How are you received?

Chapter 58: The Procedure for Receiving Members (August 11)

Reading

Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry, but, as the apostle says, “Test the spirits to see if they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Therefore, if someone comes and keeps knocking at the door, and if at the end of four or five days has shown patience in bearing harsh treatment and difficulty of entry, and has persisted in the request, then that one should be allowed to enter and stay in the guest quarters for a few days. After that, the person should live in the novitiate, where the novices study, eat, and sleep.

A senior chosen for skill in winning souls should be appointed to look after the newcomer with careful attention. The concern must be whether the novice truly seeks God and shows eagerness for the Divine Office, for obedience, and for trials. The novices should be clearly told all the hardships and difficulties that will lead to God.

If they promise perseverance in stability, then after two months have elapsed let this rule be read straight through to them, and let them be told: “This is the law under which you are choosing to serve. If you can keep it, come in. If not, feel free to leave.” If they still stand firm, they are to be taken back to the novitiate, and again thoroughly tested in all patience. After six months have passed, the rule is to be read to them, so that they may know what they are entering. If once more they stand firm, let four months go by, and then read this rule to them again. If after due reflection they promise to observe everything and to obey every command given them, let them then be received into the community. But they must be well aware that, as the law of the rule establishes, from this day they are no longer free to leave the monastery, nor to shake from their neck the yoke of the rule which, in the course of so prolonged a period of reflection, they were free either to reject or accept.

RB 58

Reflection

There is an interesting contrast in the Rule between the relatively easy and laid-back reception of guests and the reception accorded those aspiring to embrace monastic life. The rigorous and painstaking process as outlined resembles an obstacle course. Various stages of testing are deemed necessary to eliminate those who are not genuinely called to this demanding lifestyle.

The holy persistence required gives the seeker the opportunity for deep introspection and brutal self-honesty. Am I truly called to make this commitment? Am I willing to pay the price? Am I ready for such a level of sacrifice?

Many of these same questions could just as well apply to one’s quest for clean and sober living. Am I a casual participant in my recovery program, or am I prepared to engage fully and work it for a radical change of life?

Lord, grant me the depth of commitment to stay the course and respond to your healing. Let me carefully observe the rules for recovery, and let me do so, one day at a time. Amen.

Read, read, read

Chapter 48: The Daily Manual Labor (continued)

From the Rule

From the first of October to the beginning of Lent, the members ought to devote themselves to reading until the end of the second hour [8:59 a.m.]. At this time Terce [9:00 a.m.] is said and they are to work at their assigned tasks until None [3:00 p.m.]. At the first signal for the hour of None, all put aside their work to be ready for the second signal. Then after their meal they will devote themselves to their reading of the psalms.

During the days of Lent, they should be free in the morning to read until the third hour [9:00 a.m.], after which they will work at their assigned tasks until the end of the tenth hour [4:00 p.m.]. During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent.

Above all, one or two elders must surely be deputed to make the rounds of the monastery while the members are reading. Their duty is to see that no one is so apathetic as to waste time or engage in idle talk to the neglect of their reading, and so not only harm themselves but also distract others. If such persons are found – God forbid – they should be reproved a first and a second time. If they do not amend, they must be subjected to the punishment of the rule as a warning to others. Further, members ought not to associate with one another at inappropriate times.

RB 48

The Reflection

In this section, the Rule lays great emphasis upon personal reading by monks and nuns over and above the prescribed office readings. In fact, such reading is deemed both essential and mandatory, especially during the disciplined days of Lent.

In the early days of cloisters, this discipline was considered so significant, that a quasi-monastic police force would see to it that there be no lazy monastics who spend their time in idleness or gossip and not apply themselves to their reading.

Whew! That seems so dated, so out of touch with modern life. Yet, how faithful am I to reading literature outside of meetings to reinforce my recovery? It might be nice if someone would check on my personal reading habits. They say, “It works if you work it.” A significant part of “working” recovery comes from reading twelve-step literature between meetings.

Lord, give me the good sense to make time during the week to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest from the many sources of your wisdom: the Bible, other good books, the vast resources of recovery literature. All can help me keep walking the Road of Happy Destiny. Please walk along that road with me, Lord, and remind me to read more.  Amen.

