Benedict Wants You to Show Up on Time
Reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict
Making and keeping promises draws a community together. Any time a group exists--whether it is a church, family, nation, business, club--promises are made and kept. When I’m officiating at a wedding I notice this, that these two people are making commitments to each other and their togetherness will continue in the keeping of those commitments. Even the most casual friendship includes promises: agreements to meet for lunch or to go to the movies together. That these promises are made and kept is what sustains the relationship. A relationship without commitments quickly dissolves and stops existing and becomes a “maybe we’ll run into each other” non-connection.
Benedict understood a monastic community is sustained by the made and kept promises of its members. One of these commitments is to participate in the daily prayer and communal life of the community. Monastic life follows a daily schedule of times of prayer and meals, and those in the community need to be present for these gatherings. Benedict uses chapter 43 of his Rule to address tardiness in this schedule. When the bell is rung, “the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand go with utmost speed,” Benedict says. He even describes a long list of consequences for those who are continually late for these gatherings. The point of all this isn’t to shame those who are perennially late; the point is that their community’s life and work continue when their members keep the commitments of the daily schedule.
I’ve pastored churches for almost two decades now, and I see that a church exists because of the commitments of its people. People agree to come, participate, give, work, lead, worship, and pray together. Whenever someone says, “I will come,” “I will give,” or “I will serve in this way,” and then keeps that promise, the bonds of community become stronger. When people don’t commit or don’t keep promises, then the community’s life is weaker, and the good that comes from the community dissipates. I understand some need to stay on the edge of church life for reasons they carry in their hearts, but if everyone was that way, not committing and dropping in only when convenient, there would be no church. Benedict reminds us,here, even the simple commitment of being together when you said you’d be together is important.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict