Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 40

To be read: March 20, July 20, November 20

“Each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another”(1 Cor 7:7). 2It is with some hesitation, then, that we determine the measure of food and drink for others. 3However, making allowance for the weakness those who are sick, we think a half bottle of wine a day is sufficient for each one. 4But to those whom God grants the strength of abstinence, they shall know that they will earn their reward. 5If the circumstances of the local conditions, or the work, or the summer’s heat should require more, let the judgment of the Superior determine who needs a greater amount. He must, above all things, see to it that excess or drunkenness do not creep in. 6Although we read that wine is not at all proper for monks, yet, because monks in our times cannot be persuaded of this, let us agree to this, at least, that we do not drink to excess, but moderately, 7for “wine makes even wise men go astray”(Sir 19:2). 8But where the poverty of the local circumstances will not permit the measure indicated above, but much less, or none at all, let those who live there bless God and grumble not at all. 9Above all things, we charge that they live without grumbling. 

Over the last two days we have examined eating and drinking in moderation, and practicing frugality.  But, if we are honest, we often do not give much consideration to what we eat and drink because it is such an ingrained habit of our daily life.  Of course, we do notice if someone is enormously overweight or terribly thin.  The extremes draw our attention.  And so, St. Benedict is quite clear in his teaching: “each has his own special gift from God.  It is with some hesitation, then, that we determine the measure of food and drink for others.”  Nevertheless, he does provide some guidelines which are as applicable to those of us on the outside as to the monks enclosed.  With food, there should not be indigestion.  With drink, there should not be drunkenness.  In many countries, it would be most surprising to have the monks drink wine every day.  However, in many European countries, where it is the common drink at meals, it is taken for granted that monks drink wine.  The early monastic traditions dictated that monks should not drink wine at all, rather all should practice abstinence from alcohol.  But again, Benedict recognized that abstinence is not a gift shared by all.  He sought to take a more gentle approach toward his monks, and insist only on moderation: “that we do not drink to excess, but moderately.”  For Benedict, if something is not necessarily harmful to the monk, then there is no reason to abstain from partaking of that food, rather accept that gift with moderation.  Good advice for us all.  He acknowledges that to drink wine is not sinful, and therefore he allows it to be consumed by his monks.  But it is his contention that “wine is not at all proper for monks”—it would be better if they didn’t consume alcohol, for “wine makes even wise men go astray”.  He does not enforce abstinence, but recommends it for those who have that special gift from God.

And finally, NO grumbling.  Benedict repeatedly forbids this heinous practice (e.g. RB 4:39; 5:14-19; 34:7; etc.).  Grumbling is the sin of preferring ourselves, our selfish will, to God, and so he says, “Above all things, we charge that they live without grumbling.”  Wouldn’t life be wonderful if we could all practice this discipline.  Grumbling is a negative use of our energies, and essentially selfish—“if I can’t have my way, I’ll grumble”.  Benedict is saying, “Let us ask that we might lay down our will and accept the Lord’s will; and that we may never grumble, no matter what the situation.”  To give thanks for what He has given us, no matter how great or small, is to honor God, for the Psalmist says, “He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice, honors Me” (Psalm 50:23).

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