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Being Spiritual in the World Today

“This is a book about living. Not about surviving, but living a balanced, meaningful, and attentive life” (1). These are Judith Valente’s opening words in her book How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing. 2018).

Life can be a struggle. Sometimes we feel the best we can do is try to survive. In doing so, we are not really living. We are just getting by. God has created us for something more. In the prologue to his rule St. Benedict writes, “Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?” (Valente, 1).

St. Benedict wrote in the 6th century. One might wonder how something written so long ago is relevant today. Valente writes, “The Rule of St. Benedict emerged from an era when a great civilization was under threat from violent outside forces. The economy favored the wealthy. Social norms were changing, and political leaders lacked the public’s trust” (2). Does this sound familiar? It sounds like what we are experiencing today.

Valente describes St. Benedict as “a young man disillusioned with the conflict, greed, injustice, and lack of compassion he saw around him” (2). It sounds like how I feel sometimes. I don’t understand much of what goes in the world today. Society is changing. Unfortunately, I feel it is changing in way that is not for our betterment. Instead, the changes are “liberating us to be our worst selves” (Valente, 3).

How did St. Benedict seek to answer the problems he saw in his time? He “didn’t amass an army. He sought to build community. Instead of the false security of personal wealth, he endorsed the freedom of simplicity” (Valente, 2). Our lives are complicated and too busy today. I am trying to turn to simplicity. It is better. There is too much noise today. We need some silence to reflect and prayer.

In this book, Valente seeks to help us apply The Rule of St. Benedict to our lives today. It helps us find balance (Valente, 8). We cannot pray all the time but we need prayer as much as we need to work, eat, and rest. St. Benedict set a rule for monasteries where the monks and nuns lived apart from the busy world. We are not all called to live a fully monastic life but we can strive to improve our interior life for “The true monastic enclosure is the human heart” (Valente, 9).

Developing the interior life in our heart requires listening with the ear of our heart (from the prologue of the rule, Valente, 11). In the Benedictine tradition, Valente describes “listening” as “an act of will” (12). We need to be active in our listening, engaging in the words we receive. Our lives should never be too busy to engage what is being said. We need to make the time to genuinely listen, for our own good as well as the good of others. We need to be present in the moment (Valente, 27).

What I have written here covers the first three chapters of Valente’s book. I expect to write more soon. Always remember what I write is only a brief portion of what Valente writes. My articles do not replace what she writes. I write to help you take first steps.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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