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. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Monte-Cassino. http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbejms1.html#pro
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
LOVE: WHY DO HUMANS HAVE LOVE AND ANIMALS DON’T?
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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_Loving 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.
WHAT DOES A SCHOOL OF LOVE DO?
If you wish to explore this topic more thoroughly, look up the following URLs.