The reflections for July are by Mary Cockroft, oblate of Stanbrook

Chapter 36

July 15

We note here above all that the sick are to be prioritised, to be borne with patiently and to be served as Christ. We can hardly argue with that, yet the nitty-gritty, everyday practicalities of putting this into practice, maybe 24 hours a day for years on end, may take us right out of our comfort zone. 

Benedict himself was clearly writing as one who knew about the practicalities. He mentions suitable accommodation, attention, the meeting of physical needs, special food, nursing care. He also suggests that those sick who are able to should try and avoid making excessive demands. When you are a frustrated, maybe frightened, frail, sick person, that can be difficult. We may need to understand that.

I live in a block of flats where at the time of writing three wives and two daughters are each caring 24/7 for a husband or mother with either long-term decline, Parkinson’s, cardiac issues, or in one case the results of a car crash caused by the husband’s unexpected blackout. Such care costs. It costs emotionally to deal with the pain of seeing a person suffer, the grumpiness, the demands, the unpredictability. It may cost in other ways, in terms of lost freedom, inability to leave the house, the end of social involvement. Or it may well cost financially, even in hospital car parking fees. Then there are the endless treks down hospital corridors, the waiting for appointments, the often unpleasant cleaning up tasks. The commitments of marriage, of family and of friendship really mean something at this point. They need to be supported by prayer.

Can we be there for the carers? Can we pray for them, as well as for the sick person? Can we, if not living near enough to offer practical help, at least maintain supportive contact by phone/text/e-mail, both with the carer and if possible with the sick friend or relative? And make the effort to visit? Or if we are nearby, offers to do the ironing/washing-up would probably be welcome, or to sit with the sick person while the carer gets a break. Those who can cook could turn up with a casserole. My niece, carer for both her parents until my sister died recently, and now struggling to care for her sick father, frequently ends up in the ambulance taking the parent to A&E and then needs a lift home in the early hours, particularly if, in the crisis, she has forgotten to take enough money for a taxi. I am not near enough, but she is lucky to have good friends at church whom she can ring for help. Can we be that person for someone?

Being alongside as a carer is an important service of love, so is being alongside those who are carers. What is important is to stick with the support, and with the prayer. And to trust that God will be alongside us.


Chapter 37

July 16

The very old and the very young, Benedict says, require compassionate care.

Both are demanding. Both take priority. The young have the advantage, generally speaking, of having cuteness on their side, and in any case those of us who are not their parents can give them back into the care of the parents when life gets a bit hectic. The elderly, however, may be ensconced permanently in the spare room or the Granny flat, or just down the road. They may be becoming an increasing problem or source of worry. Maybe their frailty is now impinging on our freedom, limiting what we can do or where we can go and for how long we can be away. When it comes to the actual, real-life situation in which we find ourselves, we may find ourselves challenged. We may have thought that by and large we were kind, patient, caring, generous people…and then suddenly we may be awash with impatience, snappiness, resentment, whilst actually nevertheless wanting to love our elderly as best we can.

It does not seem a good idea to be hard on oneself. Trust that God is alongside; pray if and when and how we can; pray for the gift of patient love. Seeing Christ in the elderly does not come easy, but I would imagine that God will never refuse a request for the help to do so.

And again, do we know someone right now who needs a break, even just an hour or two to themselves, from caring for an elderly person? Could we, as it were, offer ‘cover’, or help to arrange for longer spells of ‘cover’? Being burnt-out is not going to enable anyone to continue self-giving.  We could also encourage the carer to take care of themselves, help them plan how to do this. It is often a lonely life looking after an elderly person.

Being there for others, whether they are the sick and elderly or the carers, is a gift of ourselves to them. Where is God calling me to be alongside someone today?


Chapter 38

July 17

Because I have a hearing disability, and have had for years, I have loud views on the subject of readers, and am happy to find in this chapter that Benedict shares my views. He stresses particularly that people should not, as it were, just casually put themselves forward to read. What matters is that the reader is proclaiming the Word of God, not themselves. Reading in Church, which is where we non-monastics might be reading, is service, not an opportunity to draw attention to myself: ‘look at me, I am special’. The reader serves the Word of God by proclaiming it to the congregation, and the community or parish by doing so with clarity, by praying beforehand, by proper preparation of the text to be read – including having the humility to ask for advice about difficult OT names. The reader needs to be taught how to project their voice so that the person in the far corner at the back can hear, and how to use a microphone efficiently. The reader also needs to be taught how to read with meaning and to pace the reading – which does not mean adding theatrical interpretations of one’s own! It would be good if parishes had a training programme for readers. If there isn’t one, we could always ask for one. If we can’t hear or the loop system is - yet again - not working, then we need to let the parish priest know, rather than just grumbling. And readers could themselves have the humility to ask those on the back row if the reading reached them.

I was on retreat this Easter and those who had volunteered to read at the Easter Vigil were very thoroughly rehearsed in the use of the microphone and in pacing the reading properly. We each had to proclaim our reading in full in rehearsal and receive feedback so that we could correct any issues on the spot. It meant that the readings at the Vigil itself went really well. It is important. The Word of God should not be whispered or muttered or slurred or spoken to one’s feet, or mispronounced or rushed. It is a privilege to be asked to proclaim God’s words, not a moment of glory for me. If I have the gift to be able to read clearly, then my use of it in the Church is a way for me to serve.


