To be read: January 15, May 15, September 15
The abbot must know that anyone who undertakes the care of souls must prepare himself to give an account for them. 38Whatever the number of brothers he has in his care, let him be sure that on judgment day he will, without doubt, have to give an account to the Lord for all these souls, in addition to that of his own. 39And thus, while he is fearful of the Shepherd’s future examination about the sheep entrusted to him, and is watchful of his account for others, he is concerned also on his own account; 40and while by his warnings he has administered correction to others, he amends his own failings.
As we come to the end of this chapter about abbatial qualities we need to remember that those in authority over us, regardless of their personal qualities and personality, need our prayers. Benedict states that “The abbot must know that anyone who undertakes the care of souls must prepare himself to give an account for them.” If an abbot, a bishop, a priest, or a secular leader, such as the mayor, governor, or president has responsibility for our well-being, then we NEED to pray for them. Yes, they will be held accountable for how they have carried out their duties, but regardless of whether we like them or not, we are also called to support them, especially by lifting them up before the Lord. Besides, if their concern is the care of our souls (or the welfare of our temporal being for secular leaders), we need to pray for them for our own benefit. And if they are amiss in anything, we need to ask God to reveal that and bring them into right relationship with Himself. Leave it in God’s hands. He alone can change the hearts and minds of man.
Benedict makes an interesting point in the final verse: “While by his warnings he has administered correction to others, he amends his own failings.” Often, we find that in helping others we have helped ourselves. If we are open to the Holy Spirit, He can open our eyes to see that a fault we found in others is one we also possess in ourselves. It is important to recognize that when we think we are the one giving, pouring out ourselves, and ministering in the love of Christ, that we are receiving manifold ministry in return. How often have I visited someone in prison, the hospital, or their home and have come away far more blessed than I could have imagined.
The one in authority carries a burden not only for his own soul, but for all under his care. And as St. Benedict notes, “on judgment day he will, without doubt, have to give an account to the Lord for all these souls.” But this burden of responsibility is too great only if it is not carried in the Lord. Those in authority need God’s grace that they may be accountable, not only at the final judgment, but throughout their lives and ministry. Pray, therefore, for the shepherds committed to caring for the sheep. And pray that each of us, lay and clergy, may faithfully carry out the ministry to which our Lord has called us.