Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 21

To be read: February 26, June 28, October 29

If the community is large, let some brothers of good repute and holy life be chosen from among them and be appointed Deans; 2and let them take care of their deaneries in everything according to the commandments of God and the directions of their Abbot.  3The Deans should be chosen by the Abbot that he may safely trust them to share his burden.  4Let them not be chosen for their rank, but for the merit of their life and their wisdom and knowledge.  5If any of them become puffed up with pride, and be found deserving of censure, and after having been corrected once, twice, and even a third time, refuse to amend, let him be removed from office, 6and be replaced by one who is worthy.  7We make the same regulation with reference to the Prior. 

Delegated authority.  Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  He then delegated that authority to His disciples, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:18).  In the same way, the disciples, who now having been sent are apostles (“one sent”), delegated that authority to the generations which followed.  Jesus will always retain full authority, and anything done in His Name must be done in accordance with His Word.  “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20).  No ambassador speaks on his own behalf, but rather is called to represent the one who sent him.  “God is making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:21).

In the same way, both in the monastery and in the parish church, the one in charge, be it the abbot or the rector, delegates authority in order to facilitate the work of the Body.  In the monastery those who accept delegated authority from the abbot are called deans.  As Benedict says in the section above, “The Deans should be chosen by the Abbot that he may safely trust them to share his burden.”  The deans represent the abbot in sharing his burden of leadership.  This type of delegation of responsibility for leadership in the Body dates back to the time of Moses.  “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit which is upon you and put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone’” (Num. 11:16-17).  Jesus also entrusted His work to 70 and sent them out two by two (Luke 10).

But this type of sharing of responsibility and work is not limited to the monastery or the parish church.  This is a concept that we all are exhorted to practice.  St. Paul tells the Church at Galatia to “bear one another’s burdens” (6:2).  He goes on to say that when we do that we “fulfill the law of Christ.”  And then the Apostle explains how we can do this:  “Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches” and “let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:6,10).  

So, whether in the enclosure of the monastery, but even more for those of us working in the temptation-rich secular field, we need to help one another to stay on the path.  We are to practice humility toward one another and “bear one another’s burdens.”  For it is not about you, and it is not about me; it is about the Kingdom.

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