Friday, December 21, 2007

Reading for Dec 21, 2007

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

April 21, August 21, December 21
Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess

Once she has been constituted,
let the Abbess always bear in mind
what a burden she has undertaken
and to whom she will have to give an account of her stewardship,
and let her know that her duty is rather to profit her sisters
than to preside over them.
She must therefore be learned in the divine law,
that she may have a treasure of knowledge
from which to bring forth new things and old.
She must be chaste, sober and merciful.
Let her exalt mercy above judgment,
that she herself may obtain mercy.
She should hate vices;
she should love the sisterhood.

In administering correction
she should act prudently and not go to excess,
lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust
she break the vessel.
Let her keep her own frailty ever before her eyes
and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken.
By this we do not mean that she should allow vices to grow;
on the contrary, as we have already said,
she should eradicate them prudently and with charity,
in the way which may seem best in each case.
Let her study rather to be loved than to be feared.

Let her not be excitable and worried,
nor exacting and headstrong,
nor jealous and over-suspicious;
for then she is never at rest.

In her commands let her be prudent and considerate;
and whether the work which she enjoins
concerns God or the world,
let her be discreet and moderate,
bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said,
"If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,
they will all die in one day."
Taking this, then, and other examples of discretion,
the mother of virtues,
let her so temper all things
that the strong may have something to strive after,
and the weak may not fall back in dismay.

And especially let her keep this Rule in all its details,
so that after a good ministry
she may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard
who gave the fellow-servants wheat in due season:
"Indeed, I tell you, he will set that one over all his goods" (Matt. 24:27).

Some Thoughts

There is no doubt a very great deal to be said about this passage. I am not the one to say it. I have a couple of questions, though. When called upon to lead something, do you demonstrate these qualities?

What would it be like if our elected officials had to match up to these requirements?

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

At the end of an entire series of injunctions and prescriptions, Benedict suddenly reintroduces a description of the kind of abbot or prioress whom he believes should guide a Benedictine community. He is, in other words, giving us a theology of authority or parenting or leadership. The Talmud reads "Happy is the time where the great listen to the small, for in such a generation the small will listen to the great." In the Rule of Benedict the prioress and abbot are told to display the good like a blazing fire but always to "let mercy triumph over judgment" and to "strive to be loved rather than feared." Authority in Benedictine spirituality is not an end in itself nor is it an excuse to oppress the people for whom all law is made. Law is simply a candle on the path of life to lead us to the good we seek. Any authority that makes the law the end rather than the path are themselves worshipping at a lesser shrine.

In the midrash Genesis Rabbah it reads: "A farmer puts a yoke on his strong ox, not on his weak one." The function of Benedictine leadership is not to make life difficult; it is to make life possible for both the strong and the weak. If a leader gives way to moodiness or institutional paranoia, if a leader is not emotionally balanced and spiritually grounded, a whole climate is poisoned. This chapter on the abbot or prioress is an important signal for parents and teachers and superiors everywhere: what we cannot model, we cannot expect, not of children, not of the professionals who work for us, not even of the people who love us enough to marry us. The people around us can only take our emotional battering so long. Then they leave or rebel or batter back. Benedictine leadership models a guidance that is firm but loving; clear but understanding; just but merciful; itself authentically committed to its own principles for, indeed, the rabbis also teach, "A little sin is big when a big person commits it."

In ancient civilizations, the law was the lawgiver's law. Subjects had no rights, only responsibilities. The lawgiver could change the law on a whim or a fancy. In the Roman empire, the pater familia, the Roman father, could do no wrong in his own home. No court of law would try him, no one would convict him. He himself according to the principles of Roman jurisprudence was judge and jury, king and lawgiver. In a climate and culture such as this, the chapter on the abbot or prioress, and this paragraph in particular, are extremely revolutionary. This section issues a clear warning: authority has limits; authority is not a law unto itself; authority is responsible to the persons under it for their welfare and their growth; authority itself is under the law. It is a theology such as this that makes people free and keeps people free because the knee we bow to government must really be bowed only to God.

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