Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 48

To be read: March 30, July 30, November 29

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brothers ought to have certain times for manual labor as well as time for devout reading. 2Hence, we believe that the time for each will be properly ordered by the following arrangement: 3From Easter until the first of October, they spend their morning from the first until about the fourth hour doing the necessary work, 4but from the fourth until the sixth hour they devote to reading. 5After Sext and the noonday meal, let them rest in their beds in complete silence; or if anyone desires to read privately, let him do so but without disturbing others. 6Let None be said somewhat earlier, about the middle of the eighth hour, and then until Vespers they are to return to the work that is necessary. 7If, however, the local conditions or their own poverty should require that they do the work of gathering the harvest themselves, let them not be downcast, 8for then they are true monks if they live by the work of their own hands, as did our forefathers and the Apostles. 9However, on account of the faint-hearted let all things be done with moderation. 10From the first of October until the beginning of Lent, let them devote themselves to reading until the end of the second hour. 11At that time Terce is said, and then let all work at their assigned tasks until the ninth hour. 12When the first signal for the hour of None is given, each one is to leave their work and be ready when the second signal is given. 13Then after the meal let them devote themselves to reading or to the psalms. 14During the Lenten season let them be free in the morning to read until the third hour, and until the tenth hour let them do the work which is assigned to them. 15During these days of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read it straight through. 16These books are to be given out at the beginning of the Lenten season. 17Above all, one or two of the seniors should be appointed to go about the monastery during the time that the brothers devote to reading 18and to see that no slothful brother be found who gives himself up to idleness or vain talk, and does not attend to his reading, and so is himself unprofitable, but disturbs others. 19If such a one is found (which God forbid), he is to be punished once or twice if necessary, 20and if he does not amend, he must come under the correction of the Rule in such a way that others may fear. 21And further, brothers ought not associate at inappropriate times. 22On Sunday all are to devote themselves to reading, except those who are appointed to various functions. 23But if anyone is so careless and slothful that he will not or cannot meditate or read, let some work be given him to do, that he may not be idle. 24Weak and sickly brothers should be given such work or craft that they will not remain idle, but without straining them or driving them away. 25Their weakness must be taken into account by the Abbot. 

Benedict expresses the need for balance between labor and lectio.  This is clearly stated in the first verse of chapter 48:  “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.  Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”  The Work of God is to be not only the structure on which our daily routine is built, but the underpinning of everything we do.  Benedict arranges the hours of manual work based on the hours of the Divine Office, and that arrangement varies with the seasons. 

For those of us who live outside the monastery, we do not have a central oratory, nor can we always organize our work around the hours of the Divine Office.  So how is any of this relevant to our life as followers of the Rule?  There are two keys to applying these instructions from the Rule to our lives.  The first is to allow the Work of God to form the structure for our day, making adjustments to the times of the hours, or combining various hours “as best we can” so as to “not neglect our measure of service”.  For example, if you are in a workplace where taking time for Terce and None would be difficult or impossible, combine those little hours with Sext and do the Psalms appointed for all three hours as part of Noonday Prayer on your lunch break.  Maybe your morning routine does not allow time for Vigils, Lauds, and Prime.  You can do Vigils upon arising, then combine Lauds and Prime either at home before work, or combine Vigils and Lauds then say Prime at work when you arrive.  At the very least, we should be conscientious to do Morning and Evening Prayer every day.  

The second key is to recognize our need to make sacred time and sacred space within the context of each work day.  Silence is a gift that we too often neglect.  Making sacred time, and setting aside sacred space for quiet contemplation and lectio is very important.  Even just setting aside five minutes in a quiet corner of home or office, or finding a park bench near your office, or pausing in the car (while parked) before entering the office, or whatever space you can designate, is an opportunity for a Divine encounter.  If the space allows for the opportunity to kneel as Benedict suggests (RB 50:3), and your body will cooperate with the practice, that is so much the better.  But make the time and space regardless.  These are moments of grace that we should not let pass.  And having a permanently specified space in your home designated as “sacred space” is important, too.  That can be your “go to” space for prayer and encounter with God—your personal oratory.

In the Rule, prayer is referred to as “the Work of God.”  Prayer, then, is work and work is prayer in Benedict’s understanding.  His vision, as revealed in this chapter and the overall Rule is that we begin to see that all we do is a work of prayer.  His desire was that we consecrate to God the whole cycle of our day, from rising and drinking our morning coffee, to our drive to work or school, meetings and classes, and household responsibilities, until we crawl into bed for sleep.  When we have given it all to God, we can then rest in His unchanging love.

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