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-emphasize humility’s importance within the particular circumstance each chapter addresses. Chapter 60 concerns itself with someone in a position of authority who has been formed (or trained) in 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.
…he should not be granted permission to readily, but if he persists in his request, he needs to be aware that he will have to observe the full discipline of the rule and that he will be allowed no relaxation of the rules…
…he should not take it upon himself to do anything, knowing that he is subject to the discipline of the rule and that he should instead be giving an example of humility to the others.
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 itself as a communal document that points 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 a life saturated in Christ. The Rule has daily checks and balances that are practical and often subtle in nature which are there to assist a human life grow in this humility and into love. 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.
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke14:11).
But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word. (Is66:1-2).
There is something about a humble life that enables it to resonate deeply with the divine life. In this dynamic is a promotion (or exaltation) that a humble life does not create of itself or even seek. Egocentricity has been cleared away enough to reveal the mystery that is a human life living simply as an image of the divine life. A humble life is one that is growing in a ‘going beyond’ or a transcending of egocentricity. A conscious mind pointing to itself is forgotten. There is a remembering of the self in God. The spotlight is not sought. Humility is the spiritual and psychological context for a healthy expression of authority.
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 and more an expression of gift and vocation.
Within the WCCM to be an oblate is an option available to all. Any primacy of ecclesial labels and function is set aside to make way for a common commitment to Benedictine and Christian spirituality based on vocation and giftedness. In this the oblate, no matter what her or his origins may be, commit wholly to Benedictine spirituality as it is presented in the Rule. Oblates of the WCCM live the Rule and practice meditation in the everyday of life as equals.
What are you here to do? (Matt26:50)
This question in the Rule 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.
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 operated previously. 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. To attempt a transcending of the familiar can be a scary thing when the new is so unknown.
Transcend the old, embrace the new. Go beyond egocentricity and into the deeper self in God. All of this is the invitation of the Benedictine and Christian community experience. It is also the invitation inherent in any meditation practice.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins. (Mark2:22).
Both the experience of community and the experience of Christ within us can be the new wine of our lives. Grace can operate within us to transform our hearts and minds into new wine skins ready to receive this new wine that is community and Christ consciousness.
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 grace that can make change a way into humility and love. We are never alone in this experience of change. Divine Love is there to make change an experience of transcendence.