Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules...Think over what I say...
- 2 Timothy 2.3-5, 7
In this lies the heart of the rule: to love Christ, to shun wealth, to remain close to the heavenly King, and to be gentle towards all people.
- The Rule of Comghall, Irish, 6th century
Christianity in Ireland during the 6th-9th centuries was organized around a monastic model primarily. Each monastery was like a small community, with the religious living within the compound and a community of lay people of various trades living in the outlying areas.
The monks served the people – teaching, shepherding, helping with a wide range of tasks – and the people helped with the support of the monks. It was a demanding way of life, particularly for the religious. They found strength and consistency in living according to spiritual rules that outlined the life of faith they intended to pursue.
A spiritual rule was rather like a constitution or covenant that defined the terms whereby religious would live and work together in a monastic community. The great benefit of having such a rule was that it ensured that all who chose to live under it – and lay people sometimes took up modified versions of the spiritual rule of their community – would have a basis to encourage one another in the faith. Spiritual rules, such as that outlined by Comghall of Bangor, provided focus, consistency, and standards to guide the spiritual lives and work of all those who accepted the challenge of living under them.
A rule of spiritual disciplines can play an important role in promoting growth in the Lord and greater effectiveness in serving Him. Just as soldiers and athletes must abide by certain rules, so those who serve Christ can strengthen themselves in love for Him and for their neighbors by entering into a covenant with the Lord and a few soul friends to pursue a certain path of discipline.
We all live by rules anyway; most of them are simply unwritten. Why not make some more specific commitments and take up a more clearly focused and carefully organized path for following the Lord and serving Him? If we rule our souls well, our souls will rule our lives for the glory of Him Who rules all things.
Psalm 26.8-12 (Aberystwyth: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”)
Lord, I love Your dwelling place, there where all Your glory shines.
Keep my soul before Your face, lest for sinful ways it pine.
As for me, in righteousness, I shall walk on level ground;
Save me, Lord, renew and bless! Let me with Your Church be found!
Lord, rule me, soul and life, so that I love You with my whole heart and whole mind and all my strength, and my neighbor as myself. Adapted from Columbanus, Monks’ Rule
T. M. Moore, Principal