Sunday, September 16, 2007

RRule of St Benedict, reading for January 16, May 17, September 16

January 16, May 17, September 16

Chapter 3: On Calling the Brethren for Counsel

Whenever any important business has to be done
in the monastery,
let the Abbot call together the whole community
and state the matter to be acted upon.
Then, having heard the brethren's advice,
let him turn the matter over in his own mind
and do what he shall judge to be most expedient.
The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel
is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.

Let the brethren give their advice
with all the deference required by humility,
and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions;
but let the decision rather depend on the Abbot's judgment,
and all submit to whatever he shall decide for their welfare.

However, just as it is proper
for the disciples to obey their master,
so also it is his function
to dispose all things with prudence and justice.

Some thoughts:

Although the abbess/abbot is in charge, look what Benedict asks when there is something important to be decided upon: listen to what others have to say and then make a decision that is in everyone's best interest. I love the bit about listening to the youngest. I wonder how it would affect family life if this model were followed?

Another image that forms in my mind is that of the Body of Christ. Another is the idea that all listen for the voice of the Lord. All practice listening so that it is possible to recognize who it is to whom the Lord has spoken.

I personally love the bit about "not presume to stubbornly defend their own opinions". How many church groups have been ruined by someone who did just that? Who put their own egos ahead of what is best for the whole?

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister:

An African proverb says: "You do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla." Experience counts. Wisdom is simply its distillation. Abbots may be abbots and prioresses may be prioresses but the community was there long before them and the community will remain long after they have gone, as well. To ignore the counsel of a group, then, is to proceed at risk.

But Benedict knows about more than the value of experience. Benedict knows about the presence and power of God. And Benedict knows that there is a spark of the divine in all of us. The function of an abbot or prioress, of leaders and spouses everywhere, is not so much to know the Truth as it is to be able to espy it and to recognize it in the other when they hear it. Calling the community for counsel is Benedict's contribution to the Theology of the Holy Spirit.

In the monastic community, this common search for truth is pitched at a delicate balance. The abbot and prioress are clearly not dictators but the community is not a voting bloc either. They are each to speak their truth, to share the perspective from which they see a situation, to raise their questions and to open their hearts, with honesty and with trust. The prioress and abbot are to listen carefully for what they could not find in their own souls and to make a decision only when they can come to peace with it, weighing both the community's concerns and the heart they have for carrying the decision through.

"Foresight and fairness" are essentials for leaders who lead out of a sense of Benedictine spirituality. The decision is all theirs and they will answer for it in conscience and in consequences. They must not make it lightly and they must take all of its effects into consideration. The emphasis in this paragraph is clearly on results rather than on power. It is easy to gain power. It is difficult to use it without being seduced by it. The Rule of Benedict reminds us that whatever authority we hold, we hold it for the good of the entire group, not for our own sense of self.

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