April 11, August 11, December 11
Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry, but, as the Apostle says, ‘Test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). Therefore, if someone comes and keeps knocking at the door, and if at the end of four or five days they have shown themselves patient in bearing this harsh treatment and difficultly of entry, and have persisted in their request, then they should be allowed to enter and stay in the guest quarters for a few days. After that, they should live in the novitiate, where the novices study, eat and sleep.
A senior chosen for their skill in winning souls should be appointed to look after them with careful attention. The concern must be whether the novice truly seeks God and whether they show eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials. The novice should be clearly told all the hardships and difficulties that will lead them to God.
If they promise perseverance in their stability, then after two months have elapsed let this rule be read straight through to them, and let them be told: ‘This is the law under which you are choosing to serve. If you can keep it, come in. If not, feel free to leave.’ If they still stand firm, they are to be taken back to the novitiate, and again thoroughly tested in patience. After six months have passed, the rule is to be read to them, so that they may know what they are entering. If once more they stand firm, let four months go by, and then read this rule to them again. If after due reflection they promise to observe everything and to obey every command given them, let them then be received into the community. But they must be well aware that, as the law of the rule establishes, from this day they are no longer free to leave the monastery, nor to shake from their neck the yoke of the rule which, in the course of so prolonged a period of reflection, they were free to either reject or to accept.
The reality of something can often be different from how we might have imagined it. This is no less true of our relational commitments. Rather than jumping in at ‘the deep end’, Benedict asks that people interested in the monastic life enter into a process of testing their motivations as they ease into the reality of what they might commit to.
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
These words from Frederick Buechner speak into the heart of the process of discernment outlined in this chapter. It can be a tough thing to ‘pick and stick’ to a commitment. If we are to remain in any life decision, the groundwork done needs to be thorough and wise enough.
In the end, the discovery of a deep and abiding gladness, a gladness that finds purpose in service to the world’s deep hunger for love and meaning, this is what needs to be discovered and embraced. This chapter is asking the question ‘is your deep gladness found in a contemplative and monastic serving of a hungry world?’
Being persistent can help us in coming to an experience of our deepest heart desires, the coming to know what we (that is, our deep Self and Divine Love together) want. In persistence can be found the characteristics needed to persevere in commitment, characteristics such as endurance, resolve, and diligence. The monastery, in delaying admittance, is looking for enough maturity in the seeker so they may at least begin an engagement with the rule and the contemplative life.
There is something reminiscent here of the Buddhist wisdom of walking between praise and blame. The delay in admission can show up in the seeker any immediate reactions or sensitivities that may have more to do with being lost in ego attachment rather than a readiness to patiently persist. Christianity, at its best, like Buddhism, is about walking a patient middle way. Am I doing something to be praised for it? Do I react to delay as a rejection of myself? In the middle is a responding to life rather than an egoic reaction that craves attention or plots rejection.
The senior chosen to look after the newcomer with ‘careful attention’ is there to discern if the new person is ready enough for the work of ‘leaving self behind’ (Mt 16:24-27; Mk 8:34-38; Lk 9:23- 26). This work is not a rejection or denial of the heart, of our basic humanity and the deepest parts of ourselves. It is instead about the commitment to transcending, or going beyond, the ego. It is the ego that comes between attention and God and has us believe that it is god. The whole focus of the rule, as with meditation, is that we practice going beyond ego and into God. This is what the seeking of God is about. The communal experience, when genuine, will ask that our ego projects of attention seeking be stripped away as we seek instead God. To discern more or less truly we must get beyond ego enough.
Our commitments are the crucible of a lifetime which expose and shape character. They reveal the true motivations of our decisions to commit. Will the newcomer be stable enough in this crucible experience to stay with it as time and circumstance go on?
And so, this chapter is about the art of discernment. A humble patience is central to any effective discernment and a core element in a growing unity with God, or Divine Love. This chapter has this patience at its heart. The practice of meditation develops this patience as foundational to our character and life.
Then, speaking to all, he said, ‘Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine, must renounce self and take up the cross every day and follow me. For whoever wants to save life will lose it; but whoever loses life for my sake, will save it. What does it profit someone to gain the whole world while losing or forfeiting self?’ (Luke 9:23-26, RNJB)