April 19, August 19, December 19
Chapter 63: On the Order of the Community
The juniors, therefore, should honor their seniors,
and the seniors love their juniors.
In the very manner of address,
let no one call another by the mere name;
but let the seniors call their juniors Brothers,
and the juniors call their seniors Fathers,
by which is conveyed the reverence due to a father.
But the Abbot,
since he is believed to represent Christ,
shall be called Lord and Abbot,
not for any pretensions of his own
but out of honor and love for Christ.
Let the Abbot himself reflect on this,
and show himself worthy of such an honor.
And wherever the brethren meet one another
the junior shall ask the senior for his blessing.
When a senior passes by,
a junior shall rise and give him a place to sit,
nor shall the junior presume to sit with him
unless his senior bid him,
that it may be as was written,
“In honor anticipating one another.”
Boys, both small and adolescent,
shall keep strictly to their rank in oratory and at table.
But outside of that, wherever they may be,
let them be under supervision and discipline,
until they come to the age of discretion.
As a Baby Boomer, it is perhaps my generation that is most responsible for the demise of respect of one’s elders. Now that I am somewhat handicapped, walk with can and am a woman of a certain age, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that it was perhaps a mistake to fail to trust and respect anyone over 30. Mostly because I’d like to be on the receiving end of respecting one’s elders. People drop heavy doors on me, kids dash in between me and my cane, and people became testy when I cut in the front of a long line at the Post Office, citing my handicap as the reason.
In today’s reading, I find something that calls me to repentance for past errors of judgement and sins of omission and commission.
This paragraph is clearly about the place of respect, experience and wisdom in life. Obviously, the chapter on rank is not meant to grind the community down to its least common denominator. It is not meant to diminish in us the natural respect that differences should bring.
Quite the opposite, in fact. This chapter is meant to freshen our eyes so that we can see all the gifts of the human community clearly: the gifts of old peasant farmers and the gifts of young artists, the gifts of young thinkers and the gifts of old keepers of the monastery door. Age, the Rule teaches, does not give us the right to dismiss the values of the young as if they were useless. Social class does not give us the right to overlook the insights of the poor. Education does not give us the right to snub the needs of the simple. We are to call one another by titles of love and respect. We are to care for the needs of the elderly, no matter our own needs or rank or station. We are to teach what we know so that the next generation grows in good air.
Once upon a time, the Zen masters teach, wealthy donors invited Master Ikkyu to a banquet. The Master arrived there dressed in beggar’s robes. His host, not recognizing him in this garb, hustled him away: “We cannot have you here at the doorstep. We are expecting the famous Master Ikkyu any moment.” The Master went home, changed into his ceremonial robe of purple brocade, and again presented himself at his host’s doorstep where he was received with
great respect and ushered into the banquet room. There, he took off his stiff robe, sat it upright at the dinner table and said, “I presume that it is my robe you have invited since when I first arrived without it a little while ago, you showed me away.”
In Benedictine spirituality reverence for the other based on the spark of the divine that is in us all is a gift to be given to a century alive with distinctions it will not admit and an insight into the sacred, scarred and bleeding, which it does not see.