Voice from the Abbey (Part 4)

September 15, 2023 | Reflections from Sr Antonia

Members keep their rank in the monastery

according to their date of entry.

Rule of St. Benedict Ch. 63

For St Benedict, every person will be given a rank in the community based on one thing only: according to their date of entry. It takes some time to realise that what he is actually doing by means of this arrangement is that he is preventing a climate of one-upmanship from developing in the monastery and of people being regarded as superior due to their education, or wealth or social status. He had princes and slaves in his monastery. He had priests as well, and all of them were expected to retain their rank according to the date they came to the monastery. No one was given a higher rank unless the abbot could see that they lived a life of holiness or if they had been appointed to a special “office” in the community. Otherwise all were given their “place” according to their date of entry. Therefore everyone had a place and knew their place.

In our world today we tend to think of rank as power and attainment accorded to those who think it is their right to be first in line for everything.  And the rest of us collude with this assumption. But no says St. Benedict. Every person is valued and given their place and expected to keep to their place. No one can elbow anyone else out by claiming superiority or privilege.

This has prompted me to think about what has happened in our own history in Australia. Who was here first? We know the answer. What has happened to their “place”?  We know the answer. If we were to follow Benedict in this then our Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander peoples would be highest in rank and given their rightful place. Their date of entry is at least 60,000 years ago. Ours? Around 250 years. It is so blatantly clear that we have done them a wrong, and continue to do them a wrong by how we treat them, relegating them to the last place. I suspect this is exceedingly serious in the sight of God.

The elders are owed the utmost respect. Their voices need to be heard. They have much to teach us. They are traumatized, their culture destroyed, many of their people lost. We cannot afford to think of ourselves and our own need, or what might happen to us if we give them a voice. We are the cause of the situation they are in, we who came last. They are calling out to us who have destroyed them. They are not doing it violently and with hatred in their hearts. In fact they are, for the most part, doing it with great dignity. It’s a simple request that they be given a chance to advise the government on how best to rectify and restore what has been lost. The shame is ours not theirs.

We could wonder whether there are ways whereby we can follow the lead of the wise elders in our own community; those who have been on the road for a long long time and have been able to banish fear and hatred from their lives; those who can speak the truth, as St. Benedict advises. Benedict also insists that the young be given a voice and heard because he sees that the Holy Spirit “often reveals what is better to the younger”. (Rule of St. Benedict Ch. 3) Another challenge for those of us stuck in a hierarchical model of how things “should be”.

What it all boils down to is that we need to listen to each other and to creation. The Spirit is present everywhere and in all things. There are stories to be heard and shared, received with reverence and acted upon according to a conscience formed by the gospels.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart: they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Beatitudes – Luke 6:20-23


What is God calling forth in you?