March 29, July 29, November 28

From the first of October to the beginning of Lent, monks ought to devote themselves to reading until the end of the second hour. At this time Terce is said and they are to work at their assigned tasks till None. At the first signal for the hour of None, all put aside their work to be ready for the second signal. Then after their meal they will devote themselves to their reading or to the psalms.

During the days of Lent, they should be free in the morning to read until the third hour, after which they will work at their assigned tasks until the end of the tenth hour. During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent.

Above all, one or two seniors must surely be deputed to make the rounds of the monastery while the monks are reading. Their duty is to see that no monk is so apathetic as to waste time or engage in idle talk to the neglect of their reading, and so not only harm themselves but also distract others. If such a monk is found – God forbid – they should be reproved a first and a second time. If they do not amend, they must be subject to the punishment of the rule as a warning to others. Furthermore, monks ought not to associate with one another at inappropriate times.   

Benedict continues to provide guidance for a balance between prayers, the physical activity of labor, the importance of reading, and rest. All four are like the legs of a stool, and in all four the divine life lives and moves. If we are not reading enough, one leg of the stool is shorter than the others; no reading at all and the stool is missing a leg. The balance and function of personal and communal life depends on the presence of all four legs.

Reading expands the mind, it exposes us to new ideas, as well as providing support and comfort. The teachers and contemplatives of times past, as well as current, having been moved to write, to hand on to us the ways divinity and humanity relate and commune. Their words can give context and support to the ways that grace and community come together. As we read our hearts can sing, and we can be challenged to move deeper into a human and spiritual life. Therefore, Benedict asks that we read a little more during Lent. 

Benedict encourages a kind of reading in which the whole of us is more receptive, a wholistic approach that is consciously inclusive of what the divine life may want to do with us through the reading itself. This approach is called Lectio Divina, or Sacred Reading (see chapter 11). It is a way of reading that need not be limited to scripture. Maybe a word or a sentence from a novel, a book of poetry, or other writing will impact us in the same way.

Of course, there are different types of reading. We can read purely for information, reading that has more of an intellectual focus. The spiritual and human life does not, of course, preclude this. Too much of this type though can leave us dry, unchallenged, somehow disengaged from our deeper selves.  

Commitment to this four-way of reading and prayer, labor and rest is the rule’s guidance in the avoidance of the extremes of laziness and willfulness. A balanced life is in the best place to be willing and responsive to what is now, and the God in the now. Our challenge is to live something of this balance in a world that does not hold it as important. We have bills to pay, work to do, children to raise. And yet the Spirit is alive in all this calling us to live a balance that the rule provides practical guidance for. We live in a world that focuses on labor, and we have been shaped by this system. In the practicality of our lives how can we re-balance and sit comfortably on this four-legged stool that Benedict provides?   

Like the communal elders of old, the Spirit of the rule does the rounds of our lives, encouraging us into balance. In this we discover that the rule is not autocratic. The rule is careful to be empathic and kind, treading lightly and consistently with the Holy Spirit. Today our elders might be that aunt, that teacher, that parent, that partner, that community member who, as an authored presence, are being enough of themselves to lovingly guide others in the daily of what is important.  

May the Lord fill you to overflowing with love for each other and for all, just as our love for you overflows. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, RNJB)