Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be cont'd Jan. 11, May 12, September 11

January 11, May 12, September 11

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

Therefore, when anyone receives the name of Abbess,
she ought to govern her disciples with a twofold teaching.
That is to say,
she should show them all that is good and holy
by her deeds even more than by her words,
expounding the Lord's commandments in words
to the intelligent among her disciples,
but demonstrating the divine precepts by her actions
for those of harder hearts and ruder minds.
And whatever she has taught her disciples
to be contrary to God's law,
let her indicate by her example that it is not to be done,
lest, while preaching to others, she herself be found reprobate (1
Cor. 9:27),
and lest God one day say to her in her sin,
"Why do you declare My statutes
and profess My covenant with your lips,
whereas you hate discipline
and have cast My words behind you" (Ps. 49:16-17)?
And again,
"You were looking at the speck in your brother's eye,
and did not see the beam in your own" (Matt. 7:3).

Some thoughts:

Do you find it as easy as I to find the message in today's reading
that applies to us not in a monastery? That our words must match our
deeds and that the quality of our deeds is more important than our

This reminds me of a saying attributed to St. Francis "Preach the
Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

The Tao says,

"We join spokes together in a wheel
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move."

Benedict says that those who hold authority in a community are not to
be above the group, they are to be the centers of it, the norm of it,
the movers of it. They themselves are to mirror its values. Their job
is not simply to give orders. Their job is to live out the ideals. It
is an authority far removed from office elitism or pompous hierarchy
or highhanded parenting.

Benedict calls a community to obedience, yes, but he does not call it
to servitude. He does not call people to conformity for the sake of
conformity. That's where modern concepts of blind obedience and the
monastic concept of cenobitic obedience are so distinct from one
another. Blind obedience demands that underlings comply with authority
without thought of consequences. Cenobitic obedience insists that
equals must bring a thoughtful concern for what is best for everyone
before they ask anything of consequence.

Autocrats and militarists and spiritual charlatans and abusive parents
and corporate moguls want the people under them to obey laws from
which their exalted positions hold them exempt. Benedict says that the
only authentic call for obedience comes from those who themselves
demonstrate the value of the law.

The point is that what we do not live we do not have a right to
require, and that for two reasons: first, because it is a hollow call
to insist that others do what we do not do ourselves and secondly,
because it requires for the sake of requiring something rather than
for the merit of the requirement itself. To hold people under us to a
law which we ourselves have no intention of respecting is to make a
mockery of what we ask. Employees whom we require to work because we
will not; children who are told to avoid what they see us doing with
impunity; citizens who must do what they see us declaring exempt for
ourselves, do learn from us. They learn that law is useless and that
we are frauds and that power protects only the powerful. Benedict is
saying that if the laws are good, then people will be able to see that
in the lawgiver.

But Benedict is saying even more than this. Benedict is saying that
the function of spiritual leadership is not to intimidate people into
submission by fear or guilt. The function of spiritual leadership is
to show in our own lives the beauty that oozes out of those who live
the spiritual life to its fullness. The function of spiritual
leadership is to enshrine what a good life can be.

The abbot and prioress are to make of themselves the light that guides
and the crystal that rings true. Otherwise, why should anyone else
attempt the Way at all. "Love work and hate lordship," the Hasidim
teach their rabbis. It is Benedict's teaching, too.

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