Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reading for Dec 23, 2007

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

April 23, August 23, December 23
Chapter 65: On the Prior of the Monastery

To us, therefore, it seems expedient
for the preservation of peace and charity
that the Abbot have in his hands
the full administration of his monastery.
And if possible let all the affairs of the monastery,
as we have already arranged,
be administered by deans according to the Abbot's directions.
Thus, with the duties being shared by several,
no one person will become proud.

But if the circumstances of the place require it,
or if the community asks for it with reason and with humility,
and the Abbot judges it to be expedient,
let the Abbot himself constitute as his Prior
whomsoever he shall choose
with the counsel of God-fearing brethren.

That Prior, however, shall perform respectfully
the duties enjoined on him by his Abbot
and do nothing against the Abbot's will or direction;
for the more he is raised above the rest,
the more carefully should he observe the precepts of the Rule.

If it should be found that the Prior has serious faults,
or that he is deceived by his exaltation and yields to pride,
or if he should be proved to be a despiser of the Holy Rule,
let him be admonished verbally up to four times.
If he fails to amend,
let the correction of regular discipline be applied to him.
But if even then he does not reform,
let him be deposed from the office of Prior
and another be appointed in his place who is worthy of it.
And if afterwards he is not quiet and obedient in the community,
let him even be expelled from the monastery.
But the Abbot, for his part, should bear in mind
that he will have to render an account to God
for all his judgments,
lest the flame of envy or jealousy be kindled in his soul.

Some thoughts:

Does anyone else find it worthy of note that Benedict opened this chapter with all the things that could go wrong when someone holds the office of Prior? And that it is not until the second half that we find out he'd prefer there be no Prior at all?

I don't know about you, but I certainly have worked in places where there were a great many prima donas so full of themselves and their own importance that it made it difficult for others to do their jobs. Does it seem to you that Benedict would remind us that in any community, we must all work together at our own assignments, so to speak? That our egos must come out of the equation for the greater good?

My view of the Body of Christ is perhaps simplistic. I figure that by ourselves, no one of us can really do all that much. OTOH, if each one of was faithfully did the itty bitty we can, that collectively we would have accomplished a very great deal.

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

The problems dealt with in this chapter are the problems of loyalty, honesty, humility and role and their effect on a group. The prior or subprioress in a Benedictine monastery are equivalent to the first assistant of any organization. They act as vicars, representatives, of the abbot or prioress but they do not have any specific role description or authority of their own. Most local constitutions of Benedictine communities to this day, in fact, say simply that the subprioress or prior are appointed by the prioress or abbot to "do whatever the abbot bids them to do." The point is that every community has one, single, ultimate authority, the abbot or prioress, and that any other arrangement or assumption is not only incorrect, it is dangerous to the unity and formation of the community.

Underlying the theological and organizational considerations, however, is the dark warning that the temptation to use a position, any position--vice-principal, vice-president, assistant, department director--to wrest authority away from the center or to promote our own careers by undermining the legitimate leader in order to make ourselves look good, is a sin against community. It uses a group for personal gain instead of for the good of the group. It is the story of a Rasputin or a Lucretia Borgia. It is a grasp at power for its own sake. It corrodes what we say we support. It eats like acid at anything in us that we say is real. It is cheap popularity and expensive advancement because, eventually, it will destroy what we say we value, the very community for which we are responsible.

The Tao Te Ching teaches: "Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful." Every group has a distinct structure and history but without a single driving spirit,it may lack the heart to make a common impact. In Benedictine spirituality the abbot and prioress are the center of the community. They are the one voice, the one light, the one heart that the entire community can trust to act always in its true and total interest. In every group, in fact, it is that inspiriting space within that gives it energy. Destroy the axis, stop the heart, collapse the core of a world and the world shrivels or shatters or disintegrates in space. That's what rivalry between the leaders of a group does to a community. That's what divergence between husband and wife does to the family. That's what tension between idols does to a world. Benedictine spirituality sees the community as something to mold us, not something to be used for the interests and vanity and power struggles of a few. It is a life dedicated to the spirit, not enmeshed in the agendas of the political. Where the authority of the abbot or prioress is constantly contested, routinely ignored, mockingly ridiculed or sharply questioned, then the eye of the soul is taken off of the Center of the life and shifted instead to the multiple minor agendas of its members. At that moment, the mystical dimension of the community turns into just one more arm wrestling match among contenders. At that point, the Rule says, get rid of the people who lower the purpose of the group to the level of the mundane, making light of the great enterprise of life and diminishing its energy.

It is good advice in any human endeavor whose higher purpose is being fed to the appetites of the immature and the selfish to rid itself of those who have given over the lode star of the group to a lesser direction.

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