January 15, May 16, September 15
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
Above all let her not neglect or undervalue
the welfare of the souls committed to her,
in a greater concern for fleeting, earthly, perishable things;
but let her always bear in mind
that she has undertaken the government of souls
and that she will have to give an account of them.
And if she be tempted to allege a lack of earthly means,
let her remember what is written:
"First seek the kingdom of God and His justice,
and all these things shall be given you besides" (Ps. 33:10).
"Nothing is wanting to those who fear Him."
Let her know, then,
that she who has undertaken the government of souls
must prepare herself to render an account of them.
Whatever number of sisters she knows she has under her care,
she may be sure beyond doubt that on Judgment Day
she will have to give the Lord an account of all these souls,
as well as of her own soul.
Thus the constant apprehension
about her coming examination as shepherd (Ezech. 34)
concerning the sheep entrusted to her,
and her anxiety over the account that must be given for others,
make her careful of her own record.
And while by her admonitions she is helping others to amend,
she herself is cleansed of her faults.
There are two beautiful lessons for us non-abbatial types in this
chapter. The first is a partial Benedictine view of material goods
and the second consoles us that teaching will hopefully also teach
The Benedictine view of property is neither complete nor correct
without the principle invoked here. Yes, later on we hear that all
the goods of the monastery must be regarded as if they were sacred
vessels of the altar. We also hear a lot of attentive prescriptions
about poverty and ownership. Either of these made dogma without the
third principle will spell trouble. That third principle, enunciated
here, is "people first, things later; don't sweat the small stuff and
things are ALWAYS small stuff by comparison to souls."
A good Benedictine will go to careful lengths to avoid knocking a
hole in the wall, but will treat it lightly if someone else
does: "Oh, that's no big deal. I'll tend to it later." or "Walls I
can replace, YOU I cannot. Don`t worry about it." See what I mean?
We must be personally very careful of things, but we must never make
others feel small, and least of all in the name of temporal goods.
The other gem buried here is learning from teaching. Anyone who has
ever taught 5th grade science will tell you that it will teach you
more than the average person at a party knows about the topic.
(Unless the party is given at Massachusetts Institute of Technology!)
It will remind you of a great deal of basic information that you have
long forgotten. Teaching, ideally, keeps one up to date on a subject.
If teaching alone doesn't do that, the questions of the students
Hopefully, it will be the same with any of us who are helping others
on the road to spiritual growth. We will learn by teaching, we will
be taught- and maybe sometimes shamed- by our own words!
Love and prayers,