Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 43:1-12

To be read: March 23-24, July 23-24, November 23

As soon as the signal for the time of the divine office is heard, let everyone, leaving whatever he has in his hands, go with all speed, 2yet with gravity and without creating cause for levity. 3Therefore, let nothing be preferred to the Work of God. 4If at Vigils anyone comes after the Gloria of the 94th psalm, which we wish to be said slowly and deliberately, let him not stand in his place in the choir. 5He must stand in the last place, or in a place set apart by the Abbot for such careless ones, that he may be seen by the Abbot and by all, 6until he makes satisfaction by public penance, when the Work of God is ended. 7The reason why we think they should stand in the last place, or apart from the rest, is that they may be seen by all and this will shame them into amending. 8For if they stayed outside the oratory, there might be one who would go back to sleep, or worse yet, would sit outside and indulge in vain gossip, thereby giving a “occasion to the devil”(Eph 4:27; 1 Tm 5:14). 9Rather, they should go inside so that they may not lose everything, and may amend for the future. 10At the day hours the same rule applies to those who arrive for the Work of God after the opening verse and the Gloria of the first psalm.  He is to stand in the last place. 11Let him not attempt to join the choir of those praying the psalms until he has made satisfaction, unless the Abbot pardons him and grants exception.  12Even if granted exception he is still bound to atone for the fault afterwards. 

Every time I read the first two verses of this chapter, I chuckle.  I have the image of the monks, their habits flying behind them, as they jostle one another in order to be the first into the oratory.  Why else would Benedict see the need for the proviso of verse 2?  But that is not the heart of this message.  Verse 3 reveals the mind of our Father Benedict: “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God.”  We must do whatever we can to make certain that time is given for the worship in the Divine Office.  Our relationship with God must be the primary focus of our day.  Yes, our work (be it employment, school, housework, etc.) is important, but “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God.”  Giving priority time to God makes all of the time that follows more productive; thus, Benedict’s emphasis on making satisfaction if the monks fail to arrive for worship on time.  He even lays out provision for how to behave if the unavoidable happens and an individual arrives late to a service, for he doesn’t want anyone to give “occasion to the devil”.

Sometimes, though, events conspire and we find ourselves delayed.  It happens.  But there are those who are perpetually late.  A habit of tardiness really is a sin.  It is the sin of selfishness.  John Michael Talbot, in his book Blessings of St. Benedict, says, “Tardiness, procrastination, or unnecessary absence are ultimately expressions of selfishness.  It means that we place ourselves over the community functions that others must attend…Some are conditioned for tardiness by their upbringing and past cultural experiences.  The Rule is a way to heal that defect.”  The discipline laid out in chapters 43-46 of the Rule is a discipline that may sound harsh to our modern ear, but its purpose it to facilitate healing of our faults.  Therefore, the goal of such discipline is the maintenance of unity in the community, together with the conversion and redemption of the individual.  These disciplines are not punitive by nature, but rather restorative. 

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