It may be almost 1,500 years since his death, but his ideas are perennially valid.
St. Benedict of Nursia may have lived 1,500 years ago (480-547), but many of his ideas are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them down in the authoritative rule of life for his community of monks, known today as the Benedictines. They still follow his Rule today in their quest for holiness.
This small book, available in ebook form for free from multiple sources online, gathers his advice—guidelines that he himself followed. They come from his experience of everyday life and his insight into human nature, and represent a true path of conversion of heart, a way to the rebirth in the Spirit that Jesus revealed to Nicodemus. However, we don’t have to be monks or saints to be helped by his perennial wisdom. Here are 10 tips that can do us all some good:
1“Listen, my son.”
This is how the rule begins. To listen, we must first keep silence. For a Benedictine monk, talking without need, without saying anything of worth was actually punished. Most of us are not bound to that degree of strictness, but silence allows us to reflect on ourselves and to be more attentive to others, it helps us be more peaceful, and it puts us in God’s presence.
2Work helps us keep a healthy mind.
“Idleness is the enemy of the soul,” Benedict writes. He mandated that his monks divide their time between work, reading, and prayer, in such a way that they developed a balanced body, mind, and soul.
3Transform every task into prayer.
For St. Benedict, every task participates in the creative work of God and the sufferings of Christ. Work should be considered as a service to others and as a form of prayer.
4Our days should follow a rhythm.
In a monastery, the Rule imposes a time for everything: prayer, work, reading, reflection … These ancient principles are essentially still being taught as part of time management skills in business schools and self-help books, which encourage us to establish certain beginning and end times for each task.
5Be attentive to others.
For St. Benedict, respect must characterize all our relationships with other people. “Let all be received as Christ,” he said, speaking of visitors, “especially the poor and travelers.” If we are all attentive and considerate to each other—even to our enemies—we will contribute to building a world that reflects God’s love.
The saintly abbot told his monks to stop whatever they were doing punctually when it was time to move on to another task, although it may be difficult to do so, in obedience to God’s will. We may not have an abbot telling us what our schedule is, but forcing ourselves to follow a well-designed schedule actually frees us from slavery to our impulses.
7Read often to feed your mind and soul.
St. Benedict had his monks dedicate an important part of their day to reading Scripture or other edifying books, amidst periods of work, prayer, and dining. Reading good books can give us fresh ideas, make us more empathetic, broaden our mind, and teach us wisdom from the past and the present.
8Understand and respect your own priorities.
For monks, the highest priority is to seek God, especially in prayer. Everything in the Rule is organized around this principle; St. Benedict repeats over and over, in slightly different formulations, “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ.” We need to know what our own priorities are, and respect those priorities in the way we use our time.
9Make peace with others.
In various ways and circumstances, St. Benedict urges his monks to apologize whenever they may have offended others. He reminds them of the injunction from Holy Scripture to “seek after peace and pursue it” and, “in case of discord with anyone, to make peace before the setting of the sun.” This helps us grow in goodness, as well as contributing to the stability of the community.
10Live each day as if it were your last.
The holy abbot told his monks to “keep death before your eyes daily.” This helps us remember our priorities and focus on the essentials.
We may not be monks, but monks are people, and so are the rest of us, and human nature doesn’t change. St. Benedict’s insight into humanity continues to be valuable today; hopefully, these tips will enlighten us or remind us of ways we can be happier, better people, with God’s help.