What listening does
Chapter 71 of the Rule of St Benedict, heard rightly, requires a well-developed, well-formed understanding of obedience, one that hearkens back to the very first word of the Rule—“listen”—and that has been tempered by seventy chapters’ worth of growth in humble, holy, confident learning.
For that is what obedience is, listening, discerning and acting upon what one hears, through the motive power of love. If the previous seventy chapters have left any doubt St Benedict makes clear in this chapter that obedience is a mutual exercise. We listen to God, we listen to each other, and to what the Spirit is saying to this little monastic church, from the least one in the community to the abbot.
If the community is weak and sick with a deficient sense of obedience, the instructions of this chapter will inspire fear, revulsion and impatience. When community relationships are suffering, this is a good opportunity for the exercise of a personal examen—where is there a lack of gentleness and empathy, a lack of listening? The mutual self-knowledge gained will set the community back on the way to health.
If the community is growing in the love that builds humble confidence, heals pride and vainglory and casts out fear, the good zeal of monks will complement with mutual respect the mutual love that is developing in the community through its practice of listening humbly to each other.