Chapter 39

July 18

Food – in a society with obesity problems, what would Benedict say? How do we, faced with huge portions in restaurants and a bewildering variety of food available at all hours of the day and night, exercise moderation? There is so much food wasted as well. Surely it is time to get a grip on our own personal attitudes to consumption.

So how do we make decisions, alone or in a family context, about moderation in our eating, about portion size, about avoidance of waste? Have we allowed excess and waste to creep in, gone along with the prevailing values of the society round us, fallen for the advertising, shopped thoughtlessly?

Food is essential, obviously, but it is a gift, to be appreciated and enjoyed. Maybe we could return to the times when some food was for treats, for birthdays or Sundays, holidays or feast days and special occasions. We don’t need to become mean about this, just happily moderate!


Chapter 40

July 19

Drink…I ordered a gin and tonic in a pub earlier this week. This is rare for me, not because I don’t like gin and tonic, but because I am almost always driving myself home. The glass, whilst presumably containing a normal amount of both G and T, was quite ludicrously huge. Wine glasses seem to have trebled in size as well, and that encourages drinking more than one can reasonably be said to be enjoying.

For Benedict, preventing his monks from consuming alcohol was, from what he says, a non-starter and I am not sure that the alternative (water from an unreliably clean source?) would necessarily have been wise. Also, Our Lord himself clearly drank wine.

So I think that what we might look at here is what our attitude to alcohol is right now. What am I doing to my health? Has it become an undesirable habit? What example am I sending to the young in my life? You don’t have to be a killjoy, but we are called to moderation and to respect for the blessings of life. Enjoy the wine, savour it, give thanks for it.


Chapter 41

July 20

This is a chapter which is not of immediate relevance to anyone outside of a monastic setting. We might think about the importance of regular mealtimes, however, in a family, and the obvious negative aspects of crisps, chocolate, snacks and the like consumed on the go. Do we plan for regular, mobile-free meals with family and friends? Mealtimes ensure social connection and balanced eating habits, and thus lead to the possibility of a balanced spiritual life. The gift of our body and our health, and of the wherewithal to sustain ourselves, is not to be treated casually, but with gratitude.


Chapter 42

July 21

Silence after Compline is always a very special time when I am staying at Stanbrook. In our own daily lives, even if we manage to pray Compline, keeping silence afterwards may not be a kind or practical possibility. Yet a period of silence at some point before going to bed perhaps needs carving out, maybe ten minutes in which to gather the blessings of the day just gone and give thanks, to admit where we went wrong, to ask for help for specific situations or relationships we will encounter the following day. Then there are all those whose lives touch ours and whose needs we want to hold before God.

Benedict discourages the reading of alarming OT texts which would over-stimulate some listeners at this time of day. What would he have to say about late night television, the internet, smartphones…? Do I need to review my noisiness, my over-busyness, my constant checking of e-mails and texts, the lure of the digital screen? We know from health experts that digital screens late in the evening will disturb our sleep. I think Benedict might consider that texts and e-mails are a form of speaking, thus breaking the silence.

Benedict has a reason for insisting on silence. Silence is a gift to ourselves which we underestimate, indeed are often afraid of. Only in silence will we be able, like Elijah, to hear the still, small voice of God speaking to us. He rarely shouts. But he is always there, just waiting for us to turn and listen, glad to see us. In silence I make it easy for God to speak to me – what a wonderful gift to give myself! And having listened and heard, I will be a gift to others in my life.










Click here for pdf of whole Rule: RB37

Further Reading:
If you have enjoyed looking at words and patterns in the Rule you will probably benefit from Sr Aquinata Boeckmann's approach, eg in her Perspectives on the Rule of St Benedict (2005), pub. Collegeville.
Dom Hugh Gilbert's books: Unfolding the Mystery (2007) and Living the Mystery (2008) and The Tale of Quisquis, published since he has become a bishop.
Gregory Collins OSB: Meeting Christ in his Mysteries (2010) pub. Columba.
Maria Boulding OSB: Gateway to Resurrection (2010) pub. Continuum, is shot through with the Paschal dimension of Benedictine life.
Anything by Michael Casey OCSO!

Reflections on the Rule of St Benedict: Introduction

We wanted the Rule of St Benedict (RB) to pulse through the website as it does through our life, hence the decision that the daily portion of the Rule, read in most Benedictine monasteries and by many individuals, should feature on the Home Page. The version selected is that of Dom Justin McCann OSB published by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in 1937 and used here by kind permission of the Ampleforth Abbey Trust. There are several reasons for this choice: first of all, we feel it still reads as an elegant translation, then we wish to celebrate cooperation between the Ampleforth and Stanbrook communities over many years, and thirdly, perhaps the old-fashioned thees and thous can actually help us approach the Rule of St Benedict thoughtfully. For all its relevance, RB remains an ancient text which needs careful unpacking.

To accompany the extracts of the Rule we hope to post reflections, initially from members of the Stanbrook Community. These do not aim to be scholarly commentaries of which there are many excellent editions available. Rather, the reflections allow us to re-visit the Rule, to try to listen to its familiar voice anew, and to share thoughts via this forum.

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