Holy Rule for Mar. 22
Prayers, please, for the eternal rest of Qamar David, a Pakistani Christian who was jailed for life for blasphemy last year and has been found dead in his prison cell. Prayers, too, for his family and all who mourn him and, if there was foul play, for the repentance and conversion of the perptrators.
March 22, July 22, November 21
Chapter 43: On Those Who Come Late to the Work of God or to Table
At the hour for the Divine Office,
as soon as the signal is heard,
let them abandon whatever they may have in hand
and hasten with the greatest speed,
yet with seriousness, so that there is no excuse for levity.
Let nothing, therefore, be put before the Work of God.
If at the Night Office
anyone arrives after the "Glory be to the Father" of Psalm 94 --
which Psalm for this reason we wish to be said
very slowly and protractedly --
let him not stand in his usual place in the choir;
but let him stand last of all,
or in a place set aside by the Abbot for such negligent ones
in order that they may be seen by him and by all.
He shall remain there until the Work of God has been completed,
and then do penance by a public satisfaction.
the reason why we have judged it fitting
for them so stand in the last place or in a place apart
being seen by all,
they may amend for very shame.
For if they remain outside of the oratory,
there will perhaps be someone who will go back to bed and sleep
or at least seat himself outside and indulge in idle talk,
and thus an occasion will be provided for the evil one.
But let them go inside,
that they many not lose the whole Office,
and may amend for the future.
At the day Hours
anyone who does not arrive at the Work of God
until after the verse
and the "Glory be to the Father" for the first Psalm following it
shall stand in the last place,
according to our ruling above.
Nor shall he presume to join the choir in their chanting
until he has made satisfaction,
unless the Abbot should pardon him and give him permission;
but even then the offender must make satisfaction for his fault.
For too many years, I have read this chapter as just one more outline
of punishments for offenses. I missed completely the message to be
found in its title and I suspect many others have, too. The Work of
God and Table are lumped together. They are not exactly equal, but
they have many similarities and are, in some instances, nearly equal.
Now, this is not something most people would have guessed, especially
with all the details about times of fasting and amounts of food and
drink, but it is true nonetheless. St. Benedict links the places and
times where body and soul are nourished because he esteems both. Like
any truly orthodox monastic, he escapes the heretical trap of making
body and matter evil and spirit alone good. Because we sometimes
unconsciously fall into that trap ourselves, it is easy to misread
Neither St. Benedict nor monastic life itself hates the body. Both
wish to discipline and control it, to remove the obstacles it
presents to our spirits, but neither can hate the body, because God
created it and God Himself assumed it. Our bodies are sacred
temples of the Holy Spirit.
Talk all you will of bodily mortifications, but the bottom line is that
nobody (quite literally, "no body",) is getting to the spiritual banquet without
atruck to take them and that truck is the body. Kill it and you will
not only have no means of allowing the soul to grow in time, but may
have violated the 5th commandment, as well, thereby fouling up
your total efforts rather messily. I am aware that some saints seem to have had
vocations to extremely penitential lives, but most of us do not. Dangerous
austerity should be undertaken only when there is a clear call for it, confirmed by a
wise spiritual director or confessot wh knows one well.
Monastic reforms over the centuries have frequently proclaimed a
return to the "full rigor of the Rule." Whoops! Missed something
there, folks. The Rule ain't rigorous. Says so himself, right in the
Prologue: "...nothing harsh or burdensome." Being observant is one
thing, but rigorous is quite another. To go beyond the Holy Rule in
laxity OR austerity is a perilous mistake. Our Rule is balance and
moderation. Take those away and the critter you are left with is no
Rather than alienate the entire camp of those with Cistercian
leanings in one fell swoop, I will give examples of failure on this
count on BOTH sides at the time of the Cistercian reform in 1098.
Cluny, remembered by some Benedictine historians with a bit of pride
that is embarrassing, was WAY off the mark liturgically. Gee gaws and
doo-dads and little Offices and devotions for days. Ruined the
balance. One abbot over literally hundreds of daughter houses and
thousands of monks. Ruined local autonomy. Not surprisingly, a lot of
other unlovely stuff crept in. Given the lack of Benedictine balance
to hone their vision, the fact that they overlooked the mess they
were in is hardly shocking. Lots of pruning was in order.
