To be read: April 15, August 15, December 15
If a priest asks to be received into the monastery, let consent not be granted too quickly. 2However, if he urgently persists in his request, let him know that he must keep the whole discipline of the Rule, 3and that nothing will be relaxed in his favor, that it may be as it is written: “Friend, why are you here?” (Mt 26:50). 4It may be granted him, however, to stand next to the Abbot, and to give the blessing, or to celebrate Mass, but only if the Abbot orders him to do so. 5But if the Abbot does not, let the priest not presume to do anything himself, knowing that he is under the discipline of the Rule, but rather give an example of humility to all. 6But if there is a question of an appointment in the monastery, or any other matter, 7let him be ranked by the time of his entry into the monastery, and not by the place granted him in consideration of the priesthood. 8But if a cleric, moved by the same desire, wishes to join the monastery, let him too have a middle place, provided he promises to keep the Rule and observe stability.
I am a priest, but I will not be asking to be received into a monastery any time soon. What does this chapter say to me? You may not be a priest, and so you may rightly ask what this chapter has to say to you. Regardless of our place in the Church, Jesus gave us a directive in Luke chapter 14 which is instructional for comprehending this chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict. Let me quote the passage in full here:
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them,“When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him;and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
The best course of action for any Christian, when taking on any new opportunity or responsibility (e.g. a new job, ministry, or even as a guest) is to take the lowest place. Let God raise you up, and your host, or employer, or parish priest invite you to “go up higher”.
In each of the final four chapters of this section (chs. 60-63), as we shall see over the next few days, the common theme that resonates in each is humility. Sadly, it is all too common for those in Holy Orders to demand respect rather than to earn it by humble service. But Jesus set the model saying, “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). For the priest to be an Imago Christi he must be as the Pope’s honorary title suggests, the “servant of the servants of God”. When the clergy take the lowest seat, they give honor to God by honoring the other members of the Body of Christ. As our Lord commended, “Whoever would be first among you must be servant of all” (Mark 10:44). Whether clergy or laity, as Christians we must practice such humility and thus permit “the love of Christ to come before all else” (RB 4:21) in our lives and ministry.
Seeing Christ in the other, practicing humility before our brothers and sisters in Christ, and denying all for the sake of Christ all point to the desire to be recreated in the image of Christ. This chapter, and the three which follow, were probably born out of issues that St. Benedict faced as the community grew and new houses were added. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit these chapters help the members of the community to break through what could be stressful conflicts in the relationships between brothers. And for us, they point toward the discipline of seeking Christ in our neighbor, in the stranger, and in the members of the Body. We are reminded, too, in practicing the discipline of the Rule that we are daily being recreated in His image. In that we are called to be and to live as the Imago Christi.