Randy’s Corner March-April 2012

Mewsings on the Rule of St. Benedict

Hi again!  I like companionship, don’t you?  When my friend Charlotte goes on one of the cat tower platforms, I like to get up there with her.  When Mickey’s on the favorite chair, I jump up and rearrange him so that there’s enough room for me.  If Target lies down on the chest, I go up there, too.

Last week Abbess Jane spoke stern words to me about my companionship urges and claimed that I just wanted what everyone else had.  In self-defense I mewed that Benedict encourages us to show “the pure love of brothers” (RB 72.8) and that this was what I was doing.  With a skeptical look Jane continued her lecture by reciting RB 72.7 where Benedict tells us that we are not to pursue what’s best for ourselves, but what we judge to be better for others.  “Rand,” she sighed. “The other cats may not want to cozy up with you.  Maybe you should ask first.”

This got me to thinking.  Maybe I do envy Charlotte, Mickey and Target when they’re resting on one of those nice places. I want that, too. But Benedict says that we’re to do nothing out of envy (RB 4.67).  In Chapter 34 – Distribution of Goods According to Need, he makes it clear that we’re not to be distressed or, heaven forbid, grumble if someone gets something that we don’t get, for we all have different needs.  I don’t grumble.  I want to make that clear.  I just, well, rearrange things a bit so that we all can be happy.  Don’t we all do that from time to time, rearrange things to our liking, I mean?  But Jane may have been on to something when she stated that the three friends of mine may not want my companionship right then.

Maybe I just don’t consider that Charlotte, Mickey and Target might want to be alone.  Charlotte and I are both well-endowed and the platform does get a bit cramped.  Mickey doesn’t seem happy when I push him around on the chair and Target sometimes gives me intimidating glances when I sidle up to him on the chest.  In discussing this with my friend Ricky, he cited our favorite commentary, Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Only for People by Scholastica Muffin, O.S.B.F. (Order of St. Benedict Feline). Sr. Scholastica says that Benedict is asking us to “respect and revere the other”, and have a sense of restraint, holding ourselves back from intruding on them.”[1]

I’m sharing all this with you to help you think about a situation or two in your own life where you, figuratively, “jump on the chair” and make room for yourself.  Is it from envy?  Do we want things always to our liking?  Do we want to be with our friends because we care about them or because we want something from them?  Do you and I ever consider what might bring them joy?  Give it some thought.

Next time I see Charlotte, Mickey or Target in a nice place where I’d like to be, I’m going to first ask them if I can share the spot.  Or maybe I’ll just stay where I am and look on with delight that they’re happy in their cozy resting places.

Yours,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Randy the Cat

[1] Sr. Scholastica’s drew from Esther de Waal’s book A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, page 43.

Featured Article March-April 2012

The Fire Alarm and the Rule


I was exalted, then I was humbled and overwhelmed with confusion.

                                                                        Psalm 88:16 and RB 7.53

Ever have one of those moments when you felt totally helpless?  I did at a particular Easter Sunday service at St. Peter’s in Livingston, NJ where I was the rector.

As usual on a Holy Day such as Easter Sunday we had used incense.  Everything was proceeding as normal—procession completed, altar censed, our opening acclamation “Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia,” said with gusto and the Collect for Purity begun when suddenly, “BLAT….BLAT…BLAT.”  The fire alarm in the church had been set off!  After recovering from stunned shock, with another stunned shock, I realized that I hadn’t a clue as to what to do next!  “Does anyone [BLAT] know what [BLAT] to do? [BLAT!!]”  I pleaded through my microphone in competition with the alarm.  I ran to the side doors near me, threw one open and discovered it didn’t have a hook or a latch to keep it from closing. Now what??!  My chair from the Chancel became a temporary door stop.  Someone else turned on the overhead fans and the windows were opened.  Our thurifer had the presence of mind to speed into the sacristy and remove the smoking thurible, the cause of the excitement.  I realized then that I had forgotten to tell him to place the thurible outside.  Ooops!  The alarm had been tripped by a hefty mass of incense as the doors and windows in the sacristy were closed.

The alarm continued its relentless and demanding “BLAT…BLAT…BLAT.”  I felt helpless and overwhelmed with confusion!  After a lifetime and with no help from me, the blatting stopped.  Certainly more awake than we had been earlier, we backed up to the opening acclamation and began again.

In reflecting on this experience and my befuddledness, I recalled one of Benedict’s twelve steps of humility.  It’s a tough one for most of us, right?.

The seventh step of humility is that we not only admit with our tongues but are also convinced in our hearts that we are inferior to all and of less value, humbling ourselves saying with the Prophet…I was exalted, then I was humbled and overwhelmed with confusion [Yikes.  Yes, on both counts that Easter morn!] (Psalm 88:16).  And again, It is a blessing that you have humbled me so that I can learn your commandments (Psalm 119:71,73).[i]

Statements like this can really raise the hackles of us 21st century independent people.  In my book St. Benedict’s Toolbox I interpret the seventh step in this way:

“To truly believe in my heart that others are better than I am.”  (p. 69)

Now that’s still hard to embrace.  We like to believe that all we do is of consequence and indeed, I believe what we do is critical, especially as we interact with others.  Yet we need to remind ourselves that the world and its well-being does not hinge on us alone.  As was said to me once when I worked for Indiana Bell:  “Jane, if you aren’t here the customers will still have dial tone.”  Hmmmm…..

I think the truth is that if we believe what Benedict proposes in this seventh step of humility even just a little bit, we’ll be able to learn from others and that is so important.  Otherwise we think that we have all the answers or at least the best answers to anything and miss some important learning.  We need to adopt the mindset that the world is made better by us together.  In any situation, someone will know what to do.  On that infamous Easter Sunday morning amidst the blatting and unknown to me at the time, our highly efficient parish administrator had sped to the office to phone the alarm company and a young parishioner-fireman took immediate action by calling the fire department, “Hey, guys.  Don’t send the hook and ladders!  It’s just a bit of holy zeal.”

And so, lesson learned.  In any situation, if you or I don’t have the skills or the presence of mind to meet the need of the moment, another person will.  In this way a crisis is handled or a need is met.  In this way, also, we can grow a bit humbler about who we are—we just might not have all the answers.  We can also grow in our ability to respect others and the gifts and talents that God has given to them, and to find “joy in the gifts of others before having our own gifts noticed and rewarded.”[ii]  As we do this we can keep ourselves in perspective and perhaps even grow to be better listeners/learners in even the calmer places of life.


April, 2012

© 2012 The Rev. Dr. Jane A. Tomaine

See A Tool For Appreciating Others here

[i] Joan Chittister O.S.B., The Rule of St. Benedict in English: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010), 91.

[ii]  John Michael Talbot, Blessings of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2011), 25.