March 20, July 20, November 19
From Holy Easter to Pentecost, the monks eat at noon and take supper in the evening. Beginning with Pentecost and continuing throughout the summer, the monks fast until mid-afternoon on Wednesday and Friday, unless they are working in the fields or the summer heat is oppressive.
On the other days they eat dinner at noon. Indeed, the abbot may decide that they should continue to eat dinner at noon every day if they have work in the fields or if the summer heat remains extreme. Similarly, the abbot should so regulate and arrange all matters that souls maybe saved and the monks may go about their activities without justifiable grumbling.
From the thirteenth of September to the beginning of Lent, they will always take their meal in the mid-afternoon. Finally, from the beginning of Lent to Easter, they eat towards evening. Let Vespers be celebrated early enough so that there is no need for a lamp while eating, and that everything can be finished by daylight. Indeed, at all times let supper or the hour of the fast-day meal be so scheduled that everything can be done by daylight.
While chapter 40 admonishes against grumbling (or murmuring), this chapter asks the community leader to ‘regulate and arrange all maters’ so that justified (or reasonable) grumbling does not occur. In chapter 40 the grumbling around no wine in the community was viewed as not reasonable by Benedict (even though he compromised). Chapter 41 freely accepts the reality of reasonable grumbling.
And so it is in our lives. Sometimes grumbling may be showing us what we are unnecessarily attached to, other times the grumbling is about self-love. Some things can be just plain unreasonable. So much of the spiritual life is about maturing in the art of discernment, of sensing where a grumble is coming from. This takes practice. Self-love, allowing God to love us, can shed much light on what motivates us and what we avoid. Our meditation practice is as much about growing in this self-love as is it about growing in love of the other.
The community leader is asked to obey the community as it reasonably grumbles. Obedience is all about the ability to listen with love and to respond to this listening in creative, loving ways. This is the role of the community leader. Compassionate leadership is paramount here. Without compassion, reasonable grumbling may not be noticed or even dismissed.
Sometimes grumbling could be the manifestation of someone experiencing resistances to growth. Wise leadership, seeing this, may realise that the grumbling could actually be a sign of growth stirring in the person. Dismissing this type of grumbling may actually undermine a person’s growth.
The bottom line for Benedict is ‘that souls may be saved’. What could ‘be saved’ mean? Within Christianity there is a kind of ‘yes and no’ dynamic to salvation. Yes we are saved thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, saved from the fear of death; from living a life build on the illusion of death as separation from God. And no – we are not yet saved in the sense that the word salvation is used to describe the ongoing healing, transformation, and integration that Christian discipleship involves. Salvation is both a noun and a verb.
This saving dynamic is something operative in and through community relations of trust, compassion and vulnerability. The dynamic fosters a growing awareness of the presence of God and the ways in which this presence, within the person and community, is working for the ongoing salvation of all. When this dynamic is active the community itself becomes a kind of ‘sweet spot’ for healing and healthy change both communally and personally. Community leadership is the discerner of this, shaping present circumstance (while respecting individual freedom) to be sympathetic to, and resonate with, this dynamic.
Grumbling (both reasonable and unreasonable), together with this saving dynamic, are present in a growing community. In families, in relationships, in the workplace – wherever people come together and include, in some way, the reality of compassion and love: when a parent lets their child choose their own clothing for the day (no matter how ‘unusual’ the choice may be), when a wife lovingly accepts the mistake that her husband is about to make, or when a manager accepts the ‘less efficient’ way that employees have chosen to do something (in the interests of workplace harmony).
Leadership is about learning to serve this saving dynamic. It is not about operating out of an egocentric need to control. Leadership informed by the rule is comfortable enough with a vulnerability that allows the responsibility for a community’s life and growth to be owned by everyone.
For the rest, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is righteous, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is laudable, if there is any virtue, any praise, let these be your thoughts. What you learnt and received and heard and saw in me, that you should do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9, RNJB)