Balance in Our Life: What can we learn from St. Benedict and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta?

August 20, 2012 under Syllabus 2012-2013

Summary

Are you in control of your day? The Rule of St. Benedict offers wisdom into balancing our life and ministering to our body, mind and soul. Can you work for ten hours a day and keep a joyful smile? Why are the Missionaries of Charity founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta able to work ten to twelve hours a day with the poor and still keep a joyful smile?

Objective

The family is called “the domestic church” and thus might also be called “the domestic monastery.” Given the busy lives that we lead, can we gain balance in our lives by looking at The Rule of St. Benedict; as well as, the daily schedule used by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Benedict was a genius at understanding human nature. While he calls the monks to an austere life of work, prayer and study (sacred scripture), he also realizes that people need affection, understanding and love. One of the most famous of Benedict’s lines is that nothing in the monastic life should be “harsh or burdensome.” The monastic life is meant to be possible, and for it to be possible, Benedict calls for the strict expectations to be balanced with forgiveness, understanding and compassion. Benedict’s model abbot (the superior of a monastic community) is a wise, compassionate and forgiving father to his sons. As such he is a perfect model for Christian fathers.

Bible Readings

1. Luke 18:1

Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.

2. Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God’s gift to man that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil.

Catechism Readings

1. Paragraph 1

“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.

2. Paragraph 2745

“Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving conformity with the Father’s plan of love; the same transforming union in the Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he [will] give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.”

He “prays without ceasing” who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider as realizable the principle of praying without ceasing.

Small Group Questions

  1. What takes priority in your daily schedule?
  2. Do you schedule prayer and/or Mass in your day?
  3. Are you ministering to the three aspects of your human person: Body, Soul and Mind through Work, Prayer and Study?

Recommended Resources

  1. Saint Benedict for Busy Parents”, by Father Dwight Longenecke
    http://www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/cis/cis327.pdf
  2. Finding Balance: Insights from Benedict for Family Life”
    http://www.stpaulsmonastery.org/7-benedictine-center/documents/FamilyLife.pdf

Accountability

  1. Which is most out of balance in your life: body (work), mind (study sacred scripture) or soul (prayer) and what can you add to your daily schedule next week to increase it?
  2. If you only attend Mass on Sunday, try going to daily Mass one day a week for the next four weeks.

Author(s)

Michael Copfer

Included Resources

“St. Benedict and the Wood-Chopping Way”, by Father Dwight Longenecker, 9/4/2009

http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/st._benedict_and_the_wood-chopping_way/

Part of article included below:

Benedict’s rule balances physical work with prayer and reading. For Benedict, prayer was essentially the liturgical prayer of the Divine Office. The monks go into church seven times a day to sing the Psalms, pray for the world and worship the Lord. The word liturgy actually means “work of the laity,” so their observance of the liturgical life was also part of their work. In this way, their prayer was their work, and because they are encouraged to pray while they work, their work becomes prayer.

This integrated life — in which prayer is work and work is prayer — is completed by the third aspect: reading or study. In a time when books were scarce, the monks in St. Benedict’s day would have spent their reading time memorizing not only all of the Psalms, but also great portions of other Scripture and selections from the great spiritual writers.

This threefold balance of work, prayer and reading is a practical approach to a balanced life, but it also has a deeper significance. The three aspects of the Benedictine life reflect the three parts of the human person. Work ministers to our bodies. Prayer ministers to our souls. Reading ministers to our minds. Only when we have a balance of all three will we be able to develop as completely well-rounded human persons.

The threefold balance of Benedict helps us address our imbalance. Therefore, the individual who focuses only on the physical aspect of life is missing part of his development. The intellectual is incomplete if he ignores the physical and spiritual, and the person who is focused on nothing but prayer is also lacking in a development of the whole person.

If we want to observe the wisdom of St. Benedict, we will examine our own lives and try to make up for what is lacking, and the way to do that is to bring to mind which one of these three we find most difficult or unpleasant. If we find reading and study to be a bore, unfortunately, that’s where we need to do some work. If physical work is not to our liking, then we need to engage in some “wood-chopping therapy.” If we find prayer difficult, then prayer is what we need to spend more time on.

The final result of this threefold balance is that the whole person is being renewed. This is the final aim of the Christian life, as St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, to “grow up into the full manhood of Jesus Christ.” The final goal is to be transformed into the image of Christ — to become a living icon of the incarnate Lord, who was himself a perfectly balanced harmony of body, mind and spirit.

St. Benedict’s rule is deceptive in its simplicity. While it calls for the monks to engage in work, prayer and reading, all the time Benedict has his eyes on this higher goal. The entire activity in the monastery is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. St. Benedict says the monastery is “a school for the Lord’s service.” In other words, it is the environment in which souls can be sanctified.

How might we apply this same wisdom to our lives outside the monastery? As a husband and father — yes, you heard right; I am a convert to the Catholic faith from the Anglican priesthood — it is part of my responsibility to catch this threefold vision for my family, the domestic church. I need to make sure my children are engaged in the work that is required around the home. Suddenly, the kitchen duties, keeping their bedrooms clean, helping around the house, mowing the lawn and raking leaves all have a deeper significance.

Similarly, study or reading is important. In the modern world, this might include more than just book knowledge. It includes watching good films together, going to the theater to see good plays and opera, and helping the children read a whole range of uplifting, inspiring and challenging literature.

