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Applying St. Benedict's Rule to Fatherhood and Family Life

Dwight Longenecker on How 6th-Century Wisdom Can Be Used Today

CHIPPENHAM, England, AUG. 20, 2004 (Zenit) - A Benedictine oblate and father of four has discovered how to relate the guidelines of St. Benedict to his domestic church.

Dwight Longenecker, an American-born author and broadcaster who has lived in England for more than 20 years, penned his application of the Rule of St. Benedict to family life in his book, "Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers" (Morehouse).

He shared with Catholic Online how the wisdom of the father of religious life can help modern dads humbly guide their families and provide loving discipline.

Q: Briefly, what are the main tenets of the Rule of St. Benedict?

Longenecker: St. Benedict's rule is a simple but profound set of guidelines for community life in sixth-century Italy. At the heart of the rule are the three Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life.

But in a sense, the spirit of the rule is the most important thing. St. Benedict's rule has survived because he had a deep understanding of human psychology, he tempered discipline with compassion and he saw the spiritual quest as a joyful pursuit of God within the structures of ordinary life. It is this joyous delight in everyday spirituality that makes the rule come alive for so many.

Q: What inspired you to apply the rule to parenting, particularly fatherhood?

Longenecker: As a Benedictine oblate I have studied the rule and tried to live by its spirit for some time. When I married and we were blessed with children, the simple principles of living together under God's love that St. Benedict taught seemed right for family life.

I was struck by the opening words of the rule: "Listen my Son ... turn you ear to the advice of a loving Father." When I sat down and read the rule through the eyes of a natural father I saw how so many of the principles and guidelines offered good advice for families.

The advice for families is excellent because of the inner dynamic of the rule. St. Benedict was not writing a great and lofty treatise on prayer or spirituality. He was writing a practical rule for ordinary people to live together. He expected them to work hard, read hard and pray hard. His rule therefore applies to family life because it is about the grace-full blend of prayer, work and living together.

Q: What aspects the Rule of St. Benedict relate the best to parenting?

Longenecker: St. Benedict has sections on the discipline of monks, which help us to reconsider the need for loving discipline in the home.

His guidelines on prayer help us to structure a simple but effective prayer life for families, and his practical advice on living together in peace and with open communications help families to work together on the difficult lessons of love.

Most importantly, I wished for the Benedictine spirit to come through my commentary on the rule. St. Benedict's ideal is that each member of the community be valued and loved unconditionally.

Discipline is always for the good of the person being disciplined -- not for the comfort of the abbot or even for the good of the community. Every member of the community is expected to obey and serve one another in love, not simply obey the abbot in a militaristic fashion.

These principles establish the home as the primary Christian community; therefore, it becomes the primary building block of a larger Christian community and a Christian culture of love.

Q: What particular challenges do fathers face in guiding their families?

Longenecker: Fatherhood is under threat today. The forces of feminism, homosexuality and secularism attack patriarchy, but truth will always triumph. Children need fathers.

Of course there are many bad fathers who have done great damage, but we rarely hear that there are also many bad mothers who have done great damage to children.

Blaming others does no good. The response to bad fathers is not to get rid of all fathers, but to encourage good fathering. There is a longing in all of our hearts for strong, loving and spiritual father figures.

Men today need to take their fathering role seriously. If they do not have good father-figure role models themselves, then they need to get some. They should not be ashamed to join men's groups that nurture and strengthen their masculinity -- but this masculinity needs to be fully Christ-like.

It needs to be strong, but not be ashamed to have a tender heart. If men can get themselves sorted out, then they will in turn help their sons and daughters to be strong, pure and noble children of God.

Q: How is being a father of children similar to being an abbot -- like St. Benedict -- of monks?

Longenecker: The word ...

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