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Lessons from St Benedict during COVID-19

A reflection by Abbot John Pereira OSB

In his Rule for Monks, which St Benedict wrote in the sixth century, he states clearly that he is drawing up a plan for ‘cenobites’, that is to say, monks who belong to a monastery and live a life in community, where they serve under a rule and an abbot.  Unlike the anchorite, who lives alone, the cenobite is the monk who lives in community. At Mount St Benedict Abbey in Tunapuna, the monks live a cenobitic form of monasticism, where together they unite themselves under a rule and an abbot.

In the chapter on ‘The Good Zeal of Monks’, St Benedict writes: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other’ (Rom 2:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour, earnestly competing in obedience to one another. “No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life” (RB 72:4-12).

During this period of COVID-19, where we are required to stay at home, the art of living together is of primary importance. At Mount St Benedict, it is this art of communal living that we aspire to and which often takes an entire lifetime to perfect. St Benedict has given us several tools in order to perfect this art and he encourages his monks to use these tools in the “workshop” of the monastery.

As families are now required to spend more time in the limited precincts of the home, the wisdom of St Benedict is an ideal resource to lean upon.

Our homes can be converted into “workshops”, where the “tools of the spiritual craft” can be utilised with maximum effect. These tools are to be found in Holy Scripture. They are to be found in the decalogue of Moses, in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, in the letters of Paul, all of which are summed up in the ideal of LOVE.

The art of communal living, which is to be exercised in the limited precincts of our family homes, are summed up in the tried and tested virtues of humility, mutual respect and love. COVID-19 challenges us to explore these qualities once again in the workshops of our family homes, using always the tools of good works, respect, humility and love.