March 18, July 18, November 17
Chapter 39: On the Measure of Food
We think it sufficient for the daily dinner,
whether at the sixth or the ninth hour,
that every table have two cooked dishes
on account of individual infirmities,
so that he who for some reason cannot eat of the one
may make his meal of the other
Therefore let two cooked dishes suffice for all the brethren;
and if any fruit or fresh vegetables are available,
let a third dish be added.
Let a good pound weight of bread suffice for the day,
whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper.
If they are to have supper,
the cellarer shall reserve a third of that pound,
to be given them at supper.
But if it happens that the work was heavier,
it shall lie within the Abbot's discretion and power,
should it be expedient,
to add something to the fare.
Above all things, however,
over-indulgence must be avoided
and a monk must never be overtaken by indigestion;
for there is nothing so opposed to the Christian character
according to Our Lord's words,
"See to it that your hearts be not burdened
with over-indulgence" (Luke 21:34).
shall not receive the same amount of food as their elders,
and frugality shall be observed in all circumstances.
Except the sick who are very weak,
let all abstain entirely
from eating the flesh of four-footed animals.
I beg the forgiveness of those living outside those U.S. who receive
this for dwelling on the dietary habits of my own country, but I
think there is a message for all of us, to one degree or another
therein. If nothing else, Americans can often serve as a very good
negative example to those of other lands and cultures, sadly, in more
than just food!
Obesity and consumerism can go hand in hand, because they are
different expressions of the same lie: you CAN get enough and it WILL
make you happy. Things will fulfill you. Food is a thing. Whoops!
Small wonder than a nation like my own that tops the charts in
consumption is also right up there in terms of a populace being
In the U.S. our attitudes to food are so badly skewed by consumerist
culture that we are truly very spoiled. What most people would see as
the simple addition of moderation to the menu we might view as a
terrible fast of deprivation. We are the people who chant that "Too
much is plenty." Well, it isn't. Too much of anything, food, or stuff
or sex or free will is bad for one: that is the Benedictine message
Let me give my American comrades one or two simple suggestions. If
you live in another land and have already been doing these things,
indulge me. The bulk of the 800 or so people receiving this live in
the States. For starters, try only water with meals. What?!?
Unthinkable! I need a Coke! Hey, water hydrates you (hence the term!)
better than anything else and it certainly cuts your caloric intake.
Most of us do NOT drink enough water. Start trying.
What about fat and cholesterol and fiber? I know, I know... Hey, look
at how we can be all over the place to recycle and save the planet
while cavalierly damaging our bodies, the ecosystems which are, after
all, closest to us! What about one or two meatless days a week or
just less red meat? Think twice and try to change.
Try, really try to do more of what is better for you. Face it, no
matter what else is important, your care of yourself is likely to be
at least as closely monitored by God as your concern over wetlands or
whales, if not more so... I often think that many of the noble
efforts in the direction of non-human, even non-animal life are
displacement activities, at least partially in compensation for the
dreadful job we do with our own bodies and with other human life.
Look, change is hard. Why do you think so many people find the Holy
Rule harsh or mean? It is not; it is moderate and gentle and
considerate of individual needs, even in this chapter. People find it
mean because change is hard, and the Rule DOES insist on change.
The Rule mandates change because St. Benedict knew it was necessary
if we are to make progress on the road to God we have chosen.
However, please remember that even change must be moderate and
gradual. Going overboard all at once is likely a doomed attempt.
Try to start eating nothing but fat-free sawdust tomorrow and you are
quite likely to be discouraged, overwhelmed and fall out of the
fight. That, alas, is just what Satan wants. Discouragement is
usually his strongest weapon! Baby steps, beloveds, baby steps!
Love and prayers,