St. Benedict composes a Rule (d. 649 A.D.) to organize monks into forming a school for charity (love) in which they can move from the false self to the true self. What follows is an excerpt from my book on Learning How to Love.

God the Father creates a platform for humans to survive. The purpose is to learn how to love with all our minds, all our hearts, and all our strength and love our neighbor as ourself. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36) Christ came to show us what that meant by becoming one of us (Philippians 2:5-12) to the extent of voluntarily giving up his life to save us. He left the Church in the hands of sinners and saints and trusted it to preserve the message of loving one another as He has loved us. If the Scriptures are God’s love letters to us, then the Church is a school to learn how to love as Christ loves us.

PREMISE: We need to attend a school of love to learn how to love as Jesus loved us. I could not address the meaning of love without mentioning St. Benedict and his school of love or charity. It would be foolish indeed to attempt to start my own School of Love when there has been one well before St. Benedict of Nursia wrote his Rule (c.540 A.D.) to develop practices to organize the monks of his day. To help them learn how to love.

I am not advocating setting up an competing program to what is already going on in the parish community. I do suggest that you look at offering the opportunity for people to learn the contemplative approach to prayer, based on St. Benedict’s Rule. This does have to be a special meeting or weekly prayer group, such as Centering Prayer. Just sit down together and ask how you can practice being silent and with solitude using the practices you have.

If you begin with something, I suggest you try to read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict every day for thirty days, then think about what you read for ten or fifteen minutes.

Here is an excerpt from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict. “LI S T E N carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.”

He founded a monastery for monks at Monte Casino, Italy, which still follows this Rule. What is the school of love? It is a place where you learn the disciplines of how to love using proven practices and charisms (what you convert your life into when you say you want to be like Christ). The Christ Principle has endured to this very day.

These disciplines are not easily mastered and may take a lifetime of conversion only to realize they are beyond mastery in this lifetime, but not in the next, and that you may approach them only when you love others as Christ loved you. Each day is a lifetime in this school. Conversion from your false self to your true self is the curriculum. There is no graduation. Christ is the only Master. His only command: love one another as I have loved you. This is a School of Spiritual Love where you practice the art of loving.

Cistercians (contemplative monks and nuns) and Carthusians (hermits) evolved from the Benedictine tradition c. 1090’s, with a desire to love Christ even more fiercely. They did this through their intense focus on contemplative prayers and practices (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community), adapting the Rule of Benedict to each new generation. This is the same school that comes down to us today practicing same horaria, traditions, writings, wisdom, temptations, and graces in each age. It is an unbroken, monastic tradition.

Characteristics of a School of Love

  • All Schools of Love have a Master. The model, of course, is Christ whom we call Rabonni or teacher. He is the Master, and we are all disciples, in all ages, from all cultures and philosophies.
  • The Lay Cistercians have a Master of their School, called an Abbot or Abbess. His person is the personification of Christ in the School. Humility and obedience to the command of Christ are paramount. “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ,” says St. Benedict in his Chapter 4 of the Rule. In the Church Universal, we have many religious orders of men, women, brothers, and laity. They all have a superior, one who represents Christ to the disciples.
  • The School of Love has a conversion of life as one of its purposes. There is little value in a school that doesn’t do anything to make you more than you were before.
  • As a Lay Cistercian, I do not live within the walls of a monastery, but I do live within the walls of my own self. The more I make room for Christ in my life, the greater is my “capacitas dei” or the capacity to love as Christ loved us.
  • A school is a discipline that helps me focus on love in the midst of a world full of Original Sin. x The School of Love provides practices and charisms to enable you to touch the heart of Christ, who is the way, the truth, and, most certainly, the life. Contemplation is a way to put you in the presence of Christ, then asks you to be silent in solitude to let God-talk.
  • The School of Love stresses being present to the Holy Spirit in other community members. The School of Love begins the process of answering these six questions of life with Christ by using Cistercian spirituality and contemplation to provide meaning and clarification on what might seem murky. The School of Love approaches the Mystery of Faith in humility and obedience to the will of God, being open to the energy of the Holy Spirit. Each of the six questions must be answered in turn because they build on the answer before it. These six questions have not been fully answered but are in the process of being discovered.
  • These are the six questions I had to discover. I use Cistercian spirituality in the form of Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, daily Rosary, daily Liturgy of the Hours, and prayer to grow deeper into the Mystery of Faith.
  • The School of Love bring joy to the heart, not the joy that the world gives, but the ability to love others as Christ loved us.
  • Joy is the product of loving as Christ loved us, it does not come before loving others but is the result of our loving others. This book is a journaling retreat about how to love spiritually. I call it loving fiercely. It is only by doing spirituality in contemplation and with others that you enter the school for loving spiritually. It is what you do with the rest of your life as you learn these practices and the charisms of humility, obedience to God’s will and not your own, hospitality, that sitting next to Christ on a park bench in the dead of winter and longing to see Him with all your mind, all your heart, and your strength that will sustain you daily for the rest of your life. It is time you take to overcome self-inflicted obstacles and temptations that say all of this is irrelevant and foolish and does no good, that is meaningful and makes the journey worthwhile.
  • This journal-retreat is a trip to enter the one place no one wants to look, i.e., within you. If you allow, I will take you to a place where you may have never been, one that begins to answer the six questions the human heart asks. I will show you how contemplation and prayer using both mind and heart can unlock the darkness.
  • The mystery continues to mean something beyond our mortal intellectual, capability, but it will be welcomed as an old friend and not as a block to the truth.


