March 29, July 29, November 28
Chapter 48: On the Daily Manual Labor
From the Calends of October until the beginning of Lent,
let them apply themselves to reading
up to the end of the second hour.
At the second hour let Terce be said,
and then let all labor at the work assigned them until None.
At the first signal for the Hour of None
let everyone break off from her work,
and hold herself ready for the sounding of the second signal.
After the meal
let them apply themselves to their reading or to the Psalms.
On the days of Lent,
from morning until the end of the third hour
let them apply themselves to their reading,
and from then until the end of the tenth hour
let them do the work assigned them.
And in these days of Lent
they shall each receive a book from the library,
which they shall read straight through from the beginning.
These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.
But certainly one or two of the seniors should be deputed
to go about the monastery
at the hours when the sisters are occupied in reading
and see that there be no lazy sister
who spends her time in idleness or gossip
and does not apply herself to the reading,
so that she is not only unprofitable to herself
but also distracts others.
If such a one be found (which God forbid),
let her be corrected once and a second time;
if she does not amend,
let her undergo the punishment of the Rule
in such a way that the rest may take warning.
Moreover, one sister shall not associate with another
at inappropriate times.
‘Negligent and shiftless’ – Wow, St Benedict is not mincing his words, is he?
I suppose it’s ‘calling a spade a spade’, ‘telling it like it is’ – getting to the heart of the matter and not shilly-shallying around it with fair words to dress up the fault of such an attitude.
‘Negligent and shiftless’ are very hard words. For instance, if someone is accused of the offence of ‘negligent driving’, the Court can impose quite a stringent sentence on the offender. And ‘shiftless’ immediately brings to mind the idea of someone who is a parasite on society.
And yet, true to form, St Benedict considers those monastics who are weak or sickly, who cannot by reason of their health or fitness manage the study or reading. Instead, they can do a task or craft, something not wearisome or too much of a burden for them, but something to keep them from the perils of idleness.
Idleness can be a sickness in itself, I think. A friend of mine has a mother who went blind late in life and found it very hard to adapt to not being able to see, and she is too scared of falling or getting lost (even in her own home of 58 years!) to venture far from her chair. However, she is constantly knitting – squares to be made up into blankets and be sent out to a children’s hospital in Nepal. This simple task, which doesn’t tire her, gives her a sense of purpose and lets her know she can still contribute to others even though she is frail and needs so much help herself.
I wonder if St Benedict also had that in mind when he formulated his Rule? That people still need to feel useful, of some worth, even when they’re old or sick or weak? How hard it is for us to feel worth anything if we are *not* productive or performing some
kind of service! And yet, we are worth the life of Jesus given for us… We were ‘bought with a price’.
If my life has such value in the Lord’s eyes, then what do I say to him when I waste it in laziness or totally frivolous pursuits?
I don’t mean that we should never rest, nor that we should avoid doing things that bring us relaxation, laughter and refreshment,
but it does bother me to consider how much time can be wasted in front of the TV watching so-called reality shows, which are really a particularly nasty kind of voyeurism (nasty because they’re ‘sanctioned’ by the fact that they appear in our living rooms via the television screen. After a hard day, one has to be so vigilant about pressing the ‘off’ switch when something comes on that won’t edify, inform or genuinely amuse).
Time is a gift; I know I don’t always use mine wisely. It is quite a responsibility for the monastic superior to order time and activities for the community, so that time can be filled with good things rather than uninspiring and downright unhelpful ones.
On the other hand, as individuals we’re responsible for how we spend our own lives, how we use our time… I need to find ways to make my time less crowded, less manic. Perhaps the ‘talents’ in the parable of the talents could represent the days and hours and minutes we’re each given. Time is a huge gift from God, a huge resource and I suppose he expects some kind of account from us?
The RB really brings home the importance of spending time well. Oh, and just a last thought: we talk of ‘spending’ time – the same word we use of money. But I’m sure I squander time far more than I squander money! Do others find this?