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On Sunday, let all occupy themselves in reading, except those who have been appointed to the various offices. But if any one should be so negligent and slothful, as to be either unwilling or unable to study or to read, let some task be given him to do, that he be not idle. To brethren who are weak or delicate, let there be given such work or occupation as to prevent them either from being idle, or from being so oppressed by excessive labour as to be driven away. Their weakness must be taken into account by the Abbot.
For Saint Benedict, Sunday is the day of lectio divina par excellence. “Let all occupy themselves in reading, except those who have been appointed to the various offices”. The place of Psalm 118 at the Little Hours on Sunday suggests that the whole day is to be illumined by the contemplation of the Word of God. Our Statutes indicate how we are to spend Sunday:
118b. On Sundays, Thursdays, and the feasts of precept indicated in the Customary, the monks will undertake only such manual work as is indispensable for the service of the monastery, dedicating whatever time remains after the celebration of the Divine Office to lectio divina, to the enjoyment of nature, and to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Saint Benedict recognises that in every community there will be brethren who are “so negligent and slothful, as to be either unwilling or unable to study or to read”. Saint Benedict makes the distinction between the “unwilling” and the “unable”. There are brethren whose constitution is such that they find it difficult to concentrate for any length of time.I have known monks who are, in fact, psychologically incapable of spending any length time in the cell. Brethren such as these must be encouraged to spend time outdoors with book or rosary beads in hand, reading a little bit, walking, and praying as they are able to pray. Many times I have said to a brother, “Pray as you can and not as you think you ought!” I have also known brethren for whom fifteen minutes of reading represents a real accomplishment. Nothing is gained by imposing on such brethren a burden too heavy for them to bear.
There will always be necessary work on Sundays, Thursdays, and the feasts of precept. The sacristy, kitchen, refectory, guesthouse, and care of the sick, among other things, cannot be neglected. The custom of assigning “Sunday work” to certain brothers is authorised by the Holy Rule. This can be light work in the garden or a craft such as making rosaries. In all of this, the abbot must help each brother to recognise his weaknesses without becoming diminished by them, and to recognise his strengths without becoming self–sufficient and prideful.
Saint Benedict also speaks of the brethren who are weak or delicate — fratribus infirmis aut delicatis. Such as these are to be given a light work lest they begin to feel useless and become dejected. The chapter ends with one of Saint Benedict’s characteristic principles: “Their weakness must be taken into account by the Abbot”.