-Fr. Abbot Brendan Coffey OSB

On 7 July last, the Hellier Stradivarius was put up for auction at Christies with a starting price of £5.5 million. It failed to sell. This violin is described as “the finest inlaid violin ever made by… Stradivari”, who kept the instrument for 55 years, before he sold it in 1734 for £40 to Samuel Hellier.

If you think that’s extravagant then you need to hold onto your seat before I tell you that in 2014 the Macdonald Stradivarius, one of only eleven surviving violas crafted by the master, went on sale at Sotheby’s with a price tag of $45 million. Unsurprisingly, it also failed to sell!

Sadly, being so very valuable, these instruments often end up in display cases for safekeeping and are rarely played. If you have a Stradivarius and nobody to play it, it’s just a Stradivarius. Or is it even that? It’s nothing. In the wrong hands, even a Stradivarius can sound like a collection of alley cats screeching.

There is one school of thought, which says that a really good violin will, if not played for a few months, “go to sleep.” It’s difficult to say exactly what this means, but apparently its tone dies, it becomes “less bright” and, to the professional ear, “sounds sleepy.” If played again regularly and frequently for a few weeks it will gradually “wake up” and become its former self.

The Rule of St Benedict is like a finely tuned Stradivarius. It is priceless in its wisdom and the possibilities it offers, but without monks to live the life, it is nothing. In the wrong hands, it too can become like a bunch of screeching alley cats.

The Rule is meant to be lived and lived seriously by a monastic community. It is not something to be admired from a distance for its wisdom, moderation, creativity, understanding and longevity, as often happens. The Rule is nothing at all if there are no monks to bring it to life. It is not a relic of a distant golden age, it is not a reference work to sit on the shelf and gather dust, something to be consulted from time to time as the need arises. The rule is a living document, brought to life in the daily round of a monastic community. If it is not this, then it too will “go to sleep” and with it our monastic life! It is for this reason we read a portion of it together every single day.

So let us play the tune of our monastic life in this community with a rich, bright and powerful tone, bringing the Rule of Benedict to life in this place for the people of our own time as we now renew our monastic profession.

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