Prize Winning Essays – Maccon Keane and Colm Hogan – March 2014

i“Does The Rule Of St Benedict Have Anything To Say To Students On How

They Should Treat Each Other?’’

The Rule of Saint Benedict is a book of precepts written by St Benedict of Nursia for monks living in a community under the authority of an abbot. Overtime it has become the leading guide in western Christianity for communal monastic living with around 1200 monasteries and convents around the world living by its instruction today.

Although roughly 1500 years old, many parts of the rule not only apply to monks but apply to everyone as their intrinsic meaning applies to modern daily life. This is true especially as we as people become more community based as city living becomes ever more attractive.

Since I attend a Benedictine boarding school I will approach this argument from the perspective of a boarder. I have never had the experience of being a day pupil. A group of boarders is a community and very, very like a monastic community. The members of both communities are unrelated individuals who have come together to attempting to reach a common goal. A monastic community attempts to worship Christ and a school’s students attempt to get the best education possible so they can progress in life. Sounds quite alike?
But what has happened to my fellow students and I is we have become friends. I have experienced their hardships and they have mine. A relationship has been built up. While certain rules such as dress code don’t apply, the Rule of St Benedict is overflowing with rules that apply to students about how they should treat each other so the relationship we have built up can be improved and preserved. I have chosen seven of them as I personally feel they are a template for behaviour and how you should treat others in life.

To find something that applies to students in the rule of Saint Benedict, one does not have
to look any further then the first word, “Listen”. It is so simple but that one word is more powerful than a thousand. We do not listen enough. I don’t mean listen as in opening ones ears, to listen one must truly concentrate and fully take into account what someone is saying. The truth is we hate to be under command, it is seen as “cool” to not take notice of figures of authority even if that “figure of authority” is God. So much can be learnt from taking a step back and listening. At times we do not listen to each other as students, we do not take each other’s ideas or opinions into consideration. I personally feel the root for this is we want to feel like we are more powerful and better than others. We do this by berating the ideas and opinions of others or sometimes we chose to not listen to them completely. This is a toxic environment to have at a school. As not only should we learn from teachers and “figures of authority” but learn from each other as well. If we can’t listen to each other we cannot learn from each other. If students and people alike made a conscious effort to use the word listen and attempt to apply it to daily life, school and the world alike would be a better place.

In Chapter 6, Saint Benedict says “the spirit of silence is so important”. This goes hand in hand with “listen”. Then, he increases the rules strictness by saying“permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples”. While I feel the essence of the spirit of silence is very meaningful, I do not feel we should refrain from speech, I believe we should have the right to express our opinions. But I think on certain occasions we don’t have to express our opinion, especially in cases where we don’t have much knowledge on the topic, or in cases where we needlessly gossip as we just feel we have to say something to break the silence. What we usually don’t think about is that “engaged” silence can be good, a
time for thought and reflection. We don’t have to listen to people all the time if we did we would never have time to reflect on and absorb what people have said. This may sound contradictory to what I said about “listen” but I feel the silence is the next phase of listening. We can understand the ideas and opinions of others better after thinking. We may come up with a counter argument. We may think the idea is brilliant. The point is we should not be scared of silence, silence is showing respect to your fellow students that we are taking what they have said into consideration and giving it thought.

In Chapter 7 Saint Benedict speaks on humility saying “he consider himself a bad and worthless workman” and “ he consider himself lower and of less account than anyone else”. I would not fully agree with both of these statements but some aspects of them are very important. I very much agree people should be humble. But the way humility was expressed 1500 years ago is different to how it is now. 1500 years ago they were very eager to feel as if they were inferior. Nowadays youth are taught to be confident, to have good self-esteem and have high expectations of themselves. There is not meant to be rank or hierarchy. All men should be equal. This area is where I feel modern life and St Benedict’s ideals clash. I do not think one should consider oneself lower and of less account than anyone. No matter what, eventually you will end up better then someone at something. It is inevitable. But I feel it’s the way you deal with being better then someone and how you treat your struggling counterpart is what makes you humble. I feel one should not act like they are superior but use the fact that they are to one another’s advantage. For instance there have been times where I have been better at a certain subject than someone else and they have been better at another but by working together we used it to one another’s advantage.I also don’t feel someone should consider themselves a worthless workman, I believe they should consider themselves equal, no better than any other. There are some moments where you must acknowledge you are equal to someone, for example when giving your opinion or ideas which might be brilliant and turns out to be of benefit to many fellow students. If someone considered themselves and their ideas worthless they would never of had the courage to express their feelings and no one could have benefited. I think St Benedict’s statements were quite drastic but feel one should consider themselves equal and no more (as I have the opinion of a modern day reader)

In Chapter 53 Saint Benedict says “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” and in Chapter 56 he says “Let the Abbess’s/Abbot’s table always be with the guests and the pilgrims”. I think that all guests should be received like Christ is incredibly important.

