To be read: April 11, August 11, December 11
Do not grant easy admission to one who has newly come to monastic life, 2but, as the Apostle says, “Test the spirits to see whether they are of God”(1 Jn 4:1). 3If, therefore, the newcomer keeps on knocking, and after four or five days it is seen that he patiently bears the harsh treatment offered him and the difficulty of admission, and that he perseveres in his request, 4then shall admission be granted to him, and let him live for a few days in the guest quarters. 5But after that let him live in the novitiate, and there let him meditate, eat, and sleep. 6A senior should be appointed for him, who is qualified to win souls, who will observe him with great care 7and see whether he really seeks God and whether he is eager for the Work of God, and for obedience and trials. 8The novice should be shown all the hard and rugged things which lead us to God. 9If he promises to remain steadfast in stability, then after two months have passed, let this Rule be read to him straight through 10and let it be said to him: This is the law under which you desire to serve. If you can keep it, enter in; if, however, you cannot, depart freely.11If he still stands firm, then let him be taken back to the novitiate, and let him be tried again in all patience. 12And after six months have passed, let the Rule be read to him again, so that he may know what he is entering. 13And if he still stands firm, let the same Rule be read to him again after four months. 14After having weighed the matter with himself, if he promises to keep everything, and to do everything that is commanded him, then let him be received into the community, 15knowing that he is now placed under the law of the Rule, and from that day forward it is no longer permitted to him to leave the monastery, 16nor to shake his neck from under the yoke of the Rule, which after so long a deliberation he was at liberty to either refuse or to accept.
This chapter is the heart of this section of the Rule. Though the section begins with chapter 53, the reception of guests, the message of chapter 58 may give us a clearer look into the mind of St. Benedict regarding the elements of discipline in these chapters. The English title given to this chapter in the RB 1980 is “The Procedure for Receiving Brothers”, but the Latin title uses the word disciplina, or “The Discipline for Receiving Brothers”. It is in this chapter that Benedict gives us the promises that the newly professed makes: stability, fidelity, and obedience. When someone is truly desirous to be the Imago Christi, they will pursue the disciplines of the Lord, and to do that, they will keep the promises. That procedure, the discipline of the Rule, is what Benedict has laid out for us in this chapter.
You may say, “But this chapter is about becoming a monk! I’m not interested in entering the monastery. What does this chapter have to do with me?” Yes, Benedict wrote the Rule for monks, but the truth is that a monk is someone, as Benedict describes above, who “seeks God and…is eager for the Work of God”. This is a significant challenge for every Christian. The Latin word translated “eager” is sollicitus, which is often translated into English as “zeal”.
For what are you zealous? As Christians living in the world, but by grace not of the world, we are often tempted to get caught up in worldly pursuits. The pursuit of financial security, status, physical attractiveness, etc., all make their claim on our consciousness. But as St. Benedict exhorts us in chapter 4, verse 20: “Your way of acting should be different from worldly ways.” In pursuit of that goal, Benedict lays down three things for which we must be zealous: “the Work of God, and for obedience and trials”. But let us honestly ask, are we zealously pursuing organizing our daily routine around the discipline of prayer? Are we seeking to live our lives in obedience to the Word of God, and to those in authority? And are we willing to persevere through the “trials” of life, humbly accepting our role in His Kingdom? The evidence of our zealousness of these pursuits may be answered in our response to the question: Are you zealously desirous of becoming the Imago Christi?
The truth is that most of us want the Christian life to be easy. But there are trials. And as Benedict states above, “The novice should be shown all the hard and rugged things which lead us to God.” The zealous pursuit of God often leads through rough terrain. To that end, the novice professes three promises before he is admitted to full membership in the community. These promises are not unique to the cenobitic community, and we shall see, in the next meditation, how they apply to our lives as Christians living in the secular world.