The most important thing for us to grasp at the beginning of our second journey through Benedict’s Rule is that it is an “invitation to life.” We need to have this idea firmly in mind, because we can so easily (and erroneously) hear the word “Rule” and immediately think of something that’s legalistic, judgmental, and punitive.
So, we must remember (again) that the root-word for “rule” is trellis. A trellis is a structure that guides the growth of a plant, keeping it from growing in all sorts of directions and taking on a shape that not only violates its intended beauty, but which actually erodes its life potential.
When St. Peter wrote, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (2 Peter 3:18), he was not commending random or unattended development. Just as a plant becomes “wild and crazy” when left without a trellis, so too the human soul becomes deranged without a rule.
So, the Rule of St. Benedict is an invitation to submit our lives to the guidance and direction of previous wisdom—wisdom expressed in Scripture and Tradition—and wisdom manifested in a community of faith.
Esther de Waal uses the images of recruits, workmen, pilgrims, and disciples (p. 28), showing that each type of person needs help in developing fully.
As someone has said, “If you have no destination in mind, any road will do.”
The Rule of Benedict is one expression of a description of the “aim” of the Christian life, so that we can have some reasonable degree of confidence that we are growing in ways that make us increasingly Christlike.