Prayers, please, for Joy, having stomach surgery this week and for
Barb and Ed, both having skin cancer surgery. God's will is best. All
is mercy and grace. Thanks so much. JL
January 12, May 13, September 12
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
Let her make no distinction of persons in the monastery.
Let her not love one more than another,
unless it be one whom she finds better
in good works or in obedience.
Let her not advance one of noble birth
ahead of one who was formerly a slave,
unless there be some other reasonable ground for it.
But if the Abbess for just reason think fit to do so,
let her advance one of any rank whatever.
Otherwise let them keep their due places;
because, whether slaves or free, we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28)
and bear in equal burden of service
in the army of the same Lord.
For with God there is no respect of persons (Rom. 2:11).
Only for one reason are we preferred in His sight:
if we be found better than others in good works and humility.
Therefore let the Abbess show equal love to all
and impose the same discipline on all
according to their deserts.
Choosing favorites is a terribly risky business for any of us,
parent, abbot or supervisor. Our own self-image (or lack thereof,)
can get very tangled in this process. If we choose wrongly, it
empowers one and strangles the rest, to one degree or another.
Christopher Marlowe (+1593) wrote a great short poem about love at
first sight. Ah, the tragic romantic in me LOVED that poem- at first
sight! I dog-eared the page many years ago, to more easily find it on
occasions such as this!
"It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should lose, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows, let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Whoever loved, that loved not at first sight?"
(from "Hero and Leander")
Big fan of love at first sight here. Happened to me several times.
All of 'em were wrong. Had I looked more closely "at first sight" to
what Marlowe was saying, even he knew that what we see "is censured
by our eyes." Of course, Marlowe lived in Elizabethan England (and he
had a bit more in common with me than just speaking English.) Such
loves ruled by fate and impervious to reason were all the rage.
That was exactly the type of love for those under us that St.
Benedict said to avoid. The poem has an entirely different message
when one considers that ALL our brethren and children and comrades
are gold ingots, all are stripped runners, devoid of fashion or rank.
Marlowe may chalk the preference up to Fate, but Fate has been an
awfully handy catch-all through the centuries.
One can hang things on Fate that are so embarrassing one would rather
not own up to one's complicity in them at all! Fate, however, is
about as real as the "unseen hand" that keeps free markets so
equitable. Both are lovely fantasies. Neither are good means of
choice. (I have often been amused by atheist types who could deny the
supernatural, yet believe in the "unseen hand" all the way to the
I only know of two monastic favorites who were actually loved by all
and really were fabulous people. I have lived with (and under!) many,
many more abbatial favorites who were not, who fooled no one but the
abbot and were mostly resented by all. Of the families I have known I
can rarely recall an instance where the favored child was really the
best. In doing that memory work, however, I warmly recall a family of
11 children where no favorites existed. They truly all were gold
ingots. What wonderful parents they had!
St. Benedict lived and wrote over a thousand years before Marlowe,
but he knew well the human bent to love at first sight, to love
without reason or rhyme. He quite rightly points out that this is one
of the many human tendencies we have to conquer. If we don't, it will
harm us and harm those under our care, including the favored one.
Favoritism harms the one in charge, too. Since others can see all too
well what the parent or boss cannot, it diminishes their trust in the
authority figure. If she can be so glaringly wrong about this, why
not about something else? Every person is fallible, but a careless
superior can emphasize her own lack of brilliance by poor choices.
This doesn't make governing or being governed any easier for anyone.
I forgot to mention, of those many monastic favorites I have known,
only one is still in vows. The jury is still out there anyway,
because the fall from power has not yet come. Another fell from favor
when his Abbot did, and he later died one of the most embittered
alcoholic men I have ever known, but at least he persevered. (No one
missed him, by the way.) The others all left, every single one. Get
the picture? St. Benedict did!
Love and prayers,