This is a first for me, as I’ve never been asked to write a book review before. But a few months back, I wrote a post about how a particular section in the Rule of St. Benedict resonated with me as a father. It turns out, that I wasn’t alone.
Full disclosure time: Father Dwight Longenecker offered to send me a copy of his book at no cost if I would do a review of it. I accepted his kind offer, even though I had no idea how to write a proper review. I still don’t. But since Father D. does such a good job with this, it isn’t difficult for me to recommend this book to fathers, or anyone in a leadership position.
I’ll confess that I was skeptical of applying the entire rule to fatherhood and family life. It helps a lot to know that when Father D. wrote this, he was a novice oblate, and a former Anglican priest. Married and a father of four, he has some real-world experience in being a dad. Nowadays, he is still a husband, a dad, and a Roman Catholic priest. He is a parish priest at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He also blogs at Standing On My Head.
What Father D. has done with this book is break the entire Rule of St. Benedict up into daily reflections. He has devised a scheme whereby you can read the rule three times over the course of a one-year period. For example, Chapter VII of the Rule, Humility, would be read on January 25th, March 26th, and September 25th. In this way, the Rule is divided into bite-sized morsels, and so are Father D.’s reflections. Let’s take a look. First, St. Benedict:
Brothers, Holy Scripture cries aloud to us saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ When it says this it is teaching that all exaltation is a kind of pride. And the Prophet shows that he himself was on his guard against it when he said, ‘Lord, my heart has no lofty ambitions, my eyes do not look too high; I am not concerned with great affairs or marvels beyond my scope.’ Why thus? ‘If I did not think humbly, but exalted my soul, as a child on the mothers breast is weaned, so did you treat my soul.’
For Benedict, humility is linked with self-knowledge. The truly humble person is the prodigal son, who gets to the very bottom of his resources, where, as the Authorized Version puts it, he ‘comes to himself'(Luke 15.17) and realizes his need of the father’s love. This kind of self-knowledge does not grovel before others. Nor does it indulge in maudlin self-pity or overblown guilt. Instead, it is a clear, hard, and realistic self-appraisal.
Father D., then expands a bit more, freely helping explain Benedict’s thoughts on humility as it relates to pride and further explaining, and referencing, the quotes from Scripture that Benedict used in the section of the Rule that is being read on this particular day. He also dips into other resources in his reflections, from the works of other saints as well as from other Scriptures that help bring clarity to applying the rule to the role of fatherhood.
I would go further and say that his reflections also help anyone, be they a father, or simply someone who fills a leadership role, apply the Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life. After all, that is what the rule was intended to do; to take Christianity and apply it practically to life within a community.
Father D.’s reflections help to keep the Rule relevant for those of us who are shepherding flocks inside our homes, or at work, rather than inside the confines of the cloister.