Thursday, April 05, 2007

St. Benedict on Lent, Part 14 (Conclusion)

"Therefore, everything must be done with the Abbot's will." RB 49: 10

In preparing for a recent talk at the University of Chicago's Lumen Christi Institute, I was really struck by the absolute authority given to the abbot in the Rule of St. Benedict. Perhaps just as striking is the fact that despite the fact that the abbot has the final say over virtually anything a brother does, Benedict never falls into the Manichean paranoia that haunts the Rule of the Master, the immediate source for Benedict's own teaching. This raises the question: can we really put such trust in a man?

John Cassian wrestles with this question at various points of the Conferences, admitting that 'grey hairs' don't automatically qualify one as an Abba. Rather, the distinguishing mark of the true Abba is sanctity. The Abbot therefore is not the one who is the most competent, though God's house should be administered by trustworthy men; nor is he the most learned, though I suspect that this is one quality that separated Benedict from the Master as well. The Abbot should strive rather to be loved than feared, and it is on the basis of his holiness of life, his likeness to Jesus Christ, that he draws his authority. What does this service look like? In the words of Abbot Thomas Keating, "Service is the hallmark of one who is sent by God. The true prophet, martyr, spiritual leader, or teacher does not try to dominate others....Jesus emphasized that he was sent by his Father and that he did nothing of himself. [Invitation to Love, p. 96]" So the Abbot himself, finally, is obedient to the Holy Spirit in conforming himself to the Suffering Servant.

In many monastic communities, the sacramental sign of Holy Thursday par excellence, the Mandatum or washing of the feet, is performed at table by the Abbot or Abbess. The one who is great among us must be as the youngest and the slave of all. On this day upon which was founded the ministry of the priesthood, let us pray that our priests and bishops will continue to lead us in a spirit of self-sacrificial service in persona Christi. For our part, let us renew a desire to submit ourselves to Jesus Christ through conformity to the wills of our spiritual mothers and fathers in the faith, that we be knit, bone and sinew, into the Mystical Body of Christ by mutual charity.

Please pray for me, that I may exercise my own spiritual fatherhood according to this teaching that I proclaim!

Let us, like the holy women, 'look on' [Luke 23: 49] the holy mysteries we celebrate in these wondrous days, that we may be transformed into the contemplative Marian and Johannine [John 19: 26-27] nucleus of the Church once more, that the Church may more faithfully serve humankind by proclaiming boldly that Christ has triumphed over death through the Holy Cross.


JLT said...

Although I am not Catholic and do not formally follow Lent, I appreciated St. Benedict's thoughts on Lent that you have shared the last several days. Your post on March 30 was a special comfort:

"God is faithful, and the joy of knowing that His faithfulness culminates in nothing less than the Resurrection of the Dead that we celebrate at Easter is something that can never be taken from us once we seize it with our whole heart."

During times of suffering, it helps to remember that the Resurrection and joy in the Holy Spirit follow the pain. Thank you for reminding me to pour out that suffering at the foot of the cross.


Anonymous said...

Your reflections are quite fine up to the point that you mention "in persona Christi" without the final concept: capitis. This is a fatal flaw of current commentators who fail to use the Church's full understanding of this theology: priests acts in persona Christi CAPITIS. Pope Benedict XVI typically gets everything right, including this point; he seems never to speak of "in persona Christi" without including "Capitis".

Blessed Easter to all!


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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