Ancient Wisdom for Modern Dads

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St. Benedict has a practical rule for you and your family

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The father of Western monasticism and the shaper of our civilization can help form your family in the faith. This is the message of Father Dwight Longenecker in his Knights of Columbus booklet Saint Benedict for Busy Parents and the book-length treatment of the same theme in Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers.

Father Longenecker, a former Anglican clergyman who converted to Catholicism with his wife and their children, was ordained a priest under the Church’s pastoral provision. With the memorial of St. Benedict coming on July 11, Father Longenecker talked to us about the continuing importance of St. Benedict today for Catholic families that seek to build a domestic church.

How can we connect a 6th-century monk to the busy life of parents today?

Father Longenecker: St. Benedict was a master of human psychology. He understood how people tick, and people are not very much different now than they were 1,500 years ago. His rule lays out the principles for living together in harmony, seeking the Lord and seeking his salvation. He understands not only the principles but also the practicalities, and although the practical details are different, the principles still apply. The booklet, and my longer book Listen My Son applies Benedict’s wisdom to the needs of families today.

How does the way an abbot runs a religious house have to do with a modern household?

Father Longenecker: The word “abbot” comes from the word “abba” which is “dad” or “papa”. The papa is the loving head of the home. One of the most important parts of Benedict’s Rule is the section on humility, which is a cornerstone for all who follow Christ in the Way of St. Benedict. This is the foundation for the way the abbot rules the monastery and the father rules the home. All is done in humility and with the spirit of service to all.

What advice would St. Benedict gives fathers today?

Father Longenecker: Look to the Father in heaven as the model for merciful leadership. That father is pictured in the story of the Prodigal Son. So he would advise fathers, first of all, to grow spiritually and as they grow closer to God to be that loving Father in the home who pictures for his children the love of the heavenly Father. The father in the home is therefore like the abbot in the monastery. They are living icons of God the Father. This is an awesome and daunting task. It takes a real man to live up to it.

The Knights of Columbus has a Building the Domestic Church program. How can parents make their home a domestic church?

Father Longenecker: My book Listen My Son lays out some very practical points drawn from the rule. I also give retreats and parish missions on this theme. Very briefly, the Benedictine Rule is built around three vows and three tools. The vows are Obedience, Stability and Conversion of Life. The tools are Work, Prayer and Study. A further exploration of these rules takes us more deeply into the profound wisdom of St. Benedict today.

To learn more, read the online version of the Catholic Information Service booklet Saint Benedict for Busy Parents. You can order Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers and other books at Father Longenecker’s website.