Reverence: The Image of God Respected
“The younger monks must respect their seniors, and the seniors must love their juniors.”
—The Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 63
The monastery cemetery is a place of order. Four quadrants of seven rows each; nice neat rows of markers, each bearing a name and two dates; and in the middle, overlooking everything with great eyes of mercy, is an image of the crucified Jesus. The ordered serenity of the monastic cemetery sits like an oasis of peace, protecting hope for the life to come.
This order in death reflects the order of the community in life. The purpose of order in the monastery’s life is to make plain what is implicitly good. The good of the community’s life has to be harvested, and not left fallow. This is true for the community as a whole, as well as for the individuals in the community. The reverence shown by the junior monks for the seniors, and the love shown by the seniors for
the juniors, aims at ordering energies that could just as easily be turned to bitterness, or murmuring, or envy. Reverence toward one another puts the goodness of God on display. It is only one of the ways the Rule invites monks to imagine what they can become, and then to become what they are shown.
Particular expressions of reverence fill the day-to-day life within the monastery. At dinner, the monks take their turn serving each other at table. When they sit down at dinner, or process into church, or exchange the peace with one another, the established order of seniority in the community prevails, not by age but by time of entrance into the monastery. It is the way that the junior monks show reverence for their seniors. When a senior monk speaks to a junior, he calls him by the title “Father” or “Brother,” and not by his name only, and in this way he shows him genuine love rather than a haughty prestige. Reverence opens a door for respect within all sorts of human relationships.
The funeral of a monk offers the final signs of reverence. Just before the procession leaves the church for the cemetery, the abbot and monks gather around the coffin. The scene resembles the moment of solemn profession when the monk once lay prostrate on the floor of the church. Now the monks together sing the same verse that the monk who has died sang at his final profession. The song with which he entered into the community becomes the song of his farewell: “Uphold me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live. And do not confound me in my expectation.” His life in the monastery has come full circle. All that remains is the final fulfillment of his expectation.
Excerpted from “Kindred Spirits” written by Archabbot Justin DuVall, OSB. Contact us for your free copy of “Kindred Spirits.”