Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rules of LIfe

Some Examples and Discussion of Rules of LIfe

Here I'm adding a list of links to various articles and discussions of rules of life.    I made them varied on purpose, not to be confusing, but to show how the general idea can have many varieties of application.    The basic idea of a rule seems to be to order our lives so that the important things don't get skimped or left out altogether.   It also seems to be a way to correct natural areas of weakness by focusing on the opposite virtue. 

If this list is overwhelming, perhaps you might want to start with the second section on "rules, roads and programs".   These are various applications for daily life, and from solid sources.    Also, check out Fr Longenecker's "Benedict for Busy Parents" in the first section.    I put the information on Benedict's Rule first though because it's the primary source and all the others are in certain respects derived from his original inspiration (of course he in turn was inspired by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures, and his rule, both the idea and the rhythm of the details, is deeply and profoundly based on these sources).  

Rule of St Benedict, and some of his followers

The classic Rule is the Rule of St Benedict.   It has been given the credit for saving Western Civilization.  Many books, Catholic and Protestant,  have been written on how to apply it to ordinary lay life -- too many for me to list here. 

Here is an Outline of the Benedictine Rule
St Benedict's Rule organises the monastic day into regular periods of communal and private prayer, sleep, spiritual reading, and manual labour – ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, "that in all [things] God may be glorified" (cf. Rule ch. 57.9). In later centuries, intellectual work and teaching took the place of farming, crafts, or other forms of manual labour for many – if not most – Benedictines.
Here is an article called St Benedict for Busy Parents (PDF by Fr Dwight Longenecker; HT bearing blog)
Benedict’s three vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life help us to remember that it is through submission to our own circumstances, our own gifts and our own relationships that we can find God and follow the ordinary road to Heaven. The best way to do this is to see everything in our life as being either work, prayer or learning. Every aspect of our life can be filled with God’s glory.
More here about St Benedict

If you are interested in studying St Benedict's Rule but are lost on how to apply it to your life, I have subscribed to two daily meditations which are helping me get a better sense of how the Rule looks to today's monastics and oblates:

Benedictine Daily Prayer
This one seems to be targeted to Benedictine Oblates
Holy Rule:  Daily Meditation
This one is by a Benedictine brother.

Both send out a daily prayer list, excerpt of the Rule and reflection. 

Rules, Roads and Programs in Ordinary Life 

Cardinal Newman --short road to perfection
We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic-not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings...He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.

From Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction:  What is a "program of life" and why is it important?

  • First, when we draw up a Program of Life together with our spiritual director (which is a very good idea), our efforts to follow it have the added benefit of being acts of obedience, since we are doing not just our own will, but God’s will as manifested through our director (we are not speaking of a vow of obedience, but the virtue).  An effective time to draw up a Program of Life is during a retreat; a little distance from the daily grind sharpens our spiritual vision.
  • Second, a good Program of Life includes a personal (usually weekly) schedule with prayer commitments that are decided upon ahead of time.  This saves us from the inconsistency that comes from moodiness and constant improvisation.   It also includes concrete areas of activity (the formation of good habits of behavior) that directly counteract the most salient manifestations of one’s root sin.
  • Third, the Program of Life is a living entity.  It can and should change as we get to know ourselves better and as we grow.  Living it out is not like following the Ten Commandments, to which there are never exceptions.  Rather, it’s like following a game plan on the basketball court; flexibility in the face of life’s dynamism is preferable to scrupulosity.
Every year during this season many take time to reassess their life progress (or lack thereof) and to establish New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions are famous for being worth as much as the paper they are written on. One of the many reasons is that they are rarely tied to the most important source of life and living – they are disconnected from the life of grace. However, those that seek the Lord always find Him and in the seeking find far more grace and strength to overcome personal challenges in spite of challenging circumstances and limitations. Instead of the traditional New Year’s resolution, why not take up a new approach that promises far more to the faithful pilgrim.?
More on the Program of Life from Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction

Elisabeth Leseur's Rule
Leseur developed a rule of life that allowed her to be responsive to the needs of her family while still growing in devotion to Christ.
If you have Elisabeth Leseur's book, it is really interesting to read her resolutions.   She would sometimes have to backtrack and reaffirm something she had resolved and failed to do, and sometimes she would move forward.  She was a holy woman in difficult circumstances (her husband and his circle of friends were all atheists, and she was childless and often ill) but her Rule lets us see the process of someone in an ordinary state of life. 

