If, however, they have shown that they are not the kind of persons who deserve to be dismissed, let them, on their request, be received as a member of the community. They should even be urged to stay, so that others may learn from their example, because wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same God. Further, the prioress or abbot may set such a person in a somewhat higher place in the community, if they see that they deserve it. The prioress or abbot has the power to set any one of them above the place that corresponds to the date of their entry, if they see that their life warrants it.
The prioress and abbot must, however, take care never to receive into the community anyone from another known monastery, unless the prioress or abbot of that community consents and sends a letter or recommendation, since it is written: “Never do to another what you do not want done to yourself” (Tob. 4:16).
The rule respects freedom, in particular the freedom discovered by all who live a faith in Jesus. The rule, in its enthusiasm, also seeks to be persuasive, to lay before all the possibilities of a human life as lived by those ‘clothed in Christ’ (Gal. 3:27). In this chapter we see these two dynamics at play. The visiting monastic, who may have the option of staying tugging at their heart, is given the space to freely act on this: ‘let them, on their request’. And then, the rule also gives space for persuasion: ‘They should even be urged to stay.’
The spirit of the rule lives a balance of freedom and persuasion. The human heart must not be forced into decision; it needs to be cleansed, cleaned into the clear sight of discernment for free action. Then, at this point, sight is more an urging, a movement of longing, for something or someone. This longing is ultimately a longing for God. Our longing for God is a longing that infuses all other longing.
When sensed clearly enough, this urging can be quite persuasive. And here is the Spirit of God at work. Freedom is always respected; God can do nothing else, and yet this Spirit of Freedom is also persuasive. Because the Divine Life sees us and knows us better than we see and know ourselves, it is proactive in this seeing and knowing – to the point of a persuasion that beckons us, sometimes strongly, into life. Here, we see another aspect of the word persuasion at work. It shows itself when we say, ‘what is your persuasion’, or perhaps ‘what is your conviction’? The Spirit stands with us, freeing and convicting us for action consistent with a clear enough heart. This freeing and convicting happen, in practice, as we live together and as we meditate.
This chapter shows that a Godly conviction can come, at times, more from those around us than from within us. In community, it is possible that others will see our possibilities before we do. What is important is that a person does not take the conviction of others as their own. Freely seeing our own conviction is so important. Anyone who loves another enough to see what might be best for them might also see that there is a line that cannot be crossed, a line where persuasion becomes force. The rule respects this line.
Growth in freedom and responsibility is always, ultimately, personal. Community supports this growth; it is not a substitute for it. While the rule can act as a guardian for those maturing into Christ faith, it is not a substitute for this faith. Indeed, as faith in Christ deepens into the stability and union of Christ consciousness, the rule as guardian falls away. Then the rule is simply lived.
But once faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian; for you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, since as many of you as has been baptised into Christ have been clothed in Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female – for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:25-28, RNJB)