As Benedictines, our common life as a community or family is central to our charism. It is so much a part of our dailiness that we sometimes don’t recognize how important or unique it might be to others outside of our life. The National Religious Vocations Conference reminded us of the importance of our common life when they shared a recent “Fun Fact Friday“:
Did you know that the majority (80%) of those professing final vows rated sharing meals together as very important aspects of community life? When inquirers and discerners spend time visiting communities, make time to eat together with community members to experience our diversity of recipes and meals. (Source: 2016 USCCB/CARA Profession Class Reports).
Benedictines have been sharing meals for over 1500 years! Who knew that this little detail would be as important to 80% of new seekers as it was to Benedict himself. Benedict’s Rule established the shared meal as central to community life as prayer. The Rule of Benedict includes chapters on when meals should be served, who should serve the meals, and even what should be served at the meals. Those early centuries were a time of punishment for misbehavior, Benedict saw separation from the common table as a way of helping the monks and sisters to seek reparation for sins. The common table was so important that it was a suffering to miss the community meal, the family time at table together.
The measure of excommunication or of chastisement should correspond to the degree of fault, which degree is estimated by the judgment of the Abbess.
If a sister is found guilty of lighter faults, let her be excluded from the common table. Now the program for one deprived of the company of the table shall be as follows…in the refectory she shall take her food alone after the community meal,so that if they eat at the sixth hour, for instance, that sister shall eat at the ninth, while if they eat at the ninth hour she shall eat in the evening, until by a suitable satisfaction she obtains pardon
(Rule of Benedict 24).
In our monastery, the common table is an essential part of our life. We share our meals as a family. In the morning, sisters can gather for a silent breakfast before prayer or an open breakfast after Mass. All of us gather for lunch and supper in the refectory, dining room, at the monastery. It is a time for us to share the events of the day, to tell stories of our families, and to remember our tales of sisters who have died; the dining room, refectory (virtual tour #9). While we may not continue the practice of excommunication from the common table, sisters feel the loss of the other when someone needs to absent herself due to health or ministry.
Community meals continue to be a center for our Benedictine way of life today. Sisters take turns serving the meals, doing the dishes, and cleaning the dining room. It is where we celebrate feastdays and birthdays, welcome residential volunteers and guests, and offers blessings of thanks for those who have served with us.
Are you discerning God’s Call? Are you part of the 80% that rated a shared meal as very important?
Join us for a weekend retreat from September 22-24; take the opportunity to meet other seekers and reflect on God’s Call, and share in our prayer and meals …
Blessings to you,
Return to “One Heart and One Soul”