Finally, I must be actively involved in encouraging the family to pray on a regular basis. Seven times a day for liturgical prayer is not possible, but maintaining the discipline of grace before meals and prayer at the beginning and end of the day all help to continue the tradition of prayer as one of the aspects of the threefold balance.

As we develop the threefold balance, we will move to that place where, St. Benedict says, “We do all these things which were once duties because they are now our desire.” When we get to that point, we will “run in the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with an inexpressible delight of love.”

2. Mother Teresa’s Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity:

The passages below are quotations of Mother Teresa from the book “Loving Jesus,” edited by Jose Luis Gonzalez-Balado

 

1. OUR DAILY SCHEDULE:

To be able to give life like that, our lives are centred on the Eucharist and prayer. We begin our day with Mass, Holy Communion, and meditation.

Our community life is very closely-woven together. We do everything together: we pray together, we eat together, we work together.

Since we have only two saris, we wash one every day.

After Mass and breakfast, some Sisters go to the Home for Dying Destitutes, some to the leper colonies, some to the little schools we have in the slums, some take care of the preparation and distribution of food, some go to visit needy families, some go to teach catechism, and so on. They go all over the city (in Calcutta alone we have fifty-nine centres, the Home for Dying Destitutes is only one of them).

The Sisters travel everywhere with a rosary in their hands. That is the way we pray in the streets. We do not go to the people without praying. The rosary has been our strength and our protection.

We always go in twos, and we come back around 12:30 p.m. At that time we have our lunch.

After lunch, very often we have to do housework.

Then, for half an hour, every Sister has to rest, because all the time they are on their feet.

After that, we have an examination of conscience, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Via Crucis, “The Way of the Cross”.

At 2 p.m., we have spiritual reading for half an hour, and then a cup of tea.

At 3 o’clock, the professed Sisters again go out. (Novices and postulants remain in the house. They have classes in theology, Scripture and other subjects, such as the rules of monastic orders.)

Between 6:15 and 6:30 p.m., everybody comes back home.

From 6:30 to 7:30 we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. To be able to have this hour of adoration, we have not had to cut back on our work. We can work as many as ten or even twelve hours a day in service to the poor, following this schedule.

At 7:30 p.m., we have dinner.

After dinner, for about twenty minutes, we have to prepare the work for the next morning.

From 8:30 until 9, we have recreation. Everybody talks at the top of her lungs, after having worked all day long.

At 9 p.m., we go to the chapel for night prayers and to prepare the meditations for the next morning.

Once a week, every week, we have a day of recollection. That day, the first-year novices go out, because they are the ones who don’t go out every day. Then all the professed Sisters stay in for the day of recollection. That day we also go to confession and spend more time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

This is a time when we can regain our strength and fill up our emptiness again with Jesus. That’s why it is a very beautiful day.

2. The Family and the Poor:

We read in Scripture that God speaks of his love for us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3). And he also says, “I have called you by your name. You are mine. The waters will not drown you. Fire will not bum you. I will give up nations for you. You are precious to me. I love you. Even if a mother could forget her child, I will not forget you. I have carved you on the palm of my hand. You are precious to me. I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1—4; 49:15—16).

These are the words of God himself for you, for me, for everyone, even for the poorest of the poor. For he has created us for greater things: to love and to be loved. He wants us to love one another as he loves us.

Let us stop for a moment to think about the tenderness of God’s love for us. There are thousands of people who would love to have what you have. And yet God has chosen you to be where you are today to share the joy of loving others.

To make this love more real, more loving, more living, he gives himself as the Bread of Life. He gives us his own life. He wants us to love one another, to give ourselves to each other until it hurts. It does not matter how much we give, but how much love we put into our giving.

In the Constitution of the Missionaries of Charity, we have a beautiful part which speaks of the tenderness of Christ, and also of his faithful friendship and love.

To make that love more living, more sure, more tender, Jesus gives us the Eucharist. This is why it is necessary for every Missionary of Charity to feed upon the Eucharist in order to be a true carrier of God’s love. She must live on the Eucharist and have her heart and life woven with the Eucharist. No Missionary of Charity can give Jesus if she does not have Jesus in her heart.

3. REASON TO BE HAPPY:

Why are the Sisters always smiling?

Because we are not social workers. We are trying to be contemplatives in the heart the world. We have chosen to be Missionaries of Charity, to be carriers of God’s love.

We have no reason to be unhappy.

How can that be?

If the words of Jesus are true, “I was hungry, I was sick, I was naked, I was homeless, and you it to me” (Matthew 25:40), then we are touching him twenty-four hours a day.

So you, in your lives, in your own homes, can be in his presence twenty-four hours a day, if your lives are woven with prayer and sacrifice.

4. SHARE THE JOY OF LOVING:

What does it mean to be a co-worker with the Missionaries of Charity? A co-worker is a person or a family where there is love, peace and joy. If you have no peace and love in your own family or your own heart, how can you give it to others?

Love, to be true, has to hurt. I hope you will learn that in your lives and share the joy of loving, because a co-worker is someone who loves God. If you love God, then you will love those around you. Then there will be joy, love and peace in your families. Then you will become carriers of God’s love.

We will be very blessed to have the joy this love brings of working together and making our work a prayer.

With Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. With God, for God, to God.

That way we are praying to God, not just doing our work.

When you are cooking, washing clothes, working hard in the office, do it all with joy. That will be your love for God in action!

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