Saturday, October 17, 2009

Benedict’s Monastic Work-Out Plan

Chapter 13: How the Morning Office Is to Be Said on Weekdays
On weekdays
the Morning Office shall be celebrated as follows.
Let Psalm 66 be said without an antiphon
and somewhat slowly,
as on Sunday,
in order that all may be in time for Psalm 50,
which is to be said with an antiphon.
After that let two other Psalms be said according to custom,
on Monday Psalms 5 and 35,
on Tuesday Psalms 42 and 56,
on Wednesday Psalms 63 and 64,
on Thursday Psalms 87 and 89,
on Friday Psalms 75 and 91,
and on Saturday Psalm 142 and the canticle from Deuteronomy,
which is to be divided into two sections
each terminated by a "Glory be to the Father."
But on the other days let there be a canticle from the Prophets,
each on its own day as chanted by the Roman Church.
Next follow the Psalms of praise,
then a lesson of the Apostle to be recited from memory,
the responsory, the Ambrosian hymn, the verse,
the canticle from the Gospel book,
the litany, and so the end.

You're probably asking yourselves, “What the heck does working out and the Rule have to do with each other? Well, I think there's a connection. As I’ve written recently, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time trying to get back into shape. I had begun to let myself go physically and it was hampering me from doing many things I wanted to do. I headed to the gym to start working with a trainer. These work outs haven’t been easy; three evenings a week, for 45 minutes, for the last 4 months of boring, very taxing exercises. Many times, tired from a long day at work, I’ve been sorely tempted to just chuck the whole thing, but I’ve managed to stay with it. And, it’s worked; I’ve lost weight, gotten stronger, and have a lot more energy than I did back earlier in the year.

When I get to passages like this in the Rule, I feel the same way, the temptation becomes very strong to just skip over them, they seem to offer little of interest or use in every day life. But, Benedict put this in the Rule and there must be a reason why he thought it important to do so. Maybe it’s worth a little extra effort to try to understand what he might have been thinking about.

So, digging in, there are a few things I notice in a closer reading. First, as many have pointed out, Benedict’s concern for moderation and taking care of those who are weaker than others. He says, “Let Psalm 66 be said without an antiphon and somewhat slowly . . . in order that all may be in time for Psalm 50.” He doesn’t want the morning office hurried so as to make it inevitable that some of the brothers will end up being late; he wants as many in the community as possible to be present and on time.

It’s also evident that he thinks there should be a definite form to prayer of the hours. He doesn’t want the prayer of the daily liturgies to be willy-nilly events. They require a certain order, discipline and structured approach. It’s also interesting that he wants them to be performed in harmony with “the Roman Church;” the monks aren’t out there on their own; they should be mindful that they are praying with the whole Church.

This holds true today. When we, as Catholics, pray we should try to be mindful of the fact that we don’t pray as isolated individuals left on our own to do our own thing. We are part of one body, the Body of Christ, and that imposes certain obligations and benefits on us. The prayer of any member of the Body strengthens the whole. In our individualistic society, it seems hard for people to grasp that, and yet what a wonderful thing it is.

The lessons I draw from this short reading are that, hard as it is to see some days, and as tempting as it might be not to put in a little extra effort, everything that Benedict put into the Rule has meaning, and even those of us living in the 21st century, can learn something from what he’s is offering his monks of the 5th century. Also, as hard as it is some days, ensuring there is some structure to our prayer life, and following the discipline we have laid out for ourselves, helps us grow closer to God.

Just as we benefit physically from putting in the effort to exercise and diet, just as we get healthier from doing that kind of thing, so there are benefits to exercising our mental and spiritual muscles to strengthen our relationship with our Lord. It takes some time, and results are apparent over night, but sometimes, even before we know it, good changes begin to appear. Just keep heading to the gym.

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