From; The Gift of Saint Benedict, by Verna A. Holyhead SGS and Lynne Muir. John Garrett Publishing, Victoria, Australia. 2002. Pp. 32-33
In contemporary life we may seem to spend much of our time listening, but often this may only take us across the threshold of ‘auditory over-load’ into a kind of mindless noise.
Benedict begins his Rule with the word: ‘Listen’ a listening with ‘the ear of the heart’. To listen (obaudire ) is to obey, and obedience is the third promise which a Benedictine professes. It is, firstly, a call to hear and respond to the word of God. This word is most explicit in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, and in his good news. It is to him that Benedict summons his followers to return by the ‘labor of obedience’ by taking up the ‘powerful and shining weapons of obedience’ in order to fight for and establish God’s reign over the territory of the human heart.
To a society that values collaboration, consultation, and team ministry, Benedict has much to offer. He recognizes the significance of listening to our sisters and brothers through whom the call of God also comes. Not only obedience to the leader of the community, the abbot, but mutual obedience of its members, one to the other, is called ‘a blessing’, an acknowledgment that everyone has some wisdom, and no one has it all. Benedict stresses that whenever important matters are to be decided, the abbot must call together the whole community and ask for the counsel of each one, even and especially the youngest. All must tune the ears of their hearts to the Rule and not be arrogant, prejudiced or deaf to each other’s words. Although the decision rests with the abbot, right judgment requires him to ponder the counsel offered.
Fear-filled, grudging obedience or obedience eroded by subtle murmuring, is not the obedience of those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ and his obedience.
There is a tough practicality about Benedictine obedience. If what seems an impossible is asked, the monk should listen to his interior conflict. The Rule gives the right to speak out of this to the superior in well- timed, patient and respectful dialogue. The last word, however, may be ‘obey’ – with trust in the loving and special help of God for the weak. Obedience will never be possible without interior silence; not the silence which is a rehearsal of what we will say when someone else stops talking, but the contemplative silence which ponders the word.
Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz in l943, wrote in her diary a year earlier:
Truly, my life is one long hearkening unto myself and others, unto God. And if I say that I hearken, it is really God who hearkens inside me. The most essential and the deepest in me hearkening to the most essential and deepest in the other. God to God?
(Etty: A Diary 1941-43, London, Triad Grafton Books, 1985, p.224.)
Not many will achieve that degree of listening by Etty’s age of twenty-nine but, says Benedict, it gets easier. Good listeners become good runners. Paced by Jesus Christ over the course of a lifetime our hearts expand and beat strongly ‘with the unspeakable sweetness of love , and we race along the way of God’s commandments to cross the finishing line of death and receive the prize of the kingdom.