Every night at Compline, we reflect on a short passage from the Rule to remind us of what we are striving to live, and to listen to what the Lord may have to say to us. We offer here our own personal and anonymous reflections, contributed to by the whole community. We hope that, by sharing in our spiritual life, you will be able to explore further your own.
The strongest kind of monk
What was wrong with sarabaites and gyrovagues? And why are cenobites considered the strongest sort of monks? Benedict clearly thinks that obedience (which the sarabaites lacked) and stability (which the gyrovagues lacked) were important qualities. You can’t have a real community life unless there is someone directing it, but, more particularly, obedience to a superior is an image and an intensification of the obedience which we all owe to the Lord. So it is a useful reminder that we are not our own masters. In a way it is a useful counter-balance to the behaviour of Adam and Eve in the Garden: they decided to make their own rules instead of obeying God’s instructions. Obedience to a superior is also a reminder that one does not always make the right judgment about what should be done.
And what about stability? Life is very easy if one can just move off whenever there is something awkward or unwelcome, which is precisely what the gyrovague does. If one is obliged day after day to sit next to the same annoying person, who makes silly remarks or sings out of tune or constantly forgets his or her duties or picks at the food, this is a real challenge to the love which we must have for our Christian (and non-Christian) brothers and sisters. That is what provides the strength of community life.
The earliest Christian community in Jerusalem is carefully described in the Acts of the Apostles in a series of summary passages which are obviously meant to make a point about the important elements of a Christian community. The most important element is unity, fellowship, being of one heart and mind – it comes again and again (1.14; 2.42; 4.32; 5.12).
In a community living together, especially as closely and as frugally as monks should, this calls for two closely allied qualities, self-discipline and love. The first of these consists in attention to oneself, the second consists in attention to others. The monk needs to be alert to the needs (real or imaginary) of his fellows in order to avoid frustrating them, and especially alert to his own annoying characteristics! He needs also genuinely to love the others so that he enjoys serving them. This is obvious enough in a marriage and in that basic unit of society, the family; it is not easy there, but it is far less easy in a community. That is why praying together, and especially the recitation of the Divine Office together, is so important and so formative, perhaps more formative even than eating together. Such are two occasions when personal peculiarities bubble to the surface. Community consists in valuing or even enjoying the gifts of the other. The monk needs to love others as Jesus loves them, warts and all.