Sermon: St. Benedict of Nursia

In our reading to the Philippians, Paul said, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So, if I was to ask you, how would you say that you are working out your salvation?

Some may have a pretty good plan, while others take the Hail Mary approach. Not the Hail Mary prayer, but the Hail Mary play in football, when you are at the end of the game and behind, so you make one last play and hope you come down with a score. I suspect most fall somewhere in-between, but it was Benedict of Nursia who worked out his salvation with a very specific Rule. You know it as the Rule of St. Benedict, which was written about the year 530 a.d.

The Rule consists of five significant dimensions: silence, prayer, humility, manual labor, and obedience. These all can be studied in-depth, but since our time is limited, I would like to consider the idea of humility. In chapter seven of the Rule, Benedict provides twelve degrees to true humility and he views these degrees as a ladder, referencing the ladder that Jacob saw in a dream that the angels of heaven ascended and descended on. Each degree, each rung of the ladder brings you closer to heaven. He begins:

“The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keep the fear of God before his eyes and beware of ever forgetting it. Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded; let his thoughts constantly recur to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins those who despise God, and to the life everlasting which is prepared for those who fear him.”

The next eleven degrees read in a similar manner. Briefly they are:
– Doing the will of the Father over our own.
– Complete obedience in submitting to superiors.
– Remain patient, even in the face of injustice.
– Confession of every sin and every evil thought to the Abbott of the monastery.
– Be content under even the worst of circumstances.
– Consider yourself to be the lowest of all.
– Follow the Rule.
– Keep silent unless questioned by a superior.
– Do not be quick to laugh.
– When you do speak, do so quietly with as few words as necessary.
– To be humble not only in heart, but appearance.

Having climbed this ladder and passed through these levels, Benedict states that the monk will no longer have any fear of Hell, but instead, experience total love of christ.

So, going back to your own rule of life, have you begun to climb such a ladder? Perhaps not as prescribed by Benedict, but have you set before yourself an intentional path that will assist you in developing a deeper relationship with God and lead you into greater holiness so that you may grow in His image? If yes, good, keep it up. If no, then I can commend to you the Rule of St. Benedict, even if you only generally seek to incorporate those five significant dimensions – silence, prayer, humility, manual labor, and obedience – into your daily life.

In Book 1, Chapter 19 of the Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis writes, “Not everyone can have the same devotion. One exactly suits this person, another that. Different exercises, likewise, are suitable for different times, some for feast days and some again for weekdays. In time of temptation we need certain devotions. For days of rest and peace we need others. Some are suitable when we are sad, others when we are joyful in the Lord.”

The Rule of St. Benedict may not be for you, but it does point to our need for that intentional and daily encounter with God, so that we may work out our salvation. Therefore, I encourage you to develop one for your own life, that you may grow in the wisdom, knowledge and love of the Lord.

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3 thoughts on “Sermon: St. Benedict of Nursia

  1. I really love this post! In this past year I have begun a very diligent journey toward “working out my own salvation” and it has been so fun and so exciting!!! I can’t imagine my life now with not pursuing unity with God and it makes me sad for all the people that do not know this joy and excitement, this overwhelming peace and love I finally feel. Thank you for sharing the Rule of St. Benedict with us. I am currently participating in each aspect but did not know it! Thank you for bringing this to my awareness because now I can be more mindful of each aspect as I continue to pursue my relationship with God. Blessings to you!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’ve often wanted to take the Rule of St. Benedict and write a contemporary application of each chapter. Much to learn.

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