Animals don’t love, at least not human love that requires reason and free choice. They do have affection and respond to attention (and food). Humans, if you accept the premise that Erich Fromm suggests, that we are not born with love but must learn it. Where we get that love and how we apply in throughout our life has consequences. We call those moral choices. The World (physical and mental universes) sets forth some of the conditions of love: unconditional love, giving one’s life for another, sharing, respect, knowledge, presence, and giving. All of this is good and noble. Can we just love each other, in a good sense, without God? Yes, we can, but with a caveat. We are created by one who loved us, we are here for a purpose, we fulfill that purpose by loving others. Here is the caveat. We don’t move to the next level of maturation (I would say evolution but that has so much negative baggage associated with it), the spiritual universe, automatically. We must choose it freely. Not only that, but we must sustain it against the corruption of the World (Original Sin). For those who place God as their center of reality, there is the realization that we need help to fulfill our destiny as a human being. The Old Testament was written down to tell us what was authentic and what God wanted us to know. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old by showing us how to love as Christ loved us. We know love, in the fullest sense, by doing what Christ taught us. This is not just a way of life-based on how much you know, but how that knowledge opens your heart to all being. The School of Love helps provide direction, focus, sustainability, sharing, respect for each other, helping each other to grow in Christ, using contemplative practices to grow from self to God.

A danger in all this is that we focus on the School of Love as an endpoint of our actions. The School of Love is a means to an end. The end is love and we continue to learn the meaning of love through, with, and in Christ. God is love. The School of Love is an organized way to remind ourselves that we must love as Christ loved us. We are not assigned to a dark closet where we pray all day. Love is doing for others as Christ did for us. (Matthew 25:40 ff) The School of Love is where we find good soil in which to grow in Christ Jesus. It is the seminarium, greenhouse, where the tender young shoots can sprout and give their produce. A monastery is a particular setting for such a school, but more generic setting is all that is outside of the cloister. The principles are the same for both but the applications are much different.


  • A School of Love has a set of practices that followers do together in order to increase the “capacitas dei” (the capacity for God) inside each person.
  • A School for Love teaches by doing love for others as Christ loved us.
  • A School for Love is organizing members to be present to God so that they can listen to the heart of Christ in silence and solitude. This is the contemplative dimension of spirituality. It is
  • A School of Love in the parish or for Lay Cistercians, is not a building, although you may hold activities in the parish hall.
  • For monastery, the School of Love is the physical boundary of the cloister. If you are a Lay Cistercian or practicing Catholic, your boundary is the whole world, in general, and your immediate space around you, in particular as lived out in the context of a community of faith.
  • The Rule of St. Benedict provides monks with a time-tested approach to the School of Love with the Abbot or Abbess as the representative of Christ. In the parish, the pastor is the representative of Christ who shepherd the sheep to find green grass and water for their sustenance.
  • One of the big challenges (another word for problems) we face is not only telling our young, our newly professed Catholics, each member of the Body of Christ, what love is, but allowing them to influence each other with that same love and peace that comes from Christ. The Church is the mind is knowledge; the Church of the heart is love. Both of these dimensions must be present for a community of faith to move forward. Christ is the fuel, the energy, the motivation to become more like God and less like your false self.
  • The School of Love already exists. It is the local Church (the parish), it is the diocese (groups of local Churches under the authority of a Bishop), it is the Church Universal under the authority of the Holy Father, it is the Body of Christ (those still living on earth, those living in Heaven, those awaiting their purification).
  • At the heart of the School of Love is Christ. How we organize that love so that we can share it with Christ are the practices of Eucharist, Forgiveness of Sins, Penance, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, Rosary and other private prayers, Lectio Divina. We do that as individuals in the context of a community of Faith. This is called contemplative prayer, which we will explore in the section on prayer.
  • In Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, he provides a checklist of those things that each of us must DO to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Each day, I pray Chapter 4 in the hopes that I can become what I pray. Some days are better than others. This is a good examination of conscience at the end of the day to determine if you did what you said you were going to do.
  • The School of Love teaches us to grow in our capacity to hold Christ in our hearts. He must increase, I must decrease. I don’t do this alone, but I do it as an individual who is part of the community of faith, even when I seek God in silence and solitude.

If you wish to explore this topic more thoroughly, look up the following URLs.



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