Listen. That is the first word St. Benedict instructs his monks and nuns in the Rule he wrote fifteen hundred years ago. For all of humanity's advances, especially in the last hundred years, human nature has not changed. Men's hearts are still capable of being troubled by the unsettling burdens of life, or of being silent so as to hear the voice of God. Thus, St. Benedict’s instruction is just as pertinent to our culture at the start of the Third Christian Millennium as it was when he was alive in the sixth century A.D.
So, we must listen. But to what . . . and how? “To the master’s instruction . . . with the ear of [our] heart[s].” There is a lot to unpack in those few words. To submit to a master’s instruction, one must admit that he has something to learn. That is, one must have a teachable spirit. Humility is needed in order to submit one’s will and intellect to eternal truths buried under a cacophony of “Noise–Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile” [C.S. Lewis, “Letter XXII” in The Screwtape Letters].
Listen - with the ear of the heart. St. Benedict combines two disparate organs - one dependent on the other. We use our ears to listen, but the ear cannot function if the heart's not beating; no heartbeat, no hearing. So, we then must recognize that we are alive, and by being alive, we are capable of listening to noise, or for the voice of God.
One cannot listen if he is talking, and that is the problem for anyone who is trying to take the faith seriously and live according to it’s life-giving precepts. It is so easy to “babble as the pagans who think they will be heard by their many words” (Matthew 6:7). I speak from experience as one who always has something to say - to God, to my brother monks, or to anyone within earshot. This is why a monastic vocation is such a gift, for monasteries are places that work hard to preserve silence.
Silence is like a garden that produces the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: (Galatians 5:22-23). Noise is like weeds in the garden that chokes the life of the Spirit within the soul. Silence is not a void to be filled. Rather, silence reveals a Presence that is always with us - a Presence that is Eucharistic and only revealed with the eyes of faith, a Presence in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
In these dog-days of summer when the Church commemorate the Feast of St. Benedict, may we listen to his instruction and learn to be silent so that the “still soft voice” of Jesus might draw us more closely to Himself.