The Rule of St. Benedict is a fairly short book, pocket-sized, and only 96 pages long. It is a good example of the statement, 'good things come in small packages'. Father Timothy Fry, OSB (which stands for 'Order of St. Benedict', and is used by monastics and oblates) wrote a brief preface to the book, in which he explains that the rule is a guide of life, but not 'a rigid, brutal structure imposed legalistically'. Benedict was fully aware of human frailty, as true 1500 years ago as it is today. This frailty requires much to be done to give the person strength, and so Benedict's Rule is designed for an ever-increasing self-discipline which is supported by community worship and practice.
Benedict's Rule for life includes worship, work, study, prayer, and relaxation. Benedict's Rule requires community -- even for those who become hermits or solitaries, there is a link to the community through worship and through the Rule. No one is alone. This is an important part of the relationship of God to the world, so it is an integral part of the Rule.
Benedict's Rule was set out first in a world that was torn with warfare, economic and political upheaval, and a generally harsh physical environment. This Rule was set out to bring order to a general chaos in which people lived. This is still true today, and men and women all over the world use Benedict's 'little rule for beginners' as a basic structure for their lives.
The first word of the rule is Listen. This is perhaps the best advice for anyone looking for any guidance or rule of life. While Benedict's Rule is decidedly Christocentric and hierarchical (though not as hierarchical as much popular ideas about monastic practice would have one think), it nonetheless can give value to any reader who is looking to construct a practice for oneself.
Benedict's establishment of a monastery was in fact the establishment of a school for spirituality. In his prologue to the Rule, Benedict even states this as his intention. 'In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.' He sets forth in this brief rule a guide to individual life within community that will bring one ever closer to the divine.
Benedict explores the issues of charity, personality, integrity, and spirituality in all of his rules. From the clothing to the prayer cycle to the reception of guests, all have a purpose that fits into a larger whole, and all have positive charges and negative warnings. Benedict is especially mindful of the sin of pride, be it pride of possession, pride of person, pride of place -- he strives for equality in the community (as a recognition that all are equal before God).
Hundreds of thousands of pages have been written over the last millenium and a half on the Rule of St. Benedict, but it all comes down to this brief collection, which can be read easily in an hour, yet takes a lifetime (or perhaps more!) to master.
Open it for yourself to see what riches it may hold for you.