CHAPTER XLI. At what Hours the Brethren are to take their Meals
20 Mar. 20 July. 19 Nov.
From Holy Easter until Pentecost let the brethren dine at the sixth hour, and sup in the evening. But from Pentecost throughout the summer (unless they have to work in the fields, or are harrassed by excessive heat) let them fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the ninth hour, but on other days dine at the sixth. Should they have field labour, or should the heat of the summer be very great, they must always take their dinner at the sixth hour. Let the Abbot provide for this, and let him so arrange and dispose all things, that souls may be saved, and that the brethren may do what they have to do without just cause for murmuring. From the fourteenth of September until the beginning of Lent let them always dine at the ninth hour; and during Lent, until Easter, in the evening. And let the hour of the evening meal be so ordered that they have no need of a lamp while eating, but let all be over while it is yet daylight. At all times, whether of dinner or supper, let the hour be so arranged that everything be done by daylight.
In listening to the Holy Rule and in studying it, one should always look for the grand principles that inform each chapter. Sometimes, as I said yesterday, the grand principles are found in the first and last sentences o a chapter. It also happens, more often than not, that these grand principles are hidden in the text like the treasure hidden in the field. The Holy Rule does not reveal its treasures all at once. Like Sacred Scripture, it reveals its treasures over time and, even then, only to the man who applies himself to the text and allows himself to hear it, with each successive reading, as if for the first time.
It is a tragedy when a monk begins to think that he knows the Holy Rule and that he has nothing more to discover in it. We are Benedictines by virtue of our quotidian and humble reference to the Holy Rule. Père Jérôme of Sept–Fons, in a letter to a spiritual son on the occasion of the young monk’s simple profession, said something that resonates with me at the deepest level:
My young professed, be preoccupied by the problem of continuity. You must want continuity as an essential value, today more than ever. In effect, when the world is going in one direction, one can safely wager that the Spirit of God is blowing in the opposite direction. The trends of the world, alas, often constitute a sure indicator. So it is that the world, more than ever, is looking for change and adventure. God, therefore, more than ever wants for His friends neither change nor adventure.
Little brother, always take your chances on the side of stability and continuity. One does not come to God to try it out, for a year. Develop your intelligence and your energy and adjust them to [the monastic life’s] slownesses, and to the long haul. This is how you will come to faithfulness!
The orientations at present [Père Jérôme was writing in 1971], and those that will impose themselves in the future, will bring you back rather to that foundation of truth that existed when I arrived at Sept–Fons [in 1928]: a sincere monastic life, a sincere enclosure, sincere observances, a humble and true contemplative prayer; and the whole thing built upon the Rule of Saint Benedict understood in the strict sense and loved. All of this will again bear fruit.
One of the reasons why I so insist on the daily reading of the Holy Rule and on a living commentary that is also daily and consistent, is because I too believe in stability and continuity. So long as the Holy Rule remains our real and quotidian reference — and not as an ancient text that has little to say to us today — we will go forward together in stability and continuity. To Dom Finnian and Dom Elijah, and to Brother Hildebrand, as well as to each one, I say: Learn the Rule; live the Rule; love the Rule. Never assume that you have taken from it all that it has to offer. The Holy Rule, like Sacred Scripture, is, according to Bossuet, “a learned and mysterious abridgement of the whole doctrine of the Gospel”, an inexhaustible mine for the monk who professes it. The grand principle in today’s chapter is this:
Let the abbot provide for this, and let him so arrange and dispose all things, that souls may be saved, and that the brethren may do what they have to do without just cause for murmuring.
There is something here for the abbot, and something for the monks. The abbot is to so arrange and dispose all things, that souls may be saved. And the brethren, for their part, are to enter, without murmuring, into the abbot’s arrangements and dispositions, trusting that they are set forth for the healing, the restoration, the salvation of their souls. For this to bring about the desired results — healing, restoration, and salvation — the abbot is bound to go often, and in a great poverty and abandonment, to Our Lord. The abbot must wait upon Christ and, then, even if he feels that he has received nothing, he must go forward in faith, trusting that he has been given whatsoever his sons need to receive from him at any given moment.
Yesterday, when I was before the Most Blessed Sacrament, I had a profound but utterly ordinary sense of abiding in the radiance of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face. I found myself saying only this: “Nothing else matters than to be with Thee, and for Thee, and towards Thee”. I suppose that this in no more than what the psalmist prays:
O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted; for thee my flesh, O how many ways! In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory. (Psalm 62:2–3)
My duty is to so arrange and dispose all things that, all together, we may live in such a way as to say to one another and to the world: Nothing else matters than to be with Christ, and for Christ, and towards Christ. This is the stability and continuity