The example of his seniors

Benedictine Monks of San Miniato al Monte, Florence

5 Feb. 6 June. 6 Oct.

The eighth degree of humility is, for a monk to do nothing except what is authorised by the common rule of the monastery, or the example of his seniors.

A monk is not an innovator; he is a son of tradition. Saint Benedict wisely unmasks the secret pride that, more often than not, drives the need to be different, to foment change, and to contest the practices and principles that have been handed on.

As a survivor of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, I remember when the slogans being bandied about in cloisters were in direct opposition to the eighth degree of humility: “Do anything but what is authorised by the common rule of the monastery, or the example of the seniors! Out with the old, in with the new! All that went before was unenlightened and stifling. Invent your own rituals! Shake off the weight of the ages!” One has to wonder if the proponents of such ideas had, in fact, ever read the Conciliar texts:

There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 23)

It redounds to the good of the Church that institutes have their own particular characteristics and work. Therefore let their founders’ spirit and special aims they set before them as well as their sound traditions-all of which make up the patrimony of each institute be faithfully held in honor. (Perfectae Caritatis, art. 2)

The monastic life, that venerable institution which in the course of a long history has won for itself notable renown in the Church and in human society, should be preserved with care and its authentic spirit permitted to shine forth ever more splendidly both in the East and the West. The principal duty of monks is to offer a service to the divine majesty at once humble and noble within the walls of the monastery, whether they dedicate themselves entirely to divine worship in the contemplative life or have legitimately undertaken some apostolate or work of Christian charity. Retaining, therefore, the characteristics of the way of life proper to them, they should revive their ancient traditions of service and so adapt them to the needs of today that monasteries will become institutions dedicated to the edification of the Christian people. (Perfectae Caritatis, art. 9).

Our forefathers are the saints. What was good for the saints is still good for us. What the saints loved remains still worthy of our love. What the saints did in ages past is, even now, the best indication of what we are to do today. Pope Benedict XVI said it beautifully:

What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer [and I would add here, in monastic and other forms of religious life], and to give them their proper place.

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