The Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 67
Christmas Eve services at our church seem to fill the pews with unfamiliar faces. I see brave souls who venture into an unfamiliar church in search of something enchanting and mysterious on this holy night. I watch the family members of a wife, a mother, or a grandmother who dutifully accompany her to her parish for the evening. I feel the fear and sorrow of those seeking comfort on what is for them the darkest night of the year.
Our Father Benedict acknowledges and seeks to deal here with this spiritual reality that I experience often in my life and work in church. Each person brings with her to church an invisible crowd of other people and past experiences that affect the spiritual climate of the gathering. Sometimes the presence of this unseen crowd is overwhelming. Sometimes it is overwhelmed and ignored.
In a Benedictine community, ignoring it is not an option, so St. Benedict wisely makes the unseen dynamics explicit by establishing a protocol whereby the spiritual climate of the community can be cleansed. When we commit ourselves to a vowed life in a religious community, we place ourselves at the mercy of each other's inner well-being. In a significant way, we release our right to carry our baggage alone and claim that its dark contents are nobody's business. We own the fact that we were never successful in the first place at keeping the contents from spilling out onto the people around us. With the illusion of independence removed and replaced with mutual commitment and compassion, we are able to unpack our bags in safety and begin the hard work of bringing what has sat in long darkness into the Light.