As foreign as this passage sounds to modern ears, I find great comfort in its description of the long, slow, deliberate process by which one comes into the community. It is the polar opposite of a tent meeting revival in which life-changing decisions are supposed to be made once and for all in an instant of skillfully generated religious sentiment. Such revival-inspired spirituality is psychologically naïve and creates problems of identity and belonging such as those I experienced during my childhood alongside my earnest evangelical peers:
"Did I really mean it when I went forward to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior?"
"I don't feel saved, maybe I didn't mean it."
"If I were really saved, I wouldn't be struggling with these sinful thoughts; I better go forward and pray 'the prayer' again."
These quotes are not exaggerated for effect or a caricature of a stereotype. They are windows into the mindset of a religious culture predicated upon the offer of a wholesale change of life in one fateful moment of earnest believing.
Our Father Benedict holds no such illusions about the psychological realities we face as human beings. Real transformation occurs over the course of a lifetime, and even the decision to be formed cannot be entered into on impulse. We must know exactly what we are getting ourselves into before we are allowed to promise our always and forever.