Honesty Continued

Reading for July 26

Chapter 46: Faults Committed in Other Matters

If monastics commit a fault while at any work – while working in the kitchen, in the storeroom, in serving, in the bakery, in the garden, in any craft or anywhere else – either by breaking or losing something or failing in any other way in any other place, they must at once come before the prioress or abbot and community and of their own accord admit their fault and make satisfaction. If it is made known through another, they are to be subjected to a more severe correction. When the cause of the sin lies hidden in the conscience, the monastic is to reveal it only to the prioress or abbot or to one of the spiritual elders, who know how to heal their own wounds as well as those of others, without exposing them and making them public.

RB 46

Benedict is still hammering away at the topic of personal honesty in all things. Here the focus is on other failings the monastic might have, other mistakes made in the discharge of one’s work rather than at prayer.

The monastic, who committed some fault, broke or lost something, or broke any other sort of rule, and did not immediately and voluntarily come before both superior and community to confess and make satisfaction, was in big trouble.

Once again, the principle is not the gravity of the transgression, a broken bowl, a lost key, a forgotten chore, but personal honesty. The monastic is to be scrupulous in honesty. When an error is committed, own up to it and ask forgiveness.This applies to me, too. You have been faithful in small things; I will put you in charge of much greater things. I need to be careful about the little things I do wrong and own up to them, rather than minimizing them or sweeping them under the carpet. Recovery is built on a series of little steps. I can ill afford to skip any, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.

Keep me faithful in little things now, Lord, so that you might assign me more serious things later.            Amen.

Reading for July 25

Chapter 45: Mistakes in the Oratory

Should monastics make a mistake in [reciting] a psalm, responsory, refrain, or reading, they must make satisfaction there before all. If they do not use this occasion to humble themselves, they will be subjected to more severe punishment for failing to correct by humility the wrong committed through negligence.

RB 45

Even for someone well versed in how to recite the Divine Office, I can easily say or sing the wrong words during one of the choir offices. When I make a mistake, it usually stands out, since acoustically these oratories are typically quite live. Any mistake literally reverberates. Sometimes I might come in prematurely, not allowing sufficient pause at the asterisk between the two halves of a psalm verse.

Any number of mistakes whether in singing or in speaking psalms or prayers can enter in and bring discord to the chant. It is, after all, a human enterprise. That means, as long as mortals, not angels, are doing the chanting, it will never be perfect. But one does try to blend in with the group, so that as nearly as possible the community prays with one voice.

The emphasis of this section is not so much on mistakes made in corporate prayer, but in my willingness to acknowledge them as my own, and not someone else’s. The temptation is always there to look the other way or hide one’s faults in the crowd. “I didn’t sing that wrong, he or she did.”

Honesty about my faults is so essential to recovery, isn’t it? The fifth step calls me to admit to my Higher Power, to myself and to someone else exactly what I’ve been doing wrong. The issue of mistakes in worship seems so trivial in the larger picture of faults, yet it provides a mini-test of my personal honesty: can I be faithful and truthful even about little things? Lord, help me tell the truth and be honest to myself and about myself. Amen.

Chapter 37 The Elderly and the Young

The Rule (July 16)

Although human nature itself is inclined to be compassionate toward the elderly and the young, the authority of the rule should also provide for them. Since their lack of strength must always be taken into account, they should certainly not be required to follow the strictness of the rule with regard to food, but should be treated with kindly consideration and allowed to eat before the regular hours.

RB 37

The Reflection

What a short but beautiful reflection on both ends of the spectrum of life. Benedict speaks from his own loving heart when he says that human nature itself is drawn to special kindness towards these times of life. Yet for some time now both the very young and the very old seem frequently to suffer abuse and neglect.  The sanctity of human life and the uniqueness of God’s creation remain major focal points for Benedict throughout his Rule, and should be for us as well in our own Rule of Life.

In former times, monasteries also served as shelters for youth and senior citizens. Benedict here again wants to emphasize his concern for the individual: everyone is considered special in the Benedictine household, and everyone therefore deserves special consideration.

His tenderness towards the helplessness of both young children and the elderly is important enough for Benedict to devote an entire chapter to it, even if a short one. He says, let them by no means be held to the rigor of the Rule with regard to food. Once again, in Benedict’s view, God’s creatures are unique and deserve to be treated accordingly.

