Daily Reading from the Rule of Benedict

Yesterday's Reading

About the Rule of Benedict

Benedict of Nursia was born in the year 480. As a student in Rome, he tired of the decadent culture around him and left to live a simple spiritual life as a hermit in the countryside of Subiaco about thirty miles outside of the city. It wasn't long, however, before he was discovered both by the people of the area and disciples who were themselves looking for a more meaningful way of life. Out of these associations sprang the monastic life that would eventually cover Europe.

The Rule of Benedict is not a treatise in systematic theology. Its logic is the logic of daily life lived in Christ and lived well. This early monastic rule is part of the Wisdom tradition of Christianity and is rooted in the Bible for its inspiration and its end. It deals with the meaning and purpose of life. The positions taken in the Rule in the light of themes in the wisdom literature of other culture find Benedict of Nursia in the stream of thinkers who lived out of a single tradition but from the perspective of universal and fundamental insights into life.

Excerpted from The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister, OSB

March 30, 2017
Chapter 48
The Daily Manual Labor

On Sunday all are to be engaged in reading except those who have been assigned various duties. If any are so remiss and indolent that they are unwilling or unable to study or to read, they are to be given some work in order that they may not be idle.

Those who are sick or weak should be given a type of work or craft that will keep them busy without overwhelming them or driving them away. The prioress or abbot must take their infirmities into account.

A midrash on Genesis reads: "Weeds spring up and thrive; but to get wheat how much toil we must endure." The Rule of Benedict treats work and lectio interchangeably. One focuses the skills of the body on the task of co-creation. The other focuses the gifts of the mind on the lessons of the heart. One without the other is not Benedictine spirituality. To get the wheat of life we need to work at planting as well as reaping, at reaping as well as planting. And everyone in the community is expected to do both. For those for whom study is an impossible burden, then physical labor is allowed to suffice for both but never is the Benedictine mind to be left simply awash in idle emptiness. Even the sick and the weak are to be given simple tasks that upbuild the house of God because, Benedict knows, no matter how frail, no matter how old, no one is useless; everyone of us is given a gift to give and a task to fulfill. At every stage of our lives, everyone of us has a sign of hope and faith and love and commitment to share with the people around us. Sometimes, perhaps, it is precisely when we feel that we have least to give that our gifts are needed most. The sight of a grandmother in a garden or an uncle on a lawn mower, an old monastic tatting lace or a crippled young man lurching stiffly to the office may be just what the rest of us need to begin again down our healthy but tiresome paths.

The Rule of Benedict Insights for the Ages

Is there a great spiritual tradition that deals with the contemporary issues facing the human community? In her new introduction to the Rule, Joan Chittister boldly claims that Benedict’s sixth-century text is the only one of the great traditions that directly touches today’s issues: stewardship, conversion, communication, reflection, contemplation, humility and equality. Tracing Benedict’s original Rule paragraph by paragraph, the new book expands the principles of the Rule into the larger context of spiritual living in a secular world and makes the seemingly archaic instructions relevant for a contemporary audience. A new foreword, updated content, an appendix, a Gregorian Chant download and a recommended calendar for reading the entries and commentaries make this an invaluable resource for solitary or communal contemplation. (Crossroad; Paperback) Order here.