Walk like a Benedictine - The BLI Series

July 7, 2020

Joe Rutten - Director of the Benedictine Leadership Institute, Assistant Professor of Theology

Here at Mount Marty, both our strength and our uniqueness lies within the Benedictine tradition that has guided us since our founding in 1936. It now rests at the core of our programming through the Benedictine Leadership Institute (BLI). Every month, we welcome a member of the Mount Marty faculty to share their thoughts on the impact of the BLI program to be shared exclusively on our website and LinkedIn page. Today, join us in welcoming Joe Rutten, director of the Benedictine Leadership Institute and assistant professor of theology.

In 480 AD, a child named Benedict was born into a time of unrest and disintegration. During his life, the four horses of the Apocalypse - conquest, war, famine, and pestilence - would pound across Europe, demolishing the grandeur of Rome and closing the door on antiquity.

Benedict’s noble birth gave him access to education in Rome. But instead of an education in human excellence, he found decadence and corruption. It wouldn’t take long before Benedict packed up and headed for the hills.   

Some of us might think heading for the hills is a good idea right now. 2020 has not started out well, and 2021 doesn’t look much better. What a good economy covered up before the COVID Crisis has been exposed: we are a broken and divided country.

We have lost a sense of common identity and struggle to hold together the fabric of the communities we live, love, learn, and work together in. Anxiety and suspicion grow, creating what Arthur Brooks calls, “a culture of contempt.” If there was a time for a new Benedict to walk onto the stage, it is now.

After Benedict left Rome, he crafted an antidote to the poison of fragmentation within communities. His antidote can be applied today. Benedict would lead a new movement in monasticism formed around a short guide book we now call The Rule of St. Benedict.  He synthesized existing wisdom and made it work for his followers, known today as Benedictines.  Benedict called his manual “a little rule for beginners,” and it’s not just for monks and nuns. It can be used by anyone. It is a masterpiece of community development. 

An essential practice of the Benedictine Way is listening. Benedict begins his Rule by instructing us to listen with the heart. It would be wise for us to practice listening again, first to our own mind and heart and then to one another.  How good are you at listening? Do you practice it? What is your mind and heart saying? What are others saying?  Your family and friends? Yes. But also the outsiders, the forgotten, the neglected? What about your professional life and those you work with and for? What does listening look like and how is it done well?  

Listening is an essential tool for building a healthy community. We should invest in learning Benedict’s Way. It has worked for 1500 years, and it can help us today. Perhaps the four horses of the apocalypse cannot be stabled. But I am confident that Benedict and those who follow his rule can create healthier communities that learn to live and love one another and in the process stitch back together the social fabric of the communities we live in today.

For the past three years, I’ve been working at Mount Marty University, a Benedictine school in Yankton, SD, as the Director of the Benedictine Leadership Institute. The institute uses Benedict’s Rule as a guide to forming a new generation of integrated leaders who walk in the Way of Benedict. I’d encourage everyone to learn to walk like a Benedictine. It might be the best path forward.