Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 58: On the Manner of Receiving Sisters, April 11, 2017

April 11, August 11, December 11
Chapter 58: On the Manner of Receiving Sisters
When anyone is newly come for the reformation of her life,
let her not be granted an easy entrance;
but, as the Apostle says,
“Test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”
If the newcomer, therefore, perseveres in her knocking,
and if it is seen after four or five days
that she bears patiently the harsh treatment offered her
and the difficulty of admission,
and that she persists in her petition,
then let entrance be granted her,
and let her stay in the guest house for a few days.
After that let her live in the novitiate,
where the novices study, eat and sleep.
A senior shall be assigned to them who is skilled in winning souls,
to watch over them with the utmost care.
Let her examine whether the novice is truly seeking God,
and whether she is zealous
for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials.
Let the novice be told all the hard and rugged ways
by which the journey to God is made.
If she promises stability and perseverance,
then at the end of two months
let this rule be read through to her,
and let her be addressed thus:
“Here is the law under which you wish to fight.
If you can observe it, enter;
if you cannot, you are free to depart.”
If she still stands firm,
let her be taken to the above-mentioned novitiate
and again tested in all patience.
And after the lapse of six months let the Rule be read to her,
that she may know on what she is entering.
And if she still remains firm,
after four months let the same Rule be read to her again.
Then, having deliberated with herself,
if she promises to keep it in its entirety
and to observe everything that is commanded,
let her be received into the community.
But let her understand that,
according to the law of the Rule,
from that day forward she may not leave the monastery
nor withdraw her neck from under the yoke of the Rule
which she was free to refuse or to accept
during that prolonged deliberation.

Some thoughts
 
Firstly, this shows that it is no easy or ill-considered matter to enter the novitiate. There’s a whole year of experiencing life under the Rule before the final decision is permitted to be made.
 
Note that there’s no picking and choosing about what to keep and what not to keep in the Rule – it is to be kept in its entirety. This makes it a **huge** commitment.
 
Thinking of other commitments we make in life… a new job, marriage perhaps, or a promise to do something faithfully day by day, I know I’ve not been in the habit of considering it at length, or questioning whether I have the physical or moral strength to persist in what I’ve undertaken. I’ve become far more cautious of late because it upsets me to let people down.
 
It’s difficult outside of a religious community for people to honor commitments they’ve made; in modern secular society, there’s always a way out – we can resign; we can divorce; we can explain that we can’t keep our promise for a multiplicity of reasons.
 
This makes it hard for us to trust or be trusted by other human beings. Perhaps this is what makes it hard for us to trust God’s promises to us, or to accept that he’s still reigning supreme in heaven, in earth, and in our lives when we’re experiencing ‘the hard bits’. Of all my many relationships – daughter, sister, friend – I can only see **perfect** commitment, a covenant relationship, in and from God (which I want to reciprocate fully but frequently fail to do so.)
 
Without commitment, there will inevitably be times when we are hurt badly, and when we damage others who trusted us. No wonder St Benedict was so firm about a year of deliberation before entering the novitiate.
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