The Daily Manual Labor
From the first of October to the beginning of Lent, the members 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 until 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.
During Lent, the monks are to go on working but to increase their reading time. In this period, they are to be assigned a book to read "straight through." In Lent they are to put themselves on a regimen and study what they are told to study in a serious and ordered way. Nevertheless, the work continues. Benedictines were to "earn their bread by the labor of their hands" and no devotion was to take the place of the demands of life. These were working monastics who depended on God to provide the means of getting food but who did not, as the ancients said, depend on God to put it in the nest.
At the same time, work is not what defines the Benedictine. It is the single-minded search for God that defines Benedictine spirituality. That is what the monastic pursues behind every other pursuit. That is what gives the monastic life meaning. That is what frees the monastic heart. The monastic does not exist for work. Creative and productive work are simply meant to enhance the Garden and sustain us while we grow into God.
In today's culture in which people are identified more by what they do than what they are, this is a lesson of profound importance. Once the retirement dinner is over and the company watch is engraved, there has to be something left in life that makes us human and makes us happy or life may well have been in vain. That something, Benedictine spirituality indicates, is a mind and a heart full of a sense of meaning and an instinct for God.
Above all, one or two elders must surely be deputed to make the rounds of the monastery while the members are reading. Their duty is to see that no one 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 persons are found--God forbid--they should be reproved a first and a second time. If they do not amend, they must be subjected to the punishment of the rule as a warning to others. Further, members ought not to associate with one another at inappropriate times.
Study is hard work. It is so much easier to find something else to do in its place than to stay at the grind of it. We have excuses aplenty for avoiding the dull, hard, daily attempt to learn. There is always something so much more important to do than reading. There is always someone we have to talk to about something that can't wait until the reading time is over. There is always some overwhelming fatigue to be dealt with before we can really begin to concentrate. There is always some excuse for not stretching our souls with new ideas and insights now or yet or ever. But Benedictine spirituality says life is to be struggled through and worked at and concentrated on and cultivated. It is not a matter of simply going through it and hoping that enough of the rust of time is removed by accident to make us burnished spiritual adults.