Monastics keep their rank in the monastery according to the date of their entry, the virtue of their lives, and the decision of the prioress or abbot. The prioress or abbot is not to disturb the flock entrusted to them nor make any unjust arrangements, as though they had the power to do whatever they wished. They must constantly reflect that they will have to give God account of all their decisions and actions. Therefore, when the members come for the kiss of peace and for Communion, when they lead psalms or stand in the choir, they do so in the order already existing among them or decided by the abbot or prioress. Absolutely nowhere shall age automatically determine rank. Remember that Samuel and Daniel were still boys when they judged their elders (1 Samuel 3; Dan. 13:44-62). Therefore, apart from those mentioned above whom the prioress or abbot have for some overriding consideration promoted, or for a specific reason demoted, all the rest should keep to the order of their entry. For example, someone who came to the monastery at the second hour of the day must recognize that they are junior to someone who came at the first hour, regardless of age or distinction. The young, however, are to be disciplined in everything by everyone.
Rank in a Benedictine community, unless otherwise indicated, is the product of chance. This ensures that equality and humility remain the fundamental principles of community rank. Rank is not determined by age, nor is it the product of competition among members to establish who is the fittest and the best, or who has the necessary ambition. A Christian community is not a place of winners and losers; it is a place of equity, where all can find their place based on equally valued capacity and giftedness.
In an ego-based culture the fittest and the best are often those who know how to play the game with the most ambition. Humility is seen as the antipathy of ambition. There is little place for real empathy, seeing how others live and how their lives could be improved. This worldview of self-centered ambition is, ultimately, a stunted one. Equality of rank in community acts as a counterweight to these tendencies. Without it compassion and empathy are undermined. Without this equality there is no place for an equity that ensures all receive what they truly need. Without equality of personhood at its core a community could not see as God sees.
A community that sees as God sees is always a new enough wineskin. Equality and equity amongst its members keep the skin fresh. Without it, the risk is that certain personalities would have all the influence, and all would not get what they need. This would shape community life into a sameness, a staidness, ultimately a limitation that would see its skin age. In time, there would be no place for the newness of difference, for a diversity of people and ideas. It is the challenge of community leadership to encourage and promote this freshness, in ways that are themselves humble and even-handed.
In a meditating community, we discover too that all are equal because all are beginners in meditation, regardless of when we first begun. One can be a meditator for 30 years and still have meditation filled with distraction. No amount of ambition or expectation will help this because these too are distractions. Like age, the amount of time one has meditated for is not a basis for rank. Meditation, like community, shows us that rank on the way to divinity is of limited value. All are one in Christ. The fruits of the way may be more obvious in some; however, this may only make it obvious that others require more support, more guidance.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18: 1-4, NRSV)