Counsels on Patience and Commitment: This Week’s Readings from the Rule of Benedict

14 December 2006

Normally, I post on individual, daily readings from the rule; today, I think highlighting the week’s readings all together is particularly helpful.

Benedict indicates the manner of receiving new members into community.  After several days of knocking (I wonder if this kind of trial was ever actually practiced), aspirants are admitted, and during their novitiate have the Rule read, straight through, to them three times in a year.  The Benedictine practice of daily Rule readings arranged to entirely read the Rule thrice yearly no doubt stems from this.  What strikes me about his stipulations are the care, diligence, and adherence to certain standards of patience, obedience, and circumspection that make them remarkable.  No one will be allowed to rush into the monastic life and place themselves, unduly and without knowledge, under the “yoke of the Rule.”

Benedict goes on to specify the procedure for receiving children, priests, and pilgrim monks.  In each case, Benedict specifies that parents offering children and those seeking admission should not expect to gain anything from the monastic reception.  Parents must, if they can, offer something to the monastery.  Priests must recognize that they will not necessarily be in a place of superiority by virtue of their priesthood.  Pilgrim monks must pledge stability only after they have proved themselves.

When I read these chapters, I see counsel toward patience and respect for traditions and procedures.  Difficulty and even true harm can come from rushing into a commitment.  I look back at my family’s rush to join MyChurch.  So much has been offered to me: opportunities for fellowship and ministry —at the altar, with the sick, with the dying— that I would not have had otherwise, but all this has been accompanied by misgivings, hurt feelings, and confusion.  That all this happens was God’s will; God was saying something through all of this.  I am thankful for it, but I see the wisdom in Benedict’s counsels in these chapters.

Commitment is something entered into only after discernment and deliberation.  Do not expect commitments of a spiritual kind to somehow bring you temporal rewards.  Entering the Benedictine life will not be a mere continuation of the honors or  comforts you enjoyed before.

I end this reflection with an exhortation to pastors: be careful!  I wish the pastor of MyChurch had been a little more patient with my family.  While we were enthusiastic to join, he should’ve said, “Great!  Let’s talk again before Lent.”  That would’ve given us another four or five months; we could’ve spoken then and reevaluated, continuing the slow process of discernment.   Pastors reading this: urge patience and discernment in all commitments.  Joining a local church community or denomination can be more complicated than taking on a gym membership!  It does not seem our pastor saw it that way.  People can become invested, their loyalties engaged and entangled.

I wish our pastor had done things differently, but his intentions were good and, I believe, with a couple of coincident, unfortunate bumps and bruises along the way, God’s will was done.  God can use even mistakes to bring glorious good into the world.

Bringing these thoughts back toward our “little lent” of Advent, I urge us to remember that had the innkeepers not refused the Holy Family lodging, the wonderful symbolism of cave, stable, and manger would have been lost, the Savior being born in a first-century Ramada Inn.  Sometimes it is even these oversights —our errors or the errors of others— that make all the difference and allow for our salvation.


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