29 Mar. 29 July. 28 Nov.
From the first of October to the beginning of Lent let them apply to reading until the end of the second hour. Let Tierce be then said, and until the ninth hour let all labour at the work that is enjoined them. When the first signal for None is given, let every one break off from his work, and be ready as soon as the second signal is sounded. After their meal, let them occupy themselves in their reading, or in learning the Psalms. During Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until the end of the third hour, and then, until the end of the tenth, labour at whatever is enjoined them. And in these days of Lent let each one receive a book from the library, and read it all through in order. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent. Above all, let one or two seniors be appointed to go round the Monastery, at the hours when the brethren are engaged in reading, and see that there be no slothful brother giving himself to idleness or to foolish talk, and not applying himself to his reading, so that he is thus not only useless to himself, but a distraction to others. If such a one be found (which God forbid) let him be corrected once and a second time; and if he do not amend, let him be subjected to the chastisement of the Rule, so that the rest may be afraid. And let not one brother associate with another at unseasonable hours.
Saint Benedict reserves the best hours of the day for holy reading. Saint Benedict understands that a man will profit more from his reading at the beginning of the day or after the day’s manual labour. He insists on prompt obedience to the bell, using the evocative expression deiungant ab opera sua singuli. The use of the word deiungant is noteworthy; it means to unfasten the yoke and lay it aside. At the sound of the bell for the end of work, the monk is to lay aside the yoke, that is, all his tools, and hold himself in readiness for the meal.
When the first signal for None is given, let every one break off from his work, and be ready as soon as the second signal is sounded. After their meal, let them occupy themselves in their reading, or in learning the Psalms.
It is a real act of self–denial to end one’s work promptly. There will always be the temptation to finish one last detail or to squeeze in one final thing. In Saint Benedict’s harmonious disposition of the daily reading is no less important than manual work. The monk who habitually prolongs his time of work and abbreviates his time of reading will, sooner or later, fall into imbalance and suffer a crisis. A brother must, from his first years in the monastery, know how to use his time wisely and make use of the moments outside of work to quiet his mind, open his soul, and read.
Related to these questions of time management is the practice of little visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament. Our life of perpetual adoration is made up of a succession of moments; some of these moments can be used to go into the oratory and kneel in wordless adoration. Many years ago an older monk said to me that the secret of ceaseless prayer was to make many little visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament in the course of the day. The benefit of this practice is that it obliges a brother to stop in his tracks, turn himself to the tabernacle, and lift his mind and heart to Our Lord. It is not the length of time that matters; it is the deliberate act of turning towards Our Lord. A few seconds of adoration can refresh the soul and reorient one to perseverance in the prayer of the heart.
In treating of Lent, Saint Benedict has severe words for the slothful brother who gives himself to idleness or to foolish talk, and does not apply himself to his reading. This reproval applies not only to Lent, but to all seasons. Saint Benedict would have his sons be wise stewards of time, practicing self–denial and obedience throughout the day in such a way as to assure a rhythm of life conducive to ceaseless prayer.