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Seeking Balance: Benedictine Wisdom for a World of Extremes

In a world of extremes, St. Benedict offered a different vision of human flourishing:  balance, the virtue of moderation.  Rather than a life of rigid denial or indulgence, the Rule of St. Benedict charts a path avoiding these pitfalls, instead leading to spiritual freedom and well-being.

St. Benedict established clear guidelines for prayer, labor, and rest. His rule sets a healthy rhythm for not only monastic communities, but also individual lives. 

St. Benedict: Known for his kindness and understanding, his Rule emphasizes moderation and support for those striving towards holiness.

At the outset, the holy rule's parameters for living a life completely ordered to God may seem a bit strict. However, Benedictine balance gets easier as time goes on. The reason for that is, of course, God. God's gifts of faith, hope, and love increase, strengthening us as we go.  The more we are able to live in the Spirit, the more our practices become effortless and natural. St. Benedict touches on this in his rule:  "As we progress in this way of life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run with unspeakable sweetness of love along the way of God’s commandments" (RB Prologue).  

The rule's apparent restrictions aren't designed to be permanent prisons. Rather, the rule forms the scaffolding of inner transformation. As one perseveres in the Rule of Benedict, their choices increasingly flow from true fulfillment in God, rather than from momentary desires. After virtue is fully obtained, freedom reigns not in self-indulgence, but in joyfully choosing the better way -- a way which brings us closer to our Creator.

Rather than a life of rigid denial or indulgence, the Rule of St. Benedict charts a path avoiding these pitfalls.

St. Benedict derived his ideal of moderation from scripture. Ecclesiastes tells us, "there is a time for everything..." (Eccl 3:1), reminding us of the need for balance. St. Paul urges, "everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial" (1 Cor 10:23), highlighting the importance of self-control.  Indeed, there are many other exhortations to moderation in both testaments. For instance, Proverbs advises against overindulgence:  "If you find honey, eat just enough— too much of it, and you will vomit" (Prov 25:16). Likewise, we find that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23). Turning to the Gospels, we find a Christ who, while zealous in His mission, balanced ministry with times of rest and solitude.

Moderation's true focus isn't on restriction, but the clarity of mind and freedom from internal extremes. By way of moderation, we are able to cooperate fully with what God intends for us and align ourselves to His will.

Moderation isn't a path to boredom or lukewarmness! Finding the virtuous middle ground between harshness and laxity brings harmony to both inner and outer worlds, fueling greater holiness.  

In a world glorifying instant gratification, moderation, as St. Paul says, makes us 'cheerful givers', able to share resources out of steady hearts rather than impulse.

Moderation's true focus isn't on restriction, but the clarity of mind and freedom from internal extremes.

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus endures the wilderness, ministered to by angels amidst wild beasts. This mirrors our own experience; through moderation, we balance both our spiritual and bodily needs. When we enter into the desert of silence and allow Jesus to teach us moderation, he stitches together these two sides of our being. The more we cooperate with this process of sanctification, the more we can achieve the tranquility that we all long for-- that unshakable mindset of inner peace that allows us to offer more of ourselves to God and to others. 

The Surprising Power of Moderation: Lessons from a Benedictine Monk

Are you curious about how the wisdom of moderation shapes daily life within a monastery? In this BENtalk from the College of St. Benedict, Br. Paul-Vincent Niebauer, OSB explores the central value of moderation within St. Benedict's Rule. He examines how the word "measure" guides leadership, material goods management, daily schedules, personal practices, and even food and drink consumption. Discover how this ancient concept offers a balanced and fulfilling spiritual path in the modern world.

How can we practically step towards greater moderation? Try this:

  • Choose ONE area where you tend towards excess or overindulgence (screen time, unhealthy food, spending habits).

  • For a set time (a week, a month), consciously moderate that behavior. Track the changes you notice, not just external, but in your mood, relationships, etc.

Benedictine wisdom has enduring power because it helps us live according to our God-given design. May your own search for moderation bring an abundance of joyful discoveries!

Called to become a Benedictine monk?

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