January 11, May 12, September 11
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
Therefore, when anyone receives the name of Abbess,
she ought to govern her disciples with a twofold teaching.
That is to say,
she should show them all that is good and holy
by her deeds even more than by her words,
expounding the Lord's commandments in words
to the intelligent among her disciples,
but demonstrating the divine precepts by her actions
for those of harder hearts and ruder minds.
And whatever she has taught her disciples
to be contrary to God's law,
let her indicate by her example that it is not to be done,
lest, while preaching to others, she herself be found reprobate (1
and lest God one day say to her in her sin,
"Why do you declare My statutes
and profess My covenant with your lips,
whereas you hate discipline
and have cast My words behind you" (Ps. 49:16-17)?
"You were looking at the speck in your brother's eye,
and did not see the beam in your own" (Matt. 7:3).
This isn't just for abbots and parents, this is for all of us.
Example is put forward as the primary means of teaching, even before
words. All of us must "walk the talk" and practice what we preach.
Everyone of us is obliged to somehow uncover the splendor of the City
of God in our lives, to show it to others. Mere verbal description
will be of little help in comparison to actually living out the
I remember many of my parents' words, we all do. When I am really
trying to gauge my behavior according to their standards, however, it
is not usually words that I hear in my mind. I see how they would
have acted in a given situation. A little video clip plays in my mind
of Dad or Mom in my shoes. If their behavior shames me at my own
planned response, I usually try to follow their plan of action, not
mine. Like everyone, however, I am not perfect and do not always
choose the higher road that imaginary video shows me. Sad...
All of us put forward an image of who we are in words, one way or
another. As years go by, we usually get a more or less complete
picture of who we are and of the self we wish to present to the
world. This is where family, community and marriage can be so
important. The people who live with us see right through the flaws
in our verbal picture.
It is less easy for us to believe in our grand and false images of
ourselves when we are rubbing shoulders with one or more reality
checks all the time! These reality checks can point out genuine
greatness in areas we might not have expected, but they can also
underscore the pathetic comedy of our pretensions. Both are useful
for humility, both lead to truth. Those pointing out our flaws are no
more infallible than we are, but they can often be a lot more
Ever watch a foreign film with the audio badly dubbed into another
language? It is jarring and annoying. What St. Benedict is saying to
all of us here is to get the picture and the sound into synchronized
form. For all Christians, all Benedictines, there should be no
disparity between video and audio! Lofty ideal that!
St. Benedict knew that loftiness would be hard for us to reach, too.
He knew there would be beams in our eyes, specks in others'. Hence, a
lot of this boils down to approach and attitude. Come on to others
from a position of "I'm OK and you are not," and see where it gets
You might make a temporary dent. You might even change a few of
the really less than bright. Most wise people, however, will give you
a lot of room. They see the mask, the falsity there, and it inhibits
much else from getting through to them. It's like really competent
actors being cast in a role that does not fit them at all. One sits
through the whole movie thinking: "No way can I believe that she is
so-and-so!" "Great play, nice plot, but I didn't find the male lead
Hopefully, at that final Awards night, there will be Tony's, Emmies
and Oscars for all of us, with maybe a Golden Globe or two thrown
into our totals!
Love and prayers,