In this chapter, Benedict ensures that the practice of mutual respect and love between the old and the young is a part of everyday communal life. This practice is beyond like and dislike; it is a practice not dependent on how we might feel, nor on what might have been done or not done. Consistent practice gives time for grace to work, until what we practice is expressed from the heart. The young then respect, the old then love. This is not so much ‘fake it till you make it’, more ‘practice till you become it’. In this becoming we become ourselves. This is what the human and spiritual life is, we participate in our own graced becoming until we become, on earth, something of what God sees us as.
The example of this chapter shows us that we need a consistent practice to follow for transformation to occur. However, practice loses its power when its purpose is forgotten. When this happens, the practice can become a kind of lip service. Today, demands such as ‘respect your elders’, or ‘respect must be earnt’ reveal that generations both old and young can lose touch with the transformative power of everyday and ordinary acts. It is the role of spiritual leadership to ‘hold the place of Christ’, to remind us of the purpose and power of everyday, ordinary practice – by example and then (if necessary) by word. In the rule, if the Christ within and among us is forgotten, community leadership is there to humbly and creatively remind and correct.
What might help the young revere their elders? In the venerable there has been an integration of life stages. They are at peace, themselves here and now. The divine life shines in them; they are alive with what the young long for. In a culture with a fixation on youth as a life stage, the rule reminds us that being young is not limited to age. A young heart in an older body is a fruit of both community and meditation.
What might assist elders to revere the young? The venerable are aware that the journey of life is a never-ending growth into love and lovability. The young, on this journey, so full of potential and energy, with their own insight and adventure, are fondly loved by the venerable. And in this interaction of elders and the young it can be revealed that, sometimes, being an elder is not limited by age.
Any rank in the rule is shaped by humility, a humility fashioned by the chance date of entry and the commitment to a live-long conversion into love. Both date and the growing fruits of this commitment to conversion move each member along. However, rather than moving up a bottom-to-top hierarchy with the community leader at the top, Benedict would have us moving (with growing humility) into the centre of a horizontal hierarchy. The community leader holds the place of Christ at the centre and community leadership discerns the shape of humble rank. In this way, all have the necessary chance and support to grow into the life of Christ at the centre of community and themselves.