Every day, usually immediately before evening prayer, my community reads aloud a small section of the Rule of Benedict. In the Middle Ages, the Rule was divided into the daily readings that are still used today, and it is read three times over the course of a year. Although this has changed since I have been in the community, at this time, twice a year we include commentaries with the reading of the Rule, and once a year we simply read the Rule with no commentary. I have found that over my time in community, the lessons of the Rule have seeped into my consciousness and shaped the way I understand religious life.
This is not to say that we follow the Rule precisely and I doubt any community existing today does. My community, for example, does not pray communally seven times daily; nor do we get up in the middle of the night to pray vigils. Even communities that follow the Rule more strictly, do not, for example, receive children as monastics. Nevertheless, the ideas in the Rule form an important basis for my understanding and practice of religious life.
In the chapter on "The Procedure for Receiving New Members," for example, Benedict uses two criteria to evaluate whether someone should be admitted to the monastery: does the candidate truly seek God, and do they have an eagerness for the work of God and for obedience. This might seem oversimplistic to those of us in the modern world, especially when entering religious life entails numerous assessments, exams, and letters of recommendation. However, Benedict's approach highlights an important feature of religious life—one centered on the search for God both in our lives and in the lives of everyone we encounter. Community is important and wanting to serve other people is commendable, but both are simply a means to the end of putting God at the center of our lives.
It sounds so simple, but how often do we let other things distract us from seeking God? How often do I focus on my own agenda or my own worries to the extent that I take my eyes off where God is moving in my life? How often do I get so annoyed with or am so blind to other people to see God in them?
Benedict's criteria for entrance is also a central part of religious life for me—a daily reminder to seek God in everything I do and everyone I encounter.