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The Admission of Priests to the Monastery

Wednesday, August 14, 2024

If any ordained priest asks to be received into a male monastery, do not agree too quickly. However, if he is fully persistent in his request, he must recognize that he will have to observe the full discipline of the rule without any mitigation, knowing that it is written:"Friend, what have you come for (Mt 26:50)?" He should, however, be allowed to stand next to the abbot, to give blessings and to celebrate the Eucharist, provided that the abbot bids him. Otherwise, he must recognize that he is subject to the discipline of the rule, and not make any exceptions for himself, but rather give everyone an example of humility. Whenever there is question of an appointment or of any other business in the monastery, he takes the place that corresponds to the date of his entry into the community, and not that granted him out of respect for his priesthood.

Any clerics who similarly wish to join the community should be ranked somewhere in the middle, but only if they, too, promise to keep the rule and observe stability.

Benedictine life was monastic and lay, not diocesan and clerical. It's role was not to serve parishes or to develop dioceses but to create a way of life immersed in the scriptures, devoted to the common life, and dedicated to the development of human community. It was simple, regular and total, a way of living, not a way of serving; it was an attitude toward life, not a church ministry. Benedict, in other words, is not trying to create a clerical system. He is trying to create a human family. He is not out trying to collect priests though he does recognize that a priest may well have a monastic vocation.

More interesting, then, than the fact that he does not see priesthood as essential to the achievement of his vision of life is the fact that he actually seems to discourage the idea. If they come and ask to be received, "do not agree too quickly," he cautions and actually puts some restrictions on their membership: no elevated rank, no special attention, no official place. Why? And what can that possibly say to the rest of us now?

Benedict knew what most of us learn sooner or later: it is hard to let go of the past and yet, until we do, there is no hope whatsoever that we can ever gain from the future. Priests, Benedict knew, came to the monastery having already been formed in another system. They were accustomed to living a highly independent and highly catered life. They had been a world unto themselves and leaders of others. In the monastery, they would have to be formed in a whole new way of life and spirituality. They would have to defer to the presence and needs of others. They, who had given so many orders, would have to take some. They would have to begin again. It could be done but it would not be easy. The Tao Te Ching reads:

The Master leads
by emptying people's minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.

The insights are important ones for all of us. Everyone has to put down some part of their past sometime. Everyone makes a major life change at some time or other. Everyone has to be open to being formed again. The only thing that can possibly deter the new formation is if we ourselves refuse to let go of what was. If we cling to the past, the future is closed to us.