Those who are sent on a journey.
Those who are sent on a journey should commend themselves to the prayers of all the community as well as of the superior and, at the last prayer of the work of God in the oratory, theres should always be a memento of all who may be absent. Any who come back from a journey should lie prostrate in the oratory at the end of each of the Hours to ask the prayer of the whole community in case that have chanced to suffer any harm from what they have seen or heard or from idle gossip on their journey. None of them should be foolish enough to give an account to anyone in the community of what they may have seen or heard while away from the monastery, because this can do much harm. If any dare to do so they must receive the punishment of the Rule. The same must apply to anyone who presumes to go outside of the enclosure of the monastery or to to anywhere or do anything however small, without the superior’s permission.
Benedict has already mentioned those monks and nuns that go on a journey before, in relation to how they are to continue in the Work of God, even when departed physically from their brothers and sisters. (Chapter Fifty), now he focuses a different aspect of the time away. For the Holy Father it is clear that life outside of the monastery for the monk or nun is a negative force – at the end of the chapter on the The Porter (Chapter Sixty Six) Benedict makes it clear that everything that a brother or sister should need should be found within the enclosure of the monastery, to prevent the need for them to go further afield.
The principle behind this is old, taken from the Desert Fathers and replicated by various monastic orders across the world and throughout time. The more time the monk or nun spends away from the cell, the cloister or the monastery in general the more likely they are to resent the perceived limitations inside the world. One of the greatest lies that the Devil tells those who are called to monastic life if that the surrender of liberty required to follow the Rule is too great. Most monastics you speak to will tell you it was only behind the monastery walls and under the Rule that they learnt what freedom was, the freedom in Christ, to fulfil the call upon their life to perfect themselves for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Those of us in the world are no more free than those behind the cloister walls. We all have demands made of us, for our time and resources, we may have an employer to whom we are directly accountable, we may have a family with needs that are to be fulfilled. Where is this freedom? Our days are ordered, just different, and in the service of faceless organisations, rather than the Divine Face. But it is clear that there are lures and attractions of the world that can beguile the monk, the nun, even the lay Christian, to be diverted from the path of righteousness.
Benedict is very clear, therefore, that whilst the brother or sister is absent they should be prayed for, every day, in the oratory – a reminder that they are not present and that they are in a dangerous place. When the individual returns from the world they are to prostrate themselves and humbly ask for the prayers of the community, to protect them from whatever may have crossed their path in the world – as it does not take very long to build up bad habits and bring them home to the community.
For us, there is an important point here. We are not strong enough to manage the Christian faith alone, we have always been created for life together (which is why Benedict says that only the very strongest of monks and nuns who have absorbed the stability of the Rule in the community may be allowed to be hermits) – we are made in the image of God, the God of Trinity, the God that is in and of relationship within Himself. We need the support of our brothers and sisters in the faith to uphold us, encourage us, chastise us and pick us up when we fall, to catch us when we slip -and they need the same from us.
There will always be times when we awake on a Sunday morning, peer out through the curtains and see on overcast, gloomy, cold February morning and ponder, with great temptation, rolling over and pulling the duvet up, hiding from the outside world and not going to Church. Even those who are called to serve in Church feel the same, I know of no priest who hasn’t had this though – but it is important to remember the words that are found in our liturgy – ‘it is a duty and a joy at all times and in all places’ – a duty and a joy, sometimes it will definitely feel like one more the the other, and when it is feeling like a duty that is when we most need to be with our bothers and sisters, because in our lower moments, when we are less drawn to God, less inspired by the Church, that is when we are most likely to be low hanging fruit for the enemy to pluck off.
And to pluck us off, it won’t be dramatic – it will start with bad habits. A little ill feeling here, a little anger there, a little lust sprinkled in, a gradual separation from God and a gradual drawing to the world. C.S.Lewis in his very witty book ‘The Screwtape Letters’ imagines a conversation between a junior and senior demon – and one of the pieces of advice the senior gives to his nephew, who is busy trying to tempt someone, is to separate them from other Christians.
When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there – Jesus says. We cannot be a Christian alone.