To be read: January 11, May 11, September 11
When, therefore, anyone receives the name of Abbot he should govern his disciples by a twofold teaching; 12namely, he should show them all that is good and holy by his example more than by his words; explaining the commandments of God to receptive disciples by words, but showing the divine precepts to the dull and stubborn by his works. 13And whatever he teaches his disciples as being contrary to the law of God must not be done, let him avoid doing those things, that “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified”(1 Cor 9:27), 14and he himself committing sin, God one day say to him: “What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you” (Ps 49:16-17). 15And also this: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”(Mt 7:3).
As we look further into the qualities of the abbot it is important to recognize that the traits that Benedict describes have applicability to all Christians. In the section today he is warning the abbot to demonstrate leadership by a two-fold teaching: “explaining the commandments of God to receptive disciples by words, but showing the divine precepts to the dull and stubborn by his works.” The challenge to be a living example is not only for the abbot but for all who represent Christ to the world (i.e. all of us). Whether in a position of leadership or not we are all responsible for re-presenting Christ to others in the Body and to those with whom we interact in the world.
St. Paul tells us that “we are ambassadors for Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:20). The world is watching, and the Church has fallen very short of the mark of Christ. How many of our Church leaders have dramatically fallen in public scandals? How the media rejoices when they have news fodder because some new accusation has been revealed against a Roman Catholic priest. And on a more pedestrian level, how often do we see someone with Christian symbols on their car, or wearing a Christian symbol on a necklace, behave in a manner unbecoming for a Christian? Is it any wonder that those of the world do not want to be part of the Body? They see no distinction between the Church and the world because those who proclaim Christ act no differently. St. Benedict exhorts us to be good and holy by example.
And in the Church itself, St. Paul exhorts the older men and women to model Christian behavior for the younger members. He tells Titus, “Bid the older men be temperate, serious, sensible, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Bid older women likewise to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, and so to train young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited” (Tit. 2:2-5). And he concludes with this command for all of us: “Show yourselves in all respects a model of good deeds” (2:7).
St. Benedict applies this divine teaching in this section of the Rule. It is a challenge for all of us to avoid hypocrisy, and to, as St. Paul demands, “live sober, upright, and godly lives in the world…” (Tit. 2:11). If we strive for this mark of holiness, then our “opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us” (Tit. 2:8). We are not all called to abbatial authority, but we are all called to re-present Christ to the Church and the world.