For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, my sacrifice a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. (Psalm 50(51))
Contrition is a sign of humble growth. The experience of contrition reveals that we are seeing and accepting the significance of what we have done or failed to do, along with the influence of this on ourselves and others. We are seeing with our heart’s eye how our falling short in loving shapes energetic intention and behaviour away from the ways of love. As humility grows in the heart of us, contrition can prepare the way for divine compassion to become our compassion for ourselves and others. Contrition is not about beating ourselves up for being imperfect. Humble contrition is a flood gate open to the living water of a mercy that is not of our making.
However, this prior should respectfully do whatever his [sic] abbot tells him to do and not do anything contrary to the abbot’s wishes or his [sic] arrangements, for the higher the position conferred on him, the more careful he ought to be to observe the precepts of the rule.
We can think we are not operating out of pride, until we are in a position or role through which we discover ourselves subtly motivated by our own psychological tendencies towards pride and hubris. Hidden insecurity, a lack of confidence, perceived lack of skill, or perhaps wanting the attention that we feel, deep down, we have never properly received: a position of responsibility, particularly a position revered by others, can expose subtleties such as these.
As this discovery unfolds it can become a part of our own human growth and transformation as we abandon to grace. A part of the experience of contrition is the experience of our own powerlessness in the face of our prideful and egoic tendencies. Grace can move in this experience of powerlessness as we become humble enough. Letting go and experiencing our own powerlessness becomes an abandonment to grace.
This letting go in humility is the way that Jesus walked to the cross. Because of this he was able to walk with grace, with his eyes steadily on love and his Father. As his disciples, we are invited to walk this same way as we experience the ways in which we are powerless and prideful. The practice of the Rule in our communities is one way in which we participate in our own ‘walk to the cross’. During this walk we discover that we are also participating in our own transformation into love. We are resurrected, transfigured by grace as we walk.
If the prior is found to have serious faults or is seduced by conceit into being proud or is proved to be treating this holy rule with contempt, he [sic] should be admonished verbally as many as four times, but if he does not mend his ways, then he should be punished according to the discipline of the rule. If he still does not correct his behaviour, then he must be dismissed from the office of prior and replaced by someone more suitable. But if he fails to be quiet and obedient within the community after this, then he must be expelled even from the monastery.
The prior/prioress is given every opportunity by Benedict to grow in a humble and contrite heart. The structure of the Rule and the life of the community, like a harness or a yoke, are there to shape the mind and heart to love. And there is also the important element of our own yes to this shaping. Stubborn pride stops this yes. To be ‘cut loose’ from commitments that were made, commitments made (perhaps) with good intentions, can be one way through which we come to the experience of powerlessness and contrition. This was the way of The Prodigal Son (Luke15:11-32). It’s the way of many of us who are caught in destructive patterns of addiction. Sometimes going ‘low enough’ is part of our path of life into life.
We therefore think it a good idea to preserve peace and love by putting the abbot in charge of appointments in his [sic] monastery. If possible all practical matters within the monastery should be dealt with by the deans, as mentioned earlier, under the supervision of the abbot, so that if the business is entrusted to several, no individual will have reason to become proud.
The spreading of influence and tasks among a few is one way the Rule reasons against pride. In the practice of Christian spirituality positions of influence are not occasions for self-promotion; they are invitations to grow even more in the humble life. As the community leader’s representative in the community, the prior or prioress is the one to which the community turns to see the humble life modeled in action.
The more that business calls the leader away from the practicalities of daily life, the more important the representative of that leader becomes. After all, the Rule in its wisdom is built on the ordinary working of grace and the daily transformations this brings about. Humble leadership must be present in this daily round to always shape the life of community to the ordinary and the daily.
It is in families that value and respect the ‘graceful ordinary’ of life that love has the best chance of shaping the hearts of children and parents alike. The best of business leaders know the importance of valuing all employees, seeing the labour of all as equally important to the company’s life and work.
At our best, at Meditatio House, we are people together in the everyday valuing each other and the roles we have. Any community, in any form, that has no or limited daily contact with each other is more a share house than anything else. If we give up on revering the people we live with maturing in grace, in love, becomes very difficult. Human beings need the rub and tension of other-centred relating to grow. Accepting this and participating in it is to revere ourselves and each other. Our meditation together prepares us and energises us for this growth that happens as we revere each other. Our meditation together is also a part of this growth.
An everyday and humble leader, one who has entered into this process of growth in community, has the best chance of appointing everyday and humble people into positions of communal influence. The experience of life and community, with all its ups and downs, has humbled them. Their faults no longer get in the way of their discerning the faults of others. With the help of wise others, they can see and choose the good.
The faults of some people are obvious long before they come to the reckoning, while others have faults that are not discovered until later. Similarly, the good that people do can be obvious; but even when it is not, it cannot remain hidden. (1Tim5:24-25)