April 20, August 20, December 20
In choosing an abbot, the guiding principle should always be that the person placed in office be the one selected either by the whole community acting unanimously in the fear of God, or by some part of the community, no matter how small, which possess sounder judgement, Goodness of life and wisdom in teaching must be the criteria for choosing the one to be made abbot, even if they are last in community rank.
May God forbid that the whole community should conspire to elect someone who goes along with its own evil ways. But if it does, and if the bishop of the diocese or the abbots or Christians in the area come to know of these evil ways to any extent, they must block the success of this wicked conspiracy, and set a worthy steward in charge of God’s house. They may 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.
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 good. They know, deep in themselves, that life is safe enough and not to be feared.
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 members 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 our 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 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.
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, in growing trust and faith. Abba Moses said: ‘Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything’. The cell is the heart. To meditate is to sit in your cell and wait, without waiting, for what may come.
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 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 draws from 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.
Perhaps a somewhat jaded culture would call all this 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, sees as God sees. It asks of us the same. Seeing informs action.
As he was walking along by the Lake of Galilee he saw Simon and Simon’s brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me and I will make you into fishers of people.’ And at once, leaving their nets, they followed him. Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending the nets. At once he called them and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, they went after him. (Mark 1:14-20, RNJB)