March 25, July 25, November 24
Should a monk make a mistake in a psalm, responsory, refrain or reading, they must make satisfaction there before all. If they do not use this occasion to humble themselves, they will be subjected to more severe punishment for failing to correct by humility the wrong committed through negligence. Children, however, are to be whipped for such a fault.
In a meditating and monastic community, the oratory is the meditation room, and the meditation room is the oratory. There is, at least, morning, midday, and evening prayer all based around the psalms, antiphons, and readings. The communal meditation practice is then integrated into these prayer times.
Mistakes made in prayer are much like mistakes made in the rest of life. We will have a response to them, perhaps even a reaction. However, because people of faith generally reverence prayer, mistakes in the intimacy of communal prayer can at times magnify our responses/reactions to mistakes in general.
There is a difference between making a mistake while learning something new and making a mistake while practicing something known enough. All responses and reactions, however, can tell us something about our motivations and what is influencing us – if we notice them.
In this chapter, Benedict shows us, once again, that he wants us growing in attention at communal prayer. Negligence and carelessness can reveal that attention is elsewhere. Our responses to this negligence and carelessness can rise out of many things – performance anxiety, inner harshness, disinterest, self-compassion, and healthy humour among them. What Benedict wants to see in all this is a person choosing humility in response to error.
Failing or even refusing to express humility can show pride. Pride can mean that someone is, for some reason, not reverencing the God within them and in community. It can mean that they are somehow too caught up in themselves when communal prayer is about attention on communal prayer. Communal prayer sets the tone for the rest of community life. All community life is a practice of love and love grows humbly. And to grow in love is to grow in God.
Humility is a sign that this journey into God is being engaged. To humbly acknowledge a mistake, there and then, is a sign that the person is, in some way, in touch with humility and choosing it. Acknowledgement is simply a small yet significant display of this. It may be a bow of the head, a hand placed on the heart, a small ‘sorry’. It says that there is something going on within and around us that is bigger than us. Communal prayer helps us leave egocentricity behind.
This chapter shows us that any work of love requires attention. True love can only be in the present moment. Cooking the family meal, doing the housework, eating together, comforting each other – all these things and more become prayer in themselves when we attend to them now in and with love.
Since by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves for genuine mutual love, love one another steadily from the heart; for you have been born anew, not from any perishable but from imperishable seed, the living and enduring word of God. For all flesh is as grass, and all its glory like the wild flower’s. Grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of the Lord remains for ever. And this is the word that has been proclaimed to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25, RNJB)