Deo gratias and prayers of thanks and celebration for the OSB Sisters
of Madison, WI, who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their
arrival there! Ad multos annos, many years! Thanks so much. God's
will is best. NRN JL
March 21, July 21, November 20
Chapter 42: That No One Speak After Compline
Monastics ought to be zealous for silence at all times,
but especially during the hours of the night.
For every season, therefore,
whether there be fasting or two meals,
let the program be as follows:
If it be a season when there are two meals,
then as soon as they have risen from supper
they shall all sit together,
and one of them shall read the Conferences
or the Lives of the Fathers
or something else that may edify the hearers;
not the Heptateuch or the Books of Kings, however,
because it will not be expedient for weak minds
to hear those parts of Scripture at that hour;
but they shall be read at other times.
If it be a day of fast,
then having allowed a short interval after Vespers
they shall proceed at once to the reading of the Conferences,
as prescribed above;
four or five pages being read, or as much as time permits,
so that during the delay provided by this reading
all may come together,
including those who may have been occupied
in some work assigned them.
When all, therefore, are gathered together,
let them say Compline;
and when they come out from Compline,
no one shall be allowed to say anything from that time on.
And if anyone should be found evading this rule of silence,
let her undergo severe punishment.
An exception shall be made
if the need of speaking to guests should arise
or if the Abbess should give someone an order.
But even this should be done with the utmost gravity
and the most becoming restraint.
Anyone who lives in any family, monastic or otherwise, can attest
that undistracted silence in solitude is very hard to find. That is
precisely why St. Benedict deliberately and firmly carved this chunk
out of the monastic day. Believe me, it is a rare treat and a sacred
hush which blankets the already mysterious darkness of the night.
Not every community observes grand silence these days. Some have
abolished it or left it up to the individual. In one sense, that is
too bad: one of the reasons behind grand silence actually working so
well is that it is a social contract agreed upon and practiced by
all. It is done together, like most things in cenobitic community
life and that enhances both its power and its appeal. The whole place
more or less shuts down together. A few lights stay on longer than
others, but profound silence reigns.
There is a very close relationship between silence and solitude. Each
has the potential to produce the other. One can be all alone and
filled with noise and one can be silent in a group without any
solitude at all. All that is necessary is to add distractions of
whatever kind. The end of both silence and solitude is to free the
mind for God, for prayer, for rest in Him. Done right, a community of
a hundred in the same room could be individually as alone as a cave-
dweller on Mount Athos. Done wrong, one might as well be in Times
Ever know the joy of lovers alone when they know absolutely no one
will disturb their privacy? The door is locked, the phone is
unplugged, the world is theirs. Why? Because (at least hopefully,)
nothing will distract them from each other. So it is with silence and
solitude and God. That's what makes it so wonderful. Try to recall
that lover's joy, if you have ever known it, and you will have a
clear picture of what grand silence ought to be. The final relief and
joy of leaving the world outside one's door, the retreat into the
privacy of the inner chamber.
I will not pretend to be clever enough to tell Oblates in families
how they might find this. Creative ways probably exist, but you might
have to just wait for a visit to a monastery to get the full effect.
All I will say is that one must always carve silence out of any
family LOVINGLY, that's what makes it holy and sacred. If you become
at all cranky about it, the whole value is flushed and you might as
well watch a really mindless TV show. Silence and solitude can work
together, but only with the catalyst of love that makes them a
trinity of power and grace.
Love and prayers,