Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 39:6-11

To be read: March 19, July 19, November 19

If, however, the work has been especially hard, the Abbot has the power to decide to add something to the meal, if he thinks it is appropriate, 7barring above all things every excess, so that no monk suffer indigestion. 8For nothing is so contrary to the life of a Christian as overindulgence, 9as our Lord says: “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with overindulgence…”(Lk 21:34). 10Do not serve the same quantity of food to young children but less than to older ones, since we should be frugal in all things. 11Let everyone except the very weak and the sick abstain altogether from eating the flesh of four-footed animals. 

As was noted yesterday, in the latter half of this chapter, Benedict addresses the issue of overindulgence, and we commented upon that in the meditation.  And now, in these last verses, we have Benedict’s prohibition against eating the meat of four-footed animals.  It appears that there were times in the history of the Benedictine tradition that fish and fowl were both acceptable fare.  And at times, even the fowl was seen as forbidden.  And in some traditions of the stricter observance of the Rule, not even fish was allowed.  Vegetarian fare was from the beginning the preferred norm throughout the history of the order.  It seems clear, however, that for St. Benedict the “meat of four-footed animals” is never acceptable.  It is possible that this prohibition comes from an understanding in his day that such meat made the passions stronger, as some commentators have suggested.  But it is equally possible that our Father Benedict was concerned for the life of the animals and wanted to show compassion for “all creatures great and small”, as the veterinarian, James Herriot, said in his famous hymn.  

So, how do we apply this?  For our personal spirituality, it is important for us to look at our lives and consider whether we are wise and frugal, whether we really have and use only what we need, whether we are caring for God’s precious creation, or are we being wasteful.  It is a wonderful spiritual discipline to strive to have and use only what we need.  It is not a sin to eat meat.  But is that what is best for our physical well-being, our spiritual health, and the greatest care for God’s creation?  The general thrust of the Rule is to always take the higher road, that “Your way of acting should be different from worldly ways” (RB 4:20).  As St. Paul says, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).  Benedict wants us to strive for what is helpful and holy.  His restriction is not intended to be an onerous burden or a penitential sacrifice.  Benedict wants us to want what is best for all.

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