A Mother's Rule of Life
Some people seem to really respond to this style of Rule and find it very helpful, while others don't.   Bearing blog has an interesting mixed perspective.  I think the unusual part of it is that it is also a time management system, which most traditional Rules aren't.  On the other hand, I think we all want to sanctify our time and bring it under holy order, and this is a very detailed, concrete way of implementing that desire.  Anyway, here are some links which will give you an idea of whether it is for you or not. 

PDF sample 
Living by a Mother's Rule

A Rule of Life differs from a schedule in two main ways.
First, it deals with the essential responsibilities of one's vocation, determined by the charism and apostolate of my specific calling. But secondly, the difference lies in the intent.

I can follow a schedule to get things done, or to please myself. But to follow a Rule is to live one's life as a response to the call of God with the intent of saying "Yes" to all God asks of me, just like the Blessed Mother when she said "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."

A Variety of Rules of Life

I haven't read everything on all the pages here listed, so I can't absolutely vouch for orthodoxy, though I weeded out resources that contained, say, quotes from people I knew to be dissenters.   I included a couple of Protestant sources, because I think it's quite interesting how deep an influence the Benedictine Rule has had on non-Catholics, and I think it's a hopeful thing since plainly Christians across the board can see how our society is becoming more like the late Roman Empire and are intuitively (or by means of grace) looking to the solution.
 Rule of Life (PDF)
(Ignatius Press)
a Rule of Life is something to help us live our lives in regular contact with God, welcoming each new day, week, month or Church’s season as a new opportunity to love and serve Our Lord and our fellow men and women.

CS LEwis Institute Rule of Life(PDF)
(I am guessing this one is non-Catholic)
A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how he has made us. The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed.

Rule of Life (Monastic Mumblings) 
A Rule of Life is simply a structure in which spiritual formation is facilitated.  The Latin term is regula, which we get our word regulation

Rules of Life (Behold Your Mother) 
This is from the Servite Manual  Imprimatur 1959
As the right employment of time is of the greatest importance in the spiritual life, draw up for yourself, with the advice of your spiritual director [if you have one], a rule or order of the day, assigning to each duty its proper time; observe this rule punctually.

Rule of Life and "Customary" in Imago Dei Society.    I don't know anything about the Imago Dei Society, but it seems to be a Catholic or ecumenical voluntary community.

Our Rule is designed with the thought that the habits of the Christian Spiritual Disciplines can be accomplished within the regular lives of Christians everywhere and under all kinds of circumstances. It isn't easy, we know, but with the support, encouragement, and accountability offered be brothers and sisters together it can be done - God with us in all of the human condition.


  1. Funny, I had just pulled MROL off the shelf again to read the chapter I usually turn to: the one on sloth.

    I was feeling discouraged for most of the day, but realized after turning off the complaining and bad thoughts that I have a cold today, so it's ok to be off, and that I am getting back to order, slowly but surely. I wish the progress wasn't always so slow, though.

    1. Hi Mystie,
      That happens to me, too.... I wake up discouraged and then realize there's a physical or circumstantial cause for things getting out of order. I wonder if it's a good idea to have a Plan B ready for that kind of day? I usually have some form of Plan B, and it was extremely useful for baby and medical crisis days. The only problem was that it was tempting to let Plan B become the new Plan A :-) . but then, on the other hand, sometimes my Plan A isn't entirely realistic in the first place.

  2. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Saint Benedict! I hope I can fid time to click through some of these links soon. If I ever become a tertiary order member......I believe God wants it to be Benedictine.

    Another great book, though not by a Catholic author is THE FAMILY CLOISTER: Benedictine Wisdom for the Family by David Robinson I have read this book several times. It is crazy, but this protestant minister goes on retreats to a Benedictine Monastary and brins back some great insights on how to live the rule in your family life.

    Thanks for all of the links, Willa!

    1. He certainly was a wise man, and seemed to have the balance between practicality and contemplation down right. Benedict, that is. He seems to appeal to both Martha and Mary types.


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