In his Holy Rule, St Benedict often refers to murmuring and grumbling. This is understandable as murmuring and grumbling can present obstacles to anyone trying to build up and maintain an organisation, let alone a religious superior trying to encourage a community imbued with gospel values. ‘Murmuring’ and ‘grumbling’ do not sit well with Psalm 132: ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers (or sisters) live in unity.’ Moreover, murmuring and grumbling can lead to calumny and detraction if not checked and supposition, where motives for actions are presumed which may not be there.
As Shakespeare’s Macbeth says ‘Everything is smothered in surmise’ as is true of the media at present. In the Gospels, Pontius Pilate posed this question to the condemned Christ standing in front of him: ‘What is Truth?’ In the current miasma created by the media what indeed is Truth? Finding the truth can become as difficult as trying to find a way through dense thickets in a darkened wood. Murmuring and grumbling can therefore not only become invidious but also an enemy to the truth we are trying to live by.
I must admit that St Benedict’s admonitions to avoid murmuring and grumbling make me sit up whenever I come across them in the daily readings of the Holy Rule. Having only recently retired from my workplace, I have experienced and sadly been engaged in moaning and grumbling myself at times among my colleagues at my school. Decisions from on high and the motivation behind them have always been the stimulus for endless speculation as they are in any other workplace or community.
As I live alone and for quite a long time ran the Drama department at my school on my own, I have at times been guilty of being the centre of my own universe. My own murmuring and grumbling is, of course, interior at home, leading to a slight paranoia at times. Fortunately these moments have often been dispelled through talking to friends or colleagues and, since becoming an oblate, assuaged by God’s grace through expressing them in prayer. If nothing else my interior ‘King Lear’ rages at home have not been repeated at school!
Moreover, as a result of prayer, I have become detached from my moans and groans and see them for what they are. Also, when listening to others, I have found found myself questioning their speculations about this or that person’s motives and have gently challenged them by saying that he or she may not be thinking that way or acting for this or that reason.
St Benedict makes these admonitions, of course, because he is acutely aware of our fallen human nature and is taking this particular human weakness into account in formulating his Rule. He is also pointing us to his inspiration: Our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary, which we have just celebrated. Our Lord accepted the human suffering of the Cross in silence, humility and in obedience to his Father. It is from Calvary that the three great Benedictine tenets of Silence, Obedience and Humility spring. Our Lord did not complain. He accepted suffering and abasement out of obedience to his Father. This tacit acceptance freed Him up to look after others even in the extremity of his suffering.
I have always been deeply moved by the moment in Our Lord’s Passion as recounted in Chapter 19 of St John’s gospel when despite his final agony, he is able to look after his blessed Mother and his beloved disciple who are standing beneath him. ‘Mother behold your son; son behold your Mother.’ He is putting aside his own suffering to attend to the suffering of his mother and his friend. There is no moaning or grumbling here but instead there is pure love in action. This is the love that we are aspiring to; this is the ideal we are trying to live by. And this is what our holy Father Benedict is trying to help us to achieve, even if only in a small way, through following his Rule.
Our Holy Father Benedict suggests in the Prologue to the Rule that through following the Rule, ‘we shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love’. Our hearts shall be opened. We shall gradually move from the petty closed attitudes of murmuring and grumbling to an openness of heart towards God and our neighbour. Our hearts shall be opened to receive the world as Jesus’ arms were on the Cross.
Oblate of Ealing Abbey
UK coordinator for the 2021 Rome Oblate Congress