St Benedict’s Advice to a President

Benedictines in the U.S.A. are probably smiling at the appositeness of today’s reading from the Rule of St Benedict in relation to the Presidency. Chapter 31, On the Kind of Person the Cellarer (=Business Manager) of the Monastery Should Be, contains excellent guidance for any CEO or administrator. Just consider how it starts:

As cellarer of the monastery there should be chosen from the community a wise person of mature character, who is abstemious, not greedy, not conceited, nor a trouble-maker, not offensive or lazy or wasteful, but someone who is Godfearing and may be like a father to the whole community.

The personal qualities Benedict looks for are, first of all, wisdom and maturity, but what comes next is unexpected. Someone entrusted with care of the monastery’s goods and property must be disciplined — not personally greedy or exploitative, not inclined to make trouble, not vain, not lazy, not a waster. His role is to be a nurturer of the community entrusted to him. Those are surely points President Obama might think about as he enters upon his second term when the temptations of power must be greater than ever.

Benedict goes on to outline the way in which the cellarer is to conduct the business of the house: acting responsibly, keeping himself in check, being patient with those who are too demanding. He then gets down to specifics, and if they read like Catholic Social Teaching in a little, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The cellarer

should take meticulous care of the sick, the young, guests and the poor, knowing for certain that he will have to account for them all on judgement day. All the monastery’s utensils and goods he should regard as if sacred altar vessels. He must let nothing be neglected. He should studiously avoid both miserliness and extravagant squandering of the monastery’s resources . . .

In other words, ‘normal business’ must include provision for those who are easily overlooked: the young, the sick (which will often mean the old as well), the poor, the migrant — those who are perceived by some as a drain on the economy. And he must do all this prudently, steering a middle course between miserliness and extravagance.

Of course, the motivation Benedict gives  may not be one that appeals to a secular-minded society. Notice how often allusion is made to God and his judgement. They are, as I said yesterday, a reminder that we need to pray for those we place in office over us. We in Britain must also pray because decisions taken in the U.S.A. affect the rest of the world. As Benedict will tell us tomorrow, at the end of his chapter, his aim is ‘that no one may be troubled or upset in the house of God.’ We are stewards for only a very little time but what we do, and how we do it, may last long into the future.