Along come the first Cistercians who point out (maybe a teeny bit
self-righteously?) that those slimy Benedictines are not only failing
to abstain from "the flesh of four-footed animals," but are dining
quite nicely on just about anything within reach. Well, there is a
point there, then and now!
But there is a point against the reforms of Citeaux and La Grande Trappe,
too. Want to get literalist? The Holy Rule says meat from quadrupeds.
If it meant all meat, period, that would have been easier to say; it would
have even saved some ink and parchment, in an age when neither were
that easy to come by.
But it didn't say that. That left fish and poultry wide open. The early
Trappists didn't think so: meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese ALL got
banned.. Okaaay..... But if you have only one oar in the water, you
are quite likely to wind up going in circles...
If the literal Rule is what you want, then take it, but always,
always remember that the literal Rule cuts a LOT of slack and demands
a lot of balance. Miss that and you might miss the boat entirely.
Love and prayers,
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Prayers for Fr. E., discerning a vocation to religious life.
Lord, help us all as You know and will.
God's will is best. All is mercy and grace. God is never absent, praise Him!
Thanks so much. JL
April 11, August 11, December 11
Chapter 58: On the Manner of Receiving Sisters
When anyone is newly come for the reformation of her life,
let her not be granted an easy entrance;
but, as the Apostle says,
"Test the spirits to see whether they are from God."
If the newcomer, therefore, perseveres in her knocking,
and if it is seen after four or five days
that she bears patiently the harsh treatment offered her
and the difficulty of admission,
and that she persists in her petition,
then let entrance be granted her,
and let her stay in the guest house for a few days.
After that let her live in the novitiate,
where the novices study, eat and sleep.
A senior shall be assigned to them who is skilled in winning souls,
to watch over them with the utmost care.
Let her examine whether the novice is truly seeking God,
and whether she is zealous
for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials.
Let the novice be told all the hard and rugged ways
by which the journey to God is made.
If she promises stability and perseverance,
then at the end of two months
let this rule be read through to her,
and let her be addressed thus:
"Here is the law under which you wish to fight.
If you can observe it, enter;
if you cannot, you are free to depart."
If she still stands firm,
let her be taken to the above-mentioned novitiate
and again tested in all patience.
And after the lapse of six months let the Rule be read to her,
that she may know on what she is entering.
And if she still remains firm,
after four months let the same Rule be read to her again.
Then, having deliberated with herself,
if she promises to keep it in its entirety
and to observe everything that is commanded,
let her be received into the community.
But let her understand that,
according to the law of the Rule,
from that day forward she may not leave the monastery
nor withdraw her neck from under the yoke of the Rule
which she was free to refuse or to accept
during that prolonged deliberation.
The most important thing that St. Benedict asks of all of us on
entrance into the monastic way is whether we truly seek God. Whether
Abbot Primate or newest Oblate novice, that is what we are asked by
the Holy Rule. It is a question we shall be asked for the rest of our
lives, and one to which we must strive (and often struggle!) to say yes,
again and again, day after day.
"Quaeremus inventum," said St. Augustine: "Let us seek Him Whom we
have found." In truth a certain "finding" of God is necessary to whet
our appetite, to lead us to seek Him more deeply. Once that happens,
however, we can go on seeking God for the rest of time and eternity
and never get to the end of His infinite love and mercy. Even in
heaven the journey will go on, with us always being creature and Him
always loving Creator. We will never end our quest, but we will love
it, we will never reach the essence of God, but that will never
frustrate us in heaven. It's an adventure we shall love.
If we do not seek God, there is no point whatever in becoming a monastic.
St. Bernard once said something to the effect that, if one is going to go to
hell, one should choose the broad way of the world, where at least there
is comfort of a sort on the way, not the narrow way of the monastery, where
one would go from hard life to hell. I haven't paraphrased him too well, but
I hope it is clear enough. No one should waste time with monastic life if
are not seeking God, seeking to go deeper into Him. To do so would be
After novitiate, our commitment to conversion of manners obliges us to
ever seek, to ever try to improve, to never give up the quest
entirely. A Benedictine who has stopped trying to be better and
stopped seeking God is in deep, maybe even fatal trouble. We always
seek and strive. It is the very stuff of our lives as monastics.
This chapter, by the way, led to the traditional division we now have
of the Holy Rule into dates that will result in it all being read
three times a year. The novices had to hear it three times anyway and
elsewhere St. Benedict had asked that all in community hear
it "frequently." Hence, this system was devised to cover both fronts!
Love and prayers,
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