April 14, August 14, December 14

If any ordained priest asks to be received into the monastery, do not agree too quickly. However, if he is fully persistent in his request, he must recognise that he will have to observe the full discipline of the rule without any mitigation, knowing that it is written: ‘Friend, what have you come for’ (Matt. 26:50)? He should, however, be allowed to stand next to the abbot, to give blessings and to celebrate Mass, provided that the abbot bids him. Otherwise, he must recognise that he is subject to the discipline of the rule, and not make any exceptions for himself, but rather give everyone an example of humility. Whenever there is question of an appointment or of any other business in the monastery, he takes the place that corresponds to the date of his entry into the community, and not that granted him out of respect for his priesthood.

Any clerics who similarly wish to join the community should be ranked somewhere in the middle, but only if they, too, promise to keep the rule and observe stability.

The rule’s emphasis on humility is constant. While chapter 7 is the outline and guide to a life growing in humility, chapters like chapter 60 occur throughout the rule to re-emphasise humility’s importance within the circumstance each chapter addresses. Chapter 60 concerns itself with someone in a position of authority who has practiced their position outside the monastery and now wishes to join the monastic community. There is a danger here. Because this person has not grown into their role within a culture tailor-made to form a humble life, there is a risk this person could work against the humble emphasis of the rule simply by acting in the ways they have been accustomed to acting.

In Christian leadership any authority of person or position is meant to be growing out of and grounded in humility. The rule has an emphasis on this growth and grounding happening within a life, guided by the rule as a communal document pointing to Christ, and with a leader who serves both the community life and the lives of those in the community as an example of humility, and so a life transforming in Christ. A priest admitted into this community, because they are already in a role of authority, would often need, it seems, to have their usage of authority tested and shaped anew by the communal experience of the rule.

The monasteries of Benedict’s time were lay communities. Benedict himself was a lay person. Priesthood consistent with the spirit of the rule is not about status or pride or abuse of authority. Benedictine priesthood is priesthood at the service of the community for the community’s sake, as well as being an expression of gift and vocation.

‘What are you here to do?’ (Matthew 26:50)

This question comes from the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ betrayal. It is a question that Jesus puts to Judas. Other english translations of the text have Jesus saying to Judas ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ The rule puts these words that Jesus says to Judas to the admitted priest. What would be the priest’s response? To cling to familiar ways of acting out a role of authority, ways incompatible with the spirit of the rule? If so, this could be seen as a form of betrayal, a going against what they agreed to do upon admission to the monastic community, as well as a betrayal of Jesus himself.

It can be hard for any one of us to learn new ways of doing things, especially if these new ways are at odds with how we have long previously operated. Familiar ways, ways imbedded in our habits and psychology, have a way of grabbing us when we are in new situations and under stress. The new, no matter how good for us it might be, can be such a challenge to embrace when old ways are so familiar and safe.

Not matter where we might find the reality of relationship and our commitment to it, and no matter where our prayer practice might be, this chapter reminds us that life is about change and the challenge of how we respond to this change. The good news is that change is not a test to pass or to fail. Within change there is always the grace that can make change a way into humility and love. We are never alone in this experience of change; Divine Love is here to make it a way of humble transformation and transcendence.

With minds, then, ready for action and disciplined you must put your hope in the grace brought to you by the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not allow yourselves to be shaped by the passions of your old ignorance, but be yourselves holy in all that you do, after the model of the Holy One who calls us, since it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:13-16, RNJB)