Work and Prayer in the Style of St. Benedict

by Chris Sullivan

I love a fresh start. Unfortunately, the sense of newness passes all too quickly. The shine fades and I’m back to facing the same old me caught up in the same old challenges. I want to be more prayerful and peace-filled and patient, but my life is filled with responsibilities and people and expectations. How do we, in our fast-paced world, manage to respond to our duties and to the call of the Spirit?

We may find help toward an answer in an unexpected source—a sixth-century document known as The Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–543) is the founder of Western monasticism. Benedict sought to live a life apart from the distractions of the world, but even in his solitude, others sought him out for guidance. Benedict’s time of quiet reflection, complete with its interruptions, bore fruit in his Rule, which remains a guideline for all who struggle in the tension between living for God and working in the world.

In the Rule, which was “written for laymen, not for clerics,” prayer is referred to as “the work of God.” Prayer, then, is work and work is prayer in the economy of monastic life. Instead of wondering how to squeeze prayer into the busy schedule of our work days, we can adopt a new vision in which all that we do is the work of prayer. We consecrate to God the whole cycle of the day, from rising and drinking our morning coffee to carpools and meetings and classes and household responsibilities until we crawl into bed for sleep.

As the liturgical season orders our year, the Benedictine hours can order our days. Living the monastic rhythms in the world can be as simple as becoming aware of the characteristic theme of each hour. It is not necessary to take out the breviary or the Divine Office app and recite all the prayers (although doing so can bring new dimensions of richness into the life of prayer). Even as we go about our other business, we can bring our awareness to the spirit of the hour:

  • Praise, gratitude, and joy at dawn
  • Blessing and communion with the Holy Spirit at mid-morning
  • Fervor, commitment, and a longing for peace at noon
  • A sense of impermanence and a willingness to forgive at mid-afternoon
  • Serenity and healing at dusk
  • Opening to the darkness at night

As these themes frame each day, they also reflect the journey of a lifetime. Our primary way of prayer is our very being, created in God. All of our work is sacred work. Time set aside for prayer can be a great blessing, but we can turn all of our daily tasks into prayer when we bring to them the awareness of ourselves in relationship with our ever-present God.

For more on Benedict’s principles, read Benedict’s Way by Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Homan, OSB.

Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan is a writer, speaker, and spiritual director-in-training. Chris works within her own Roman Catholic faith community as well as in interdenominational Christian ministry in the areas of faith formation, training, and emotional and spiritual healing work.

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The Benedictine Order

The Order of Saint Benedict has continued to the present day. Benedictine monks and nuns take root in a particular place, called monasteries, and they are related to the culture and needs of a specific location. Most of them live together in congregations following a common discipline and helping each other live lives of prayer, study, and work. They lead many different types of monastic life. Some live enclosed lives with little involvement in the local Church and society; others are involved in various activities, such as education, parish ministry, evangelization, publishing, and health care. Many Benedictine monasteries were closed during the Protestant Reformation, and most of the remaining ones were shut down during the Napoleonic era. The order experienced a revival in the 19th century, and today it is growing in areas such as East Africa and South Korea.