whether there's substance to them and, if so, how we can use that criticism to make our points more clearly and correctly.
4. One of the comments made by St. Benedict in the chapter on obedience has to do with accepting orders, just or unjust, without grumbling. And that means both external and internal grumbling. This can be translated to accepting justified criticism without grumbling, either external or internal.
5. Finally, the last of the quotations above, "that he speak gently ...with few and sensible words" applies to comments and rebuttals. There's an implication here that what we say should be instructive, not just empty chatter. I'm not sure about the injunction to abstain from laughter--perhaps St. Benedict meant laughing at someone, rather than with, and I am very often tempted to use humor to defuse anger (not always successfully, as pointed out above).
The rules above are just a few general ones that can be drawn from The Rule. There may well be others, and if the reader can supply others, I'd be most grateful. Also, I must confess that I have just begun to follow these rules, even though I've been a Benedictine Oblate for more than 10 years. It takes conscious effort; it's very tempting to react in kind when someone is particularly nasty. But following these rules and The Rule is an aid, a prosthesis, to help us live as a Christian.
REFERENCES (OTHER THAN THOSE LINKED TO ABOVE).
OSB: About the Rule of St. Benedict
Oblates of St. Benedict
"My only reservation is your use of the word 'rules as if the RULE were a book of rules. (Some people say 'Rule 1', 'Rule 2', instead of 'Chapter 1', 'Chapter 2', and that can be very misleading.) The RULE itself is a collection of Christian guidelines for a community of monks. There are some actual rules, but that is not the point of the RULE. Also, of course, many of the 'rules' no longer apply, but the underlying values do." Fr. Donald Raila, letter 3 October, 2016Point well taken, Fr. Donald. I'll try to remember this in future posts about the RULE.