Friday, September 14, 2007

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be cont'd Jan. 14, May 15, September 14

January 14, May 15, September 14
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

The Abbess should always remember what she is
and what she is called,
and should know that to whom more is committed,
from her more is required (Luke 12:48).
Let her understand also
what a difficult and arduous task she has undertaken:
ruling souls and adapting herself to a variety of characters.
One she must coax, another scold, another persuade,
according to each one's character and understanding.
Thus she must adjust and adapt herself to all
in such a way that she may not only suffer no loss
in the flock committed to her care,
but may even rejoice in the increase of a good flock.

Some thoughts:


Have you noticed that if you ever self-identify yourself as a Christian, all of a sudden you are held accountable for other people's expectations of what a Christian is or how a how a Christian is supposed to behave, no matter how wrong-head are their preconceptions? Are you as tired of it as I?

On the other hand, it is certainly true that something more is expected of us Christians. Jesus tells us the world will know us by our love. It is precisely because that is not the general impression we give the world, we have quite the reputation for in-fighting after all, that in my opinion, we can never do better than the Rule of St. Benedict.

Another thing Jesus told us to do was to follow him. Perhaps it is in this context that we could apply today's reading? What else is the role of the abbess/abbot but to help those in their care follow Jesus? Of course, we are not in monastic life, but Jesus' invitation no less applies to us.

It seems to me that part of how the abbess/abbot does is to know the unique qualities of every person and to encourage that person individually. Seems to me it takes great gifts of discernment and skill to see each person for who they are in the eyes of God.

Is this something we can take away from today's reading? Treating people and ourselves for who we are in God's eyes? Does this ask us to change any of our ways? What ways would they be and how would we change?

These are hard questions and I feel as if I should be the last person to offer any opinion on this subject, but it seems to me this can only be done through prayer and willingness to hear some plain speaking about ourselves. We have to be willing to have our comfort zones stretched and most of all be willing to give up any allegiance to how we think things/people/society should/ought be and see them as they truly are because only when we look at the truth face to face can the light pierce the darkness and set us free to begin to learn to see as God sees.

That's what I think any way. Welcome any thoughts others might want to share.

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister:

There are some interesting distinctions made in this paragraph. The abbot and prioress are to remember what they are and what they are called. What they and every other leader are is painfully clear: they are people just like everybody else in the monastery. They are not royalty. They are not potentates. They are only people who also struggle and fail just like the people they lead.

But what they are and what they are called--abbot, abbess, spiritual father, spiritual mother--are not unrelated. They are not called to be either lawgivers or camp counselors. They are not expected to be either rigid moralists or group activity directors. They are to be directors of souls who serve the group by "coaxing, reproving and encouraging it"--by prodding and pressing and persuading it--to struggle as they have struggled to grow in depth, in sincerity and in holiness, to grow despite weaknesses, to grow beyond weaknesses.

Abbots or prioresses of Benedictine monasteries, then, parents and supervisors and officials and bishops everywhere who set out to live a Benedictine spirituality, are to keep clearly in mind their own weak souls and dark minds and fragile hearts when they touch the souls and minds and hearts of others.

But there is another side to the question as well. It is not easy for honest people who hold their own failures in their praying hands to question behavior in anyone else. "There but for the grace of God, go I," John Bradford said at the sight of the condemned on their way to execution. Aware of what I myself am capable of doing, how can I possibly censure or disparage or reprimand or reproach anyone else? On the other hand, Benedict reminds us, how can those who know that conversion is possible, who have been called to midwife the spiritual life, for this generation and the next, do less.

The Hasidim tell a story that abbots and prioress, mothers and fathers, teachers and directors may understand best. Certainly Benedict did:

When in his sixtieth year after the death of the Kotzker, the Gerer accepted election as leader of the Kotzker Hasidim, the Rabbi said: "I should ask myself: 'Why have I deserved to become the leader of thousands of good people?' I know that I am not more learned or more pious than others. The only reason why I accept the appointment is because so many good and true people have proclaimed me to be their leader. We find that a cattle-breeder in Palestine during the days when the Temple stood was enjoined by our Torah (Lev 27:32) to drive newborn cattle or sheep into an enclosure in single file. When they went to the enclosure, they were all of the same station, but when over the tenth one the owner pronounced the words: 'consecrated unto the Lord,' it was set aside for holier purposes. In the same fashion when the Jews pronounce some to be holier than their fellows, they become in truth consecrated persons."

Once chosen, it is their weakness itself that becomes the anchor, the insight, the humility and the gift of an abbot or prioress, a pope or a priest, a parent or a director. But only if they themselves embrace it. It is a lesson for leaders everywhere who either fear to lead because they know their own weaknesses or who lead defensively because they fear that others know their weaknesses. It is a lesson for parents who remember their own troubles as children. It is a lesson for husbands and wives who cannot own the weaknesses that plague their marriage. We must each strive for the ideal and we must encourage others to strive with us, not because we ourselves are not weak but because knowing our own weaknesses and admitting them we can with great confidence teach trust in the God who watches with patience our puny efforts and our foolish failures.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home