ENLARGING THE HEART

UPDATE:             1ST January 2015   We now begin a new series of commentaries on the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict (Series 3). We hope this will continue to be a source of spiritual nourishment for you. 


Daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict

By a Benedictine of Saint Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde


"... as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts

   shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God's commandments." 

(From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict)



St Benedict wrote his Rule for monks some fifteen centuries ago.  Driven by his love of Christ, he wanted to establish his monastery as a "school of the Lord's service": a place where people who truly seek God could find him; places where "authentic Gospel values prevail"(1); where nothing whatever would be preferred to Christ. The Rule of St Benedict spread all over Europe, and had an enormous influence on the life and spirituality of the Latin Church.  It continues to inspire monks, nuns, and countless lay people throughout the world today.

Like many monasteries we divide the Rule into sections so that the whole Rule is covered over a period of three months. The commentaries will follow the sequence of the sections.

(1) Pope John Paul II, to Benedictine Abbots, 23 September 1996


CHAPTER 41: 

At what hours the brethren

are to take their meals

 July 20, 

From the holy feast of Easter until Pentecost the brethren shall dine at the sixth hour and take their supper in the evening.  From Pentecost, throughout the summer, if the brethren have not to work in the fields or if the heat of the summer is not oppressive, let them fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the ninth hour; but on the other days let them dine at the sixth hour.  Indeed, dinner at the sixth hour may be the rule every day, at the discretion of the Abbot, should they be employed at field labour or should the heat of the summer be excessive.  In general, let him so temper and arrange all things that souls may be saved and that the brethren may fulfil their tasks without any murmuring.

From the 14th of September until the beginning of Lent, let the brethren always dine at the ninth hour.  During Lent, however, until Easter let them dine in the evening.  Yet this evening meal is to be so regulated that they shall not need the light of lamps while eating.  Let all things be finished while there is yet daylight.  Indeed, at all times, whether on days of two meals or on fast days, let the hour of meals be so regulated that everything be done by daylight.

Fasting, in our days, has become one of the most neglected spiritual practices. Because of misunderstandings regarding the nature of fasting, Christians tend to fast very little, or disregard fasting altogether. Yet fasting was practised by Christ himself. After prayer and fasting for forty days in the wilderness, he victoriously faced the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). The Lord asked his disciples to use fasting as an important spiritual weapon to achieve spiritual victories (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Luke 2:37). The example of the Lord was followed by his disciples (Acts 14:23; 27:9; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 11:27, etc.), and St Paul expressly speaks of fasting as a means by which Christians are to commend themselves as servants of God (2 Corinthians 6:5).

In the Church’s tradition, fasting is much more than a penance. Fasting for the Christian has two aspects: physical and spiritual, outward and inward. On the outward level fasting involves physical abstinence from food and drink; yet rules about eating and drinking must never be treated as an end in themselves, for fasting has always an inward, spiritual purpose. Man is a unity of body and soul, and our fasting is a practice that involves both. So fasting will also include abstinence from evil thoughts, desires, and deeds. Fasting is part of the struggle against weaknesses and defects to acquire purity of heart. It fosters prayer. It is a way of preparing the body for the resurrection, opening it to grace, and making it more receptive to God’s word. Renouncing taste for earthly nourishment develops the taste for God. It is to liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God. According to St. Seraphim of Sarov, fasting is an “indispensable means” of gaining the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

CHAPTER 40:

THE DRINK ALLOWANCE

July 19, 

"Each one has his own gift from God, one in this way, and another in that."  Hence, it is with some hesitation that we undertake to determine the measure of nourishment for others.  However, making due allowance for the infirmity of the weak, we think that a hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each.  But let those to whom God grants the gift of abstinence know that they shall receive their reward.  If either the nature of the place, or the labour, or the heat of summer requires more, it shall be in the power of the superior to grant it, care being taken in all things that self-indulgence or drunkenness does not creep in.  Although we read that wine is by no means a drink for monks, yet, since in our days the monks cannot be convinced of this, let us at least agree to this, that we do not drink to satiety, but sparingly, because "Wine maketh even the wise to fall away."  Should, however, the nature of the place be such that not even the above-mentioned measure can be had, but much less, or even none at all, let those who dwell there bless God and not murmur.  This above all do we admonish, that they be without murmuring.

“Each one has his own gift from God, one in this way, and another in that,” a citation taken from St Paul in 1 Cor 7:7.  Later St Benedict will refer to the “gift” of abstinence.    The monastic “gift” consists in renunciation, sacrifice:  renunciation in food and drink, of independence and speaking, of property and prestige, and other abstentions which make up the way of being a monk and nun.  Each of these is a gift of God which makes us renounce some relative good in view of His absolute good.  All these renunciations liberate something for God: celibacy (which is the context of 1 Cor 7:7) frees us to love more; poverty and restrictions in food and drink frees us from slavery to material things; obedience liberates our will for the service of God and others.  Our renunciation is a conscious, deliberate effort to open ourselves to the action of God, to grow into the new life Christ has come to bring; it is first and foremost a work of God’s grace, but in and through a free human activity. Asceticism is a gift and work of God in us.  It is a human activity which prepares us to welcome the gift of God and is already a response to it.