March 19, July 19, November 18

“Everyone has his own gift from God, one this and the other that (1 Cor. 7:7). It is, therefore, with some uneasiness that we specify the amount of food and drink for others. However, with due regard for the infirmities of the sick, we believe that half a bottle of wine a day is sufficient for each. But to those whom God gives the strength to abstain must know that they will earn their own reward.

The superior will determine when local conditions, work or the summer heat indicates the need for a greater amount. They must, in any case, take great care least excess or drunkenness creep in. We read that monks should not drink wine at all, but since the monks of our day cannot be convinced of this, let us at least agree to drink moderately, and not to the point of excess, for “wine makes even wise men go astray” (Sir. 19:2).

However, where local circumstances dictate an amount much less than what is stipulated above, or even none at all, those who live there should bless God and not grumble. Above all else we admonish them to refrain from grumbling.  

We see in this chapter that Benedict is not authoritarian. He does not simply give an order and expect people to follow. He has listened to his fellow monastics and accepted the reality of their position regarding wine. After dialogue, he accommodates within the bounds of reason and moderation while stating his preference: wine is not a suitable drink for monks. His fellow monastics cannot be convinced, even when Benedict brings to bear the witness of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Abba Poemen, for example, is quoted in the Lives of the Fathers as stating simply that “wine is not for monks.”

The case for over indulgence regarding food is continued here. How can the monastic, or anyone who wants the reality of the life of God to permeate their life, facilitate this while their attention is so caught up in an excess and the effects that this excess would have on them?

Benedict is mindful of this and in response calls on all monastics to grow in their own unique God-given giftedness. For some the self control to abstain from wine is simply not with them. For others to abstain is just one aspect of their growth into “perfection” or fulness of life. Everyone, regardless of what has been given them, have their own journey of integration to negotiate. Abstainence from wine is a part of the journey for some. With moderation, wine need not be an obstacle for others.

The compassionate Benedict continually makes room for our ‘weaker’ needs. In our weaknesses are the seeds of a humble acceptance of our limitations. A community of the rule is a safe place for us to grow in this acceptance and humility. This safe place is also the place where openness to grace is lived and encouraged. When it comes to preserving love in community (living into grace) the rule urges us not to compromise.

This chapter also sees the rule continue its stance against grumbling. Benedict, in the interest of community harmony, urges community members not to grumble if there is no wine available. The temptation to grumble, and grumbling itself, can reveal what we are attached to. Grumbling can be the product of an inner reactivity around people, events, and things of attachment. It seems likely that wine (more so than food) was something that the monastics of Benedict’s time had an inner reactivity to when it was absent.  

Reactivity and grumbling can point us towards what is getting in the way of freedom in life and God. These things can often be ‘small’, everyday things. How would we be without a morning coffee or perhaps an evening whisky? Reactivity and attachment get in the way of an experience of the inner liberty that comes with dependency on God. The experience of life is one of freedom when we are accepting and living out of this one and only dependency. We are dependent on divine Being for our being. Often our attention is on our attachments rather than focused on the extravagant, free gift of God’s life within us.

The practice of meditation helps us with this reactive, grumbling dynamic. It is the ego that attaches as it attempts to shore up a position as the centre of attention. The practice of attention on the mantra, gently and over time, quietly subverts ego attachment and heals reactivity. Attention becomes integrated with being. As this integration happens, we discover ourselves more observing reactivity rather than being caught in it. This takes time. Our attachments and weaknesses become those things through which God unites us to the Love that God is.

We urge you, brothers and sisters, to admonish the undisciplined, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak and be patient with everyone. See that no one repays evil with evil; always seek what is best for one other and for everyone. Always be joyful; pray constantly; in every situation give thanks; this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 14-18, RNJB)