March 28, July 28, November 27
Chapter 48: On the Daily Manual Labor
Idleness is the enemy of the soul.
Therefore the sisters should be occupied
at certain times in manual labor,
and again at fixed hours in sacred reading.
To that end
we think that the times for each may be prescribed as follows.
From Easter until the Calends of October,
when they come out from Prime in the morning
let them labor at whatever is necessary
until about the fourth hour,
and from the fourth hour until about the sixth
let them apply themselves to reading.
After the sixth hour,
having left the table,
let them rest on their beds in perfect silence;
or if anyone may perhaps want to read,
let her read to herself
in such a way as not to disturb anyone else.
Let None be said rather early,
at the middle of the eighth hour,
and let them again do what work has to be done until Vespers.
And if the circumstances of the place or their poverty
should require that they themselves
do the work of gathering the harvest,
let them not be discontented;
for then are they truly monastics
when they live by the labor of their hands,
as did our Fathers and the Apostles.
Let all things be done with moderation, however,
for the sake of the faint-hearted.
There's a beautiful glimpse of St. Benedict's tenderness here,
wrapped in one of his frequent exhortations to moderation. Here we
have a very important "WHY" of moderation: it is done "for the sake
of the faint-hearted." Got that?
The median road of monastic observance is not gauged by the strong,
but by the weak among us. Herculean ascetics that might quench the
smoldering ember or break the bruised reed are not for us. In a very
real way, God Himself decides the observance of a given house by
sending those whom He does to join it.
Neither my community nor your family nor your workplace is an
accidental fluke. (Tempting to think so at times, but they aren't!)
God sent those other people who drive you nuts there and He then
placed you in the midst of them. Odd sense of humor He has! But He
knows what He is about.
Some monasteries are the only place in the world a particular member
of that house could ever be a monastic. Don't scorn that, reverence
it! What a great and tender mercy of God is there! We are a huge
Order with rooms and slots for everybody on a very, very wide
spectrum. Some work more, some pray more, but all must try to balance.
We pray AND work: Ora et Labora. Carry either too far and the results
will not be pretty. Too much work can wear a community out, make them
all but useless for prayer. If this continues for too long a time, it
can kill monastic life entirely. On the other hand, pray too much and
work too little and you will wind up with a lot of spoiled, pampered
lap dogs and lounge lizards of prayer, weak and soft and not much
good for anything- INCLUDING prayer! See how important balance is?
Oblates here are at a disadvantage. They don't usually have a
superior living right with them to tell them when they have gone
around the bend, off the top and over the falls. That's why those
objective people who ARE placed around the Oblate, like spouses,
parents, friends, employers or co-workers, are voices we should
listen to carefully.
Note that I said "objective." The advice of others is not always and
everywhere good, but sometimes they can very clearly see things to
which we are completely blind. That's too important a gift to be
written off or ignored. Besides, listening is a very Benedictine act
and so is respect for and attention to authority, as well as
The world of the Oblate is full, would we only look, with checks and
balances to keep us moderate and on course. As Francis Thompson
observed of the secular world at large:
"The angels keep their ancient places,
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis we, 'tis our estranged faces
That miss the many-splendored thing!"
Love and prayers,