The Mercy of God and the Fellowship of Community
St. Benedict says that the novice should be one who truly seeks God and who is eager for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials (RB 58:7). When a man enters our community as a novice, the abbot asks him one simple question: “What do you seek?” to which he responds, “The mercy of God and the fellowship of your community.” It is this experience of God’s mercy within the context of a community of brothers which constitutes the essence of Benedictine monastic life and the sole criterion by which that life is judged.
We find mercy in the Work of God, the shared prayer of our community in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Mass, because it is there that our brothers, singing the Psalms and offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, pray for us with the prayer of Christ Himself. In the celebration of the liturgy, we receive the Good News of salvation from the lips of our brothers, and we urge one another on in our common search for God.
We find the mercy of God in obedience to our abbot, whom we believe to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, and in obedience to the whole community. Through obedience, we are freed from the insecurities of our own limitations. Our horizons are broadened through the demands made of us by others, our limits are stretched beyond what we ever thought possible, and we discover the pettiness, the smallness of so many of our desires. Obedience teaches us to listen, to heed the reality outside ourselves and to respond to that reality with generosity and gratitude.
We finds mercy even amongst the trials of life, in our failures, embarrassments and disappointments. We learn through the support and acceptance of our brothers that our personal worth comes not from worldly success, talent or ambition, but from our adoption as sons of God. Our brothers comfort us in our tragedies and challenge us in our selfishness.
To the newcomer, the never ending routine of prayers, the demands of obedience and the impositions of fraternal life may feel like burdens. But St. Benedict reassures him, “Do not at once fly in dismay from the way of salvation, the beginning of which cannot but be narrow. But as we advance in the religious life and faith, we shall run the way of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the unspeakable sweetness of love” (RB Prologue:49). We hope that through God’s grace of perseverance, our lives will be transformed in His mercy and that, as we progress through the years of our lives together, we will become for others an instrument of that mercy.