It shows that we should treat people with the upmost respect and that guests should feel welcome and wanted in the school. We must accept for example foreign exchange students linguistic and cultural differences. It comes back to as Jesus said “do unto others as you want others to do unto you”. I feel that by having the abbot/abbess sit beside the guests (exchange students) implies that the guests are of importance to the school and valued. Obviously we do not have an abbot amongst the students but I think guests might settle for the school captain and fellow students.

In Chapter 71 when speaking about obedience St Benedict says “but the brethren are also
to obey one another”. I feel we should be obedient to one another but I personally would substitute the word “respect” for “obedient”. To modern ears obedient implies that you
are inferior and that you must do what another says without question. Within a school a hierarchical attitude such as this could led to sever bullying Respect would imply that you are willing to help, be loyal and friendly towards that person or fellow student and treat them kindly.

In Chapter 68 when speaking on hard work St Benedict says “If it happens that difficult
or impossible tasks are laid on a sister/brother, let her nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority with all meekness and obedience”. I think this rule is very relevant in a boarding school there will be things asked of you that you will not be prepared for either
in the classroom, on the rugby pitch or from friends or teachers but out of respect for these people you attempt and you do so with a smile on your face. It again comes down to respect that you will push your boundaries for your fellow students, knowing there is a considerable chance at failure.

In Chapter 61 when speaking on a monastic pilgrim wishing to stay as a guest St Benedict says “let her be received for as long a time as she desires, provided she is content with the customs of the place as she finds them and does not disturb the monastery by superfluous demands, but is simply content with what she finds. If, however, she censures or points out anything reasonably and with the humility of charity,let the Abbess/Abbot consider prudently whether perhaps it was for that very purpose that the Lord sent her”. I think this is a brilliant statement. If we were to swap the character of the pilgrim for a student and the Abbot for

a housemaster, it is very like an everyday scenario in a boarding school. A student must
be content with the school, he cannot make superfluous demands, not everyone can have their own television beside their bed. The student must consider his 200 fellow students. However if the student has a reasonable request with an appropriate argument to back it up, the housemaster should take it in to consideration.This is the ethos of a Benedictine school not only that you should “listen” but if what you have to say is appropriate, is respectful to other students and has an appropriate argument to back it up “the figure of authority” who happens to be the housemaster has a duty to listen respectfully to you.

While over 1500 years old, for me as I have just explained, The Rule Of St Benedict has stood the test of time and gives us a beautiful template for how students and people should treat each other not just at school but for the rest of their lives.

i First Paragraph- partially Wikipedia All else- Rule of St Benedict(the book)

By Maccon Keane (Second Year)

Glenstal Abbey School


Do The Chapters in St.Benedict’s Rule About Meals Have Any Relevance For
People Living In The 21st

I believe that the sections in St.Benedict’s Rule about meals (chapters 35-41) are hugely relevant
to people living in the 21st century.Indeed the whole text is of great relevance to us all, not just the
section concerning food, but in this essay I will demonstrate how Benedict’s teaching concerning
food are in fact about much more than nutrition, and are essential guidelines for living for people
from all walks of life.The Rule of St.Benedict is not regarded as one of the fundamental documents
of Western Civilisation for nothing.He granted us a lot of wisdom in this incredibly influential work,
and we, sadly, have forgotten or simply discarded a lot of his advice.

St.Benedict places great emphasis on a community preparing food and eating meals
together.Though designed for a monastic community, his fundamental insights are equally
applicable to any group: a family, a company or even students in a Benedictine boarding school!
Some might argue that in our “Generation Y”, a document written by a 6th
century monk has no relevance to daily life. This assumption could not be more mistaken.Food has been the cornerstone
of human civilization since Adam and Eve and should remain so until the end of time.It is a focal
point and people gather to eat food together, as it represents a bond between the individuals
present as the chapters in the Rule demonstrate. In his hymn, “My God, Your Table Here Is Spread”,
Thomas Tallis, the famous 16th century English composer, wrote “ So let your table honoured be/ A
place of love for joyful guests/ And may each soul salvation see/ Who here its sacred pleges tastes”.

