We live in a time impatiently dashing towards the next. Ours is a society plagued by the need to move on without resolving issues of the here and now. We readily throw objects for the latest, and within the same breath complain that things are not the way they used to be. We so willingly burn bridges, and under the same lifetime demand for meaningful and lasting connections.
Our lives are imbalanced and devoid of meaning because we are so caught up in the demands that society imposes upon us. And at the end of each day we feel so empty and restless, longing for something more. The good news is that meaning and purpose can be found for those who truly want it in their lives and are willing to do what it takes to find it and keep it.
The book of St. Benedict was written some 15 centuries ago. But it finds place even in modern times. The precepts that it gives are enduring for those who want to find a semblance of spiritual peace in our chaotic and often uncertain world. The book is mainly about how man can strike a balance between his work and his spiritual life of prayer and meditation. This work of St. Benedict, which was written in the Middle Ages, became the foundations of the monastic life, where men of God were men of the world as well, doing menial jobs even as they tend to their spiritual lives.
St. Benedict’s philosophy revolved around three main concepts: peace, pray and work. That in spite of the daily grind and drudgeries of our existence, we can all strive to find peace in our lives through finding time to pray and sanctify all our daily activities. He believes that the men of God should never turn their backs to the world and their responsibilities to their communities because a life of prayer without the actual good work that benefits other people is useless.
Our duty as Christian is two-fold, the daily worship of God and the daily service to mankind. In every aspect of living, there is a way to find balance and address these two things at the same time. The wonderful thing about The Book of Benedict is that while it deals with profound issue of faith and grace, it also has practical advices on how to observe them in the real world.
Balance and moderation is the key to a peaceful and content life. We must never be tempted to excesses and overindulgence. In food, two of a kind is sufficient so that if a person does not eat one, then there is always a second option. In my life I make it a point to enjoy my food, the key to feeling food is to savor every bite and celebrate the blessings that it represents.
There are some cases when celebrating through food is well-deserved, but still, it should be taken in moderation. As St. Benedict said, “For nothing is so contrary to Christians as excess, as our Lord saith: ‘See that your hearts be not overcharged with surfeiting’ (Lk 21:34).” I have realized that food, to be truly enjoyed need not be taken in excessive amounts. The secret is in learning how to delight in and appreciate each small bite of food.
In terms of clothing and other possessions, the same principle of moderation and appropriateness should apply. The clothing that we buy should be suitable to its use and to the climate of the place that we live in. Circumstances and not wants should dictate our choice of the clothes to buy. Of course every article of clothing should be tasteful in design, never ostentatious and ornamental, but tasteful and practical. And for those who have too much should give them away to the less privileged so that other people can find use for them.
Looking at St. Benedict’s philosophies of moderation and appropriateness, I have realized that the tendency to hoard and acquire more material belongings is at the very heart of the loneliness that afflicts most of us. We are never happy with what we have, always wanting more in an effort to cover up the emptiness that we feel. The sad truth is that most of us look outside ourselves for answers, when all that we could ever need has been laid out in front of us. All that is needed is that we spend the time to look at all the blessings that we have and give thanks for them.
My life is dictated by duties and responsibilities. But I know the value of prayers in my life. I make the time to attend to matters of my soul, even as I try to fulfill my duties to my family and my community. I have realized that I have everything I need to have a happy and full life. It is just a matter of changing how we look at our lives. If we continue to define our lives by what we do not have, then we shall never be content even while we are drowning in material possessions. The grace to have a grateful heart can only be achieved through constant prayer, and while my day is filled with things to do, I make it a point to make prayer a necessary habit.
Indeed the secret to a happy life is no longer a secret. St. Benedict has long given us the power to define our own lives. Our lives may be filled with the realities of work and responsibilities, but in prayer we find a safe haven where we can find peace and the strength to carry on with what needs to be done for the day.