April 23, August 23, December 23

For the preservation of peace and love we have, therefore, judged it best for the abbot to make all decisions in the conduct of the monastery. If possible, as we have already established, the whole operation of the monastery should be managed through deans under the abbot’s direction. Then, so long as it is entrusted to more than one, no individual will yield to pride. But if local conditions call for it, or the community makes a reasonable and humble request, and the abbot judges it best, then let the abbot, with the advice of God-fearing monks, choose the person they want and themselves make this person their prior. The prior for their part is to carry out respectfully what their abbot assigns to them, and do nothing contrary to the abbot’s or arrangements, because the more they are set above the rest, the more they should be concerned to keep what the rule commands.

If this prior is found to have serious faults, or is lead astray by conceit and grows proud, or shows open contempt for the holy rule, they are to be warned verbally as many as four times. If they do not amend, they are to be punished as required by the discipline of the rule. Then, if they still do not reform, they are to be deposed from the rank of prior and replaced by someone worthy. If after all that, they are not a peaceful and obedient member of the community, they should even be expelled from the monastery. Yet the abbot should reflect that they must give God an account of all their judgements, least the flames of jealousy or rivalry sear their soul.   

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 can be the shaping of 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 being imperfect. Humble contrition is a flood gate open to the living water of a mercy that is not of our making.     

We can think we are not operating out of pride, until we are in a position or role though 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.

The prior 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 help 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. 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. 

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 is the one to which the community turns to see the humble life in action, particularly when the abbot is away. The more the leader is away from the practicalities of daily life, the more important the representative of that leader becomes. Humble leadership must always be present in the daily round to help focus the life of community on the ordinary.

It is in families that value and respect this ‘graceful ordinary’ of life that love has the best chance of shaping the hearts of children and parents alike. The best of business leadership knows the importance of valuing all employees, seeing the labour of all as equally important to the company’s life and work.

An everyday and humble leader, one who has entered 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 in good time and lead on to judgement, the faults of others also continue afterwards. Similarly, the good that people do can be obvious in good time; but the opposite cannot remain hidden. (1Timothty 5:24-25, RNJB)