In the 21st century, we no longer eat meals with members of our own family as a matter of
course.Modern society, with its emphasis on the individual, on productivity and time management is
relinquishing these age old traditional values. The prevalence of ‘fast food’ exacerbates this tendency
and many of the rituals surrounding the production and preparation of food have disappeared into
the microwave.Yet food has been always been at the heart of human interaction.Why else would
all important occasions be marked with a symbolic meal? – Christmas, weddings, even a first date.A
prime example of how symbolic meals are, is the Christian Mass, based on the Jewish Passover
meal, in which Jesus broke bread with his disciples and drank wine with them.We replicate this at
every celebration of the Eucharist and for us Christians it is a powerful symbol of unity and strength
that we are all eating Christs body and drinking his blood together as a community.

Todays 21st century society could do well to take Benedict’s advice on this subject, as we are losing one of our
most unifying and symbolic traditions as humans: eating meals together as a community,bonding
over the simplicity of a shared meal.

In chapter 35, St.Benedict states that “the brothers shall serve one another so that none shall be
excused from duty in the kitchen, because more reward and greater love is thence acquired”.This
message, that if everybody takes part and works together, more positive results are seen, is
certainly true.As Esther de Waal notes in her book A Life-Giving Way -“Such an approach to meals
and the sharing of food brings Eucharistic understanding into daily life”.This means that service
begins at home – the “touchstone of the genuineness of the self giving love embodied in the wider
brotherhood or sisterhood”.As the old proverbs go, “many hands make light work”, and “the more
the merrier”. Christianity’s roots are deeply steeped in companionship and community. Indeed,
Jesus referred nonchalantly to the twelve apostles as his ‘companions’ and his ‘friends’. If we all
looked after each other equally, then without doubt we could achieve better things.This advice,
namely work together for better results, is clearly applicable to all walks of life in the 21stcentury –
1 | Page
(1) De Waal, Esther, A Life-Giving Way (A Commentary on the Rule of St.Benedict), (1995), pg 116
(2) All quotes from The Rule of Saint Benedict are taken from the 2012 translation by Placid Murray
OSB, Glenstal Abbey, Ireland
(3) Bockman, Aquinita, Around the Monastic Table, (2009), Minnesota, pgs 231-232Do The Chapters in St.Benedict’s Rule About Meals Have Any Relevance For
People Living In The 21st
students, businessmen, gardeners, monks.For the Rule of St.Benedict presents a ‘counterculture’,
both challenging and calling us to reflect on fundamental subjects and values such as this.Nowadays,
factors such as widespread internet access and the prevalence of social media have turned us
into a largely egotistical society, where we tell the world what we’ve worn today, rather than
getting out there and working with others to clean the neighbourhood or to do charity work in the
community.We have become self-obsessed.We need to make more of an effort to look past the
interests of ‘no.1’ and start striving to build up what Cardinal Basil Hume OSB once described as
a ‘community of love’.Benedict’s values are all the more relevant therefore.By placing ourselves at
the service of the community we in fact become more human, not less.In simpler terms – better five
friends in reality than five thousand on Facebook.

In Chapter 36, Benedict explores a topic that is simultaneously controversial and relevant worldwide
and the source of much contemporary debate.When dealing with the care of the infirm, Benedict
says that the sick and elderly should be given better food than the other monks to aid them in their
recovery.“Before all things and above all things, care is to be taken of the sick”.This ideal, that we
should go out of our way to help the vulnerable, is clearly reasonable and the right thing to do

However, in direct contrast to Benedict’s guidelines, we witness devastating cuts in the budget for
healthcare in Ireland that disproportionately target the most vulnerable in society – the sick and
the elderly.We have become morally inept in this aspect, particularly in Europe since being heavily
affected by the economic downturn.Benedict’s guidelines are clearly relevant in this aspect of
everyday life in the 21st century –We should not be so quick to target the vulnerable, as once we were
the young, vulnerable citizens who they worked to look after.We should not neglect an individual
because of their lack of economic productiveness, everyone has an innate dignity as human beings
and as children of God. As people living in the 21stcentury we should treat the sick and elderly
with respect and rectify the callous decisions recently made to their detriment.When speaking of
ways in which the sick should be served, Benedict uses the word ‘service’ five times in a relatively
short chapter. Once again he shows us that mutual service is a good thing, and that in this regard
we should follow the example of Christ.In the 21stcentury, the word ‘service’ has an unpleasant
menial ring to it; we think of dirty, unpleasant jobs that have to be done – cleaning, washing up,
community service.

