Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 5 – The Benedictines

To the monastic soul, the idea of having someone tell us “Go worship!” is rather like giving a child a fistful of dollars and turning him loose in a candy shop!

As we explore the rudiments of monasticism and use what we can as a template for our devotional lives, we learn that applicants for postulancy are very well versed in what it is – and what it takes - to live out the privilege of prayer and praise.

Let’s begin with the Benedictines. These are the typically esoteric monastics, the “Mary” monastics. Don’t worry – if you think you are more of a Martha, there is a cell open for you, too! Benedictines do not take the more familiar vows of chastity and poverty. These postulants and novices move toward final vows of 1) obedience, 2) stability, and 3) “conversatio.” These have a spiritual genius about them.

Concerning obedience, the Benedictine considers that the Abbot or Abbess having charge and care of the monastery is God’s agent to love and watch over all and each, and to see the house remain. They elect their own superiors, those among them in whom they see best the life and grace and truth of Christ, and they purpose to obey them. 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.

Stability is a vow largely unique to the Benedictines. Monks and nuns will vow steadfast devotion to the very house which has welcomed them. They are the homebodies of the orders, the contemplatives. They know well the rule of the house, the framework of the Divine Office, and they move into that devotion when they arrive, to seek and serve the Lord.

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. Goodness gracious!

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 mandates of Scripture and Benedict’s rule for purity and reverence (obedience,) chastity is a “given;” it is required within the house. Benedictines do not vow to keep poverty, because within the enclosure all are rich or poor together. Usually not rich!

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, of conversatio. The Benedictine vows to keep changing in pursuit of the likeness of Jesus Christ.

As Jesus admonished us to “obey My commands” and to “abide in Me,” and as we hear the cry of the Father’s heart . . . “Be conformed to the image of the Son!,” we will realize we are quite Benedictine ourselves, here in this monastery of the heart.

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