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The Procedure for Receiving Members

Monday, August 12, 2024
Chapter 58

When they are to be received, they come before the whole community in the oratory and promise stability, fidelity to the monastic life, and obedience. This is done in the presence of God and the saints to impress on the novices that if they ever act otherwise, they will surely be condemned by the one they mock.

They state their promise in a document drawn up in the name of the saints whose relics are there and of the prioress or abbot, who is present. Novices write out this document themselves, or if they are illiterate, then they ask someone else to write it for them, but put their mark to it and with their own hand lay it on the altar. After they have put it there, the novice begins the verse: "Receive me, O God, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope (Ps 119:116)." The whole community repeats the verse three times, and adds the Doxology. Then the novices prostrate themselves at the feet of each member to ask prayers, and from that very day they are to be counted as one of the community.

Benedictine life is rooted in three dimensions: commitment to a community, fidelity to a monastic way of life and obedience. It is a life that sees sanctification as a by-product of human society, the development of a new way of thinking and living, and a total openness to the constantly emerging challenges of the God-life within us. To pursue a Benedictine spirituality, we must carry our part of the human race and allow it to mold and polish and temper us. We are to be people who see the globe through eyes softened by the gospel. We are to see change and challenge in life as God's voice in our ears. Benedictine spirituality goes into the heart in order to embrace the world. It forms us differently than the world forms us but it does not attempt to shape us independently of the real world around us. The whole point of the profession ceremony itself is quite the opposite. We are, in fact, to make this commitment consciously and knowledgeably and publicly, in the presence of the community, the communion of saints that are represented by the relics of the church, and the leader of the community. This is a declaration that binds us to others and raises us beyond the changing feelings of the day to the obligations of a lifetime.

If they have any possessions, they should either give them to the poor beforehand, or make a formal donation of them to the monastery, without keeping back a single thing for themselves, well aware that from that day they will not have even their own body at their disposal. Then and there in the oratory, they are to be stripped of everything of their own that they are wearing and clothed in what belongs to the monastery. The clothing taken from them is to be put away and kept safely in the wardrobe, so that, should they ever agree to the devil's suggestion and leave the monastery--which God forbid--they can be stripped of the clothing of the monastery before they are cast out. But that document of theirs which the prioress or abbot took from the altar should not be given back to them but kept in the monastery.

This passage of the Rule points out in a particularly graphic way that Benedictine spirituality demands a total change of the way we relate to life. In the first place, monastics are to depend entirely on the community for their support. They don't bring with them the family wealth and they don't have any claim to personal property, not even their clothes. They give everything that they have gained up to the time of their entry into the community either to the poor or to the monastery itself. From then on, it is the support of the community and the providence of God upon which they are to depend, not on their savings, not on their business acumen, not on their relatives and connections. From then on they go through life as a people whose trust is in God and who are responsible for one another. The purpose, of course, is to free a person forcibly from the agenda of the world. "Those who have cattle have care," an African proverb teaches. We "can't serve God and mammon," the scriptures say. The point of Benedictine spirituality is that we have to decide, once and for all, what we are about and then live in a way that makes that possible and makes that real.