Members of religious communities normally make vows for life. Popular belief assumes them to be Poverty, Chastity and Obedience: those vows became popular in the Middle Ages, but in common with the Benedictine tradition we in CR make the more traditional vows of Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life. The commitments actually undertaken are not those alone – they are representative of a wider range of ideals and commitments. So in CR we are also committed to simplicity of life, community of goods, celibacy, and many other things.
This means staying with what is given – something hard to do in a postmodern world. It means staying in one place. Religious brothers and sisters often engage in work outside the community, are sometimes resident elsewhere, and they normally have annual holidays, so the vow of stability has seldom been absolutely literal, but it involves a real surrender of freedom to live where we want. In essence it refers to staying with given situations and particular people rather than chopping and changing. Part of its purpose is to enable us to explore down into the depths of life together with God. Drilling for oil can only strike if the derrick stays put. Drilling for spiritual oil on one spot, we become increasingly aware of the constant but ever-changing scene of God’s engagement with us and the world. Over time stability’s fruits gradually begin to surprise us.
This word literally means “listening”. The heart of obedience is listening to Christ as he listens to us, so that from it will come a word of life. Christ is in my brother, and so there is mutual obedience, listening to Christ in each other. Some are commissioned in the Community to be a focus of this. The Superior, for example, can ask a brother to do something, but the request is based on careful listening to the brother over many years, as well as in the present encounter. The “yes” of the brother who is asked comes out of his own careful listening, and in the faith that the right response will be a source of life.
This is of such importance for St Benedict that it is the first word of his Rule: “Listen, my son …”
Conversion of Life
There are two related meanings to this phrase. The first is obvious: for the brother in community every day is a day of conversion, turning from what we were and towards what we shall be.
Secondly, it describes a climate. The monastic community is called to sustain a climate, the climate of God’s living presence. This climate is a whole way of life. When the community’s life is in good order, we are converted, and those who come to visit us are converted, by being in this climate of continuing exchange with God’s Word: not just conversion but an ongoing “conversation” between heaven and earth. We vow ourselves to that conversation, that climate, open to being changed by it day by day.