Every night at Compline, we reflect on a short passage from the Rule to remind us of what we are striving to live, and to listen to what the Lord may have to say to us. We offer here our own personal and anonymous reflections, contributed to by the whole community. We hope that, by sharing in our spiritual life, you will be able to explore further your own.
The call to repentance:
We often wait for God – we pray for something and then we hope that God will hear that prayer – but it comes as a shock to read St Benedict reminding us that God is patiently waiting for us. God is simply hoping that we will repent. And repentance is not just regret. Of course all of us have said or done things that now we wish we hadn’t done, or not done things that as we look back we know we should have done. Repentance is more than that, though it starts from sorrowful regret. Repentance is about a profound change of heart. It is a deepening maturity. In fact repentance, or conversion of heart, is about leaving behind selfishness, and beginning to live God’s life, a life of self-giving love. So we become more like Jesus himself. The change is difficult and painful, and it is a process that takes a lifetime. So St Benedict says that a long life is God’s gift to help us repent, a sort of truce. Conversion is not something that we can achieve by our own efforts, though of course we have to co-operate and want it. It is an act of God’s grace.
This passage from the Rule looks like it is the fruit of St Benedict’s lectio divina on chapter 33 of Ezekiel and on chapter 2 of St Paul’s letter to the Romans, where Paul reflects on the coming righteous judgement of God. Paul particularly condemns hardness of heart, and warns us against being quick to judge others. He insists that the true Christian should be not just someone who hears the word of God, but the person who puts it into practice. And then he goes on to point out that Gentiles who do instinctively what the law demands show that the law is written on their hearts.
Much of St Benedict’s Prologue to the Rule (from which today’s passage comes) is not specifically aimed at monks and nuns, but it is about the Christian life in general, a life that begins at baptism. Repentance leads to baptism and then continues on after the Christian initiation. Some scholars have speculated that the Prologue may be based on a baptismal sermon, or perhaps on a homily for the renewal of baptismal promises. It is only in the last paragraph of the Prologue that St Benedict begins to focus our attention on the monastic life.
Elsewhere in the Rule St Benedict speaks of Conversion, and this is the word used in the vows that are taken by Benedictine monks and nuns. Conversion of heart (or Conversatio morum) is synonymous with repentance. But this word conversion can confuse us. In modern use, conversion often means a once and for all change: when I go on holiday I go to a Bureau de Change and convert some money into euros. Once it’s done, it’s done. But conversion in the Christian, and monastic, understanding is a continuous process. I can never say I am fully converted. This is partly because of my weakness and my tendency to slide back. But at every stage of my life I go deeper and slowly realise that God is asking further change from me, challenging me to become more receptive, more loving, and more responsive.