Let a kind consideration be shown to them, he says. I think kind consideration is an absolutely marvelous phrase I want to make part of my daily vocabulary. When I get down and become tempted to grumble and complain, get into a negative frame of mind, I need to remember that phrase kind consideration. Then I need to start practicing that with people I encounter every day.

If anger is a relapse trigger for addiction, and resentments lead to anger, I need to “head it off at the pass.” When tempted, let me think how I can show kind consideration to people to whom I might otherwise show nasty neglect.

Lord, help me care even half as much for other people as did Benedict. Everyone is special and so we should treat everyone as such.  Amen.

The Reading for the Feast of St Benedict, July 11


Chapter 33: Monastics and Private Ownership


Above all, this evil practice [of private ownership] must be uprooted and removed from the monastery. We mean that without an order from the prioress or abbot, no members may presume to give, receive, or retain anything as their own, nothing at all – not a book, writing tablets, or stylus – in short not a single item, especially since monastics may not have the free disposal even of their own bodies and wills. For their needs, they are to look to the prioress or abbot of the monastery, and are not allowed anything which the prioress or abbot has not given or permitted. “All things should be the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes ownership of anything” (Acts 4:32).But if any members are caught indulging in this most evil practice, they should be warned a first and a second time. If they do not amend, let them be subjected to punishment.

RB 33

“Let all things be common to all, as it is written, and let no one say or assume that anything is one’s own.”

This central notion, based on guidelines for the apostolic community as set forth in by the writer of Acts (4:32), forms the heart of this teaching. While the absolute restrictions on private ownership apply only to those living under a vow of poverty, the underlying principle can be applied more globally. Shared wealth versus private ownership also has something to do with living in relationship to others in recovery. True, each person’s recovery is one’s own responsibility as a lifelong, personal pursuit.

Yet I also feel called to share my struggle, especially any fruitful insights, with others. My recovery may be my own, but its fruit should not be hidden, squirreled away nor privatized from my community. I have gained something which might be of value or worth for someone else. What I possess is not like pens or books or food or cash, but rather skills acquired for sober living, one day at a time.

Monastics are not to have anything as their own, anything whatever; they are not permitted to have even their own bodies or wills at their own disposal. What price have our bodies and our wills paid to unlearn addictive behaviors? The core of this teaching applies powerfully to those who no longer seek to isolate themselves, to keep their body and soul locked away in fantasy, shut away from all reality. In my home group, within my mini-community, I need to unlock and share my private self. I help not only myself by shining a light within, but I can perhaps also help others to unlock the secrets that hold them hostage. Help me, Higher Power, to have the courage to share honestly and generously with my sisters and brothers in recovery. Amen.

Reading for July 10

Chapter 32: The Tools and Goods of the Monastery

Text of the Rule

The goods of the monastery, that is, its tools, clothing, or anything else, should be entrusted to members whom the prioress or abbot appoints and in whose manner of life they have confidence. The abbot or prioress will, as they see fit, issue to them the various articles to be cared for and collected after use. The prioress and abbot will maintain a list of these, so that when the members succeed one another in their assigned tasks, they may be aware of what they hand out and what they receive back.

Whoever fails to keep things belonging to the monastery clean or treats them carelessly should be reproved. If they do not amend, let them be subjected to the discipline of the rule.

RB 32

Reflection

In a cloister, property is shared in common, not privately owned, and the care of community property such as tools, clothing and other recyclables is quite important. To some extent, the same is true in family households where goods and resources, especially money, are shared in common. This places a burden on the provider, whether one or two parents, to be responsible about money.

If anyone treats the community’s property in a slovenly or careless way, whether in home or cloister, correction and discipline must follow. If the teenage son drives the family car too fast and wrecks it, he has done a disservice to the whole family. If the mother gambles away the grocery money, the rest of the family doesn’t eat. If the father cashes his paycheck at the bar, that family may suddenly be looking for a homeless shelter.

Addiction left untreated is insidious. It will need to be fed constantly, and guess where the funds will come from? Guess which family member will be tapping the treasury? Step eight asks that I list every person I have harmed, and [be] ready to make amends to each and every one of them.

Part of my recovery work means tallying up what I have wasted, how much money I have thrown away in order to self-medicate, buying whatever provided me a quick fix. In no time at all, feeding one’s addiction just leaves the addict craving more and just spending more to feed that monster called addiction.

Lord, help me be responsible about whatever community property to which I have access. Amen.