Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 39:1-5

To be read: March 18, July 18, November 18

Making allowance for the weakness of individual 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, 2so that one who cannot eat of one, may make his meal of the other. 3Two kinds of cooked food, therefore, should be sufficient for all the brothers. And if fruit or fresh vegetables are available, a third dish also may be added. 4A pound of bread should be sufficient for the day, whether for only one meal or for both dinner and supper. 5If two meals, let a third part of the pound be set aside by the Cellarer and be given at supper. 

St. Paul told the Corinthians to “eat whatever is set before you” (1 Cor. 10:27).  But there are some, like my wife and granddaughter, who have severe food allergies and must be careful to not consume what could be harmful, or even deadly.  Nevertheless, there are some people who are restrained by conscience, or simply want to be picky.  Even in Benedict’s day there was a measure of that as we see in verse 1.  He makes “allowance for the weakness of individual persons…” and directs that “two kinds of cooked food” be prepared, “so that one who cannot eat of one, may make his meal of the other.”  It is for the good of the community that Benedict makes this provision, and it is for the good of the community that we eat what is set before us, and not grumble.

We also see that Saint Benedict gives to the abbot the authority to change the diet, when that is necessary.  As we shall see tomorrow, the real concern in the directives of this chapter is that overindulgence be avoided.  Frugality is the rule, and one we should practice—a difficult task when we live in a land of such abundance.  Benedict is not suggesting that all the monks (and those of us practicing the Rule in the secular realm) should seek to be skeletal in our appearance, rather that each of us may find how much he or she needs to eat and try to stay with that measure of eating.  It can be truly a difficult task.  That is not to say that we cannot on occasion enjoy a sumptuous meal in celebration of a significant event, or simply enjoy a good meal with a loved one.  But we all know the temptation that an abundance of food provides for us, and the discomfort we usually experience when we do overindulge.  The key is knowing ourselves and taking only what we need, not what our eyes tell us we want, and learning to say “no” to what is excess.


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