(Must excel in virtuous living and wise teaching. The dissolute and profligate need not apply.)
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Okay, I gotta be honest here… I’m way too exhausted to give you a decent account of the marvels this day held: the conversation with Fr. Simeon Thole, OSB, on deans in the Rule of Saint Benedict, the wonderful prayers, the beautiful rain, the bountiful food, the fascinating tour of the Abbey Church (upper, lower and reliquary), the conviviality of endless delights, all topped off with Dilly Bars and a good ol’ fashioned Methodist hymn sing before Compline (a word which, as one of our equally weary wits remarked, sounds very close to “complain”). So let me suffice to give you a couple of pictures and the evening’s reflection on the Rule.
We’re having an amazingly blessed time on retreat, so keep up the prayers. They are working! And please remember that you are in our hearts and prayers, as well.
Grace be with you,
Fr. Simeon and Yours Truly
Compline Reflection for Tuesday
Chapter 21. The Deans of the Monastery
If the community is rather large, some sisters or brothers chosen for their good repute and holy life should be made deans. They will take care of their groups of ten, managing all affairs according to the commandments of God and the orders of their abbess. The deans selected should be the kind of persons with whom the abbess can confidently share the burden of her office. They are to be chosen for virtuous living and wise teaching, not for their rank.
If perhaps one of these deans is to be found puffed up with any pride, and so deserving of censure, that person is to be reproved once, twice and even a third time. Should that dean refuse to amend, he or she must be removed from office and replaced by another who is worthy. We prescribe the same course of action in regard to the prioress or prior.
The Rule of Saint Benedict has sometimes been described as wisdom literature. It is a spiritual document as much as it is a legislative one. So the “officers,” if you will, of the monastery are not mere functionaries for the administration of the collective. They are also role models.
When Benedict looks for leadership in the monastery he does not require defined skill sets; rather, he looks for particular virtues. In the case of the deans, he does not ask that they be highly organized or have a good head for business or be charismatic leaders—though there is nothing at all wrong with these talents. Instead, he looks for persons of “good repute and holy life” (21.1) and “virtuous living and wise teaching” (21.4)—the very same qualities that he commands for the abbot or abbess, that person who “is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery” (2.2).
All of this notion begs the question: Why do we need role models at our age? Aren’t we all grown-ups here? If you think you are a fully-formed adult and, therefore, all you are ever likely to be, think again!
Years ago I heard a sermon in which the preacher used such biblical luminaries as Moses the murderer, David the adulterer, and Mary the teenaged unwed mother to make the point that “God doesn’t use our past to determine our future, so why should we?” My sisters and brothers, with God’s help and the support of other believers, we can become that which we were created to be—namely, good and holy, virtuous and wise…the image of God.
Here’s one suggestion that might help: If you know someone that you admire, ask yourself why you esteem that person. Are they someone whom you would want to be more like? If so, watch them. Watch how they treat other persons, how they listen or hold open a door or read a scripture. The object is not to become clones of this person. That would not be possible. They have their own chemistry and their own history which we cannot possibly recreate. No, the point is to try on some of the behaviors you observe in them, knowing that these outward expressions are manifestations of inward graces.
At Compline last night we reminded ourselves that the motivation for the Benedictine life is nothing less and nothing other than the love of God, learning to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ” (72.11). If we want models for how to live up to this imposing ideal, we need look no further than the sisters and brothers around us.