Monday, June 16, 2014

CHAPTER 41: At What Times the Monks Should Eat

From holy Easter until Pentecost, let the brethren eat at noon and have supper in the evening.  If they have work in the fields or the heat of the summer is great, the noon meal may have to be earlier. Let the abbot provide for this; and so let him manage and adapt everything that souls may be saved, and that what the brethren do, they may do without having good reason to grumble.  During Lent, however, let them eat in the evening only. 

     There it is again.  Grumbling.  But this time with a twist.  Benedict shortens the fast because he doesn’t want to give his monks “good reason” to grumble.  Food, of course, is one of those things that folks love to complain about more than anything.  And for good reason.  It’s hard to be holy and grumpy at the same time.  If you’re fasting, that’s one thing.  If you just don’t have enough to eat, or you’ve been choking down the same slop for days on end, things are likely to go south in your personal life.  As Virginia Woolf said in her essay, A Room of One’s Own, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”.
     So this raises the question: Can there ever be a good reason to grumble?”  Apparently so.  I know that around Saint Louis Abbey, the mood is especially grim on turkey-burger nights.  But a good reason doesn’t make the grumbling less wicked.  In fact, one might argue that grumbling for good reason is even worse than grumbling for a bad reason—precisely because it’s true.
     In fact, if you think about it, justifiable grumbling is more likely to spread, less likely to stop, and far more likely to hurt someone’s feelings.  How often have you heard someone preface an unkind remark with: “I’m not telling you anything I wouldn’t tell him to his face.”
     Listen, pal, just because you’d say it to his face doesn’t mean you should say it behind his back.  My advice is that if you have to say something bad about someone, you should at least make sure it isn’t true.[1]

[1] Of course, then you’re grumbling and lying.  But from the perspective of the one grumbled against, I’d rather you said something I can deny…

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