If an abbot wishes to have a priest or a deacon ordained, he should choose one of the brothers whom he considers worthy to perform the duties of the priesthood. When this brother has been ordained, he must take care to avoid self-satisfaction or pride and must not presume to do anything apart from what the abbot has told him to do, knowing well that he must be all the more subject to the discipline of the rule.
What is this discipline of the Rule? What end does it serve? The discipline is in the forgetting of our self-focused ways and the focusing, instead, on being loving and loveable people. To live truly and communally means growing in love as both loving and loveable. The end of the Rule is a person who accepts, radically, their own loving self, and one who is humble and vulnerable enough to be open to, and live in love. The Rule assists grace in growing integrated and loving people.
Often pride and an overbearing sense of our own self-importance can be fostered by an underlying and persistent feeling of our own unlovableness. There can be a tendency to over-compensate for a false perception of our own worthlessness. There is a lie in all of us that says ‘I will be loved if…’ – I help, I do things right, I know stuff, I’m different, I’m a success, I’m loyal…. This lie can also contribute to a kind of rejection anxiety. One way to control this anxiety is to attempt control over the people and situations around us.
The experience, over time, of the truth of love – love as uncreated, already loving us, and always loving us without conditions – this is what undermines the lie of unlovableness we all live with. A community leader who has taken to heart the spirit of the Rule and is considering someone for priesthood would be looking for someone who is not trapped in this lie of unlovableness. To lead people out of this trap, the way out must be known, experienced. A priest, as someone in a position of service and spiritual leadership, needs to have experienced enough of the way out. If someone is already living into this way out within the monastic community, then that person may be appropriate for the role of priest.
Practically, the Rule is a system of organised roles, be it (for example) abbot/prioress, kitchen servers, porter, deans, or priests. The community leader is co-ordinator of these roles, they are not a dictator. Nor are the priests of monasteries laws unto themselves simply because of their role – no matter how public or how valued the role may be. The role of a benedictine priest is first and foremost one of loving and functional service. They are already valued as a community member. If a priest is needed, and someone is seen as appropriate, then a simple ordination is performed. The priestly role of service is respected while the equality of the priest as a community member is maintained.
The simple truth is that a monastic is to be a contemplative first. A contemplative needs to be wary of anything that could encourage egoism and thus undermine a full human journey into God.
He will always take the place that corresponds to the date of his entry into the monastery, except in his duties at the altar, or unless the whole community chooses and the abbot wishes to give him a higher place for the goodness of his life.
Benedict was aware of the human tendency towards ‘status creep’. At the heart of status creep is an ego being stimulated towards self-focus. Attention being directed to someone in a public and valued role can be, over time, usurped by an ego that always has within it the potential for growth in self focus.
What roles have we performed, roles that were valued, perhaps even prized by others? Did we sense that movement within us towards an unnecessary self-focus, a focus that would have moved attention away from the task at hand as an act of service to one as an act of that ‘I’ inside that desires attention lest that ‘I’ be forgotten? Were we grounded in humility and love enough to not be drawn into and defined by this wayward ‘I’? Were there people around us to help us stay humble, people who loved us enough to care and act?
The WCCM, in its teaching, in its focus on meditation groups, and in the encouragement of its members to foster a Rule inspired community life in the ordinary of their lives – it is in these things that the roots of a monastery without walls grow. In these things grace makes possible a going beyond ego and self, into God.
Pope Francis has repeatedly warned us about the dangers of priestly clericalism. Clericalism is a failure of the spirit of the Gospels and thus a failure of the spirit of the Rule. It is a failure because it views priesthood as the best way to live a Christian life. Clericalism is
..one of the evils of the Church. But it is a “complicit” evil, because priests take pleasure in the temptation to clericalize the laity, but many of the laity are on their knees asking to be clericalized, because it is more comfortable, it is more comfortable! This is a double sin! We must overcome this temptation. The layperson must be lay, one who is baptized, with the power that comes from his [sic] baptism (Pope Francis) (1).
Laypeople must avoid the temptation of projecting their own potentialities onto priests. This encourages clericalism. To be a priest does not make someone better, more gifted, or somehow closer to God. The treasure in the field is not an increase in vocations to priesthood. The treasure is the gift of our own deep, divinely-given identity-in-love. As we all live into this loving mystery that is our deep identity lost in God, we can then grow in being our ‘best selves’, in our own giftedness, in our God-given human equality. And in this some of us are drawn to serve as priests and deacons. All this is part of the dynamic of contemplative life and prayer. We become no longer afraid of our own light and we allow this light to lead us where ever it may take us.
But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. (1Thess 5:4-5).