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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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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