Chapter LVIII. Of the Discipline of Receiving Brethren into Religion
11 Apr. 11 Aug. 11 Dec.
Afterwards let him go into the Novitiate, where he is to meditate and study, to take his meals and to sleep. Let a senior, one who is skilled in gaining souls, be appointed over him to watch him with the utmost care, and to see whether he is truly seeking God, and is fervent in the Work of God, in obedience and in humiliations. Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God be set before him.
Discerning a Benedictine Vocation
Saint Benedict would have the Master of Novices observe a man with the utmost care to see if he demonstrates three qualities: 1) Is he truly seeking God? 2) Is he fervent in the Work of God? 3) Does he embrace obedience and humiliations? The presence of these three qualities would indicate a Benedictine vocation. The absence of one of them would make a Benedictine vocation doubtful. The lack of all three is a clear sign that a man is not called to Benedictine life.
Truly Seeking God
A man is truly seeking God when he is seeking Jesus Christ. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1 John 18). Christian monasticism cannot be equated with the various expressions of asceticism found, for example, among Buddhists and Hindus, nor can it be assimilated into a kind of universal, pan–cultural monastic instinct. A relativistic kind of inter–religious dialogue comports real dangers and risks.
As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). (Declaration Dominus Iesus, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 6 August 2000)
God Revealed in Christ
One comes to the monastery not to seek oneness with the universe, nor nirvana, nor oneself; nor does one come to the monastery seeking the impersonal, faceless god of the theists, the conceptualized god of philosophers, the sentimental god of pietists, or the vague magical god of new–agers; one comes to the monastery to seek God as He is in Himself, and as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:20–25)
In the Face of Christ Jesus
The desire to see the Face of Christ is the watermark of an authentically Benedictine vocation. The psalmist expresses this desire: “My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?” (Psalm 41:3); and again, “My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek” (Psalm 26:8). Saint Paul confirms this same desire, saying, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Come and See
Given that one is truly seeking God in coming to the monastic life, where does the search begin? It begins in the life–giving knowledge of Jesus Christ, according to His own prayer to the Father on the night before He suffered. “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:1–3). One who would know Christ must seek Him out, and spend time in His company, just as His first two followers did.
The next day again John stood, and two of his disciples. And beholding Jesus walking, he saith: Behold the Lamb of God. And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turning, and seeing them following him, saith to them: What seek you? Who said to him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith to them: Come and see. They came, and saw where he abode, and they stayed with him that day. (John 1:35–39).
Orienting the Quest
The God–seeking man, if he is attentive to the sacred liturgy, to the teachings of the Church, and to the witness of the saints, will know how to orient his quest. There are, in effect, five principal loci (places) wherein Christ waits for those who seek Him, and allows Himself to be found. “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear: thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58:9). Where, then, will the man who “truly seeks God,” as Saint Benedict says, find Him?
1. First of all, in the arms of the Virgin Mary. “And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him” (Matthew 2:11). The man who seeks Christ will find Him with Mary, His Virgin Mother, and finding Him with Mary, will fall down in adoration. Love Mary, and all the rest will be given you besides.
2. In the Sacred Scriptures. One should open the Bible as one opens the door of the tabernacle. The Scriptures are full of the presence of Jesus. His holy countenance illumines every page of the Bible, from the first to the last. The sound of His voice lies mysteriously embedded in the words of the Holy Gospels. One who “truly seeks God” will want to learn the discipline of lectio divina, and having learned it, will never lay it aside.
3. In the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Like the disciples whose hearts burned at the hearing of the Word on the road to Emmaus, the man who seeks God will be compelled to say, Mane mecum, Domine, Stay with me, O Lord. And entering, through the Word, into the sanctuary of the Holy Table, he will recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. He will want to remain in His presence, adoring His Eucharistic Face, at once concealed and revealed beneath the appearances of bread, veiled by the translucent whiteness of the Host.
4. In the Embrace of the Cross. So long as a man’s life is marked by suffering, he can be certain of finding Jesus, the Lamb caught in the thicket of thorns (Genesis 2:13), “the Lamb slain from the very beginning of the world” (Apocalypse 13:8). When nothing remains of a man’s life by helplessness, and pain, and even the agony of death, he can be certain of finding Christ, for the Body of the Crucified lies stretched over his, the eyes of Christ upon his eyes, the mouth of Christ upon His mouth, the open Heart of Christ against his heart, the pierced hands and feet of Christ over his hands and feet.
5. In One’s Brother. “Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity” (1 John 4:7–8). One does not seek God by turning away from man. Saint Benedict would have his monk seek and find the adorable Face of Christ in the sick, in the stranger, in the feeble old man, and in the frail child. So often as a monk gazes into the face of his brother or sister, he is gazing into the Face of Christ. This is the inexorable doctrine of Jesus in the 25th chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel:
Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:34–40).