Goodness of life and wisdom in teaching must be the criteria for choosing the one to be made abbot or prioress even if they are the last in community rank.
Goodness of life is about living a humble authenticity. This authenticity has its foundation in a healthy sense of our own context. Leaders cannot be all things to all people. Leadership is about encouraging and guiding people into the unknowns and the mystery of life. Balanced and effective leaders have already experienced something of life’s unknowns and mystery. Spiritual leaders live goodness because they have discovered through this experience that the unknown and the mysterious are themselves immersed in goodness. They know, deep in themselves, that life is ultimately safe enough and not to be feared.
Experience of this goodness inspires in them wisdom. Openness to this goodness is not dependent on age or status. In fact we can close ourselves to this goodness as we get older, as we respond to the unknowns of life with increasing insecurity and fear. As we age we feel we have more to lose. So much of spiritual practice is about a transformation that allows us to live, once more, from an original stance of openness to the mystery of life. “In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3). The last and the youngest are sometimes the wisest.
…the one placed in office be the one selected either by the whole of the community acting unanimously out of reverence for God, or by some part of the community, no matter how small, which possesses sounder judgement.
A community containing enough goodness and wisdom has every chance of choosing a good and wise leader. To grow in this goodness and wisdom is to grow in the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. Benedict trusts that enough of the community will take the time necessary to wait on the movement, the guidance of the Spirit. The Rule, as a Christian and communal guide on living a human life in the Holy Spirit, assists in making a community ready to choose its leaders. When the time comes the hope is that enough of them will be more or less in harmony with the Spirit to choose well.
Life is full of choices. In these choices are opportunities to live more and more deeply into living life in harmony with God’s life. There are the ‘big’ decisions such as relationship, career, having a family, or going into debt. And there are the ‘little’ decisions like what time to set the alarm, to smile or not to smile, read a book or phone a friend. The love life of God is with us in them all. A spiritual and human life is all about sensing where in our choices the Spirit is drawing us and then acting on this drawing.
Sometimes we need to take the time to discern our decisions. Discernment is about handing choices over to God and taking the time to wait. It’s not about being impetuous. As we wait for that sense of the divine flow patience is developed. We wait in silence with the circumstances and questions of life. We wait for the arrival of harmony, harmony with God, others and life.
Our conscious minds, when compelled by impatience cannot sit and wait for this harmony to emerge. What we think we should do, or fear and doubt – all of this can stop us from taking the necessary time to come to a deeper, heart felt clarity. In meditation we practice waiting in silence and giving attention to the heart – the place where our spirit and God’s Spirit reside and the place where the Spirit’s drawing is experienced. A contemplative waits without expectation, and waits in growing trust and faith. As we attend to the mantra while at the same time experiencing the inattentiveness of the ego, we come to realise just how important it is to be in the silence of the heart.
Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything (Abba Moses)
The cell is the heart. To meditate is to sit in your cell.
At Meditatio House, as we live together and meditate together, we begin to sense the motivations in our choices and our simple, daily, ordinary actions. Like all meditators we are experiencing the integration of mind and heart in the ordinary of life. As this happens we grow in harmony with God and each other – we see and live with heart.
May God forbid that a whole community should conspire to elect a prioress or abbot who goes along with its own evil ways But if it does, and if the bishop of the diocese or any Benedictine leaders or other Christians in the area come to know of those evil ways to any extent, they must block the success of this wicked conspiracy, and set a worthy person in charge of God’s house. They must be sure that they will receive a generous reward for this, if they do it with pure motives and zeal for God’s honour. Conversely, they may be equally sure that to neglect to do so is sinful.
There is no sitting on the fence in this chapter, nor in the Rule itself. Just as Jesus’ invitation in the Gospels to follow him as disciple is a decisive yes or no decision, so too the fellow Christian who sees a Benedictine community corrupting itself is pressed to decide: are you a disciple of Jesus or not? To not act is to act. The underlying appeal to obedience that the Spirit compels in the Christian – obedience as learning to hear and respond to the promptings of love and goodness – this is given voice by Benedict in this chapter. The Rule shows us that humanity is at its best when responding justly to any corruption of relationship away from love in action.
Perhaps a contemporary and somewhat jaded culture would call acting in love, goodness, and justice naïve. The Rule makes clear that any turning away from our human duty to create just relations is, in the broader context of life, the deeper naivety. To not turn away is to live the Gospel. The Rule, as a wisdom document and guide to contemplation, sees as God sees. It asks of us the same. Seeing informs action.