Of Stranger Monks, how they are to be received (II)

16 Apr. 16 Aug. 16 Dec.
But if during that time he was found burdensome or prone to vice, not only must he not be admitted among the brethren, but he must even be courteously bidden to depart, lest others should be corrupted by his evil living. If, however, he is not such as to deserve to be sent away, let him not merely on his own asking be received and admitted into the community, but even be persuaded to remain, that the others may be taught by his example: because in every place we serve one God, and fight under one King. And if the Abbot perceive him to be a man of this kind, he may put him in a somewhat higher place. It shall be in the Abbot’s power to assign not only to a simple monk, but also to any of the aforesaid priests or clerics, a higher place than that due to them by their entrance into the Monastery, if he see that their lives are such as to deserve it. But let the Abbot take care never to receive a monk from any known monastery, without his own Abbot’s consent, and letters of recommendation; as it is written: “What thou wilt not have done to thyself, do not thou to another.”

Saint Benedict is hospitable to pilgrim monks, but he is also lucid and vigilant. A visiting monk who is found to be burdensome or prone to vice is to be told politely to go away: dicatur ei honeste ut discedat. Saint Benedict knows that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel. Ne eius miseria etiam alii vitientur. The miseries of vice are contagious: bad example, murmuring, criticisms, foul language, want of respect for the abbot and the other superiors, violations of silence, playing free and easy with the horarium, turning a deaf ear to the bell, secret and unwholesome conversations, and the sowing of questionable or erroneous theological opinions.

Virtue is attractive and winning. The virtuous man can build up the monastic community by his good example, cheerfulness, love for the Divine Office, diligence at work, prompt obedience, loving respect for the abbot and the other superiors, and edifying conversation. Saint Benedict would not have the abbot wait until such a man asks to fix his stability in the monastery. The good monk is “to be persuaded to remain, that the others may be taught by his example”. Saint Benedict concludes that the pilgrim monk need not pursue his journey in search of a better place quia in omni loco uni Domino servitur, uni regi militatur. This is an indictment of the endless dithering that in our day goes by the name of “discernment”. The monk who is never satisfied with conditions and brethren such as they are will travel the globe in search of a community that meets his standards and, in the end, find himself alone, satisfied only in his own company and with his own observance.

The abbot is not to receive a monk from another house without the consent of that monk’s abbot, and letters of recommendation. Similarly, the Father in charge of vocations will make discreet enquiries when men knock at our door who have spent time in other monasteries as enquirers, or postulants, or novices. It is the duty of the abbot and his closest collaborators not only to protect his own community from troublesome and divisive elements, but also to foster good relations with the abbots and brethren of other monasteries. This requires charity, diplomacy, and tact.