Goodness and Wisdom

Goodness and wisdom probably don’t head the list of qualities being looked for when an organization is appointing a new managing director or CEO, but they are the first  that Benedict requires of an abbot (RB 64.2). The abbot’s personal qualities, however, are not the starting-point for his second chapter on the appointment of a superior (he has already treated the subject once in chapter 2): he begins with the way in which an abbot should be appointed, either by the whole community acting unanimously in the fear of God, or by some smaller part of it endowed with better judgement (RB 64.1).

I find that encouraging. Benedict’s view of human nature is positive. The abbot is chosen from the community, and he trusts the community to have the very qualities he seeks in the abbot. Leadership, in Benedict’s view, is not merely at the service of the community, it is a kind of distillation of all that is good and true in the community itself.

It was helpful to be reminded of that in the light of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s statement on the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Clearly there is concern about some members and some attitudes and actions inconsistent with Catholic belief and practice, but it is by no means the wholescale condemnation some have suggested.

Personally, I dislike the whoops of glee that sound in some quarters whenever there is a suggestion that priests or religious are being given a rap over the knuckles. In my experience, most priests and religious believe what they profess and are truly doing their best to serve the Lord and his Church. As a nun myself, I can’t help wondering whether there are some U.S. religious whose morale will have been delivered a severe blow. What affects one affects all, and not always positively. Perhaps today we could pray for those U.S. nuns and sisters whose lives are an inspiration and encouragement to others, who are genuinely good and wise, as well as those who have lost sight of the obligations of their vocation. We all need grace, and never more so than when we seem to be under a cloud of another’s making.

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Fundraising Update 2

It is a nail-biting time here at the monastery. After saving every penny we could for the last seven years, we are slowly inching our way towards the deposit we need for a house of our own. Or rather, not ‘our’ house at all, but a house of God where all are welcome. We have made great strides in the past few days, but we still need to raise £150,000 (whether by way of our Charitable Bond, donations or the underwriting of mortgage payments). For an overview of the situation and details of the way we hope to finance this project, please go here.

In the meantime, please keep us and those who wish to join our community in your prayers. It is tantalising to realise that the hard economic times we are all experiencing offer a unique opportunity to establish the monastery in a part of south Oxfordshire which is developing rapidly and where the Christian presence needs strengthening. How better than by a monastery dedicated to prayer, with one door open to everyone on the internet and another to everyone passing by on the road?

Help the Nuns

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The Twelfth Degree

Humility is very attractive, in other people at any rate. Does it have an effect on the physiognomy or is it something that shows itself only in the moral sphere? It would take several blog posts to unpack what St Benedict has to say this morning (RB 7. 62 to 70), but there are two points I’d like to highlight: the monk (and equally, the nun) must ALWAYS show humility in their outward bearing and their doing so is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Take the outward show first. You might think that nothing would be easier to fake than the appearance of virtue. In a monastery, that’s not so easy. We become extremely sensitive to each other’s moods and behaviour. Any falsity, any lack of enthusiasm for the Divine Office or the task in hand quickly communicates itself. This awareness of the other is one of the great helps to Christian living that membership of a monastic community provides. The fraterna acies, the community battle-rank, is a source of strength and encouragement. I think it explains why Benedict was so keen on community living. Without community, the opportunities to grow in humility are fewer and the need to manifest humility less obvious.

Next, consider the action of the Holy Spirit. We all know how easy it is to take something to oneself: I did such and such; I overcame some fault or other. Benedict will have none of it. We are gradually cleansed of vice and sin by the action of the Holy Spirit. True, he may use our brethren to do the scouring, but it is always the work of God. In older monks and nuns, one often sees a transparency, a goodness that is hard to define but unmistakable when seen. A lifetime of virtuous living, of allowing the Holy Spirit to change us from within, tends to have an effect even on the face. It is the only make-over that costs nothing and yet everything, the only beauty that lasts beyond the grave.

BBC Radio Wales
The podcast of Digitalnun’s  9 October 2011 interview in the ‘All Things Considered’ series may be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/atc.

 

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Fraternal Correction and Forgiveness

‘Fraternal correction’ is very popular in some corners of the blogosphere, as it is in life. ‘Speaking the truth in love’ is a key text, with the emphasis on truth often seeming to obscure the love. For Benedictines, fraternal correction is not an abstraction but a lived reality. It is also, or should be, extremely rare because St Benedict understood how much we all enjoy putting others right and hedged the power to correct round with some important restrictions and qualifications. In essence, only the abbot or those authorized by him should correct. It is assumed that the abbot and spiritual elders will have discernment and act only for the good of the other (whether an individual or the community as a whole). Any abuse of this authority will meet with severe punishment in this life and the next.

Although Benedict was clear-eyed about the need for correction, he was much more interested in encouraging his monks to grow in virtue. His comments on the Lord’s Prayer repay careful thought. He directs that the prayer should be said at the conclusion of every Office ‘because of the thorns of contention that are wont to arise’ in community and reminds the brethren of ‘the covenant they make in those words’. Now what is it that we find in the Lord’s Prayer? Every sentence is about God’s action and holiness save one, where we pledge ourselves to the work of forgiveness: ‘as we forgive those who sin against us.’ Interesting, isn’t it, that the most important Christian prayer, the pattern of all prayer, lays upon us this one duty, forgiveness — not correction?

So, are we just to ‘forgive and forget’ and not bother with correction at all? By no means. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting; it means transforming a source of injury into something life-giving. The body of the Risen Christ still shows the marks of his Passion, but they are no longer death-dealing wounds but a source of life and healing. That is something we all can and must emulate ourselves. Similarly, correction is still necessary: the truth must be upheld, anything contrary to the gospel must be challenged. The question here is: am I the right person to do the correcting? Do I have enough knowledge, is my judgement sure enough, do I have enough love? This last often gets forgotten. In the desire to ensure that truth is served, we sometimes overlook the importance of love. It isn’t easy to correct in the way we should, which is why Benedict links correction with authority. Those with responsibility for others are, or should be, more mindful of the consequences of what they say and do. As Horace once said, ‘A word once let out of the cage cannot be whistled back again.’ If we are to speak the truth in love we must also take care to speak only such words as build up; and the words which really build up are those of forgiveness and love.

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