In all things give thanks (XXXIX)

CHAPTER XXXIX. Of the Measure of Food
18 Mar. 18 July. 17 Nov.

We think it sufficient for the daily meal, whether at the sixth or the ninth hour, that there be at all seasons of the year two dishes of cooked food, because of the weakness of different people; so that he who perchance cannot eat of the one, may make his meal of the other. Let two dishes, then, suffice for all the brethren; and if there be any fruit or young vegetables, let a third be added. Let one pound weight of bread suffice for the day, whetheir there be but one meal, or both dinner and supper. If they are to sup, let a third part of the pound be kept back by the Cellarer, and given to them for supper. If, however, their work chance to have been hard, it shall be in the Abbot’s power, if he think fit, to make some addition, avoiding above everything, all surfeiting, that the monks be not overtaken by indigestion. For there is nothing so adverse to a Christian as gluttony, according to the words of Our Lord: “See that your hearts be not overcharged with surfeiting.” And let not the same quantity be allotted to children of tender years, but less than to their elders, moderation being observed in every case. Let everyone abstain altogether from the flesh of four-footed animals, except the very weak and the sick.

First, let us listen to what our Declarations say concerning Chapter XXXIX:

105. The brethren will not lose sight of the symbolism by which the refectory is
linked to the oratory of the monastery, the common table to the altar, and
their daily bread to the Bread of Angels, the life-giving Flesh of Jesus Christ.
They will, therefore, conduct themselves in the refectory with modesty,
dignity, and reverence.

One of the expressions of reverence that we bring to the refectory is punctuality. While there may be occasions, linked to one’s obedience elsewhere in the monastery, on which one cannot do otherwise than arrive late for the meal, we follow literally what Saint Benedict says in Chapter XLIII: all are to arrive before the verse, say the prayer together, and sit down together, Ut simul omnes dicant versu et orent et sub uno omnes accedant ad mensam. When the community are obliged to wait for a tardy brother, the food becomes cold, the meal is delayed, and so too the wash-up and what follows are delayed.

106. Following the injunction of Saint Benedict, the community abstain from the
meat of quadrupeds four or five days a week. Should an individual, or even
the greater number of the community, be burdened with illness or fatigue,
the Prior may dispense from this abstinence, except on Wednesdays and
Fridays, for as long as he deems necessary.

Currently we are abstaining from the meat of quadrupeds fives days a week. On Sunday and on the workday, meat may be served at the main meal, and on Thursday fowl is served. The dispensation from abstinence is for prandium only; if certain brothers, for reasons of health, require meat at breakfast or supper, they have only to ask and it will be provided. If there is meat or fowl left over from prandium on Sunday, Thursday, or the workday, it may be put into the soup for cena, or served as a separate dish to the brothers who need it. Brothers who are sick or who otherwise require meat more frequently, or even daily at both prandium and cena, have only to ask this of me or of the infirmarian and we will arrange for it with the cellarer and the kitchen.

107. During the ecclesiastical Lent the community fast daily, save on Sunday, by
having but one meal, and two small collations. During the monastic Lent,
from September 14th until Pascha, with the exception of Christmastide, the
community fast on Wednesdays and Fridays by having but one meal and two
small collations.

Our practice of fasting during the ecclesiastical and monastic Lents is clear enough. We also fast on the Ember Days and on certain Vigils as indicated in the Ordo. If, however these Ember Days or Vigils coincide with a day of heavy work, a dispensation from the fasting is in order.

Saint Benedict thinks it sufficient for the daily meal, whether at the sixth or the ninth hour, that there be at all seasons of the year two dishes of cooked food, because of the weakness of different people; so that he who perchance cannot eat of the one, may make his meal of the other. It sometimes happens, albeit inadvertently, that a brother is unable to both dishes of cooked food. If such a thing occurs, the servers must be attentive to the brother’s plight and, if nothing else be available, the brother must eat whatever he can and then make arrangements with the kitchen to be given something else to eat. No brother should be obliged to go through the day without sufficient nourishment. The brethren who have special dietary needs must suffer no neglect nor want for anything. This requires a close cooperation and good communication among the cellarer, the infirmarian, the brethren concerned, and the cook.

Saint Benedict says that if there be any fruit or young vegetables, a third dish may be added. This corresponds to our salad and dessert. It is customary to add cheese or yogurt, at least at cena. The staples of the Benedictine diet are bread, wine, water, and olive oil. Normally, these are found on the table at every meal. What passes for bread today, at least what is commercially produced, does not correspond to Saint Benedict’s bread. Our own home-baked bread is much closer to Saint Benedict’s bread. I look forward to the day when we will have a suitably equipped bakery separate from the kitchen and a brother baker capable of providing the community with its daily bread. Bread is sacred: all bread points to Him who says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51). Romano Guardini’s book, Sacred Signs, is helpful for the cultivation of a sacramental view of all of life. For this reason, I would put it into the hands of every postulant.

Food will always be a difficult question in monasteries, especially in monasteries such as ours where the brethren come from a variety of places and backgrounds. In former times, when all the brethren of a community entered from the same locality or from neighbouring ones, their dietary needs and preferences were more or less the same. Today, we arrive at the monastery from different places, with diverse ethnic or regional backgrounds, and varying dietary needs and preferences. This is why, we try here, insofar as possible, to accommodate all the brethen while, at the same time, holding to what is laid down in Chapter XXXIX. The most important thing a monk brings to the refectory and takes away from it is gratitude. I cannot emphasise enough the spirit of thanksgiving. The Apostle says:

In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Many of our struggles and temptations would be alleviated if we cultivated gratitude. The brother who thinks that he is owed something or that he is not being given his due, must stop to review the things for which he is grateful. This is the “gratitude list” that people in AA and other Twelve Step Programs practice. How does one go about making a gratitude list each day?

1. Commit to writing something every day. It may be no more than a word or two. It may also be more detailed. For example: “I read a chapter in Christ, the Ideal of the Monk” or, “I read a chapter in Christ, the Ideal of the Monk and it inspired me to approach all things with a deeper spirit of faith.”

2. Create your gratitude list with pen and paper. You may want to write it in a notebook so that you will be able to review it on days when all seems dark and arduous.

3. Make your gratitude list an essential tool in overcoming destructive λογίσμοι (assaultive or tempting thoughts). Many a relapse into pride, anger, lust, and sadness can be prevented by referring to one’s gratitude list.

4. There will be days when you think it impossible to find anything for which to be grateful. Make some entry on your gratitude list, even if you judge the thing of little significance. One can always find some thing for which one is grateful. Maybe the sun is out, or a brother showed you kindness, or one verse in the whole day’s Office spoke to your heart. It can be anything. Just write.

5. Incorporate time to be grateful into your daily rhythm of prayer, especially after Compline. Documenting thankfulness just before going to bed produces a more restful night’s sleep and a better attitude upon waking.

6. Ask my help, or the help of the Father Zelator to do this. Show your gratitude list to me or to the Father Zelator. Accept the suggestions that will be offered. This practice will  keep you accountable from one day to the next.

7. Over time, you will begin to notice, like Little Saint Placid, that you sing what you are living and that you live what you are singing: Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore; semper laus ejus in ore meo, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Psalm 33:2). Never say to yourself, “I have done this long enough. There is no longer any need for me to make a gratitude list. It is becoming old, or stilted, or forced.” Such thing is the beginning of a descent into wrong thinking. Never say, “Things are grand. I don’t have to hold myself to a practice that seems artificial.” Be humble. Just write a longer list. Heed the word of the Apostle: “Give thanks continually to God, who is our Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

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