April 21, August 21, December 21

Once in office, the abbot must keep constantly in mind the nature of the burden they have received, and remember to whom they will have “to give an account of his stewardship” (Luke 16:2). Let them recognise that their goal must be profit for the monks, not pre-eminence for themselves. They ought, therefore, to be learned in divine law, so that they have a treasury of knowledge from which they can “bring out what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52). They must be chaste, temperate and merciful. They should always “let mercy triumph over judgement” (Jas 2:13) so that they too may win mercy. They must hate faults but love the monks. When they must punish them, they should use prudence and avoid extremes; otherwise, by rubbing too hard to remove the rust, they may break the vessel. They are to distrust their own frailty and remember “not to crush the bruised reed” (Isa. 42:3). By this we do not mean that they should allow faults to flourish, but rather, as we have already said, they should prune them away with prudence and love as they see best for each individual. Let them strive to be loved rather than feared.

Excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or oversuspicious they must not be. Such a person is never at rest. Instead, they must show forethought and consideration in their orders, and whether the task they assign concerns God or the world, they should be discerning and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said: “If I drive my flock too hard, they will all die in a single day” (Gen. 33:13). Therefore, drawing on this and other examples of discretion, the mother of virtues, they must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.

They must, above all, keep this rule in every particular, so that when they have ministered well they will hear from the Lord what the good servant heard who gave his fellow servants grain at the proper time: “I tell you solemnly”, he said, “he sets him over all his possessions” (Matt. 24:47).     

Simone Weil, in Waiting On God, likens the beauty of the world to a labyrinth mouth[1]. The seeker, entranced by this beauty, enters the labyrinth. Soon however, this person seems lost in the labyrinth – in the dark, alone, without the sustenance they once knew. In this experience of purging and purifying, they find they must let go of what knowing once was. In time, expectation is put aside as the experience of search becomes a journey to the labyrinth’s centre.

This journey imparts discretion and moderation. The grace of it enables the seeker to live into divine wisdom. They become a person of the middle way; a way without judgement; a way of gentle compassion for self that naturally grows beyond the confines of their own personality. These are the characteristics of spiritual maturity and leadership.

At the centre of the labyrinth        

there God is waiting to eat him [sic]. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance [to the labyrinth] so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening[2].

The community leader of Benedict’s Rule, as someone who assumes the role of Christ in the community, is someone who has done enough of the labyrinthine struggle and search. They have journeyed, still human and fallible, into the depths of the divine life and this divine life has consumed them. The service of love they now provide the community, as leader, is to gently introduce the labyrinth to some, wisely guide others in the dark of the labyrinth, and finally supervise the divine digestion of seasoned monastics.

The leader of a community following the rule is a steward tending the space of grace that is Christian communal life. They then, through varied and unique relations with each community member, do their best to make this space of grace accessible and relevant for everyone. Perhaps their greatest asset in this enterprise is their own presence. Their humanity has been irretrievably and wonderfully absorbed into God. Theirs is a divinely infused human life. They still experience their weaknesses. They know their strengths. They are wise enough to live and lead humbly and simply.

Their experience and learning give them access to a “treasury of knowledge” from which to draw wisely from. This treasury, from wisdom literature (including of course Christian and Hebrew scripture), their lectio practice, community experience, and the divine law written in the heart – all of this grows a life of divine wisdom.

To be digested by God is also to be enthused by God. As we walk the spiritual and human life, God enthuses us, fills us with God’s own life. Part of contemplation is allowing this gift of divine life to fill us, enthuse and inspire us for life and living. As this happens our giftedness is encouraged. If it is to lead, we grow in leadership. The dare of the labyrinth is our human growth into gift, service, and God.

As meditators, our times of meditation are the most important part of the day. In meditation, as we focus attention on the mantra, we grow in divine enthusiasm and are transformed (digested) bit by bit into the God life. Meditation is a walk into our inner labyrinth. In time, our lives become, more and more, a revelation of divine glory.     

As contemplatives we learn what the community leader of the rule has learnt: that duty is an act of benefit for others, not a method of control. We all have duty in our lives. Duty comes with commitment. The life of God within can soften us enough so that we can gently (over time) let go of fear. Fear wants to control. Fearful control closes us to alternatives and creativity.

Someone growing in the life of God, like a Benedictine community leader, is open, trusting, and flexible enough to be with the hidden and creative ways of love as they act on the human heart. Loving creatively, wherever it may be done in life, gives space to grace and the growth of others.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You are clean already, through the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in that person, bears fruit in plenty; for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5, RNJB)

[1] Simone Weil, Waiting On God, (London: Collins, 1950), 119.

[2] Waiting On God, 119.