January 9, May 10, September 9
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
An Abbess who is worthy to be over a monastery
should always remember what she is called,
and live up to the name of Superior.
For she is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery,
being called by a name of His,
which is taken from the words of the Apostle:
"You have received a Spirit of adoption ...,
by virtue of which we cry, 'Abba -- Father'" (Rom. 8:15)!
Therefore the Abbess ought not to teach or ordain or command
anything which is against the Lord's precepts;
on the contrary,
her commands and her teaching
should be a leaven of divine justice
kneaded into the minds of her disciples.
It will no doubt come as a great relief to other cranky types like
me to note that the leaven gently kneaded into the minds of certain
disciples often seems to have a downright underwhelming effect. A
hallmark of us curmudgeonly types is impatience: we do not suffer
fools gladly, the miracle is that we endure them at all. Most of all,
we want those fools FIXED, right now, or yesterday at the latest! The
tragedy of this is that, in assuming we can recognize fools so
terribly well, we completely miss the fool at work in ourselves.
God uses human means to accomplish His will, as my favorite
professor, Dr. Jean Ronan, so often said. Ah, but the abbacy scores
doubly on this maxim. A very human abbot is elected by a very human
community. Most often, abbots are elected to counteract each other.
The human community gets tired of the very human tendency of an abbot
to stress one thing above others. Hence, tight reins are often
replaced with loose ones and vice versa. It is also worthy of note
that, within about three years, roughly the same number of people
will be sorely complaining about either extreme or the lack thereof!
(Abbot Fidelis of St. Leo, who most certainly WAS elected to
counteract his predecessor, used to say that the first three years of
abbacy are like Holy Week for Christ: they beginning with "Hosanna!",
then there is silence, and the third year it's "Crucify him!" There's
a lot of truth to that chuckle...)
Much that will be said of the abbot in the Holy Rule requires
tremendous faith, from both the superior and the monastics. The lofty
things said require grace to bring them fruition and grace is also
necessary to see those fruits. This all boils down to a LOT of faith
and trust on the part of all. Those human means which God uses are
often quite firmly addicted to extremes. The extremes then vex a
majority to the opposite extreme. (I know this is the Marxist
dialectic and I know it is not always true, but it does have a kernel
of application.) Usually, sometime after we are all so fatigued with
polarization that we have briefly stopped watching, a median virtue
And what about that leaven that I couldn't notice having much effect?
Well, neither I nor anyone else knows, save the person and God. Some
die, some leave before the effect is seen. Leaven works. It may work
slowly, it may work in a variety of ways, but all leaven does
something sooner or later! Faith and trust in God's Divine Mercy
require that we have a LOT of patience with bread cast on waters in
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA