To be read: March 25, July 25, November 24
If anyone does not come to the table before the verse, so that all may say the verse and pray together, and sit down at table together, 14if he failed to be timely through his own fault and negligence, let him be corrected twice. 15If he still does not amend, let him not be permitted to eat at the common table, 16but let him eat alone, separated from the company of all. His portion of wine should be taken from him, until he has made satisfaction and shown amendment. 17Anyone who is not present for the verse which is said after the meal should receive the same treatment. 18And no one is to presume to eat or drink before or after the appointed time. 19But if anything should be offered to a brother by the Superior and he refuses to accept it, then afterwards desires what he first refused or anything else, he should receive nothing at all until he makes due satisfaction.
We dealt with the sin of tardiness in yesterday’s meditation. The theme continues today. Whereas yesterday Benedict was addressing the importance of promptness for the Divine Office, today we read about the importance of timely gathering for mealtime. It is hard to imagine that Benedict would equate the importance of worship and communal dining. However, the communal table is a sacred space, and taking a meal together is an anointed time for the entire Body. Both the Work of God and the common meal are communal events, and both are important components in maintaining unity of Spirit in the Body of Christ.
For those of us on the outside of the monastery, communal meals are more often than not with members of the family, but less often with the entire Body of Christ with whom we worship. Nevertheless, those communal meals have value, whether with our biological family or our spiritual family. Sadly, we too often see members of our family choose to forgo the opportunity to dine with the other members of the family, putting their work or pleasure ahead of the sacred time spent in the company of our loved ones. It is a manifestation of that sin of selfishness that John Michael Talbot spoke of in the quote in yesterday’s meditation. And there is another manifestation of that same sin that is unique to this generation that could not have been anticipated by our Father Benedict. That is the curse of the electronic devices brought to the dinner table—be it our telephone, iPad, TV, etc. We get absorbed in the device and are not present to those with whom we are dining. It is a very sad situation indeed.
The end of this chapter presents one other injunction that is significantly relevant to our modern society. That precept is a warning against eating outside of the normal meal times. This is particularly difficult in our present age when most of us are accustomed to eating when we feel like it. We are a snacking culture, and it is evidenced by the obesity of our nation. Much of our modern culture has absolutely no discipline about food at all. We eat when we are lonely, distracted, reading, watching TV, and worst of all, before going to bed. (Sadly, I am eating while writing this.) We eat to combat depression, which makes us more depressed. Benedict recognized this tendency in man and combatted it saying, “no one is to presume to eat or drink before or after the appointed time.” It is sound advice.