Exhortation for the First Profession of Br Moses and Br Piotr on 17 October 2022 by Dom Steele Hartmann

Moses and Piotr, you have come here seeking to be received into our community. In order to be received, you have determined to promise Stability, Conversion of Life, and Obedience. (Rule of St Benedict 58:17) These three vows correspond with the three stages outlined in St Benedict’s Chapter on The Procedure for Accepting Brothers. In the first stage, the novice is acquainted with the hard facts of life in the monastery. (Rule of St Benedict 58:5-8) Armed with this information, he then promises to persevere in the face of all these difficulties here in the monastery, in this place, and so the vow of Stability. The second stage focuses on the Rule. This is what the novice must accept or reject as his law of life. (Rule of St Benedict 58:9-11) And as the last chapter in the Rule has it: “We have sketched out this Rule, so that carrying it out in monasteries we may at least show that we have … the rudiments of a monastic life.” (Rule of St Benedict 73:1) We are to live our life in the monastery according to the Rule (Rule of St Benedict 5:13), and not according to our own ‘wills and gross appetites’ (Rule of St Benedict 1:11), and so the vow of Conversion of Life. Lastly, we come to Obedience, in which we pledge the total commitment of our whole person to doing God’s Will. (Rule of St Benedict 58:12-13) In Chapter Seventy-One Obedience is called the ‘way to God.’ (Rule of St Benedict 71:2. C.f. Prologue:2) Obedience to God is the Way we have determined to go. For, to be with God in his Kingdom is what we seek. (Rule of St Benedict 58:17) These vows sum up the journey so far, in the noviciate.

Benedict was the first to have a twelve month noviciate. He wanted to ensure that the novice had adequate time to ‘consider the matter carefully’ (Rule of St Benedict 58:14), that matter being probably the most important decision of his life, so that he might come to freely ‘promise to keep everything and carry out all he is told to do’ (Rule of St Benedict 58:14) that he might be received into the community. After such a prolonged reflection on the matter, he now ‘knows what he is getting into.’ (Rule of St Benedict 58:12) To help him to arrive at this point, the novice does all this under the watchful ‘guidance’ of a wise ‘senior.’ (Rule of St Benedict 58:6. C.f.: 3:13) That is, the novice has been guided through a discernment process not unlike that recommended to the abbot in Chapter Three. The end result is that the novice has determined the Way he should go, or as Benedict has it in Chapter Three, the way that ‘seems best to him.’ (Rule of St Benedict 3:5) So, Benedict then spells out the consequences of his having discerned the Way that for him is God’s Will: ‘He must realise that from that day forward the law of the Rule prevents him from leaving the monastery. Neither may he remove his neck from the yoke of the Rule, which he was free to avoid or undertake after such a protracted discernment.’ (Rule of St Benedict 58:15-16) To follow our discernment, when we have heard God’s voice, is the essence of Monastic Life. (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:10)

In the title for this Chapter, The Procedure for Receiving Brothers, the word, ‘procedure,’ may mean simply a way of doing things, but it could also be translate as: ‘discipline,’ as in some kind of punishment — and as it seems to be used elsewhere in the Rule: “If he does not improve let him be subjected to the discipline of the Rule.” (Rule of St Benedict 32:5. See also 70:6; 54:5; 3:10) But if one looks at the penal provisions of the Rule, they are almost devoid of content. So, it cannot be in the sense of an imposed discipline. In other places ‘discipline’ seems to refer to life under the Rule itself — of a priest who seeks admission to the monastery, it says that he must ‘observe the full discipline of the Rule’ and that ‘he must recognise that he will now have to subject himself … to the discipline of the Rule.’ (Rule of St Benedict 60:5; 62:3. C.f.: 62:4) What seems to be happening in the Rule in the matter of discipline, is that, when a person is rebuked (c.f.: Psalm 141:5), he is called to be mindful that he may be straying from the Way he has set himself to travel along, and as set out in the Rule. The call, then, is for him to reflect on what he is doing in the light of the Rule. Again, the thrust isfor the brother to ‘test the the spirits’ to see if what is moving him, is from God, and so to hear there the call to conversion. (Rule of St Benedict 27:2-3. C.f.: 58:28) The erring brother, then, is not so much being punished, as ‘subjecting himself to the discipline of the Rule’ by trying to live it more nearly or more closely, that he might keep himself on ‘the narrow road that leads to life’ (Rule of St Benedict 5:11) — and by joining the monastery, this is what he has vowed to do. So, ‘the procedure for receiving brothers’ is not really about a some process for getting newcomers to join a monastery, and which culminates in a profession ceremony. Rather, it is about initiating a brother into a way of life that involves a process of ongoing discernment about the Way that leads to God, and into which he is inserted right from the beginning of the noviciate.

