Blogging Benedict: Service

St Benedict by Fra Angelico

In chapter 35 of the Rule, St Benedict writes:

The brothers should serve one another and no one should be excused from kitchen duty, unless he is sick or is busy with something particularly important, for by serving one another the brothers gain a greater reward and become more loving. (p. 60, trans. White)

This is, I think, something vitally important in our communal life, in homes, churches, workplaces, other communities. No one is above works of service. Service is love.

There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a monk who visited one of the monasteries, and they invited him to join them in their manual labour, and he remarked that he was there simply to pray. They took him to his cell and left him there. Eventually, after several hours, he grew hungry, and he was wondering when they would eat, for no one had come to get him. Growing curious, and a bit concerned, he left his cell to seek out the abbot and asked him about when supper was. The abbot remarked that they had not called him for supper, since he was so spiritual that he did not need to work with his hands, clearly he did not need to eat carnal food, either.

There is more to say about manual labour in RB later, of course. But no one is exempt from the service of others in the Rule. One of the reasons why St Basil the Great (of Caesarea) favoured communal life over hermits was because how can you fulfill Christ’s commands to love and serve each other if you are hermits?

In our communities, this means that elders, wardens, pastors, priests, deacons, deaconesses, et al., take their turns in the mundane aspects of church life. My minister in Edinburgh was often invisible in the kitchen at events. In Durham, my minister helps set up and take down equipment before and after services. Growing up, my dad (a priest) spent a lot of time at the food bank that ran out of our church unloading and distributing food.

Whether you hold an official post in the church, service, which leads to humility and is an act of love, can (and should!) be part of your Christian life. Wash dishes, cook food, take care of babies in creche, organise Sunday School storage cupboards. This all serves the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Venerable Bede on Prayer

Prayer as a whole is not only in the words by which we invoke the divine mercy, but also in all the things which we do in the service of our Maker by the devotion of faith . . .  For how could anyone invoke the Lord with words in every hour and moment without a break?  But we pray without ceasing when we perform only those works which commend us by our godliness to our maker. –Venerable St. Bede from his Commentary on the Gospel of St. Mark*

May we all seek the Lord in every way we can.  There is a Benedictine idea that work is prayer (let alone the Desert idea that prayer is work).  When you work, especially in service to others, your deeds are prayer in action.  Vacuuming, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, gathering the eggs from the chicken coop, shelving books at the bookstore, making a spreadsheet for your boss, checking a guest into the hotel where you work — this is prayer.

Thus can we pray without ceasing.

*I found the quotation on p. 34 of The Wisdom of the Anglo-Saxons, ed. Gordon Mursell.

Chesterton strikes again!

As I read The Thing, here are some highlights from Chesterton’s pure awesomeness:

I am very fond of revolutionists, but not very fond of nihilists.  For nihilists, as their name implies, have nothing to revolt about. (12)

To serve God is at least to serve an ideal being.  Even if he were an imaginary being, he would still be an ideal being.  That ideal has definite and even dogmatic attributes — truth, justice, pity, purity, and the rest.  To serve it, however imperfectly, is to serve a particular concept of perfection.  But the man who rushes down the street waving his arms and wanting something or somebody to serve, will probably fall into the first bucket-shop or den of thieves and usurers, and be found industriously serving them. (13)

He that hath ears to hear and will not hear may just as well have them bitten off. (17, out of context, but amusing)

This fight for culture is above all a fight for consciousness: what some would call self-consciousness.  We need a rally of the really human things; will which is morals, memory which is tradition, culture which is the mental thrift of our fathers. (22, speaking on humanism)

There will be Diocletian persecutions, there will be Dominican crusades, there will be rending of all religious peace and compromise, or even the end of civilization and the world, before the Catholic Church will admit that one single moron, or one single man, “is not worth saving.” (27)

The problem of an enduring ethic and culture consists in finding an arrangement of the pieces by which they remain related, as do the stones arranged in an arch.  And I know only one scheme that has thus proved its solidity, bestriding lands and ages with its gigantic arches, and carrying everywhere the high river of baptism upon an aqueduct of Rome. (34)

If a wealthy young lady wants to do what all other wealthy young ladies are doing, she will find it great fun, simply because youth is fun and society is fun.  She will enjoy being modern exactly as her Victorian grandmother enjoyed being Victorian.  And quite right, too; but it is the enjoyment of convention, not the enjoyment of liberty.  It is perfectly healthy for all young people of all historic periods to her together, to a reasonable extent, and enthusiastically copy each other.  But in that there is nothing particularly fresh and certainly nothing particularly free. (42)

It is perfectly right that the young Browns and the young Robinsons should meet and mix and dance and make asses of themselves, according to the design of their Creator. (44-45)

Even a short and simple length of straight and untangled wire is worth more to us than whole forests of mere entanglement. (46)

the divine dogma that Pigs is Pigs. (46-47 context not needed for awesomeness to ensue)