Wandering among the ruins of Norcia (Nursia, Italy) after the 2016 earthquake, Paolo Rumiz, atheist travel writer and former reporter for the Italian daily La Repubblica, is as if seized by a vision. “It was then that I saw the statue, illuminated a day in the center of the square. It represented a man with a venerable beard and the ample robe of a monk, who raised his right arm as if to indicate something halfway between heaven and earth. It was intact in the midst of the destruction and one could read: ‘Saint Benedict, patron of Europe'”, he says in Le Fil sans fin (read the markers), his latest book on his “wanderings narrabondes”, in search of the roots of Europe, from abbey to abbey on the Old Continent.
In Praglia, in Veneto, where his journey begins, a book in pocket version is placed on the chest of drawers in his cell: the Rule of Saint Benedict. Could it contain the secret of an art of living in society, capable of saving Europe from national selfishness, from war, from the fear of migrants, and from the overconsumption which is suffocating the planet, if essentially questions the writer. Like him, many people, in particular business leaders, are rediscovering the Benedictine wisdom conveyed by a Rule written in the 6th century, the timeliness of which never ceases to amaze. What do Saint Benedict and his Rule have to say to us today? How can they help us to live everyday life and to show collective intelligence?
Ordinarily, the word “rule” does not get a good press. It evokes an internal regulation made up of obligations and constraints, something enclosing which hinders freedom. The Rule of Saint Benedict is anything but that, claims Catherine Labey, a secular Benedictine Oblate. “It’s an art of living together, one being to another and to the world to gain inner freedom”, she underlines.
“Saint Benedict provides a framework, with great flexibility,” confirms Sister Christine Conrath, of Notre-Dame de Jouarre (Seine-et-Marne). The Rule, in fact, organizes life in common in the monastery throughout the hours, but it also gives principles in order to allow each monk or nun to grow in his faith and his humanity, personally and with others. For example, the Rule recommends not letting the sun go down on misunderstandings. “Saint Benedict helps us to integrate rhythms, to balance prayer, intellectual and manual work, relationships with others”, continues the nun. The Benedictine formula ora et labora (Pray and work) reminds us of the value of a balanced life in order to acquire peace of heart and keep it.
Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, former abbot of Saint-Martin de Ligugé (Vienne), goes further. The key to Saint Benedict’s teaching is found at the beginning of the Rule, in the first verse of the prologue: “Hear, O my son, the precepts of the Master, and give ear to your heart. St. Benedict invites us to an interior listening, whether it be listening to the word of God in prayer when one has faith, listening to nature in silence, or listening to others in fraternity. This posture of listening calls for attention, vigilance of the deep heart “which is the point of emergence of life in us. Everything is important, including material things, the objects that surround us, the events that take place in our life and in the life of others”, specifies the Benedictine, president of the Inter-Monastery Alliance (AIM).
Consultant for international groups, Catherine Labey accompanies change management in companies. In his view, many situations of suffering at work result from a lack of listening and from power and domination relationships. Now the Rule advocates mutual obedience, from the Latin ob-audire which can be translated as “to listen under”. “It means that the other always has something to say to me. I must try to join him in depth so that a real dialogue can take place between us, so that our different points of view can be expressed. In the end, maybe I’ll agree to review my position, to leave aside this “me, I’m right” so present in each of us”, she explains.
“From listening in silence comes attention, and from attention will come implementation,” assures Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat. Things are not going to be done from me, but from our mutual listening and this is how we are going to work together. When a community or a society manages to meet in this light, it is multiplied tenfold in its possibilities and its harmonious development. »
Vincent Lenhardt, president of Transformance Pro, a professional coaching firm and school, has witnessed this during his career. Close to the abbey of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (Loiret), it accompanies business leaders. “One of the company’s major challenges is to generate collective intelligence. I find it very inspiring for leaders to meditate on the role of the abbot, he says. The abbot takes the place of Christ in the midst of his brothers and must take care of the specificity of each one. All the work of the leader, like the father abbot, is to put the cursor in the right place according to the people, the teams, the situation, the urgency…”
Similarly, the function of the cellarer can inspire directors of financial affairs in companies so that administrative and financial management participates in creating a quality of relations. In matters of economy, the Rule indeed recommends giving to each according to his needs which are not only material. Some may need a lot of work, others training, care, rest or breathing.
“To be able to allow, in a group, that different rhythms are possible while having a common reflection to work together is a considerable plus”, notes Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat. The former Abbot of Ligugé was able to see this: “It is because we will listen more that we will grow more. »