Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 4 - Benedictine Vows

While passing through entrance interviews, the candidate for postulancy will become well acquainted with the rudiments of the Benedictine vows.

Benedictines do not take the more familiar vows of chastity and poverty. The postulants and novices move toward final vows of 1) obedience, 2) stability, and 3) conversatio. These have a spiritual genius about them.

The Benedictine considers that the Abbot or Abbess having charge and care of the house is God’s agent to love and watch over all and each, and to see the house remain, hopefully to the end of time. To the Benedictine, it is nonsensical to strive for excellence of spirit and refuse to obey those whose purpose in life is to see that you get there. A prideful, petty, or persnickety Abbess would not suit that bill, and those who have chosen to obey for the duration of her life, or theirs, choose wisely in election.

Stability is a vow largely unique to the Benedictines. Monks and nuns will vow steadfast devotion to the very house which has welcomed them. A new Benedictine formation (monastery) is a cataclysmic event, because their evangelism is that of the heart. They are the homebodies of the orders, the contemplatives. Nevertheless, the order remains and has seen tremendous growth during certain historical seasons. Someone must make room for each new wave of contemplatives and teach them to grow in grace.

The third vow is that of conversatio. This is a Latin term from the phrase “conversatio morum suorum,” indicating that the Benedictine vows to keep changing in pursuit of the likeness of Christ. A vow . . . to keep changing. My goodness.

Isn’t it interesting to note that the vow of chastity becomes, suddenly, redundant? If a Benedictine stays with the order (stability,) and submits to the obedience of Scripture and Benedict’s rule for monastic life (obedience,) chastity is a “given;” it is required within the house. Benedictines do not vow to keep poverty, because they must not seek riches within the enclosure. Benedict settled these matters, and they are under obedience to his rule. All that comes in is spent on the welfare of the house and the needy beyond its walls. Thus, no separate vow of poverty is taken.

Observing chastity and poverty within the vows of stability and obedience, the Benedictine has opportunity to take up the more searching vow, the more crushing vow, in the sense of crushing thyme and rosemary to release their aroma. The Benedictine vows to change continually in pursuit of the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Watch how closely the three Benedictine vows mirror our requisite devotion as Christians

. . . first in steadfastness to the whole house of believers, to which we are called,
. . . then to the obedience of Christ,
. . . and always to be transformed into the image of the Son of God, by the grace of God.

As we consider and choose the disciplines and reformations we would see effected in our lives, we might consider those things that promote stability, obedience, and “conversatio morum suorum” - conversion of life in the midst of our peers.

"The Promise of God"
Photo by Kerry

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