To be read: April 23, August 24, December 24
Place a wise old man at the door of the monastery, one who knows how to take a message and give an answer, and whose mature age prohibits him from straying about. 2The porter should have a cell near the door, so that anyone who comes may always find one present from whom they may obtain an answer. 3As soon as anyone knocks or a poor person calls out, he answers, “Thanks be to God,” or invokes a blessing, 4then with gentleness from the fear of God he returns an answer speedily in the fervor of charity. 5If the porter has need of assistance, let him have a younger brother. 6If it can be done, the monastery should be so constructed that all the necessities, such as water, the mill, the garden, are enclosed, and the various arts may be plied inside of the monastery, 7so that there may be no need for the monks to go about outside, because it is not good for their souls. 8But we desire that this Rule be read quite often in the community, that none of the brethren may excuse himself of ignorance.
Stability. It is a promise made by those seeking the disciplined life of prayer and community in the Benedictine model of discipline (RB 58:17), and it is a virtue to be pursued by every Christian. But sadly, stability is all too often scorned by modern man. In counseling a young couple who were living together without the benefit of marriage, I was asked by the young man, “Why would we want to get married?” His rationale: “I think I would get bored with just one partner in life.” But there is great value in maintaining stability in our personal lives and in the community of faith to which we are committed.
The various themes interwoven in this short chapter center around the virtue of stability. First, Benedict suggests that the porter be an older man who will stay put. Secondly, the monks would be best advised to not roam. And, thirdly, the Rule is to be read again and again. What, then, do we imagine is the value of stability? Like the young man I mentioned above, do we believe it breeds boredom? What positive benefits might stability carry? Why on earth should we give ourselves to one person in marriage? Or why should we commit to one parish, one small group of people, for the rest of our lives? Is this not inhibiting—a stifling of our giftedness, and a limiting of our influence? On the contrary; it allows for the perfecting of our gifts in a stable and encouraging environment; then we can go out into the world strengthened and empowered, and can influence and train the next generation with whom we abide.
In order for any living thing to grow, there needs to be stability—plants need roots firmly planted, and children need stable homes in which to be nourished. The Church is a living organism, and the parish is a living part of that larger Body. When members of the Body have no rootedness and flit about from parish to parish, both the individuals and the congregations are diminished. Children raised in broken homes are far more likely to repeat that pattern of divorce and remarriage, and often become pawns in the struggles between divorced parents. That lack of stability is a sure sign of unhealthiness and brokenness in the Body, and in the family. Unfortunately, the Church is no less prone to such issues of instability in her leadership. Pastors become bored, or have eyes on the prize of the bigger, and thus in their minds more influential parish. They abandon their flock, seeking the bigger paycheck, or the next rung on the ecclesiastical corporate ladder, and the whole Body suffers.
But a faithful marriage and a stable parish have much in common. Benedict is promoting not simply a “wise old man at the door” but admonishes that we all become “mature…[and refrain] from straying about”. And the themes of stability presented in this chapter have one more important lesson: stability in learning. St. Paul warned young Timothy that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings,and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We need stability in the words we receive and the lessons taught by the Church. It is important, therefore, to be conscientious in our study of the Word with stable, reliable teachers. Too often people will wander, scrolling the internet to find “teachers to suit their own likings”. From there, it is not a long trek to turning away from the Truth and wandering into myths. And for those following Benedict’s discipline, it is important “that this Rule be read quite often in the community, that none of the brethren may excuse himself of ignorance.” In this modern era, it is easy to wander from the Truth; the temptations are numerous and easily embraced. Stability in our homes, our faith community, and our learning is a blessing to be desired and bears much good and healthy fruit.