Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ora et labora is not the motto of the Benedictines

Monks Praying
Monks working

Contrary to popular belief, Ora et labora ("pray and work") is not the motto of the Benedictines, nor is the even worse Labora est ora ("work is prayer").   Instead, the Benedictines go with the simple, classy and always in style motto "Pax."  However,  St. Benedict's Rule does establish a balanced regimen of prayer and work, and so, for Labor Day, here are some reflections on idleness, labor and prayer by Fr. Richard Marx OSB, of Subiaco Abbey (that's Subiaco, Arkansas, by the way):

"St. Benedict opens his chapter on the daily manual labor with the short maxim: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.” The arrangements which follow spell out the stated hours for work and those for lectio divina. For Benedict, the way to avoid idleness is through a good combination of both prayer and work.

The so-called “Protestant work ethic” of today played no part in the thinking of the early monks. Work had not been exalted to the status of man’s highest vocation and dignity as in Communist theory. But neither was work reduced to a piece of merchandise to be bought or sold.

Greek and Roman civilizations tended to think of work as “what slaves did.”

The Hebrews, on the other hand, were a working people. The pattern of work and rest was taken from God’s creative work and rest in the Genesis creation story.

St. Paul writing to the Thessalonians spoke of work. “If he is not willing to work, then neither let him eat!” He thought one should work in order to support oneself, but also in order to have something to help others.

The Desert Fathers and St. Benedict saw work as a good balance to prayer. A story is told about Abba Silvanus that when a visitor saw the monks working he commented: “Do not work for the food which perishes. Mary has chosen the better part.” Abba Silvanus gave the brother a book and sent him off to pray. At meal time he did not call him to eat. Later the brother complained why he was not called to meal? “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the better part and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food.” The visitor saw his error and repented.

For St. Benedict human labor has dignity; it is not a distasteful and burdensome thing, but rather something to be esteemed, an honor and a joy."

Much more along these lines here.

Happy Labor Day.

Monk tasting wine (probably to break the monotony of praying and working)

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