Article of the week: Praying by the rules

2 April 2022

Major John Waters continues a series of reflections on classic prayers

Article of the week: Praying by the rules

I REMEMBER dramatic newspaper photographs of the Battle of Monte Cassino during the Second World War. That such a site was the object of assault by the Allies was to some extent controversial. But its defended and commanding height proved to be an obstacle delaying the advance towards Rome that was necessary for victory over the Axis forces. Like much else it was the victim of circumstance.

The monastery of Monte Cassino was founded there in the 6th century by St Benedict, who also devised the discipline called the Rule of St Benedict, which led to the formation of an order of monks known as Benedictines. Several centuries later the Cistercians, whose notable founding members included Bernard of Clairvaux, also based their practice on the Rule of St Benedict.

Benedict’s outlook was marked by prudence and moderation and was aimed at ordinary men. It prescribed warm clothing, sufficient sleep and adequate nourishment. Benedict would have liked to ban alcohol but it was so ingrained in Italian culture that he settled for no drunkenness.

The monastic day was divided between three activities: liturgical prayer, sacred reading and manual labour. His legacy was a monastic order that was renowned for learning, agriculture, hospitality and medicine. There is an active Benedictine community at Buckfastleigh in Devon that attracts many visitors.

Here is a prayer attributed to St Benedict that may profitably be used by Christians of any tradition:

     O gracious and holy Father,
     Give us wisdom to perceive thee,
     Diligence to seek thee,
     Patience to wait for thee,
     Eyes to behold thee,
     A heart to meditate upon thee,
     And a life to proclaim thee;
     Through the power of the
     Spirit of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

We may not belong to an order in the monastic sense but the petitions in this prayer supply us with a rule or a discipline that, if followed with a sincere application, will surely lead to a greater likeness to Christ, whom we profess to follow and by whose merits we make our prayer.


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