Monday, September 10, 2007

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be cont'd Jan. 10 - May 11 - Sept. 10

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be cont'd

Jan. 10 - May 11 - Sept. 10

Let the Abbess always bear in mind
that at the dread Judgment of God
there will be an examination of these two matters:
her teaching and the obedience of her disciples.
And let the Abbess be sure
that any lack of profit
the master of the house may find in the sheep
will be laid to the blame of the shepherd.
On the other hand,
if the shepherd has bestowed all her pastoral diligence
on a restless, unruly flock
and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior,
then she will be acquitted at the Lord's Judgment
and may say to the Lord with the Prophet:
"I have not concealed Your justice within my heart;
Your truth and Your salvation I have declared" (Ps. 39[40]:11).
"But they have despised and rejected me" (Is. 1:2; Ezech. 20:27).
And then finally let death itself, irresistible,
punish those disobedient sheep under her charge.

Some thoughts:

Ok, I'm convinced. I don't want to be an Abbess ever!! Not only do i wish to eschew such responsibility, the ray of hope offered in "tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior" is probably beyond me, seeing how unruly my own behavior often is. Would you agree with me that this section might apply to all in leadership? I'd sure like the various Presidential candidates response, wouldn't you?

To get serious now... Setting aside the "dread judgment of God" for the moment, what else might this passage be about? What is there for us not in the monastery to glean for our own lives? What obligation(s) do we have to our Lord? To speak His truth at all times? To listen for it always?

The quotations from Ps 39, Isaiah and Ezekiel involve speaking and listening, I believe. Which in turn reminds me of the very first word of the Rule "Listen". Benedict's practical turn of mind is displayed once again. To whom does he first give instruction? The supervisor!! Benedict sees God as the CEO of the monastery, so to me that makes the Abbess/Abbot merely the supervisor.

Do you see anything about relationships in this bit of the RB? One of the themes of the Rule, I think. In order for the work of God to be done, all of us must do our part faithfully. The "leader" no less than then rank beginner. We are not responsible for what another fails to do, we are only responsible for our own part. In the end, after all, it is God's word that is done and God's judgment that counts.

Have you seen, in a movie perhaps, monks walking around with their hoods drawn up so far over their heads that all they can see is only what's right in front of them? Have you noticed also that they walk with their heads slightly bowed so that all they could see was where to place their feet? There's an out of fashion term for this called "custody of the senses" which is the practice of paying attention to one's own business in the monastery and protecting one's sense from noticing what the other guy might be doing wrong. What a lesson for those of us who like to excuse our own behavior because of what someone else did first as if we had never grown out of arguing over who started it.

I suggested yesterday that for those of us not in a monastery, that there might be those who serve as spiritual leaders. Benedict makes it quite clear that such spiritual leaders can only do so much. But it had to be their best.

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

Benedict puts a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of people in authority, but not all of it. Abbots and prioresses are to teach, to proclaim, but the community's responsibility is to listen and to respond.

Benedict wants a community that is led, but not driven.

The concept is clear: people are not acquitted of the responsibility for their own souls. Personal decisions are still decisions, personal judgments are still judgments, free will is still free will. Being in a family does not relieve a child of the responsibility to grow up. The function of twenty-one year olds is not to do life's tasks as their parents told them to do it when they were six years old. The function of twenty-one year olds is simply to do the same tasks well and to take accountability themselves for having done it.

Perhaps the most important result of a model of authority like this is the environment it creates. The monastery is not a royal court, a military barracks, or a detention home. The role of leadership is not to make lackeys, or foot soldiers or broken children out of adult Christians.

The purpose of Benedictine spirituality is to gather equally committed adults for a journey through earthen darkness to the dazzling light that already flames in each of us, but in a hidden place left to each of us to find.

The Rule's model of leadership and authority, then, is a paradigm for any relationship, husband and wife, parent and child, supervisor and employee. The function of authority is not to control the other; it is to guide and to challenge and to enable the other. Benedictine authority is a commitment to that, a promise of that.

A midrash on Genesis points out: "God prefers your deeds to your ancestors' virtues." We are not here simply to follow someone else. Being part of something good does not automatically make us good. What we do with our own lives is the measure of their value. We are here to learn to take ourselves in hand.

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