Benedictines offer world a spirituality of listening - abbot

St. Benedict developed a rule for monks which emphasized the importance of listening.

CNS PHOTO | NANCY WIECHEC

St. Benedict developed a rule for monks which emphasized the importance of listening.

May 30, 2016
PAUL PAPROSKI, OSB
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

Benedictine spirituality has much to offer the world through its teaching of "listening," Abbot

Lawrence Stasyszen told a gathering May 5 at St. Peter's Abbey in Muenster, Sask.

The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict, the guide for Benedictines, is "listen." It begins the sentence, "Listen carefully, my son, to the master's instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart," said Stasyszen of St. Gregory's Abbey of Shawnee, Okla.

The rule begins with an invitation to seek the peace of God's kingdom by listening to what is written, not just in a physical sense, but with the ear of one's heart, which is one's complete being, he said.

Written in sixth century Italy, the rule was written with the intention of enabling the reader to develop a deeper relationship with God, the abbot said.

"I believe in the power of absorbing and listening. This is what Benedictine spirituality has to offer our institutions, our society and world," Stasyszen said.

The wisdom of listening comes to mind when Stasyszen hears of local and international conflicts.

He remembers when the term "Balkanization" was used to describe the break-up of Yugoslavia into smaller countries in the 1990s. The same term described the disintegration of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires following the First World War.

Many countries and empires collapsed, he said, because of ethnic tensions and intolerance. These same problems have fuelled conflicts today in Africa and the Middle East.

The term Balkanization could apply to the social, economic and political divisions now threatening unity in Europe and the United States, Stasyszen said.

The European Union is in danger of collapsing and political infighting in the United States has become so entrenched that Congress has failed to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Balkanization has even affected the U.S. media, which are divided along political lines. The electronic devices used for social media have encouraged further alienation by discouraging one-on-one communication.

SIXTH CENTURY UPHEAVAL

The world of St. Benedict in the sixth century faced economic and social upheaval following the collapse of the Roman Empire.

St. Benedict knew that, within the turmoil, he was part of something much greater than himself, and he sought to embrace his Christian faith in a much deeper way.

He entered a life of solitude and prayer and later became a leader in monasticism. He eventually composed a rule for community life which takes into consideration the "other."

The Rule of St. Benedict embraces people of all ages and backgrounds. It makes provisions for the sick and the weak; it encourages strangers to be welcomed as one would welcome Christ.

The rule was written in an era when people were defined by their social class, and both pilgrims and bandits roamed the countryside. St. Benedict wanted his followers to greet everyone as a person made in the image of God and to see Christ in the other.

One great barrier to building up a sense of community and solidarity among nations is what Pope Francis has referred to as the "unholy axis" of relativism, secularism and materialism, Stasyszen commented.

Relativism holds that each person can define the ultimate reality of the universe because there is no objective truth. Secularism focuses on the time in which we live, ignoring the wisdom of preceding generations and disregarding the generations that will follow. Materialism holds to the belief that the ultimate solutions to the problems of this age are to be found in material progress or power.

AXIS OF EVIL

"This axis of true evil has become more predominant, and it should not surprise us that true dialogue, true conversation, true life-giving consensus, has become more difficult to achieve among nations, ethnic groups and families.

"If there is no common objective, then what is the point of dialogue?" Stasyszen asked.

GOD AND OTHERS

The Rule of St. Benedict emphasizes listening both to God and to others, acknowledging that everyone has opinions to share. Human fulfillment is found in authentic listening and by coming to know and recognize the other.

The other is a member of my family, my community and the stranger as well.

This notion of being present to the other through authentic listening is the most profound truth the Benedictine tradition can offer the world today, Stasyszen said.