19 December 2017

I Love St Benedict!

Many years ago, when I was an Anglican, I became a Confrater of St Gregory's (Anglican) Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan. 'Confrater' is what Oblates are called in the English Congrgation of (Catholic) Benedictines, and had been copied by the English Abbey from whence St Gregory's was founded.

When I became an Orthodox, I wrote the Abbot and asked what that would do to my membership. He replied that St Benedict had been Orthodox, too. In fact, there have been Benedictines on Athos in the past, and even now, there are Orthdox monks on the Holy Mountain who follow the Holy Rule of St Benedict.

When I converted to Catholicism in 1980, I became an Oblate of the Benedictine Sisters of Mount Saint Scholastica Abbey in Atchison, Kansas. However, as a Catholic, there were many other Orders, each with their own, unique spirituality to choose from. In the Anglican Church, when I belonged, the choices for a layman were limited to Benedictine Confraters or Franciscan Tetiaries, tho' I understand that a Dominican Order has 
since been founded that takes Tertiaries.

At any rate, as a Catholic, I read about other Orders and their spiritualities, and after prayerful consideration, in honour of Our Blessed Mother, to whom I give thanks for the prayers that led to my conversion, I became a Tertiary of the Order of the Brethren of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

However, I still have a soft spot for St Benedict. His medal adorns my rosary and the small Scapular I wear whilst laundering my Tertiary's large Scapular. I want to get one to attach to the large Scapular, as well. But most of the reason I love him is his sanity and eminent  practicality.

For instance, in Chapter VIII, Of the Divine Office during the Night, he says, 

'(L)et the hour for celebrating the night office (Matins) be so arranged, that after a very short interval, during which the brethren may go out for the necessities of nature, the morning office (Lauds), which is to be said at the break of day, may follow presently.'

Would that there had been a similar break in some of the longer services I have attended in both the Western and Eastern Churches, but especially among the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics!

In Chapter XXXIX, Of the Quantity of Food, he directs,

'Making allowance for the infirmities of different persons, we believe that for the daily meal, both at the sixth and the ninth hour, two kinds of cooked food are sufficient at all meals; so that he who perchance cannot eat of one, may make his meal of the other. ... (I)f there be fruit or fresh vegetables, a third may be added. Let a pound of bread be sufficient for the day, whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper. If they are to eat supper, let a third part of the pound be reserved by the Cellarer and be given at supper.

'Let the same quantity of food, however, not be served out to young children but less than to older ones, observing measure in all things.

'If, however, the work hath been especially hard, it is left to the discretion and power of the Abbot to add something, ... that a monk be not overtaken by indigestion.

'But let all except the very weak and the sick abstain altogether from eating the flesh of four-footed animals.'

Notice the amount of bread! We call it the 'staff of life', but we often forget just how true that has been in past ages. He limits the amount of food for the young, who would be studying rather than toiling labouriously in the fields. (Remember that in his times, the large majority of monks in a monastery were not priests, and that each monastery was expected to be self sufficient. See Chapter XLVIII, Of the Daily Work, in the Holy Rule.) And, even tho' he calls for perpetual abstinence, it is from the flesh of four-footed  animals and not from all flesh meat, and even then, allows the very weak and the sick to partake of a nourishing beef broth, for example.

In the following Chapter XL, Of the Quantity of Drink, he lays down one of the most sane, yet amusing, regulations in the entire Rule. He says,

'(W)e think one hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each one.'

A 'hemina' is about a half-pint, so this would equal about two standard 12 oz. beer. But then he goes on to say,

'If the circumstances of the place, or the work, or the summer's heat should require more, let that depend on the judgment of the Superior, who must above all things see to it, that excess or drunkenness do not creep in.'

Then comes an example of both his sanity and practicality! 

'Although we read that wine is not at all proper for monks, yet, because monks in our times cannot be persuaded of this, let us agree to this, at least, that we do not drink to satiety, but sparingly;...'

And, in Chapter XLVIII, Of the Daily Work, after laying out a detailed scheme of what hours are to be devoted to manual labour and what hours to reading, adjusted for the seasons of the year, he says,

'Let such work or charge be given to the weak and the sickly brethren, that they are neither idle, nor so wearied with the strain of work that they are driven away. Their weakness must be taken into account by the Abbot.'

His sanity and practicality shine forth throughout the entire Rule, and his Chapter IV, The Instruments of Good Works, can be read with profit by any Christian. The same applies to Chapter VII, Of Humility, in which he lays out the oft quoted 'Twelve Degrees of Humility'.

You may read the Holy Rule here, in a translation by Dom Boniface Verheyen, OSB, of St Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, Kansas.

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