Because of the individual’s desire for power and respect, in the 21st century, we
have seen fit to neglect ‘service’. The desire to serve others, help others, is no longer a part of our
natural human instincts.This makes Benedict’s message here, reinforced intentionally by deliberate
repetition, ever more relevant.

In Chapter 37, St.Benedict touches on the same theme of looking after those who are sick, except
he says “let there be a loving care for them and let them forestall the times fixed for meals”.We
as the rapidly evolving 21st century society should make more of an effort to make exceptions and
allowances for those who need it most.This point has great relevance to us , especially the younger
generations.In modern times, we have become self-obsessed and don’t prioritize looking after the
weak and vulnerable in society, as we should, as St.Benedict reiterates.A prime example of this was
James Gray, an elderly Irish pensioner living alone in London.At Christmas, desperate for company
after spending the previous 8 Christmases in solitude, he posted an advertisement in the paper
2 | Page
(1) De Waal, Esther, A Life-Giving Way (A Commentary on the Rule of St.Benedict), (1995), pg 116
(2) All quotes from The Rule of Saint Benedict are taken from the 2012 translation by Placid Murray
OSB, Glenstal Abbey, Ireland
(3) Bockman, Aquinita, Around the Monastic Table, (2009), Minnesota, pgs 231-232Do The Chapters in St.Benedict’s Rule About Meals Have Any Relevance For
People Living In The 21st
looking for somebody to spend Christmas with. His call was answered and his story had a happy
ending.The majority don’t, unfortunately.St.Benedict would turn in his grave if he saw the hordes
of young people neglecting the weakest and most vulnerable in society. Modern society dictates
that a person is evaluated by their productivity and usefulness, but here Benedict is advising us to
respect those who on the outside contribute very little if anything to the society. This guideline here
is paradoxically relevant to us, as civilians living in the 21st century, as we tend to prioritise those
with the highest earning potential. I admit to having done so myself, which cements my opinion that
this particular chapter is not only relevant to us but gives a perceptive countercultural insight into
the besetting sins of modern times.

In Chapter 39, St.Benedict quotes the Lord and scripture when he says “take heed to yourselves
lest your hearts be overburdened with self-indulgence”.In this context, it is impossible to ignore
the fact that starvation is a blight affecting almost half of the world’s population daily.It is clear
that the advice here is to be unselfish with food consumption, and the word frugality comes to
mind, and Benedict can be quoted as saying “in all matters, frugality is the rule”.This excerpt could
be attributed to anything but in these terms it is reasonable to comprehend it as feeding yourself
sufficiently, and no more beyond that point.As Aquinita Bockman (a leading scholar of the Rule)
says, “Frugality is an important component our lifestyles nowadays, because of the destruction of
our environment and sufferings of others.It orients us toward spiritual values and makes us more
attentive to our neighbour”.These are clearly positive attributes, and thus it is incredibly relevant
to 21st century humanity, particularly in the 1st world. We are faced with a huge moral and ethical
challenge- can we justify huge quantities of food waste when billions are starving?The answer is
a resounding no, and thus in this aspect of life St.Benedicts rule can be adjudged of the highest
relevance to modern 21st century society both in its diagnosis of the failings of human nature but
also in the gauntlet it throws down to our cosy and deeply ingrained materialist values.
In the above essay, I have outlined some of the ways in which the chapters in St. Benedict’s Rule
concerning food are relevant to people living in the 21st century.

While the chapters 35-41 are written about food, there are messages and guidelines within what can be applied to so many
aspects of life, such as healthcare, the common table as a source of value and not merely dietary and
culinary excellence and beyond these and more fundamentally a basic selflessness.This selflessness
enables us to understand the nature of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.The Rule of St.Benedict
continues to reach out across time and barriers to speak to men and women on how to reach
spiritual health, and occupy a morally upright and coherent stance in a world of relativistic personal
values and rampant materialismshaped by outside influences.Much of this spiritual advice and
guidance, as I have attempted to demonstrate, is contained in what this little rule for beginners says
about meals.
Colm Hogan, 5th
Year, Glenstal Abbey School
Words: 1800
3 | Page
(1) De Waal, Esther, A Life-Giving Way (A Commentary on the Rule of St.Benedict), (1995), pg 116
(2) All quotes from The Rule of Saint Benedict are taken from the 2012 translation by Placid Murray
OSB, Glenstal Abbey, Ireland
(3) Bockman, Aquinita, Around the Monastic Table, (2009), Minnesota, pgs 231-232