As set down for reading on the 9th March, 9th July, and 8th November
Above all, let him be humble and offer a kind word of reply to a brother when there is nothing to give him, as it is written, “A good word is better than the best gift.” [Sir 18:17] Everything the abbot delegates to him he should keep under his own supervision and he should take no interest in matters the abbot has barred to him. He should give the brothers their allotted ration of food without haughtiness or delay, lest they be given occasion to sin, mindful of the divine saying about what he “who leads one of the little ones astray” deserves. [Matt 18:6]
If the community is large, he should have helpers so that with their support he may calmly fulfil the duties assigned to him. Things that are to be given should be given and appropriate requests made at suitable hours, so that nobody in God’s house may be troubled or upset.
The cellarer gets a lesson from Benedict that we all need to learn sometime in life: we have a responsibility to serve others “without any pride or delay, lest they be led astray.” It is not right, in other words, to tax other people’s nervous systems, to try to other people’s virtues, to burden other people’s aready weary lives in order to satisfy our own need to be important. We don’t have to lead them into anger and anxiety, frustration and despair. We don’t need to keep them waiting; we don’t need to argue their requests; we don’t need to count out every weight to the ounce, every bag to the gram, every dollar to the penny. We can give freedom and joy with every gift we give or we can give guilt and frugality. The person with a Benedictine tenor learns here to err on the side of largesse of spirit.
(This reflection drawn from Joan Chittister, The Rule of St Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010), pp 162-163. ISBN: 978-0-8245-2594-1).