The vows, then, which summarise the novice’s journey in the noviciate, are really about the different aspects of life in the monastery, and over which we will have recurring bouts of difficulty from time to time. They represent the ‘hard and harsh things’ about life in the monastery that we will encounter on the road that ‘leads to God’ (Rule of St Benedict 58:8), and with which we all will have to struggle from time to time: we will be challenged by having to live with one another here in the monastery; we will be challenged by living a way of life according to the Rule, and which will at times seem pointless and stupid; and, we will be challenged to remain faithful to that Way we have discerned is The Way for us to go to God. The vows, then, are really a vow to persevere in the various areas of hardship we encounter in living monastic life — ‘if he stands firm’ is Benedict’s constant refrain about this time of testing in the noviciate (Rule of St Benedict 58:9, 11, 13, 14); it will call for much patience from us, not just in the noviciate but for most of our life in the monastery: ‘if he stands firm’ ‘to the end.’ (Rule of St Benedict 73:1; Hebrews 3:6) In this light, we can more readily understand Benedict’s instruction to the senior into whose care he places the newcomer: ‘The concern must be whether the novice truly seeks God and whether he shows eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials.’ (Rule of St Benedict 58:7) For, in a sense, this concern is to be our ongoing concern, as we endeavour to live out our life in the monastery. And the formation in discernment we received in the noviciate will stand us in good stead as we again and again encounter difficulties in these three aspects of life in the monastery, for we will know how to set about dealing with them. (C.f.: Rule of St Benedict 1:3-4)

Again, at this point of beginning life in the monastery, we need to hear once more those words of Benedict in the Prologue: “If we wish to reach eternal life, … we must run and do now what will profit us forever. Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.” (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:42- 50) The road that leads to salvation will seem narrow at times, harsh even, and it will challenge us. But the promise is that we will ‘arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear, through which all that we once performed with dread, we will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue.’ (Rule of St Benedict 7:67-69) Then, having achieved ‘some degree of virtue and the beginnings of monastic life’ (Rule of St Benedict 73:1), we will be able to run on the path of God commandments, and begin to ‘truly seek God’ in earnest.

Again, at this point of beginning life in the monastery, we need to hear once more those words of Benedict in the Prologue: “If we wish to reach eternal life, … we must run and do now what will profit us forever. Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.” (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:42- 50) The road that leads to salvation will seem narrow at times, harsh even, and it will challenge us. But the promise is that we will ‘arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear, through which all that we once performed with dread, we will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue.’ (Rule of St Benedict 7:67-69) Then, having achieved ‘some degree of virtue and the beginnings of monastic life’ (Rule of St Benedict 73:1), we will be able to run on the path of God commandments, and begin to ‘truly seek God’ in earnest. 

Moses and Piotr, your perseverance in the noviciate has shown that you have what it takes to ‘truly seek God.’ It is your perseverance in the face of hardship and difficulty that gains you not just admission to the monastery, but ultimately to ‘dwell with the Lord in the tent of his Kingdom.’ (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:22) But, says Benedict, ‘we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds,’ unless we fulfil ‘the obligations of those who live there,’ unless ‘we translate into action as we should, the Lord’s holy teaching.’ (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:22, 39, 35) In this we are hopelessly inadequate (C.f.: Romans 7:18ff); time and again we will fall and fail. (Rule of St Benedict 68:1ff) If we are going to do this, we are going to need the Lord’s help. (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:41) When we find that we are able to run on the path of God’s commandments (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:49), then we must know that God is with us. And if he is on our side, we cannot fail. (Romans 8:31) Our Way is a Way that will and does call for faith: that ‘nothing is impossible to God.’ (Luke 1:37. C.f.: Romans 8:24) But in our struggles to do God’s will, when we find we can do it (Rule of St Benedict 4:41-42) (if only a little), if we listen carefully in the quiet of our desperate prayer for help, we will hear him say, “Here I am!” (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:18) And we shall know the Lord our God as Emmanuel, God-with-us (Matthew 1:23); we shall have found the God whom we seek. As Benedict has it at the end of his Rule: “Are you hastening towards your heavenly home? Then with Christ’s help, keep this little Rule we have written for beginners.” (Rule of St Benedict 73:8) May God bring to completion the good work he has begun in you. (C.f.: Rule of St Benedict Prologue:4, 41)

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO