Benedictine spirituality is rooted in the cultivation of good habits. The Benedictine motto, “Prayer and Work,” highlights this simplicity of obedience to our daily duties. While there are times allotted for prayer and for work, ultimately there is to be no division between the two. Washing the dishes becomes just as sanctifying and meritorious as morning prayer when we accept it in obedience and do it with the intention of serving the Lord. In other words, it is our small daily habits and how we do them that makes us holy. For the Benedictine, if you want to convert the world, you begin by making your bed. In my opinion, it is the original “little way” that the Little Flower re-discovered.
The Simplicity of Benedictine Spirituality
Because of its simplicity, I find the Benedictine Spirituality appropriate for our time. My brothers and sisters, I think especially with the circumstances of today we must commit to live a more Christian life. Throughout history, Christians have been easily distinguished because they live so radically different from the world. And we have been called to live so. St. John tells us not to love the world (1 John 2:15). St. Paul tells us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” and to “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2). It seems to me that the simplest means to living the Christian life is by cultivating such habits suggested not only by the Benedictines but from the treasury of our entire Christian tradition.
The Benedictine Greeting
Take, for example, the Benedictine greeting, “Benedicite!” By greeting each other in a Christian manner we begin to live contra the world while growing deeper in our faith. Yes, brothers and sisters, a simple little greeting can do that!
The Benedictine greeting, “Benedicite,” translates as “bless me.” When we greet each other, “Benedicite, Bless me!” we submit ourselves immediately to the other and petition for prayer. The Latin form is the imperative plural, which denotes formality. It is the formality used with a superior, or an elder. Though for our modern sensibilities we need not use Latin. For me, the emphasis is that it is a Christian greeting; whether we greet each other with “Blessings!” “Bless me!” or “Benedicite” the effects are the same.
First, such a greeting becomes an act of humility, since we are placing ourselves in submission to the one we greet. When we say “Bless me,” we give the authority to the other and so remind ourselves to be at the service of the other. As such, it helps us love one another. What’s more, when we greet each other with the “Benedicite,” we signify the Divine Presence that is in each of us. We recognize each other as adopted children who have become “partakers of the divine nature, members of Christ and co-heirs with Him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1265). In so doing we also reaffirm our unity in Christ; that is, we recognize each other as brothers and sisters belonging to the same family—the family of God.
For me what is remarkable is how this simple little greeting highlights not only our Baptism into the body of Christ but particularly the offices bestowed upon us through our Baptism. For each of us does indeed inherit the real powers of the offices we receive through Baptism: priest, prophet, king. Further, we are all called to exercise our “baptismal priesthood through [our] participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king” ( CCC 1546). In other words, the Benedictine greeting calls us to not only recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ but invokes us to the exercise of our “little” priesthood. Every baptized child of God, by virtue of the priesthood, received through Christ has a responsibility to exercise that power.
Brothers and sisters, do you retain that responsibility? Do you bless your children, your husband, your wives and each other where ever you find yourselves? Does your husband exercise his priesthood in blessing the dinner table and the family? When your grown children visit do you rush out to greet them with the joyous blessing that your child has returned to you? Brothers and sisters, I tell you, if you are not fulfilling the office granted by Baptism, how, then, do you expect our specially chosen brothers in the ordained Priesthood to do so?
Lastly, the Benedictine greeting is not just an invocation for a blessing. When we exclaim “Benedicite!” to each other we also cry out a prayer of praise. We are like St. Elizabeth who says, “who am I that my Lord should come to me?” When we say “Benedicite” we are also saying, “bless me, Lord! that you have sent me sister to me; I praise you, Lord, for in Your goodness You made my brother!” And so this twofold action of the “Benedicite” leads to its ultimate purpose: it becomes a prayer between two or more which manifests the presence of God in that moment. That is to say, it keeps us mindful of the presence of God among us and so we are able to include the Lord in our meetings. “Benedicite” it is a communal prayer uttered that reminds us who we are–children of God–and who we are called to be–Christ-like.
Live the Christian Life
Brothers and sisters, I place this challenge before you to live the Christian life. For the sake of the Priesthood, I beg you to make a habit in exercising your little priesthood. Greet your brothers and sisters in Christ, greet your family with a Christian greeting: Benedicite, Blessings, Bless me, God bless us! Bless your children, your wives, your husbands in the morning when you awake and in the evening when going to bed. Wives, Encourage and support your husbands, whose priestly responsibility as head of the family it is to bless your household daily before meals. By cultivating such a small habit not only can we reform our beloved Church, but we can also convert the world.