But, if monastics do not come to table before the verse so that all may say the verse and pray and sit down at table together, and if this failure happens through their own negligence or fault, they should be reproved up to the second time. If they still do not amend, let them not be permitted to share the common table, but take their meals alone, separated from the company of all. Their portion of wine should be taken away until there is satisfaction and amendment. Anyone not present for the verse said after meals is to be treated in the same manner.
No one is to presume to eat or drink before or after the time appointed. Moreover, if anyone is offered something by the prioress or abbot and refuses it, then, if the monastic later wants what was refused or anything else, that one should receive nothing at all until appropriate amends have been made.
In a world of fast food drive-in restaurants, multiple family schedules and three-car garages, the family meal has taken a decided second place in the spiritual and social formation of the culture. In Benedictine spirituality, however, the sacramental value of a meal in which the human concern we promise daily at the altar is demonstrated in the dining room where we prepare and serve and clean up after one another. The Rule is at least as firm on presence at meals at it is about presence at prayer. No one is to be late. No one is to eat before or after meals, or on her own, or on the run because monastic spirituality doesn't revolve around food, either having it or not having it. Monastic spirituality revolves around becoming a contributing part of a people of faith, living with them, learning with them, bearing their burdens, sharing their lives. The meal becomes the sanctifying center that reminds us, day in and day out, that unless we go on building the community around us, participating in it and bearing its burdens then the words family and humanity become a sham, no matter how good our work at the office, no matter how important our work in the world around us.
The Sufi tell a story. To a group of disciples whose hearts were set on a pilgrimage, the elder said:" Take this bitter gourd along. Make sure you dip it into all the holy rivers and bring it into all the holy shrines." When the disciples returned, the bitter gourd was cooked and served. "Strange," said the elder slyly after they had tasted it, "the holy water and the shrines have failed to sweeten it." All the prayer in the world, Benedict knows, is fruitless and futile if it does not translate into a life of human community made richer and sweeter by the efforts of us all. Both community and prayer, therefore, are essential elements of Benedictine spirituality and we may not neglect either.