Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review: Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers

Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers by Dwight Longenecker. Morehouse Publishing, 2000, 288 pages, $28 US.

By dumb luck or divine providence (and I don't believe in dumb luck), the Happy Catholic has just written an article on devotional books, though her list is devoid of this jem we are reviewing today. Anyway, if this book doesn't seem like your cup of tea, be sure to check her article for a myriad of other recommendations.

Brief overview of content:

The key insight of this book is that the Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago for use in keeping a well-ordered monastery, is also applicable to modern day families, especially focusing on the role of the father as head of the family. Various aspects of monastic life are covered by Benedict, including the types of monks, the character of the abbot, the balance of prayer and work (Benedict is famous for the "ora et labora" concept of "prayer and work" being blended together), the importance of obedience and humility (virtues sorely lacking in our day), and many other practical concerns. These writings are skillfully applied to contemporary domestic life by Father Longenecker, a Catholic priest who, as a former Anglican minister, has a family himself. He does not use personal examples but his experience comes through.

The book takes Benedict's Rule and divides it up into daily meditations over four months. Each passage from Benedict is followed by an explanation or application to today's family by the author. Each day's reading is two or three pages, which can easily be read in five or ten minutes. The author even recommends days to start: January 1, May 2, or September 1. Each reading has a calendar day so it is easy to keep track if you fall behind. Since the readings are short, it is also easy to catch up to the current day.

Author overview:

Blurb from the back of the book: "Dwight Longenecker was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He studied theology at Oxford, and was ordained into the Anglican ministry. After ten years serving as a curate, school chaplain, and country parson, he was received into the Catholic Church. He is married and the father of four children."


1. Read cover to cover vs. consult as needed.

Without an index or a robust table of contents, this book would be hard to consult as needed. It's pretty easy to read cover to cover if you follow the "one chapter a day" plan and are patient. The whole book is worth reading.

2. Readability.

The translation of The Rule of St Benedict is not archaic or hard to read and the author's commentary is very no nonsense, straightforward, and accessible. Reading only three pages at the most each day is also an easy accomplishment.

3. Helpful to a parent?

While the book is focused on fatherhood and how men can be better fathers, the information is also useful for mothers and other family members. The Rule of St Benedict wasn't written for the abbot of the monastery, nor just for the members, but even those thinking of joining the monastery. They all had to read it (or have it read to them) several times. Likewise, this book is valuable for all family members.

4. Did we use it?

Some parts of the book were rather compelling. Benedict goes on at length about praying throughout the day, especially using the Psalms. The author recommends using short prayers throughout the day, even as short as "God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help us." Such a prayer is easy to fit into any schedule and can be the start of something bigger. At least I hope it will be so for me.

Sample text

On the value of giving "time outs" as punishment in a monastery or at home:

...Benedict uses isolation from the community because the stubborn, grumbling and disobedient monk has, by his actions and attitude, shown himself to be unfit company. The extent of the isolation matches the seriousness of his fault. This is fair and logical.

Isolation is also a fair punishment to use in the home. If a child's behaviour is obnoxious he should be separated so that everyone else will be spared his bad behaviour. Children can be sent to their room; in some homes a special chair in a room is reserved for isolation. Isolation is effective if the amount of isolation suits the child's misdemeanour. The manner of isolating the child is important. He or she should never be isolated with sarcasm or personal comments which make the isolation a personal rejection. Instead it must be emphasized that they are being separated because their behaviour is troubling the rest of the family. [pp. 141-142]

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