Prayers, please, for our superior, Father Anselm, on his patronal feastday, Ad multos annos!!
Lord, help us all as You know
and will. God's will is best. All is mercy and grace. God is never absent,
praise Him! Thanks so much. JL
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.
The priest who taught me moral theology was a brilliantly educated,
theologically progressive man. As such, it was rather alarming to
hear him say: "To fail the law in one respect is to fail it in all."
Those are harsh and terrifying terms, but if one examines the Letter
of St. James, from which the principle comes, he was very right. The
Holy Spirit has left no doubt about this one...
One cannot keep all the law faithfully while grievously sinning
against one portion of it. The law, any law is a whole. It does not
admit of fragmentation. Granted, the people following any law are
flawed subjectively and then a whole set of other considerations must
come into play. But the law is a whole.
View even just this chapter through that lens of wholeness, let alone
the entire Holy Rule, and you will quickly come to the conclusion
that its fulfillment is beyond human capability. And you will be
quite right. It is. You cannot do this stuff without grace. Lots of
it. Impossible otherwise.
Hence, ardent prayers for all in authority of any kind, religious or secular,
ought to be a lifelong, daily habit. Their task is not easy. They need our
prayers very much, and it is the least service of thanks we can render them
for their ministry to us, a ministry St. Paul tells us was given them by God.
Check out the Abbess. No human person can administer that kind of
authority without a great deal of prayer and a great deal of help
from God. No one at all can be this wise or balanced or loving or
moderate on their own lights. That's far too high an order for
natural virtue alone. A lot of that prayer must come from others, too,
so always, always pray for your Abbot, for all abbots, for all in authority.
Hence, it should come as no great shock that people in authority fail
this standard right and left, all the time. I know in murmuring
circles it is always treated as if it were news that an Abbot could
be that limited, but it really isn't at all. To even half-way clever
students, this should be a real no-brainer. It is the usual human
condition of people in power to be imperfect: bosses, abbots,
parents, spouses, the whole lot. In fact, that is the usual condition
of all humanity and especially the murmurers!
Was the person in charge mean to many for the sake of one? There
might be a reckoning for that. One can also cause the flock to be
overdriven simply by doing nothing in a given instance, or not doing
enough. There might be a reckoning for that, in fact, St. Benedict
promises us there will be and not a light one, either.
Dare we HOPE that such retribution will be forthcoming, that exacting
justice will be done, to Abbots, to anyone in authority, to anyone who
ticks us off? No way, not unless we want it for ourselves, too! Jesus
gave us that standard in the Our Father: we ask God to use our own
standards of forgiveness for others in forgiving us. Mercy, folks, always
mercy and to all!
We must deal with God's mercy in this life or we shall deal with His justice in
May God spare us ALL from exact justice. Not a single one of us could stand
it. None of us could endure getting what we truly deserve. That is why mercy
is God's greatest attribute and why it is paramount. I know with all my heart
the Christ's Divine Mercy is my only hope- and it is a very sure hope!! His
loving kindness to us all is absolutely reliable in the infinite extreme.
The awful thing about authority is that sometimes, even when one gets
it right, one can get clobbered. There are also people who have left
because the Abbot was right. Try to remember that. If you're in
authority, be prepared to weather that, if you're not, try to help
those who must endure it for good reasons which they cannot reveal.
The key to this perplexing puzzle is the radically flawed human
weakness of both those in authority and those under it. We all
stumble together, half-blind, halt and lame, in an largely unlighted
tunnel to God. God alone at the end of that tunnel is the Light.
Prayer and grace offer us flashes on the way and we need them badly,
but any level of honest surprise at the limitations of such humanity
is really not the mark of a terribly observant mind.
Now for the clincher: this is not just a model for Abbots, but for
all of us with any authority, in fact, for all of us period. This is
the way Benedictines should treat others, seniors, juniors, all
people. This Christ-like attitude ought to pervade every parent,
teacher, boss, nurse and grocery clerk, all of us.
Now THAT, is a REALLY tall order! Sure is! You can only do it
with grace, with prayer and God's all-merciful help.
Love and prayers,
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