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.
Influenced by the popular myth of a quasi–exclusive Benedictine specialisation in the sacred liturgy, people sometimes equate Benedictine life with zeal for the Work of God, and discount the rest of the sentence in Chapter LVIII: ” . . . 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.” There is more to Benedictine life than the worthy celebration of the choral Office. The choral Office is an image of, and a participation in, the glorious priesthood of Christ “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). It presupposes, therefore, an actual participation in the Passion of Christ, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7–8). The monk enters into the Passion of Christ by dying to himself daily, even hourly, in obedience and in humiliations, according to the Apostle’s word:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8–12)
The Good Thing that Obedience Is
The God–seeking man comes to the monastery to die with Christ; he comes to the monastery to surrender to the embrace of the Cross. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). Unless monastic obedience has a trenchant edge, cutting into the very fabric of ordinary life, it remains theoretical and ineffectual. The novice enters the narrow way of obedience when he begins to find it good no longer to do what he wills, when he wills, in the way he wills. He is making progress in obedience when he begins to find it good that the sound of the bell calls him to die to what he is doing and rise to what is being asked of him. He will discover that obedience is saving him from the tyranny of self and, paradoxically, setting him in the spacious liberty of those who are moved by the Spirit of God. “I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy. For thou hast regarded my humility, thou hast saved my soul out of distresses. And thou hast not shut me up in the hands of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a spacious place.” (Psalm 30:8–9).