Andre Gushurst-Moore takes St Benedict's fatherly advice
Listen, My Son: St Benedict for Fathers, by Dwight Longenecker, Gracewing £12.99
FATHERHOOD is hardly mentioned nowadays except to be lamented, both in theory and in practice. On the one hand, the advance of feminism has brought the whole idea of patriarchy into disrepute, and on the other we see fatherhood depicted as a woeful amalgam of absenteeism, idleness, irresponsibility and ineptitude. The best a father can he expected to manage is to be a surrogate mother, but how fax he falls short of the real thing!
This crisis in fatherhood of men dispossessed of their traditional role by an economic and cultural shift yet denied a new male role due to the feminisation of all values is one that both reflects and causes the wider crisis in our society. It is at the heart of the crisis in the family, without which (as is now finally. generally admitted) there can be no society at all. In this context, the present book should be seen as very
welcome and potentially salutary.
The author, a former Anglican minister, now a Catholic layman, presents us with the ancient Rule of St Benedict in the form of daily readings as they would be heard, three times a year, in a religious house. To each reading is appended a meditation, which brings the Rule to bear on family life. The themes drawn out include all those ways in which the fruitful administration of the Christian household overlap with the Benedictine monastery: among others, shared meals, prayer, work, and the need for discipline and silence.
So many things are compared to a family nowadays that it is timely of Dwight Longenecker to remind us that the family is, objectively speaking, a religious community. Fatherhood (and parenthood in general) depends on "a living relationship with God the Father". The book "assumes an underlying unity between husband and wife and that both father and mother are working together as 'one body' for the welfare and proper training of the children". The health of the religious community involves careful listening to the voice of the father, something of which the author reminds us in using the first three words of Benedict's Rule for the title of his book.
Benedict, Longenecker tells us, did not invent monasticism, but built with common sense and gentleness on the tradition that went back to the Desert Fathers. Benedict's own times were strikingly like ours: the Roman Empire, rotten with decadence, was finally crumbling into chaos.
I1' IS DIFFICULT to overestimate the effect that the tile had on the creation of Europe, and the hope it yet holds for us: "Some scholars even credit Benedict and his Rule as the foundation of Western civilization, for there the basic guidelines of all community can be traced, and it was the monastic communities which kept human learning and civilization alive during the Dark Ages."
Longenecker emphasises the incarnational nature of the
Benedictine way: the quotidian and the earthy are especially seen as gifts of God, and signs of his loving fatherhood. He offers plain-spoken, sometimes challenging advice to all parents attempting to bring up children in a religious home. The vows of the monk can be a guide for all of us. The Benedictine virtue of stability was never more needed than in these our times of rapid and bewildering change; and as adults working out our own conversion of life we initiate our children into a shared, communal process.
The word abbot comes from the familiar abba (papa) with which Jesus addressed his heavenly Father, and in Benedict's guidance for abbots there is much to inspire again the idea of fatherhood, and thus renew the life of families and Christian households.
The need for such renewal is acute, now that the secularised world is so openly hostile to the basic unit of both the Church and the just society. This book is a comforting, strengthening and useful contribution to the voices of hope.