Monday, May 11, 2009

Reading from the Rule of St Benedict, May 11, 2009

January 10, May 11, September 10

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

Let the Abbess always bear in mind
that at the dread Judgment of God
there will be an examination of these two matters:
her teaching and the obedience of her disciples.
And let the Abbess be sure
that any lack of profit
the master of the house may find in the sheep
will be laid to the blame of the shepherd.
On the other hand,
if the shepherd has bestowed all her pastoral diligence
on a restless, unruly flock
and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior,
then she will be acquitted at the Lord's Judgment
and may say to the Lord with the Prophet:
"I have not concealed Your justice within my heart;
Your truth and Your salvation I have declared" (Ps. 39:11).
"But they have despised and rejected me" (Is. 1:2; Ezech. 20:27).
And then finally let death itself, irresistible,
punish those disobedient sheep under her charge.

Some thoughts:

One may wonder at the sternness of Benedict's tone here. Let us
remember that this section is aimed only at the monastic superior.

Another point to keep in mind, that no matter how one is called to
this life, it is still hard. This is a life outside of the world.
This is not something that very much emphasized any longer from our
pulpits, at least not in the churches I've attended.

Even by Benedict's day, the emphasis on being in the world but not of
the world was diminishing. Benedict, though, is very much of one
heart and mind with those Christians of earlier centuries who took it
very seriously that although they lived in the world, their real home
was the Kingdom of Heaven. They knew themselves to be living in the
eschaton, which started the second Jesus rose from the dead.

Of course one could argue that those 1st generation Christians
expected Jesus' Second Coming in their life times. Then too centuries
of persecution also sharpened their awareness that they were not part
of this world. One could also argue that Constantine made the world a
safe place for Christians when he made Christianity the state religion
of the Roman Empire.

The thing is, Constantine's Edict was one of the propellants to the
development of the monasticism we seen in the RB. Thousands of
Christians fled the civilized places for the wilderness to avoid the
contamination which results from being of the world. It is hard to
communicate the horror with which so many regard Constantine's decree.
It seemed to blur the distinction between "in" and "of".

Many Christians of course greeted it with relief. No more
persecutions. It was safe to be a Christian. It is a very human thing
to hedge our bets. It is very human to try to make things easier on

And it is that which Benedict addresses today. By the 6th century,
the horror of persecution had diminished. Issues were not quite as
acute as they had been. Hell, though, was a very real concept to them.
Hence Benedict and the monastic superiors after him had a duty to
guide and shape the monastics who had come for that very guiding and

What does this mean to us in the 21st century? Here in the USA things
are so cushy for us we even feel we can pick and chose which doctrines
to believe, which parts of the Bible we accept, put our perceived
needs above God's will for each of us. These concepts were completely
foreign to Benedict.

Personally, I am glad that I have only heard one "fire and brimstone"
sermon in my life. I don't believe anything good comes out of scaring
people into the Kingdom of Heaven. Fear, as a motivator, doesn't work
in the long run because we become inured to fear.

In the long run, what works is this: We "become transformed by living
what we value. Not that these things in themselves do the
transforming, but they put us in a position whereby we can be
transformed by the love of God." Quoted from

The Benedictine life has been aptly described as one of falling down
and getting up, over and over. What's important is that we get up
again. And that is what Benedict is talking about in this chapter.


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