This is one of the most pleasant chapters in the rule. One can’t help smiling at Benedict’s portrait of the gatekeeper—too old to wander about, but kind and solicitous to all who knock. It is especially refreshing after the relentless skepticism of the previous chapter, and makes for a rather nice contrast. Who knows what jobs this old guy had when he was younger? It doesn’t matter to him. His job now is to welcome strangers, and his attitude toward them should be an example to any Christian who knocks at the door. The gatekeeper doesn’t resent having his prayers interrupted. Instead, he thanks God for the opportunity to receive a blessing. His response is fervent and charitable.
Many scholars believe that this was originally the last chapter of the Rule. (Otherwise, why tack on the bit about re-reading it to the community?) If it is, then perhaps Benedict meant for the gatekeeper to be a sort of model for how to grow old. Of course, right now, old age may seem a long way off, but if you’re lucky, you will in fact get old some day. You’ll go bald and get wrinkly and have a sore back and ride around on one of those little scooters with a bell on the handle bars to warn people you’re coming.
That’s right. That’ll be you. So you might as well get used to the idea.
The kicker is that although old people may not look like much, they are the most important, most powerful folks in the Church. Because they suffer so much, their prayers are uniquely bound up with Christ’s suffering, and that makes them intercessors and co-redeemers with Christ. Remember that Saint Paul said we “make up in our sufferings what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Col 24).
The question for now is what sort of old person you will be when that day comes—when your body begins to break down and your mind starts to slip. Will you be “envious” and “puffed-up” like Benedict’s prior, or “meek” and “charitable” like Benedict’s gatekeeper? You need to start practicing from now.