April 12, August 12, December 12
Chapter 58: On the Manner of Receiving Sisters
When she is to be received
she promises before all in the oratory
fidelity to monastic life
This promise she shall make before God and His Saints,
so that if she should ever act otherwise,
she may know that she will be condemned by Him whom she mocks.
Of this promise of hers let her draw up a document
in the name of the Saints whose relics are there
and of the Abbess who is present.
Let her write this document with her own hand;
or if she is illiterate, let another write it at her request,
and let the novice put her mark to it.
Then let her place it with her own hand upon the altar;
and when she has placed it there,
let the novice at once intone this verse:
“Receive me, O Lord, according to Your word, and I shall live:
and let me not be confounded in my hope” (Ps. 118:116).
Let the whole community answer this verse three times
and add the “Glory be to the Father.”
Then let the novice prostrate herself at each one’s feet,
that they may pray for her.
And from that day forward
let her be counted as one of the community.
If she has any property,
let her either give it beforehand to the poor
or by solemn donation bestow it on the monastery,
reserving nothing at all for herself,
as indeed she knows that from that day forward
she will no longer have power even over her own body.
At once, therefore, in the oratory,
let her be divested of her own clothes which she is wearing
and dressed in the clothes of the monastery.
But let the clothes of which she was divested
be put aside in the wardrobe and kept there.
Then if she should ever listen to the persuasions of the devil
and decide to leave the monastery (which God forbid),
she may be divested of the monastic clothes and cast out.
Her document, however,
which the Abbess has taken from the altar,
shall not be returned to her, but shall be kept in the monastery.
Is anyone else as moved as I by this reading. My heart leaps and dances.
As many of us who read this already know, Benedictine monastics do not vow poverty, chastity and obedience but promise stability, conversion of life and obedience. For monastics, of course, this means staying in one monastery with these people for the rest of their lives, conforming all aspects of one’s self to the Rule of St. Benedict as practised in that community and obedience to the Abbott, the Rule, and the community.
How do we apply these concepts to our lives when we are not in monastic community? What does look like? If one is an Oblate of a particular Benedictine monastery, this is defined for one, if I understand correctly. But what about for the rest of us?
Stability… In a mobile society, reams have already been written about our inability to stay in one place for very long be it job, church, house, relationship. The list could go on ad nauseum, I daresay. But I would like to focus on stability of the heart, of a heart set on Jesus. There are so many ways we could embrace this concept. It is hard to choose. I know of people who buy every new Breviary that is published and who switch out books from time to time. I mean no disrespect even though it will probably sound this way, it reminds me of people who buy every new diet book and chop and change diet plans constantly, never really sticking with one and letting it work. Benedictine stability asks us to stand against all such temptations and to choose, commit and stick. So obviously we have to prayerfully choose very carefully before we undertake to commit and stick.
Conversion of life… As with stability, this is extremely personal. One tool I really like os Jane Tomaine’s _The Benedictine Toolbox_. What a challenging book. I like the way she takes one thing at a time. An aspect of conversion of life I have been working on is to cease to curse out the other drivers and to pray for them instead. I am incapable of immediately and all at once changing everything in my life that does not reflect Jesus. It has to be one step at a time.
Obedience… In a “me! me! me!” world, obedience is an ugly word. Perhaps even unnecessary. Certainly, many people find obeying the law optional. Hate to use another driving example, but there is an intersection in my neighborhood through which people on my street have the right of way. People coming the other way have to stop and it is rare that anyone does. So many of us demand a personal application, a personal relevance before we will agree to cooperate. How do we get past the egocentricity of our fine selves to consider the greater good and our role in it?