This weekend I went to Downside Abbey for an Oblates Day of Recollection. Most monasteries and convents have oblates. In ordinary lay life we try, with varying degrees of success, to follow the Rule of St Benedict. He was born about 480 and died about 550. His “Rule” is short, effective and has survived as a guide for spiritual life for fifteen hundred years, even though his own monastery at Monte Cassino was destroyed shortly after his death by Barbarian invaders, and there have been many ups and downs in monastic life since.
The Rule advocates a balance in life of Work, Prayer and Reading (Lectio Divina). It is relevant to our day as it was to his. Indeed our own turbulent times reflect some of the problems he faced, as previous certainties faded and new brutalism prevailed.
It’s strange how at Communion a problem I was grappling with suddenly seemed easier. The same had happened a few days earlier. The atheists I had debated with at the Durham Union Society on the motion “This House believes Science has made Religion obsolete” would view all this as self-imposed delusion. But they cannot deny the comfort of it.
One of my opponents in the debate, a lovely man, described how his grandmother had carried on praying to Santa Margherita twenty years after the saint had been deleted from the calendar by the Pope as non-existent. Now some of our saints are pretty ropey. But to be abolished you have to be completely mythical. To go on praying to a non-existent saint shows just what a comfort religion is, and rather made our point, I thought.
The religious instinct, then, cannot be abolished.
As I was leaving church last week the sun shone through the glass window onto the darkened interior. The effect was beautiful. Like all beauty, its effect may have been “illogical” or “pointless”.
But does that matter?